Recovering from a Failed Garden Season

How do you deal with a disappointing garden season? Have you tried gardening in the past but you were far from successful, and you're not sure you even want to try again?

Some years are like that.

In fact, today I’m going to confess that this was NOT a good gardening year for me - and I’ll tell you why.

Usually, a gardener will say it was a bad year because the weather was too hot or too cold, or it rained too much or not enough, the bugs were out in force, or something similar.

My bad year wasn’t due to the weather, well, not in the usual way.

Garden planning

I love planning, in all areas of my life, not just gardening.

I don’t always carry out all of my plans, but it’s fun to make them - but I also know the importance of being flexible, because things don’t always go to plan.

I spent time over the winter planning my garden out on paper, including what I’d plant when and where, and what I’d plant after those crops were done and had been harvested.

My plan included seed starting dates too. I looked up planting dates and frost dates for my area, and I put it all together. 

In late winter I planted my seeds indoors - a little earlier than I should have, perhaps. I was anxious to get started.

When spring arrived and the afternoons were warm enough, I set the seedlings outside in their little plastic cups during the day to “harden off” so they’d get used to being outside in the sun and the wind.

I brought them back in at night when the temperatures dropped.

Most of the plants that I started indoors from seeds were warm weather plants. They like hot weather and won’t survive a frost, so I can't plant them outside until mid-May or so.

But I start the seeds indoors so I'll have a headstart when the warm weather finally arrives.

Tomato plants, for instance, and peppers and basil. I did go a little overboard on the tomato seeds this year, but I always share the extra plants with neighbors and friends.

Tornado season 

Well, then we got hit by a tornado in April. So it was the weather’s fault  - just not in the usual way gardeners complain about.

What a scary, scary night. Our roof took a hit and had to be replaced.

My little backyard greenhouse was blown away, as well as all of my gardening supplies that were stored inside.

Our grandson’s playhouse was smashed. Our backyard shed blew over, upside down.

And two of my raised garden beds just blew away too! Gone without a trace.

That still astonishes me, that something so big and so heavy could just be picked up by the wind and blown away.

And it wasn’t just us, of course. Our neighbors were hit, many worse than we were, and businesses in town were closed.

We were all in shock for a while. I admit it blew the stuffing out of all of us.

Six months later, repairs are still ongoing, and most of the traffic lights in town are working again.

About half of the businesses that were affected are still closed, although many are working towards a grand re-opening. Our little town won't look the same.

My seedlings blew away too!

But you know what else blew away? All of my seedlings that I'd started in the kitchen and had nurtured for months. 

They were outside when the tornado hit, on the porch of our grandson’s playhouse, where the dappled sun could reach them but they were semi-protected from the harsh and almost-constant Oklahoma wind. 

 Right in the middle of planting season. Gardening was pretty low on my priority list after that. 

As we cleaned up after the tornado, my daughter-in-law and I found some of my seedlings - without their pots - under various piles of debris. I repotted them and kept most of them alive until I could deal with things again. 

And all those little cherry tomato plants that I’d painstakingly labeled so I’d know what kind they were - because I’d started 9 different kinds from seeds! - well, without their pots I had no idea which ones were which! 

It was a mystery until they actually produced some ripe tomatoes and I could tell from the color and shape what kind they were: Snow White, Black Cherry, orange Sun Sugar, and others...

There were some pear-shaped red cherry tomatoes too that I’m still not sure what kind they were, but they were pretty tasty. 

I’d lost a lot of my garden space too, with the loss of those two raised beds, so my mapped-out garden plan was completely useless after all that work. 

I planted a few other things from seed over the summer, but I really didn’t plant much this year - certainly not as much as I usually do. 

The rescued seedlings were transplanted when it was warm enough and I bought a single cucumber plant at the feed store because my grandson loves cucumbers. 

I’d been planning to grow sweet potatoes in one of the beds that had blown away. It was really deep and perfect for these plants that grow their tubers underground. 

So, instead I gathered four Rubbermaid bins whose lids were missing. My husband, the Chief, drilled holes in the bottom for me and I planted the sweet potato starts in them - starts that I’d grown in the kitchen windowsill. 

I’d show that tornado that it couldn’t completely beat me! I'd just grow my sweet potatoes in containers instead!

Volunteer Plants

Then, as summer went on, I realized that there were volunteer plants growing in the raised garden beds that were left. 

A “volunteer” is a plant that grows from seeds that you didn’t plant. 

These were from tomatoes that I’d grown last year, that had fallen from the vines and rotted in secret, leaving their seeds to sprout in the spring when the weather was warm enough. 

There were volunteer cantaloupe vines growing too. 

Last year I had tried growing cantaloupe but all of my melons split in half and ants ate them; we didn’t get to eat a single one. 

But there were cantaloupe seeds left behind that sprouted and grew this summer. And we did get to eat some of them this time. 

The strawberries and garlic that were planted last year grew and produced food for us. The onions that I’d planted in late winter, months before the tornado hit, grew and thrived. 

And we had the volunteer cherry tomatoes and cantaloupes, and cucumbers from that one store-bought plant that turned into a jungle.

Not a big harvest of anything, but we did grow some food after all. In spite of the tornado. In spite of the super-hot summer and the lack of rain. The Lord provided food. 

But really, on the whole, my garden enthusiasm was pretty low this year. 

The fence repairs, the roof replacement, and the Chief’s back surgery took all my attention and energy. 

I tended and watered the volunteer plants and the seedlings that grew reasonably well for all they’d been through, but most of the tomato plants were hit with blight and died off in mid-summer. 

It’s just been a discouraging year, though there were glimmers of hope in the middle of it all. We are thankful that the damage wasn't worse, that our house wasn't totally destroyed (like one neighbor's house was), and that no one was injured that night.

Tips to help you recover from a failed garden season 

Here are a few tips you can use to recover from a garden failure. 

Look for alternatives - For instance, if your seeds don’t sprout, look for alternative ways to get the produce you need. 

If it isn’t too late in the season, you can buy transplants from the garden center instead if they’re still available, or you can buy produce from the farmers market or roadside stands - which also supports someone else’s garden and can even help you make some new friends. 

Lack of water? - If your garden failed because it didn't get enough water, whether that was from insufficient rainfall, an emergency that took you out of town, or someone just forgot to water one too many days in a row - you can make changes next year. 

Try soaker hoses, a watering timer, more mulch to hold moisture in the soil, or install an irrigation system. 

Extreme heat - Or, if your problem was extreme heat, perhaps you can rig up some shade for your plants. My neighbor uses a patio umbrella to shade her plants in the hottest part of the summer. 

Another friend rigged up a tarp attached to poles to provide a shade over her plants when it’s needed. 

Take notes - Write down what happened and how you tried to fix it. Were those attempts helpful or not? What did you learn from it all? 

Maybe your failure was due to poor garden placement, or like ours, due to a freak weather event. 

Whatever happened, learn from your mistakes, accept what can’t be changed, and see if you can change the things you can next year. 

You can learn from your mistakes if you keep track of those mistakes, what you tried, what did or didn't work, and what you'll try next time instead. 

A gardener's most important tools aren't shovels and pruning shears 

Like most gardeners, I always believe that next year will be better. 

I also believe that a gardener’s most important tools aren’t shovels and pruning shears, but hope, resilience and patience, even if you’re not hit by a tornado. 


To a gardener, next year will always be better. 

Hope is what keeps us going. Without hope, why would we plant even a single seed? 

If you’ve tried to grow a garden in the past and it didn’t work out, hang on to hope and try again - the hope that next year will be better. That you’ll have rainbows instead of tornadoes. 

The hope that seeds will sprout, rain will come, the sun will shine, and you’ll have a bountiful garden. 

Experience is the best garden teacher, and you already have a year of experience under your belt, even if it wasn’t a great year. 


While resilience and determination might seem like the same quality, there are differences. Both are a gardener’s friend! 

Being determined is to have a plan, and the ability to stick with that plan. (I think it’s a lot like stubbornness!) 

Resilience is the ability to get back up after something knocks you down and that plan has to be revised.

Whether heat, drought, pests, or something else like a tornado affects your garden season, resilience is the ability to get back up and try again. 

Overcoming trials and disappointments takes resilience. You put your boots back on and you bounce back. 

You can overcome, no matter what happens in your garden - or in your life. Take one day at a time. Just get through this next hour. Things will get better. 


And then there’s patience. Patience as you wait for seeds to sprout and for flowers to appear and for tomatoes to turn red. 

Impatience won’t hurry anything along! 

You might as well slow down and enjoy the journey. We’re not in charge. 

Worrying about tomorrow won’t change anything, and today has enough trouble of its own without worrying about tomorrow too. So slow down and enjoy the experience. 

The very act of gardening is the reward 

Because even though the produce you harvest is a reward for gardening, it isn’t the only reward, at least in my mind. 

The act of gardening is it's own reward. 

Being outdoors in my little corner of the world is a blessing, listening to the birds sing and being alone with my thoughts. My garden is where I find peace and joy. 

I laugh when our Corgi pup zooms around the raised beds on his short little legs in a wonky figure eight, and I always share a few cherry tomatoes with him. They are his favorite snack. Spending time in the garden with him is a joy. 

I love spending time in the garden with our grandson when he visits. He’s learning where food comes from, and we talk about life as he helps me water the strawberry plants. 

It’s something we share together, and we both look forward to it. 

Even being startled by the big toad that hops out from under a plant when I’m watering makes me laugh - after the startle factor settles down a bit.

A garden is the best place to rest from the over-busy and overwhelming life we are living. Patience is good for our health! 

Don't give up!

Your garden might have been a total failure this year, or you might be blessed by a crop of volunteer tomato plants like I was, but either way, don’t give up. 

I’ll plan my garden over the winter, when seed catalogs arrive in the mailbox and I’m just aching for spring to return. 

But I will plant again, and I hope you will too. I encourage you to keep going. Try again next year.

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