The plants you see on TV and in magazines always look amazing and perfect and it’s not real. Real 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. The movie star plants, like their human counterparts, are often 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 on our patios. Scraggly stems, too few leaves, little or no fruit or flowers, and overall weakness are all signs of failing to thrive. In many cases, you can correct the problem and help your plant return to good health. Failure to thrive can be caused by environmental conditions or biological characteristics.
Biological causes of failure to thrive
Some plants are born weak. This 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 early in its growth and may never recover fully. Other biologic causes of failure to thrive include bacterial, fungal, and viral diseases, girdling roots,
You can prevent many problems with these tips:
Environmental causes behind failure to thrive
Plants cannot leave their environment, so they have to deal with wherever they are. There are several environmental conditions that keep plants from thriving:
In some cases, drastic measures are called for. 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 very large container. Either dig up your problem plant or remove it from its container. Then, shake the soil from the roots and wash them. Root washing is an excellent way to see what, exactly, has been 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 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 went bad. If that’s the case, toss it out and give your patient some fresh potting soil. Until your plant is thriving, if possible, it is best to keep it in a container during its recovery.
Do you have a plant that’s failing to thrive? Tell us about it in the comment and let’s see if we can help it get better!
Kate Russell, writer, gardener, and so much more.