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Plant Problems: Wilting Plants

Plant wilting is all too common a problem. Whether you are growing plants indoors or out, the causes of wilting, and the cures are the same. 

Like any other plant problem, you may need to put on your investigator's cap, and study both the plant, and it's environment.

Here's the basic conditions that can cause your plants to wilt:

Now, lets explore the causes and the cures of wilting, in more detail...............

Soil Water/Moisture Levels

Like you and me, plants need water to thrive. If the soil is too dry, the plants wilt and die. This applies to both indoor and outdoor plants. Many plants wilt in dry soils, offering a clear indication that you need to give them a good drink of water.

Dry soil is by far the most common cause of plants wilting.

Tip: Water deeply. After watering, use a shovel to dig  into the soil (away from the root system), to see moisture levels three to four inches below the surface. If it's dry at this depth, your plant's roots are not getting enough water.

Many new gardeners do not know, that wet soils can also cause plants to wilt. Plants grown in containers that do not have holes in the bottom for drainage, can be overwatered. As a results, the results roots rot and drown without sufficient oxygen in the soil. Outdoors, heavy rains can drown the roots. If your plant is grown outdoors in a low area in heavy clay soil, you may need to move it to higher ground. Or, elevate the soil and replant it. Try a raised garden bed. Add compost to loosen the soil, and improve drainage. Anything you can do to improve soil drainage helps to solve your problem.

Aside from Succulents, which like dry soils and infrequent watering, the rule of thumb for most plants is "Keep the soil moist, not wet".

High Temperatures- Nothing makes a tender plant wilt quicker, than a hot, dry day. Add in a dry wind, and the conditions for wilting are perfect. Wilting occurs as midday nears. The plant recovers as late day and evening temperatures go lower. This is very common with pumpkins, squashes and other vining crops. Many other plants, both flower and vegetables can be susceptible. The plants will especially wilt out towards the ends of the plant, as the vine system can not provide as much moisture as the dry environment sucks out of the plant.

If hot dry weather is causing your plants to wilt, pour on the water. Use overhead sprinklers to both water the plants, and to cool the leaves. In vining plants, promote the growth of secondary roots. Find out more

In extremely hot, arid parts of the country, misters and shade covers are frequently used.

Light/Sunlight Extremes- Plants can wilt under a hot summer sun. Leaves can burn or scald in the midday summer sun. This is often(but not always) coupled with high temperatures and dry conditions. Shade covers, misters, and overhead sprinklers will help. If you are growing plants in containers outdoors, move them to an area that offer them shade from the midday sun.

Your plants may also wilt due to a lack of sunlight. This is common with indoor houseplants. Another sign of too little sun indoors is Leaf Drop.  

If your tomato plants are leggy and appear to be wilting or drooping over, chances are they need more sunlight. The lack of sunlight causes them to grow tall, as it searches for sunlight. The stem can not support the plant. Be a "sun chaser" and move your seedling trays from window to window as the sun moves across the sky. Get those seed starts outdoors on a warm sunny deck, whenever the temperatures allow. And, consider using grow lights.

Soil Fertility - You love your plants, so you feed them well. However, too much fertilizer can cause your plants to wilt, and even to die. If you've recently applied fertilizer to your plants, and they almost immediately (usually within a day) begin to wilt, they are likely suffering from over-fertilization.

Flush the soil with  plenty of water to disperse the excess fertilizer. If grown in containers, consider re-planting, or replanting them in new soil.

Root bound Plants - Container grown plants can outgrow their pot or container. The roots consume increasing amounts of space in the container. The roots grow in search of water and nutrients. Eventually, your plant can wilt for lack of nutrients.

The solution is simple: repot it in a larger container. Your plant will now have room to grow, and more, fresh soil to seek out vital water and nutrients.

As a rule, houseplants should be re-potted every 1-2 years, or less with faster growing plants.

Plant Disease - No doubt about it, plant disease can cause your plants to wilt and die. People worry about fusarium wilt, or this wilt or that wilt. As soon as they see wilting, they immediately fear that their lush vegetation has been infested with some terrible, deadly disease. In reality, plant disease is one of the least likely reasons your plant is wilting. Wilting can occur indoor and outdoor plants.

Once you have eliminated other plant problems, then the path leads to plant disease. Most of us are not educated in identifying the specific disease, although we may have our guesses. We just know it is some kind of disease.

When you suspect or have determined that plant disease could be the cause of the problem, apply a general purpose plant disease spray or fungicide. For organic gardeners, see more on organic disease control.

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