garden question

The Gardening Question I Never Answer

Let me tell you a short story from my nursery days.

A customer came into the nursery and she was really, really upset because the tomato plants she purchased from me weren’t growing. It was a month after planting and they were still the same height and size.
She wasn’t happy and made that clear.
“Why aren’t my tomatoes growing?” she said.

I walked down through all the right questions.

  • Was it in the full sun?
  • Did she feed it?
  • Did she water it?

And on, and on.

All her answers indicated she was doing the right things.

I was determined to get to the bottom of this and solve this customer’s tomato gardening question. Twenty minutes later in the middle of a very busy Saturday afternoon, I was no closer to getting an answer than I was at the beginning.

I was frustrated. She was frustrated. I could see the end of this process right ahead of us and it wasn’t pretty.

In exasperation and out of the blue, I asked, “Did you take it out of the pot?” I had no idea why I asked that question – it just popped out of my mouth and I instantly regretted it. 

She’d think I was calling her “stupid”.

She answered, “No. Was I supposed to?”

Why isn’t my plant growing or flowering – Annuals and Vegetables

These guys flower pretty regularly so if they didn’t bloom for you, the answer is likely one of three things:

  • You didn’t give them the sunlight they need.
  • You didn’t give them enough water.
  • You didn’t feed them enough.
  • Or any combination of the above.

Sometimes the soil acidity is a problem but most of the time, one of the above three reasons fits the case.

Why isn’t my plant growing or flowering – Perennials

Now it starts to get complicated.

Most of the time, a non-flowering perennial falls into the case of too-young a plant.

Many of the cheap seed-started perennials are sold as first-year plants and they simply won’t flower until the second year. Even perennials that are divided often require a year in the ground before they’ll give a reasonable flower show.

Sometimes a plant such as a peony will “sulk” for several years before it re-establishes its root system and begins to flower again (peonies do not like to be transplanted in the spring; they flower again much faster if transplanted in the fall).

The Rule Is…

Don’t ask me why some individual plants sulk and others don’t.
I’ve been growing perennials commercially for over 25 years and the rule is – there isn’t a rule. 🙂

Why isn’t my plant growing or flowering – Shrubs

I get folks asking why does my plant not flower a lot with shrubs.

Shrubs often take a few years to make the transition from pot or field grown to garden-living. I’ve seen lilacs take five years from planting before they’ll throw another bloom.

The thing to check here is if the plant is in the right sunlight conditions. If it needs sun, (like lilac) then giving it shade will ensure it won’t bloom.

Did you prune it? If the plant blooms in the spring, then it requires pruning immediately after flowering. The buds develop approximately six to eight weeks after the bloom has finished and if you prune after that time, (like in the fall) then you’re cutting off the new blooms.

Did you feed it? Here’s an interesting problem for gardeners. A little plant food like several shovels of compost will bring a shrub along nicely. A shrub planted next to a lawn will absorb extra nitrogen from the lawn and will grow like crazy. It will set land speed records for its growth but it will not produce flowers.

It is so busy growing (Nitrogen is the gasoline for plant growth) under a foot-to-the-floorboards level of nitrogen that it can’t set flowers. We see this problem all the time in the gardening world.

Did you water it? Plants need water to grow properly and a lack of water will stop plants from setting flowers.

Is the plant rated for the gardening zone you’re living in? For example, Hydrangea macrophylla is a wonderful plant that produces marvellously coloured (blue and red tones and bicoloured) blossoms on second-year wood. This means the stems grow up and produce a bud in year one. The bud overwinters on the plant and opens up in a glorious flower in year two. In my zone 4 garden, the plants themselves grow like stink and make huge shrubs. The only problem is that the buds get totally winter killed every year. Folks purchase these plants and can’t understand why they never produce a flower. The buds die. Are the buds on your plant dying because it is too tender to grow in your area?

You Need Patience For All Plants

Do you have patience? This is a plant. It will take its time growing up into a mature bush.

If the bush is supposed to be an eight to twelve foot tall plant, why would it start flowering when it is only two feet tall?

Yes, I know it flowered in the pot when you bought it but it was so stressed in the pot that it had to flower. Stressed shrubs and trees flower madly in the “belief” that they are about to die and they had better set seed.

I’ve seen this more than once where shrubs/trees flowered heavily and set amazing amounts of seed after a particularly hard and droughty summer. If the plant is happily growing and not producing thin stalks under the influence of too much nitrogen, then relax. The plant is growing and working on its own timetable.


This is the one last point that drives many gardeners nuts. If you’ve been coddling a plant and it hasn’t flowered, stop coddling the plant.

You’re creating too rich a growing zone (too much water, too much plant food, too much pruning) and the plant is growing madly off in all directions but can’t seem to figure out that it is supposed to flower (or at least that’s what you think.)

By withdrawing some of the food and water, the plant will begin to move to a hormonal production for flowering instead of a growing new leaves and stems production mode.

Bottom Line

Now, you know the major reasons your plants don’t flower. And, you know why I no longer even try to answer this question online.

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