The plants you see on TV and in magazines always look perfect, but real life is seldom like that. Plants rarely have perfectly rounded shapes or masses of fruit and flowers wherever you look. In real life, plants often have one side that looks and performs better. Things are uneven. Movie star plants (and their human counterparts) look the way they do because they are frequently airbrushed and staged by professionals.
Imperfections are perfectly normal in the plant (and human) world. Failing to thrive is something else altogether.
Failure to thrive is not a disease. It is a symptom. And most of us have seen it happen in our gardens or patios. Scraggly stems, too few leaves, little or no fruit or flowers, and overall weakness are all signs of failing to thrive. You can help your plant return to good health once you know the cause. Failure to thrive is usually an environmental or biological issue.
Biological causes of failure to thrive
Some plants are born weak. It can be because the seed was old, or germination occurred too early in the season while temperatures were too cold. In both cases, the seedling had to put out more energy than it could afford, too early in its growth, and may never recover fully. Other biological causes of failure to thrive include diseases and improper planting.
You can prevent many problems with these tips:
Environmental causes behind a failure to thrive
Plants cannot leave their environment, so they deal with wherever they are. Several environmental conditions keep plants from thriving:
In some cases, you have to take more drastic measures. After all your other treatments and corrections have failed, it is time to dig up or unpot your plants and get to the root of the problem. You will want to work over a tarp or a large container. Either dig up your problem plant or remove it from its container. Shake the soil from the roots and wash them. Root washing is an excellent way to see what is going on underground. Prune out any damaged, mushy, broken, or infected roots. Set the root ball in a bucket of water and examine the soil. Look for signs of insect pupae, grubs, root maggots, root weevils, wireworms, cutworms, and other soil-dwelling pests.
Smell the soil. Does it smell rich and earthy? Or does it smell funky, like old gym socks? Healthy soil contains earthworms and zillions of microorganisms. And it smells like good earth. Less-than-ideal soil smells like something rotten. If that’s the case, toss it in the trash and give your patient some fresh potting soil. Until your plant is thriving, if possible, keep it in a container in a protected location during its recovery.
Kate Russell, writer, gardener, and so much more.