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One Reason Plants Wilt and Actions that Help

There are many reasons that plants can wilt. Heat (especially coupled with direct sunlight) is one. 99% of the time running for the watering can or hose is not the answer.

I know it’s always upsetting to see a plant wilt.  I’ve seen it many times over 33 years and as much as I know “all will be well in the morning” — I still become concerned.

Plants That are Prone to Wilting in Heat

Certain plants are more prone to this than others.  Hydrangeas are a perfect example.  Their big leaves often wilt when the temperatures are extreme in the day, but recover to perfect condition during the night.  (If it’s still wilted in the morning, you have another problem.)

A few days last week saw our wonderful cool spring temperatures soar to summer highs of almost 90.  My large sedums (like sedum autumn joy, neon and matrona) showed signs immediately. So did the mums.

While other perennials around them were loving it, all the leaves of the sedums and mums that were in direct sunlight wilted. Although 90 degrees is not extreme heat by summer standards, these two plants had not had time to accustom themselves to this kind of heat so early in the spring.

Fine in the shade (foreground); willted in direct sun (background).

Closer view of wilted sedum.

Top leaves of this mum are starting to wilt from the heat.

When summer arrives and we go through this same thing — but with highs in the 90s — they’ll wilt again.  But by morning they will look perfect.

The Cause

This wilting is caused by the plant giving off more water than it can take up.  There is plenty of water in the soil right now, but the plant just can’t take it up fast enough.

It’s especially disconcerting to see vegetable plants do this.  I’m always concerned I’ll loose the precious fruit they’re giving me.

I find cucumbers are very prone to this.  In last summers severe heat, even though they recovered by the morning, I did loose a small percentage of their fruit.  The vines just were not able to take up enough water to sustain the fruit. (In my heavily mulched garden, plants have soil water available to them longer than a conventional garden.)

Wilted leaves of cucumber plants.

Cucumbers recovered each morning.

Squash is prone as well.  But I’m never 100% sure if its just the heat or the squash vine borer.  Until of course,  it either makes a full recover or dies and I find the borer grub in the stem.

What Not To Do

  • Don’t handle the plants while they’re wilted.  You can easily damage them when they’re in this condition.  It could hamper their ability to recover and make them more prone to insects and disease
  • Don’t water unless you’re positive that’s the problem.  (For example – even through weeks of drought conditions there’s soil water available to plants in my heavily mulched garden.)  If you have the ability to water — and you’re sure that’s the problem —- water at soil level and do so without touching the wilted leaves of the plant.  And water either very late in the evening or very early in the morning.

Best Anti-Heat Maneuvers

Your best anti-heat maneuvers are good basic gardening practices. These simple but important practices allow plants to better deal with any stress, including heat and drought.

  • When preparing your garden bed, loosen the soil deeply so roots can penetrate and seek what they need including cooler temperatures.
  • Make sure your soil is always rich in organic matter to supply nutrients your plants need as well as helping your soil be able to retain moisture.
  • Mulching helps keep moisture in the soil. It keeps soil temperatures cooler and thus, prevents the sun from baking the plant roots. (When roots become too hot their activity slows and a stunted plant can result.)

An Additional Strategy

Some plants just take the heat better than others. If you’ve gardened any length of time, you’ve found this out through experience.

As you continue to improve and design your yard and gardens, make sure you create spots that offer you and at least some of your plants relief from the baking sun. Even some vegetable plants appreciate a little dappled shade in late afternoon.

Ending Thought

Good gardening practices and thoughtful design using trees, bushes and/or vine covered arbors can make a difference in how the the heat effects your plants.

__________

All content including pictures is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All rights are reserved.


10 comments to One Reason Plants Wilt and Actions that Help

  • Chamki

    Hello there, very nice blog Theresa, its really informative. This post has interested me a lot. This is my first year at yard gardening, I have always grown my plants in pots before. And I am struggling with the watering part in the open soil. It seems that water is not retained very well, in spite of all the soil prep. I dont have drip lines, I water with a hose. Maybe I need to mulch more. I will keep browsing, you have so much written here!
    take care

  • Theresa

    Hi Chamki,

    I’ve never watered in the 33 years that I’ve garden. I just don’t have a set up for that type of thing. Soil that is properly prepared and that has lots of organic matter and is heavily mulched will retain water for a long time.

    As you said, I have written a lot and have tried to make it easy for you to find things. You might want to read all the things written on soil preparation and mulching.

    Good luck with your garden!

    Theresa

  • trina

    Hello this is my first garden
    I have them in pots so when it gets time to plant them
    but today when they we’re out in the sun they looked like they’re wilting
    what can I do to make my little gardening turn out
    help
    thank you.

  • Theresa

    Hi Trina -
    You did not give me a lot of information so I will answer very generally and broad.
    If your plants were indoors and then you put them outside with strong sun and wind all day — that is probably why they are wilting.

    If they’ve been outside all the time — then they may be dry. (Sun and wind will dry the plants more quickly) Feel to see if they need watering.

    If you have things like parsley and lettuce in your pots, you can transplant them to the garden now.

    It might help you to read my post and

    Hardening Off Your Seedlings

  • Zahra Kanji

    Hi, the plants (hydrangea, purple leaf sandcherry tree, cedar and ornamental grass) on one half of my garden seem to be wilting or dying. I have the identical set of plants on the other half and they seem to be doing just fine. What do you think the problem could be?

  • Theresa

    Hi Zahra,
    Without knowing all the details and more about your conditions there is no way I could tell you what the problem is. But it is certainly obvious that something is wrong.
    Again – without knowing the particulars — all is guess work. It could be anything from being undermined by voles or some other creature to catching some chemical/poison drift from perhaps nearby fields – if there are any. If you’ve used any chemical there — even last year — I think that would be suspect.
    Hope this helps.
    Theresa

  • tanya

    I transplanted my perennial flowers when they were already starting to bloom in the summer. They had all the pretty leaves but didn’t start blooming the flowers.
    The flowers were already in their designated spot for years and I transplanted to another area. We’ve had extreme rain every day since I transplanted. Now the flowers are wilting.

  • Theresa

    Tanya -
    If you have to or want to transplant flowers that are fully grown to another spot in the summer — you can’t expect the plant to stay lush and turgid and go ahead and flower like nothing has happened.

    I’ve transplanted many flowers in the summer too — but I cut he plant back to about 2 or 3 inches, transplant, water it in, and then look forward to it being wonderful the next year — although you may get some growth of foliage this year.
    Theresa

  • Adrienne

    Theresa,

    Our cucumber seedlings have started wilting and was wondering if you had suggestions on fixing them. We planted them 2 weeks ago and they are now about 3.5 inches tall. We are keeping them indoors in the sunniest area possible. They are getting water through a spray bottle to keep the soil moist. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

    Thanks,
    Adrienne

  • Theresa

    Adrienne,
    I don’t know where you are located, but you would have to be pretty far south to be starting cukes this early.

    All plants need adequate light. There are a few folks who have an excellent southern exposure in their homes and can supply the right amount, but they are in the minority. Usually, you just cannot supply enough light for vegetable seedlings in a home environment – unless you want to buy lights. Regular florescent lights will do but you have to have them set up so you can position them within 1 or 2 inches of your plants.

    If you are keeping the soil “soggy” wet that will also cause your plants to wilt. Soil that is sopping wet cannot get sufficient air to the roots of the plant.

    Cucumbers are very easy to start. If you are growing them to be planted in the garden, I would suggest waiting to start them about 2 weeks before you want to transplant in the ground. I direct seed mine in the ground AND I start some in a flat. By the time they’re up 3.5 inches like yours they’re ready to be planted.

    If you plan to grow the cuke in a container, you still need to wait until about 2 weeks before you plan to set outside.
    Theresa

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