Garden Mulching Soil Improvement and/or preparation

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.


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  • 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

  • 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!


  • 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
    thank you.

  • 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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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,

    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.


  • 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.

  • Hi Theresa! I just came across your blog while researching for info about wilting. I’m in Portugal and I have this Bougainvillea that wilts as soon as the sun gets to it. It will always be back to normal by night time though. It’s growing a lot of new leaves and branches but no flowers yet. It had flowers when I bought it but they fell off. It’s my very first plant and I’m finding this gardening thing quite confusing… my plant is in a big pot and in the sun from 2pm to 7pm roughly. As far as I know bougainvilleas are full sun plants so why does it wilt so much? Could it be because the sun is so hot during the day though the nights are still cold? The soil is moist and I’m trying not to over water… Am I missing something? Your thoughts would be deeply appreciated 🙂

  • Hi Sofia,
    I don’t grow Bougainvilleas, so I had to google what it was.
    Do a some research on the plant and make sure you’re giving it what it requires.
    Since I’ve not grown the plant, I can only tell you the principles that apply to most things. (I mentioned most in the post.)
    The first thing that comes to mind (without knowing anything about Bourgainvilleas) is that you’re overwatering. Let the soil dry out a bit and see if things don’t improve.
    If that’s not it you’ll have try different things based on the results of your research.
    Good luck with it!

  • Thank you so much for trying to help! I don’t think I’m over watering so I’m going to go to a gardening centre tomorrow and see if they can solve this puzzle lol. When I got home at about 8 pm my plant was already all perked up again and it was still sunny but not hot. Oh well, I guess I’ll get there by trial and error eventually 🙂

  • I’d be interested in knowing what you find out, Sofia. I sure hope they can help you solve the problem.

  • I am using the Jiffy 72 pods for starting vegetables. They have turn little brown and wilted. They were in my house and sprung an inch or 2 before I moved them to the little green house I bought. After 1 day they wilted and fell over. It seems warm in the jiffy container. They have direct sunlight too. Any way to recover them?

  • I’m not a fan of jiffy pods. For one thing, they dry out way to fast and need too much tending. If the seedlings were in your house and grew two inches, its no wonder they turned a little brown and wilted. They needed sunlight to grow properly. Then when you moved them to the green house it was probably too much of a shock. Someone else could better advise you on how to nurse seedlings in jiffy pots. I don’t use them.

    If you want to do it the easy way, you might want to search my site. A good post to start is It shows pictures of my seedlings.

    Best of luck.

  • I am having some issues withe my cucumber plants. I started them indoors in a jiffy pods with the heat pad. They were growing well and I transplanted them into a bigger pot and moved them into an indoor green house. They were doing well until a couple days ago. Some of the cucumber plants are now wilting and turning yellow and very weak bending at the sTems. I test the soil often to make sure it’s not too moist. And the pH had remained neutral. Tested the elements thesoil was low in nitrogen phos and potash. these are organic seeds. Wil bone meal help bring the nitrogenand phos up? Would thus be the direct cause? I don’t want to loose my plants. 🙁

  • Bonnie, it sounds like you put a lot of time and effort into your potted seedlings. So sorry they’re not doing well.
    I’m not the person to ask about keeping things going in pots.
    I’m also not the person to ask about adding a little of this and a little of that. It’s against my whole approach to gardening.

    Seeds don’t need much of anything to germinate and grow a little.
    Once I get seeds started, I transplant to the garden as soon as possible – including cukes.
    With hot weather crops such as tomatoes and peppers, I may transplant to a larger pot and add a tablespoon of compost to the grow mix.

    I’m not a big fan of adding a little of this and a little of that to garden soil and I don’t do it to potted plants either.
    Once in a blue moon I’ll use a spray of fish emulsion if my plants are in the pots a bit long. That’ll give them nitrogen.


  • So Theresa I planted my cukes in a pallet crate in miracle grow garden soil a little over a month ago. They were looking beautiful as a matter of fact almost too many plants. I water my garden which is regular soil and my cuke crate every evening around 7 for about an hour with a sprinkler today in nebraska was super hot 100 degrees. I came home and it looked like someone fell on my cukes as they were flat and leaves wilted. There is no yellowing and perfectly beautiful yesterday

  • Grace, I assume you are not a regular reader of TMG. I do not recommend miracle grow “anything” — soil or otherwise. I’ve written numerous posts. To start – you may want to review this one:
    Not sure if you wanted me to comment on your situation, but I can’t advise you one way or the other about your crate planted cukes because my recommendations are totally different than your methods.

  • Hi Theresa,
    I live in South Florida and am a newish gardener. Last year I successfully harvested about 14 butternut squash without problems. This year although I planted a little earlier (in same area in garden not in container) my one plant which was looking beautiful, and one squash baby was just pollinated….All the leaves suddenly wilted. Looked fine earlier in the day. I watered, to no avail. I packed compost around the root. I dug down to look for any borers. None that I could see. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away….I supposed…This morning however half the plant revived!! Now in the heat all are wilted again. I hesitate to water. If you can give me an answer to this mystery I would be grateful. Very. Thank you in advance.

  • Hi Julie,
    Congratulations on harvesting 14 butternut squash without problem last year!

    Usually when leaves of any squash plant wilt suddenly. I suspect the squash vine borer. And as you already know, watering does not help.
    You were absolutely right to hesitate to water.

    Probably the borer is still in the stem. It could be a small one which probably accounts for the plant reviving somewhat, but then not being able to make it through the stress of heat with the borer still there.

    You could cut the stem open with a knife and try and to find the borer and remove it. Then see what happens.
    Sometimes this saves the plant and sometimes it doesn’t.


  • Hello!

    This is my first attempt at a container veg garden. I don’t have the space for in the ground gardens. I started with seedlings and am in the middle of the hardening off process (on day 5 and they are getting some morning sun in Colorado). The leaves have looked wilted since day one. Some have rebounded durning the night, some haven’t. I have cucumber, tomatoes, squash, and melon. Is this anything I should be concerned about or should I just be looking for new growth? I’m using breathable grow bags as containers. I’m worried they won’t be ready after the end of the week. Should I have a canopy over them always; it can get very hot in the afternoons. Any tips?? Thanks!!


  • Elizabeth, in general your seedlings should not have looked wilted since day one.
    One thing that could cause that is over watering. If the soil (or grow mix) is water logged the roots can’t breath.
    What have your temperatures been during the hardening off process?
    Hot weather seedlings (if they’re healthy) can take a lot of sun.
    But depending on how severe the heat is – plants can wilt in hot weather because they can’t take up moisture as fast as they are giving it off.
    But since you said that your seedlings have looked wilted since day one I think there’s more going on.
    If you’re over watering — stop that and see how thing progress.

  • Hi Theresa, what kind of organic matter do you mix into your soil? And what do you mulch with? It seems all I do is water, water and water! This year I planted tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and various veggies in pots, which I have never done before. I just used regular potting soil. I have harvested lettuce, radishes and beets so far. My tomatoes have blossom end rot, and the leaves are turned up, not under. So I don’t think I over watered them. I just added a little gypsum to the soil for calcium. I am waiting to see if that will help develop better fruit. I planted squash, melons, cucumbers, carrots and corn in my back garden with a mixture of Miracle Grow and dirt. This high heat is causing them to wilt. I water them deeply in the morning, so I know there is not a lack of water. I just sprayed them overhead with the garden hose which perked them up. I know I am not supposed to do that, but I don’t want the flowers to die. I feel like I am babysitting.

  • Hi Diane,
    I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours writing posts that address every problem you mentioned.
    You can easily go to the home page and search my site for various topics.

    I can see why you feel as if you’re babysitting. It’s not necessary when you know most of my secrets which are documented here on TMG.

    In the meantime here are two posts on blossom end rot:

    On watering:

    On Mulching:
    You can browse through this list of posts for information:

    A search for “add organic matter” will bring up numerous posts for you to review.
    When I first prepared my beds (22 years ago at this location) I dug in leaves.
    I dig my kitchen scraps in various places all year long.
    Other than that I lay all organic materials (leaves, straw, crop residue) on top of the soil and the soil life pulls it down.

    And one more thing, I would never use Miracle Grow. That’s all about making money for THEM, not about helping YOUR garden.


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