As any gardener can attest, sometimes it seems like your plants give up on you seemingly without reason. However, as savvy gardeners know, there’s always a reason, even if it’s not readily apparent. In this article, we’ll look at 10 of those most common reasons, how you can identify them, and, most importantly, how you can fix them.
To start, here are our 10 top reasons why we’ve seen plants fail:
- Poor soil
- Too much fertilizer
- Wrong amount of water
- Extreme soil temperatures
- Transplant shock
- Improper planting climate or season
- Unsuitable locations and plant types
- Wrong soil pH
- Pests and diseases
There are certainly things outside of this list that could be the issue, but in our experience, the above are the most common. Now that you know what could be the culprits, let’s check each factor one by one.
1. Poor Soil
Soil is the main growing material on which plants rely. In order to be a conducive growing material, your soil should have enough nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Nitrogen, in particular, promotes strong leafy growth in plants.
Phosphorus, on the other hand, helps with your plant’s ability to convert the sun’s energy into food. This process is called photosynthesis. Lastly, potassium encourages your plants to grow strong root systems, produce flowers, and develop healthy fruits.
Taken as a whole, each nutrient in the soil provides a vital piece to your plant’s health.
It’s also important to have soil that drains properly. This is especially important for indoor and container-grown plants as they have less area for excess water to drain to. Soil that is too compact will choke out a plant’s ability to obtain nutrients and subject their its to overly moist conditions. How to Improve Poor Soil
Poor soil can be improved in various ways. One of the most basic ways to determine if your soil has deficient nutrients is to get a soil test. A soil test can help you take the necessary steps to ensure that your plants get the right amounts of nutrients.
In case you already know what specific nutrients are lacking in your soil, here are some ways you can add each type of nutrient.
- Nitrogen can be added to the soil in various ways. The following methods are quite effective:
- Add composted manure to the soil, as fresh manure can burn your plants.
- Grow plants, such as beans and legumes, that fix the nitrogen content in the soil.
- Mix used coffee grounds or composted coffee grounds into the soil.
- Add fish emulsion solutions or, better yet, aquarium water to your garden soil.
- Mulch your garden with grass clippings.
- Apply commercial plant fertilizers that have the right amount of nitrogen you need for the soil.
- If your soil is significantly lacking in phosphorus, here are some ways to improve it.
- Incorporate bone meal into your soil since ground animal bones are abundant in phosphorus.
- Use rock phosphate to release phosphorus slowly into the soil, acting as a long-term fertilizer.
- Add organic compost to boost the overall nutrient content in your soil.
- Mix dried manure from farmhouse animals, such as cows, pigs, chickens, and rabbits.
- Introduce clay loam to your soil, although this can also make your soil more compact.
- If you suspect your soil needs more potassium content, here are the ways to add it:
- Mix burned cucumber skins or dried banana peel into the soil as they are high in potassium.
- Apply sulfate of potash to your soil for that added potassium kick.
- Incorporate greensand as a soil amendment to release potassium slowly.
- Add kelp as a fertilizer to keep your soil rich in potassium.
- Introduce bat guano as an overall fertilizer because it is also rich in potassium, aside from nitrogen and phosphorus.
You should also be sure that you’re using the right soil in the first place. For container gardeners, always use potting soil designed for that type of garden. Potting soil is light and more well draining than traditional garden soil, which makes it the correct choice for containers.
Also, make sure that regular soil is ideal for your plants. While most plants will be happy with it, certain plants like succulents or cacti need soil that is even more well draining. Giving them regular potting soil can be detrimental to their growth.
2. Too Much Fertilizer
When your plants have a difficult time growing, it can be the result of your soil having too much fertilizer in it. As a general rule, fertilizers should be applied sparingly but regularly. This keeps them from suffocating from too much fertilizer content. Too much fertilizer, especially chemical based ones, can shock your plants and cause damage to them.
How to Fix Over-Fertilized Soil
The solution is quite easy: flush them out with water. This is very simple, especially if your plants are in containers. Just water the soil in the container until water runs out of the drainage holes. If your soil is well-draining, the fertilizers will easily flush away after several waterings.
If your plants are in-ground, you can still flush them away with water although you will be using up quite a lot of water. This is why fertilizers should be applied sparingly but regularly. Additionally, excess fertilizer can affect the environment by leaching into your local water systems.
How to Fertilize Correctly
Commercial fertilizers should be applied according to the directions on the package. For natural fertilizers, application can be as regular as you want, but you should still be mindful of applications to avoid wasting any. In the case of compost, it delivers essential nutrients gradually while improving the quality of your soil, so you can add it to your soil every one to three years.
3. Wrong Amount of Water
Water is essential to keeping your plants alive. However, too much or too little water can eventually cause them to suffer and perish. You should supply your plants with regular watering according to their needs.
How to Fix Overwatering
Depending on the plants that you have, your watering schedules may vary. If you give too much watering to a succulent, for example, the plant will eventually die. Learn the preferred water requirements of your plants, and adjust your application accordingly.
For most plants, checking the soil and watering when dry is a good rule of thumb. Wait until the top few inches of the soil are dry to the touch before giving them any more water. This is a simple tip but goes a long way in reducing overwatering.
How to Fix Underwatering
Wilted leaves are a sure sign your plant needs water. Most of the time, this is simply the case of not knowing the correct amount of water or forgetting to water on a regular schedule. Familiarizing yourself with your plants’ watering needs is a good first step, as well as setting a schedule to regularly check on your plants. Luckily, most plants are quite hardy, and a bit of underwatering is generally not going to cause any long-term problems.
Here are some useful tips to make sure your plants get the right amount of water:
- Group plants with the same watering requirements to make it easier.
- Water the soil, not the plants, as overhead watering can attract diseases and damage leaves.
- Use a water irrigation system instead of a sprinkler system.
- Water early in the morning or late afternoon to allow any water on the leaves to dry off before the harsh midday sun.
- Provide water regularly to potted plants because their soil dries out faster.
- Apply mulch to retain soil moisture and prevent weeds from growing.
4. Extreme Soil Temperatures
Soil that is too hot or too cold can damage the growing capabilities of your plants. Plants that are placed in very hot conditions can be especially vulnerable because their energy will be focused on surviving instead of growing. Coupled with poor sandy soils, plants under these conditions will easily die.
How to Fix Overly Hot Soil
Mulch is a great way to insulate the soil from excess heat from the sun. Additionally, mulch helps the soil retain moisture, keeping your plants’ root systems from overheating and dehydrating.
How to Fix Overly Cold Soil
Interestingly, mulch is also a great way to prevent your soil from experiencing extreme cold. Mulch acts as insulation against extreme temperatures, making your soil more hospitable for plants.
In both cases, moving potted plants to a new location is also a good option. If the harsh midday sun is causing your plant to get too warm try moving it back a few feet to see if that fixes the issue.
5. Transplant Shock
Plants that are transplanted need time to adjust to their new home. When your new plants are immediately transplanted to their new locations, they can experience shock from the stress of the move. This can lead to wilted leaves and slow growth.
In many cases, this is natural, and no cause for alarm. Simply keep up with normal care, and your plant should spring back to normal within a couple of weeks.
How to Prevent Transplant Shock
While transplant shock is normal, there are some things to keep in mind that can help minimize or even avoid the issue altogether:
- Start with a healthy plant, either from the nursery or from your own plant selections. Plants with existing issues are more likely to experience serious issues when being transplanted.
- Allow your plants to adjust slowly to their new locations gradually, which is also known as hardening off.
- Transplant at the right time, typically on a cloudy day with mild weather conditions. You should also do so for most plants in spring/summer when they are actively growing.
- Be gentle, especially with the roots and leaves, during transplanting.
- Water your plant right after you transplant.
6. Improper Planting Climate or Season
Too often, gardeners fall in love with the plants for their beautiful foliage and flowers that, sometimes, they fail to consider if the plants are suitable for your local climate. Other times, gardeners plant them during the wrong season.
These mistakes can make your plants experience wilting, slow growth, and even death. Unless you live in a tropical or subtropical area, then you need to make sure you grow your plants during the right times of the year.
Even when grown indoors it’s important to take the season into account. Winters are typically darker with lessened sun intensity, so it’s important to prepare for that and adjust your care accordingly.
How to Plant Properly According to Climates or Seasons
- Check your plant varieties to make sure that they are properly suited for the season. Here are some tips you need to keep in mind:
- Fruits, vegetables, and crops should be planted according to their seasonal requirements.
- Some cultivars are ideal for early season harvest, while others are suited for mid to late harvest.
- Most plants, especially citrus, are ideally planted when the ground begins to warm up.
- Roses and stone fruit trees are best planted bare-rooted and deciduous.
- Planting calendars will help keep your gardening organized and efficient.
7. Unsuitable Locations and Plant Types
When you place your plants in an area that is unsuitable for their growth you set them up for failure. For example, if you place a sun-loving plant in a shaded area you’ll likely see little to no growth and end up with a dead plant. The opposite is also true when you place a shade-loving plant in a very sunny area.
How to Place Your Plants Correctly
Before choosing a garden location, make sure to consider how much natural light it gets. This is essential for any garden whether it be outdoors or indoors. Here are some reminders to keep your plants in the right locations:
- Keep shade-loving plants in the shade and sun-loving plants in sunny places.
- Make sure that your plants get their required amount of sunlight exposure all throughout the year, even when indoors.
- Place compatible plants next to each other because some plants work well together while other plant combinations can be harmful.
- Plant tags or labels will be helpful to remind you of their requirements and preferences.
- Ensure that plants are protected from strong winds and extreme heat or cold.
- Use grow lights if needed, especially in winter when the light intensity is typically less.
Companion planting is the act of growing mutually beneficial plants in close proximity to each other. We won’t get into the full details here (Check out full guide if interested), but suffice to say this can go both ways. Growing poorly complementing plants close together can cause them both to grow poorly.
For that reason, it’s always best to ensure that your plants grow well together. If they don’t it’s best to keep them separated. Either move them to a different location in your garden, or grow them in separate containers a few feet apart.
8. Wrong Soil pH
Most plants grow exceptionally well in neutral soil pH levels, which fall from 6.5 to 7.5 when tested. Some plants can be a bit more specific, requiring soils that are mildly acidic or those with mild alkaline content. It’s important to understand your plant’s preferences and adjust the soil accordingly.
How to Correct Overly Acidic Soil pH
When your soil is overly acidic, simply add some pelletized or powdered limestone. This can be bought at most garden centers. Apply sparingly to prevent your soil from becoming too alkaline. Plants that grow well in acidic soil are azaleas, blueberries, and rhododendrons.
How to Correct Soil pH with Too Much Alkalinity
The easiest and most natural way to decrease the alkaline content in your soil is to add organic matter. Materials like compost, mulch, sphagnum peat moss, coffee grounds, and pine needles are effective soil amendments to increase the acidity of the soil.
9. Pests and Diseases
Two of the more serious causes of plant death are pests and diseases. Sometimes, it’s just one or the other, but oftentimes, both can occur in one plant. As a gardener, you should always ensure that your plants are kept safe by constantly observing their growth.
How to Prevent Pests
Keeping pests away is entirely possible as long as you know how. Here are some tips you’ll need to keep in mind:
- Make sure your soil is healthy by adding rich organic matter like compost.
- Cultivate pest-resistant plants.
- Thin out seedlings, leaves, and plants to ensure good airflow.
- Keep your garden clean regularly.
- Grow companion plants to repel or distract pests.
- Keep plants that attract beneficial garden visitors, such as ladybird beetles, honeybees, butterflies, praying mantis, and hummingbirds.
How to Prevent Diseases
Diseases are easily preventable once you learn how. Some techniques that will be helpful for you include the following:
- Identify and treat infections as soon as possible to prevent spread.
- Keep a well-balanced, nutrient-rich soil for your plants.
- Grow disease-resistant cultivars.
- Ensure good airflow and sunlight for your plants.
- Implement crop rotation and companion planting.
- Clean and sterilize after every activity to prevent bacterial, viral, and fungal contamination.
In both cases, regularly checking your plants is one of the best things you can do. Pests and disease are both problems that, when caught early, are much easier to deal with. The sooner you start to deal with the issue, the more likely you are to be successful.
Weeds can be the source of competition for your plants when it comes to water, sunlight, and nutrients. Sometimes, weeds can even eliminate your plants completely. While herbicides may seem to be the best answer, they can also harm your plants.
How to Prevent Weeds
It may seem impossible for some, but preventing weeds is actually easier than you think. Here are some techniques to keep weeds off your garden soil:
- Till with caution because weed seeds can sometimes lie dormant underneath the soil until the earth is turned over.
- Mulch properly by making sure the material is around four to six inches thick.
- Sunlight can trigger weed growth, so grow your plants close enough to keep sunlight away but far enough to ensure good ventilation.
- Nursery seedlings can be sources for weeds, so simply pull them off right away before they have a chance to spread.
- Grow cover crops, ground cover plants, or local grasses to keep the soil clear of any weeds.
Now that you know how to diagnose your plant’s issues better you can solve their issues more easily without panicking or despairing. Even if you don’t have any plant issues, your plants will appreciate how these tips and techniques can help them grow healthier, stronger, and more productive!