Why Are My Vegetables Growing Slowly?

Are you getting the sensation that your vegetables are growing slowly? Plants don’t grow overnight but you should be able to notice growth from week to week. If you aren’t noticing any development throughout the weeks, something might be wrong.

There are lots of reasons why your vegetables are growing slowly, but the good news is that they are all are fixable. It could be anything from lack of fertilizer, incorrect conditions, or even soil compaction. 

Go through this guide of factors that might be impacting your vegetable’s growth. Once you’ve identified the problem, you’ll be able to fix it and learn from the experience.

Vegetables growing slowly because of a lack of nutrients

One of the most common reasons why your vegetables aren’t growing well is because the soil is lacking nutrients. I have found this is because I’ve not applied enough fertilizer, manure, or compost. Like all living things, plants need to eat. Each plant has a specific diet of nutrients that they prefer for optimal growth.

Leafy greens will enjoy lots of nitrogen while fruiting vegetables, like tomatoes, will enjoy more potassium. Sometimes lack of food comes from the nutrients physically not being present in the soil. Or they can be present, but an incorrect pH will cause the nutrients to be unavailable to the plants.

tractor and manure spreader applying manure onto crops
Farmers know the importance of applying manure to their crops

If the problem is just a lack of nutrients, it’s easy to solve. Simply apply a thick layer of compost, brew up some worm tea, or dilute liquid fertilizer into your watering can. Then next season, before planting, work in a few inches of compost into your soil. If you’re not sure how to do that, make sure to check out our article on how to mix compost into your soil.

However, if your problem has to do with soil pH, you have a bigger problem. Issues with extreme soil pH aren’t that common but aren’t unheard of. If your soil is too acidic, check out our article on making your soil more alkaline. And if you have the opposite problem and your soil is too alkaline, you can acidify it with vinegar or with ericaceous compost.

In the long run, building up your soil with lots of compost every year will prevent any problems having to do with fertilizer. If you’re using chemical fertilizers, however, make sure you don’t overdo it. It’s quite easy to over-fertilize your plants with chemical fertilizers, which will burn the roots and stagnate the plant’s growth. 

If any of these issues sound like they could be the problem, you can address it on a hunch. For a better understanding of what nutrients are in your soil, you must send samples to a lab.

Vegetables growing slowly because of soil compaction

There is a reason that garden beds are defined areas, usually with borders, and designated walking areas. This is because continually walking on the soil causes it to get extremely dense and hard. Plant roots have trouble growing through hard, compacted soil.

You might have noticed the effects on grass, for example, after continual walking through the same area. Walking isn’t the only thing that causes compassion. Heavy machinery can quickly cause compaction.

If you think your soil is compacted, use a broadfork or tiller to loosen it up and incorporate lots of compost. Then start by growing plants with deep tap roots that will help loosen and aerate the layers below like yarrow and alfalfa.

Vegetables growing slowly because of drought

Plants need water to grow from the very first day. Moisture cues seeds to germinate and then provides the tension inside the plant for them to stand upright. If it isn’t raining consistently or you’re not watering at least a couple of times a week, you might have found your problem.

Very dry soil drought plants not growing
Few plants can withstand the effects of drought

Take note that different plants require different amounts of water. Younger plants tend to require more water than mature vegetables. And you must water more when temperatures are higher. If you’re sure your plants are getting plenty of water, it could also be waterlogging.

Vegetables growing slowly because of waterlogging

Waterlogging is mostly an issue in extremely wet places with clay soils or in containers without drainage holes. Waterlogging reduces the amount of oxygen in the soil, affection plant growth. It can also lead to root rot, which will kill the plant.

If your soil is waterlogged, first observe if it is only happening in a few places or all over your property. Notice where the big puddles appear after it rains.

Once you know your affected areas, you can either embrace them and grow water-loving plants like nasturtiums and taro. Or you can mix in lots of compost and sand. In extreme cases, you might even have to install underground drainage.

Vegetables growing slowly because of temperature

If you’re not growing your vegetables in the right season, this could be a major reason why they are growing slowly. Check out the seed packet to learn the planting season.

Most summer vegetables, like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, need warm temperatures to grow. If you were to start them late in the summer or fall they won’t have time to mature before it gets cold, growth slows, and they won’t give proper fruit.

Should you be growing perennial vegetables, you’ll notice that their growth slows in the winter. This is completely natural and just means the plant is preparing itself for winter dormancy.

There are two ways to fix slow growth caused by incorrect temperatures. Restart your garden efforts in the correct season or bring the plants indoors. If you have enough space, you can grow a tomato plant (for example) inside under grow lights.

Vegetables growing slowly because of tight spacing

Plants growing slowly because of tight spacing tends to be my biggest problem. I get way too excited and the plants look so small when you transplant the seedlings into the soil. However, these tiny seedlings grow into big mature plants that require ample space.

vegetable seedlings planted in single pots to ensure proper spacing
Vegetable seedlings which can be transplanted singularly helps me ensure correct spacing.

Follow the recommended spacing on the seed packet, since it can vary between different varieties of the same vegetable. Or purposely space them at half spacing and then thin them out.

This way you can enjoy tiny baby carrots or lettuces before the rest of the plant matures. Keep in mind that this only works when the whole plant is edible. It is not recommended for nightshades like tomatoes, which have poisonous leaves.

Vegetables growing slowly because of sunlight issues

Are your plants getting enough sunlight? If you’re trying to start a vegetable garden in a shady spot of your garden, this is likely a problem. Plants need sunlight to photosynthesize and grow.

Some plants have adapted to withstand low-light conditions, but most common vegetables are not. If your garden gets less than six hours of sunlight per day, your vegetables are not getting enough light.

Solving this issue can be logistically challenging unless you are growing in containers. Most gardens take a fair amount of labor to get ready. Take advantage of that space to grow edibles that like cooler and shadier places, such as cilantro or spinach. Then choose a location with more sunlight to grow plants that require full sun.

Get yourself a light meter if you are unsure if the plot has enough sunlight – they are inexpensive and usually come with other tools included

Conclusion

There are many reasons why your vegetables might be growing slowly, but in the journey to find the problem you’ll learn a lot about your garden. From temperature to pH or even pests, every problem you encounter will make you a more experienced gardener.