Look, the reason why your outdoor plant is dying usually boils down to one thing. (the same applies whether it is an indoor plant or a garden plant in the ground or an outdoor potted plant – but since I’m a landscape designer… )
It’s not complicated, but I understand why you might get confused or feel like it is a hard thing to find out.
(and don’t feel bad if you don’t know what it is – there are whole industries built on convincing you it’s tricky).
Why Your Outdoor Plants are Dying – And How To Stop Killing them
The one thing? (I can’t pull off being as coy as old Curly so I’ll just tell you…)
Yep, the hands down, #1 number one reason plants fail is because of water.
Typically your plants aren’t getting enough, but sometimes it is because they get too much.
💦A mismatch between the amount of water provided, with a plant’s need is a deadly problem. 💦
How do you solve the water problem in the garden?
First you have to know how much water your plot has naturally. Water is in the air, water is in the ground, and water comes out of a hose. All these sources matter and they need to match the needs of your garden plants.
So how do you fix a water mismatch?
Here are a few tips:
- Before you plant anything, get to know your garden’s water environment. Is it humid? How much rain do you get? Does it get really hot so all the water evaporates? Do you have soil that holds water? Or soil that lets the water drain quickly away? Is it a place that gets winter water that melts in the spring, but then is bone dry by mid-summer? What is the water from your hose like?
- Don’t be delusional about your ability to hand water. Resolving to hand water is like deciding to go to the gym 5 days a week on the first of January. We all know how that goes. Make sure your plants can handle it when you forget, don’t feel like it, or when life generally gets in the way. Garden plants die when you forget. Have a Plan B. Plan B should be one of 2 things – plant only plants that can live with only the amount of water that naturally comes to your garden (preferable) or install an irrigation system.
- Add organic material (compost) to your soil. Among many other good things, it helps retain water.
- Mulch the top of your soil so less water escapes. Mulching is like adding a crust that keeps the moisture trapped. I like to use compost for this as well – two birds, one stone, is always the way I roll. Plus when water percolates through the compost, the roots get extra nutrients. (There is no shame in lazy gardening!)
- And lastly – understand that the guidance and research about the needs of your plants (i.e. the basic bits of information that are on the plant tag) usually assumes that the plant is **established**. But newly planted perennial plants, shrubs and trees aren’t going to be fully **established**. (Meaning they have a fully developed, settled and strong root system that can properly sustain it). *Established* doesn’t happen until they have lived at least a couple years in the spot where you have asked it to grow. In the meantime, they will all need more TLC and water than the plant guides call for.
Other reasons outdoor plants die:
Yes, there are other reasons that plants die. But the next two biggest culprits (cold and then pests) are a distant second and an even more distant (like teeny tiny speck on the horizon) third.
Every plant has a particular tolerance for temperature. If they are exposed to something outside of their tolerance (both hot and cold), they die. Some will do it instantaneously and some will drag it out painfully… but all plants will die if asked to live where they can’t cope.
It is one of those super predictable things – like when you drink a gallon of water, you will have to pee.
It just is.
So if you don’t want a garden plant to die from cold, make sure you understand your planting zone and the hardiness of the plant choices you are making. (And make sure they match!).
And yes, plants do die because of pests. But in the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t that likely.
Pests tend to behave like lions. They attack the weak.
Keeping plants healthy and strong is a far better first defense than playing catch-up with all the ‘cides’ (insecti-cides, fungi-cides, pesti-cides… ecocide).
Don’t live in mortal fear of the bugs. Yes, they are annoying and yes they cause damage. And yes, we even occasionally we have plagues of locusts or other biblical torment (not, actually, that often). But for the most part, unless your plants are weakened by something else (water issues and climate conflicts) the bugs aren’t likely to be your plant’s main problem.
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