Why are my plants dying? A question I get asked multiple times a day. After 6+ years of answering it, I’ve come up with the 8 most common reasons that plants/crops fail, even with the best intentions.
Plants are simply amazing in every way. There are few things more satisfying than sprouting a tiny seed into a tiny plant that blossoms into a green monster feeding you in the process. But it doesn’t always go so smoothly, plants can and do perish leaving you to wonder what went wrong.
Inside, outside and everywhere in between plants need specific parameters to thrive, and straying too far outside those parameters can prove fatal. Let’s look at the top eight reasons why are your plants dying, and let’s see if we can’t get them back on track.
In the abundance of the bounty that a garden often brings, it can be hard to visualize that you can indeed have too much of a good thing.
1. Watering too much
Indoor growers know this all too well. You can definitely overwater your plants.
Too much water either all at once or gradually over time can harm your garden in two ways:
First, It can cause the soil to go anaerobic. Waterlogged soil will suffocate plant roots, quickly causing root rot and eventually killing the plant.
Lack of drainage or physically too much watering is one of the biggest reasons that cultivated plants fail and beyond the root rot overwatering any soil even those with proper drainage will simply wash the area of valuable nutrients and organic matter and for plants growing in pots like zucchini, that stuff is not often regained in time.
2. Watering too little also leads to plants dying
If you can water your plants too much of course you can water them too little or not in the right way.
Plants use water to complete nearly all of their life functions and just a day or two without adequate moisture can be fatal or at least have long-term negative effects.
Try to water your plants deeply and thoroughly to encourage them to grow deep tap roots rather than a fibrous shallow root system. They’ll be much tougher plants more resilient to the temperature and moisture stresses of summer.
3. Wrong Location
Inside or outside location can also play a huge part in a plant or crop’s success. Does the plant need full sun? is it adverse to the wind? would some shade be nice?
These are all things to look at before you plant a crop and certain things you’re going to want to investigate if something’s going wrong.
Just like plants need the perfect location to thrive they also need to be grown in the right season for your area.
4. Out of season (Outdoors)
Every geographic region and hardiness zone is different, but you’re not planting peppers at the onset of winter and you’re likely not planting your favorite lettuce in the heat of summer.
For example, this red cabbage should have been planted in about a month rather than when I actually planted it two months ago.
Instead of harvesting the cabbage during the nice cool days of fall for maximum growth and sweetness. I’m now harvesting it during the middle of the hottest summer on record, not ideal.
Pay attention to when a crop should be harvested, look at its days and maturity and work backward from there. Timing and gardening are difference-maker.
Next up we have nutrients.
5. Lack of nutrients also leads to plants dying
Plants use various amounts of macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur to metabolize, grow and produce.
On top of that micronutrients such as copper, zinc, boron, manganese is also needed for the plants to thrive all be in smaller amounts.
Even in the presence of perfect light, moisture and environment, if there’s a nutrient deficiency growth will be limited and so will the harvest.
Indoor and container growers need to pay special attention to this because in addition to being a closed system the amount of soil and thus nutrients is usually inherently smaller just by nature of the pot size compared to a raised bed.
Some crops especially the long growing fruiting types like tomatoes and peppers are going to need additional nutrients part way through their life cycle.
Start with quality compost, mulch with organic ingredients, and low dose with a liquid organic nutrient booster. That’s all you need to grow an amazing abundance of food.
Even with the right water, light, location, timing, and nutrients, plants can still fail. Are you kidding me? I wish I was.
6. Poor Soil Conditions also leads to plants dying
Poor soil is one of the most common undiagnosed issues with failing plants or dying of plants that I’ve ever come across.
All the parameters in the world don’t mean anything if the soil that you’re trying to grow in doesn’t match the requirements of the plant.
Heavy clay or compacted soils can most definitely affect most of our crops. As well sandy low organic soils same thing.
Quality soil building takes time and is the most precious resource in your garden whatever time that takes it’s worth it.
Make sure to mulch, dig as little as possible, try not to overwater, and really steer clear of those chemicals. Remember when it boils down to it you’re kind of actually cultivating soil to help you grow the plants.
Container growers and indoor plant lovers have it a little bit different, as you’re likely using specific mixes for your pots. But old depleted soil needs to be changed and plants need to be repotted sometimes.
Definitely, if you have a failing plant refer back to the condition of your soil right away. In that same vein, our seventh reason for plants failing is a pot or root binding
What exactly is this? Well, plants are grown in containers eventually run at a space for their roots. As the roots grow and spread and take over every single inch of space in the pot there’s little to no room left to grow more and on top of that, there’s no room for water or nutrients either.
Obviously if left to continue the plants will become stunted and eventually fail. House plant growers and veggie start farmers know this all too well.
Now if you leave the plants too long repotting isn’t going to be enough. You’re going to have to tease apart the root ball, breaking it up, allowing the roots to escape and find their way into the new soil.
Finally, at number eight we have pests and diseases.
8. Pests and disease
Severe fungal outbreaks such as downy or powdery mildew are the result of inadequate air circulation and wet soggy leaves. But pests such as aphids, spider mites, and fungus gnats are often manageable with little to no intervention. Especially outdoors.
However if one of those issues that we mentioned previously is affecting your plants they become primed for a pest outbreak.
Check out this broccoli here grown entirely on purpose just for its seed. Not only was it grown in the wrong location, but it was also planted at the wrong time of year. It’s a cool weather plant being blasted at the hottest time of year in the warmest location of my garden. That makes it an instant hot spot for an aphid outbreak.
Back to the red cabbage same thing. Planted out of season means that this plant has been stressed nearly its entire life. No matter how much care and attention that I gave it, boom! Aphid outbreak.
So while pests are a nuisance and they can definitely take out a plant or even an entire crop, treat them more like a symptom rather than the root cause of the problem.
I know that’s a lot to digest. So let’s recap the eight possible reasons why are your plants dying or might not be doing as well as you hope:
- Watering too much.
- Watering too little.
- Wrong Location.
- Out of season (Outdoors).
- Lack of nutrients.
- Poor Soil Conditions.
- Pot/root bound.
- Pests and disease.
Conclusion on why are your plants dying:
Plants can perish often suddenly for various but not so obvious reasons. Every single one of those reasons however has to do with the environment.
Diagnosing the problem early will give you a chance at not only saving your plants from dying but possibly the harvest as well.
Remember that a plant is a dynamic living and growing thing and so is your soil. Healthy plants are a direct result of healthy soils.
Doing your best to ensure that you have a rich organic field aerated soil will in turn reward you with the best possible plants. No one wants to see a plant or crop fail especially after we’ve put so much time and energy and possibly money into the process.
Hopefully armed with these eight reasons for plant failures you’ll be better prepared for diagnosis and treatment to get your plants back on track. Hey, thanks so much for reading guys.
I appreciate the support more than you know and if you’re getting value from these articles please share them to spread the word and help your fellow gardener to grow better. Happy Gardening!