Why does my plant wilt or die? 9 steps to identify it

Analyze till the last gasp. – William Shakespeare

Why my plant wilt?

Was it easy for you to start gardening? Have all the plants in your garden grew as expected? For us, it didn’t work like that. Plants diseases and nutrition issues upset us. It almost persuaded us to stop gardening. Of course, walking along with the process we grew and became wiser. And looking back we know what could be changed to avoid similar issues in the future. 

We prepared a useful cheat sheet for ourselves with steps for identifying why a plant wilt.

  • Have you changed the watering schedule or quantity?
  • Analyze if lightening changed
  • Identify is it a seasonal issue by analyzing weather changes during last week or two
  • Is the plant perennial or it’s time to fade away?
  • Check if pot size is appropriate to expanding roots
  • Inspect leaves, stalk, and soil for bugs or snails
  • Identify plant diseases (fungus and bacterias) if possible
  • Check leaves for solid evidence of fertilizers deficiency/excess
  • Send for analysis or make it yourself with the gardening kit

In most cases, you can observe proper plant growth during the time and suddenly it starts showing some signs of diseases. There are plenty of reasons for such changes. We prepared steps to identify why do your plant wilt (it could be applied to basil, tomato, or any other greeny in your garden). Most of those are obvious but sometimes it could be forgotten. We tried to sort them from easiest to identify to more complicated ones.

Proper watering

First of all, there could be some changes in watering routines. Try to recall the last time you watered your greenies. Was there a usual amount of water and the same amount of time passed since the previous watering? If not, you should fix soil moisture first and cure a watering routine. Read ^^^how soil moisture is measured to identify watering issue.


Each plant does like a certain amount of light. Some do like shade while other prefer sunny places. You know all that already. Are there any changes in lighting for your plant which started wilting? Is it stays in the same place being in the pot? Is it the same amount of shade around it during the day? If the tree was cut down, shade changed. Or new fast growing greenery could make the dark area around it. 

Weather changed

How does weather affect plant growth? If it is summer hot with not enough rains and it was much cooler before – plant would want more water because it evaporates quicker. In case if a cold season is coming or you noticed temporary frost at night – it could make your garden to slow down or even extinguish some plants. Also if there is too much recently, it could affect roots so they start rotten. In this case, you should think about drainage.

In general, if you see same changes across a different species then probably temperature or precipitation changes affect your plants.

Plant living cycle goes to the end

Desert plants will wilt soon

You definitely know that some plants are destined to turn into a set of nutrition earlier than others. Is it possible that this exact plant is annual or biennial and it’s already produced seeds? While preparing this article I’ve figured out that there is a special name for plants with a short life cycle. They are called ephemeral plants which mean quickly fading. Some of those use short wet periods in a desert to grow and spread seeds. While others try to use season of low water in a mud. There are more types of ephemerals so you can check those as well. But my main message is – if you don’t know that much about your plants you’d better check it.

Pot size is too small

Not every plant need a big pot for proper growth. But in case if pot was selected too small without future plant needs, it may become a problem. A plant could grow disproportionate. Also, growth will slow down. To identify that pot is too small for the plant you could check if roots are started growing above the soil. Also, some of the roots would probably germinate through drainage holes. If you see that after watering all the water drains throughout the pot quickly that could also be a sign that almost no soil is left.


This topic is huge and short at the same time. Huge because I would spend hours enlisting all the pests that jeopardize your plants. And short because in most of the cases it’s not hard to recognize when some pest is precipitously devouring your cabbage or apple tree. You should examine leaves, stems and flowers (actually everything that is above the ground) for signs of pests. The first thing that will fall into your eye are holes in leaves. Also, there could be snail trails. Possibly you will see bugs or aphids. A web could also tell you about larvas or caterpillars. Here is a good article about how to identify pests. I would be honest with you some of the pests are not easy to identify. For instance that could be chafer larvae. They stay underground and eat plant root. I had a problem with one of my young cherry tree. It faded away and when I dug it out, I found several self-satisfied larvae. I still don’t know how to easily identify such an issue without digging and hurting roots. Thus if you know please comment on this post. 

Fungus, Bacteria and Viruses

Bacteria fungus and virus reasons for plant to wilt
Cucumber mosaic virus [Credits to: DieterO]

This reason is not always obvious. But how do we recognize it? If there are no signs of pests but leaves or stems have some unusual color spots then most likely it is fungus or bacteria. Also, leaves could turn into a mesh. Stem bottom could turn dark brown. In general, if you see uneven visual changes on a plant, you should spend more time to identify a type of fungus or bacterial disease. 

Fertilization issues

If you have already rejected all other reasons why your plant looks bad, then the reason is probably in soil fertility. A plant stopped growing or turned yellow in some places. Or leaf edges “burned out”. These are the most common signs that something is wrong with fertilization. Actually, a list of symptoms is much bigger. But sometimes it intersects with fungus or bacteria evidence. For instance, such symptom that could tell about fungus or fertilization issue could be chlorosis. 

Moreover, in some cases, over fertilization could cause fungus expansion. We’ve tried hard to differentiate it clearly but don’t know yet how to do it. In my personal opinion, the best way to identify what’s exactly destroying your plants is to make an extra step. It could be soil analysis or fungus/bacteria analysis. And it seems that soil analysis is much easier to do.

Soil fertility analysis

We spent a lot of efforts trying to set up and to write down the algorithm of soil fertility analysis. And we came to the conclusion such a conclusion: if you really care about your plants and don’t want to waste several more months or even kill some of your plants – please do a proper chemical analysis. While doing such an analysis, you would have two benefits. First one you will clearly know if it’s bacteria/fungus or fertilization issue. And second benefit is that you will know what exact mineral is missing or over performing.

We really hope that this article is useful to you. If you feel that something is missing or you have good ideas based on experience how this algorithm could be improved – please write post comment or contact us via email.

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