Why Are My Plants Droopy?

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Catching flowers and leaves while they are droopy is the first step in nursing plants back to health. Work through the list of environmental factors that might be causing their sad condition, and try multiple options before giving up. The same list of possibilities work whether you're treating indoor or outdoor plants.

Tip

Before taking any measures to treat a plant with drooping leaves or flowers, take a look at the plant's growth habits to help ensure that leaves that hang low aren't part of the plant's normal structure, such as a red maple (Acer rubrum) or hellebore flowers (Helleborus orientalis) which both grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9.

Temperature

Both cold and heat cause leaves to droop. Hot temperatures or hot winds drain moisture from a plant's leaves more quickly than the plant can hydrate, and cold temperatures cause damage that break the cell walls in some tender plants. Placing shade-loving plants in a location with full sun or placing a sun-loving plant in the shade can also cause leaves and flowers to droop.

Water plants more frequently if temperatures in your area are extremely hot; a plant with drooping leaves from heat will recover within hours. If droopy leaves or flowers result from frost damage, the plant needs to recover on its own. To prevent future frost damage, cover plants with burlap or place several inches of mulch at the plant's base if weather forecasters predict a heavy frost. Move plants to locations in your garden that give them the sun or shade conditions where they thrive, such as placing a maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) in full shade where it grows in USDA zones 3 through 8.

Tip

Buy plants suited to the climate conditions by learning about your area's USDA plant hardiness zones. And look for plant labels that say drought-resistant for warm climates or frost -resistant for cold climates

Watering Issues

Ironically, either overwatering or underwatering cause damage to plants. When you overwater, roots might rot and disintegrate or the soil will become compacted, which deprives plants of oxygen; if you don't water enough, plants can't transfer enough water up through the roots to the leaves. Correct the way you water to allow plants to recover.

Determining how much water is enough depends on both the plants and whether the soil has lots of clay, which holds water well, or contains sand, which doesn't retain water. For example, both aloes (Aloe vera) and gardenias (Gardenia augusta) grow in USDA zones 8 through 11, but aloe is drought tolerant and needs water only every three or four weeks, while gardenias need moisture at all times and require watering at least once a week.

Tip

Test the soil type to see if it contains mostly clay, loam or sand by forming a ball in your hands with moist soil. Clay soil retains the ball shape, loamy soil falls apart somewhat and sandy soil falls apart instantly.

Diseases, Fertilizers and Pests

Although overwatering is the leading cause of plant damage, according to Linda Chalker-Scott, horticulturist and sssociate professor at Washington State University, plants wilt for other reasons too:

  • Too much fertilizer can deposit an abundance of salts into the soil. Apply an all-purpose fertilizer according to the directions on the package, or approximately 1.5 to 2 pounds for each 100 square feet of soil.
  • Certain insects such as aphids or mites can suck the moisture from leaves. Spray insects with a strong stream of water to remove them from plants, or use a commercial or homemade insecticide soap and spray the liquid on the upper and lower sides of drooping leaves every five to seven days.
  • Fungus and bacterial infections thrive in damp gardens or develop on leaves attacked by insects. To prevent the spread of diseases, remove diseased leaves from plants and sterilize garden tools with rubbing alcohol.
  • Rodents such as gophers, moles or voles sometimes damage root, which leads to plant's unable to transport water up to the leaves and flowers. Protect shrubs and other plants by lining pots or planting holes with mesh.

Warning

Some plants may be too damaged to save. If all the leaves and flowers have dropped from branches and the stems have shriveled completely, remove the plant from the garden or container and throw it away.

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Susan Lundman

Susan Lundman

Susan Lundman began writing about her passions of cooking, gardening, entertaining and recreation after working for a nonprofit agency, writing grants and researching child development issues. She has written professionally for six years since then. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.