sick plant, unhealthy plant, what is wrong with my plant

6 common reasons why plants get sick

Are you wondering why all of a sudden your plant is getting sick? Here are some common reasons that could be affecting your plants.

Plants are as fragile as any other living thing that this planet hosts. A sudden change in the environment, absence of food and water or an attack by an invader can all cause great disturbance. Plants get attacked by pests, disease and different ailments all the time. Sometimes these get serious and plants die. Basic knowledge can help you identify problem before it is too late.

Water logging and drought

Cactus, Spur, Green, Prickly, Plant, Thorns, Nature

Over watering kills more plants than under -watering.  The build-up of water in soil discourages growth of roots and makes them rot very fast. This is usually caused by soil with poor drainage. Plastic containers also reduce water evaporation and drainage and cause water logging.  One of the obvious signs of water logged plants is that the tips of the leaves will begin to get brown

Drought, on the other hand, is caused by water shortage that occurs usually in summers with temperatures are high and days are long. Plant begins to lose its turgidity. Prolong drought can cause permanent damage.

It is important to remember that some plants flourish in drought-like conditions and some only grow in water logged soils. Cacti will die if you water them every day.

One way to maintain balance in irrigation is to water only in evenings when sun is gentle. This will give time for plants to absorb water and be ready to face sun the next morning.  Water only when soil goes dry.


Tree, Beach, Sea, Wind, Scenery, Larnaca, Cyprus

Woody trees, tall plants in containers, vegetables on a stalk may all suffer effects of wind. In places close to the sea, where wind is harsh and takes saline water with it, causes double damage. Wind often worsens the effect of temperatures. Shrubs can be uprooted and trees can be broken in harsh weather.

Sometimes there is no way to avoid strong winds but wind barriers can be created using strong and flexible plants or other method can be used.

High winds because leaf scorch, especially on shade loving plants like ferns. Some plants also suffer more due to wind because they were watered in the scorching sunlight.


Light Hours

Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera, Flowers, Blossoms

Although, each plant may be a different requirement of light to grow and flourish but one thing is certain that they do need light to grow.  Plants that grow in shade are weak, long, etiolated. Strong sunlight also damages the plant.  The best way to keep plants healthy is to know number of hours your garden gets direct sunlight. Make your plant selection based on this.

If sun loving plants are kept in shade they starve and become weak. If kept in the same conditions the plant will eventually die.

Nutrient Imbalance

Too much or too little nutrients will slow down, stun growth, change colors of leaves, change appearance of leaves and roots and also kill a plant. Any part of the plant can show signs of nutrient over dose or deficiency but usually it is the tip of the shoot. For example, leaf curl up and show brown patches when a certain nutrient is too high and is not letting other nutrients to get absorbed.

Before you begin to search for signs of this disorder, it is important to keep in view few points.

  1. Many nutrient deficiencies look alike.
  2. Some plants are bred to have variegated leaves. It is important to know how your plant looks when it is healthy.
  3. There can be more than two problems with a plant. For instance, nutrient deficiency and a pest attack. In this case some symptoms might not show.


Alkaline Soils

Soils that are highly alkaline suffer deficiencies of manganese, copper, iron, zinc and boron. Phosphate also becomes unavailable between 6-7.5 PH.


Autumn, Tree, Branch, Leaves, Colorful, Faded, Season

Pollution also effect plant growth. Premature leaves begin to fall, discoloration of leaf, stunned growth may be a sign of pollution in the area. Soil pollution cause extreme acidity or alkalinity, chemical toxicity, salt toxicity and others problems.

Besides all these disorders, your plants also battle with different pest and disease all the time.  Sharing more about this requires a piece on its own and soon I shall write about it in detail.

If we understand what our plants need things will become simpler.  The problems arise when we bring in a plant without knowing if we have suitable environment for it. Once you have a collection of plants, its best to start making changing around to make it feel home. Remember, plants are sensitive to change. They create their own micro climate and whenever you move them they take time to readjust.  Spend more time with plants and observe what works for them in your climate. The other best advice to avoid these disorders is to create hygienic conditions around your plant. Keep a close eye on the soil and water that is the key for plants health.


Zahra Ali Husain is a sustainability educator, freelance writer and an environmentalist. She is also a co-founder of Organic City Pakistan and runs the Green Schools & the Horticulture Therapy programs along with Yasir Husain. Zahra also manages an organic farm.