11 signs your plants are stressed

And how to bring them back to life. By Sam Wylie-Harris.

How to bring your stressed plants back to life
Woman taking care of her plants at home How to bring your stressed plants back to life (Wavebreak Media Premium / Alamy /Alamy Stock Photo)

Is there anything more beautiful than greenery and foliage brightening up a room?

But wait, what if there are signs that something isn’t quite right…

“One of the key aspects of maintaining healthy plants is recognising and addressing common issues,” says Julian Palphramand, head of plants at British Garden Centres.

Being a plant parent
Being a plant parent (Ekaterina Kriminskaya / Alamy St/Alamy Stock Photo)

Here, Palphramand shares some of the most common plant problems and reveals how to solve them…

1. Wilting

Wilting is a telltale sign of plant stress and can stem from both overwatering and underwatering, underlines Palphramand. “If your plant’s soil feels dry and crumbly, underwatering is likely the issue.

“Also, if your soil is saturated and soggy, this points to overwatering.”

(Nigel Cattlin / Alamy Stock Pho/Alamy Stock Photo)

To prevent wilting, he says to ensure your plant’s soil is well-draining and follow a balanced watering routine. “A good rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of soil is dry.”

2. Yellow leaves

Yellow leaves often indicate nutrient deficiency, poor drainage, root damage, or disease, highlights Palphramand. “A common cause is nitrogen deficiency.”

To combat this, he says to use a balanced plant food and ensure proper drainage to avoid root rot and other moisture-related problems. “This helps maintain a healthy balance of nutrients in the soil.”

3. Leaf drop

Sudden leaf drop can be alarming and is usually caused by abrupt changes in temperature, light, humidity, or water availability, he warns.

“Moving a plant to a drastically different environment can shock it, leading to leaf drop,” he explains.

(Denis Karpenkov / Alamy Stock Ph/Alamy Stock Photo)

“To minimise stress to your plant babies, gradually introduce your plants to their new conditions or home, to reduce the shock – and let your plants climatise to their new environment.”

4. Brown tips

Brown tips on leaves are typically a sign of inconsistent watering, high salt content or low humidity, notes Palphramand.

“Address this by establishing a consistent watering schedule and use distilled water if your tap water contains high levels of salts.

“For tropical plants, increasing humidity by misting can also help.”

5. Stunted or slow growth

“Stunted growth can result from nutrient deficiencies, insufficient light, or root-bound in a container – ensure your plants receive adequate light and nutrients by moving to a windowsill.

“If your plant is root-bound, repotting it into a larger container can provide the space needed for healthy growth.” he continues. “Regularly check and adjust these conditions to help your plant thrive.”

6. Spotty leaves

Spots or blotches on leaves can indicate fungal or bacterial infections, pests, or nutrient imbalances, suggests Palphramand.

He says to remove affected leaves and treat the plant with an appropriate fungicide. “Maintaining a regular feeding schedule ensures your plant gets the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.”

7. Legginess

Leggy growth is when plants become elongated with sparse foliage as they try and turn to the sun, which usually signals insufficient light, observes Palphramand.

(Sagar Simkhada / Alamy Stock Pho/Alamy Stock Photo)

To address this, he says to move your plants to a brighter location, as light is crucial for compact and healthy growth.

8. Brittleness

“Brittle or crispy leaves are often due to underwatering, low humidity, or excessive heat,” notes Palphramand. “Regular watering and misting can help increase humidity levels around the plant.”

But he says to avoid placing plants in direct, intense sunlight or near heat sources to prevent them from drying out.

9. Root rot

Root rot is a serious condition for plants, caused by overwatering and poor drainage, he explains. “Signs include black, mushy roots and an unpleasant smell.”

Palphramand says to carefully remove damaged roots, then repot them with fresh, well-draining soil. “Always check the soil moisture before watering again – good drainage and proper watering are key to preventing this condition.

“It’s also common in containers with no drainage holes; if root rot occurs, remove the plant from the pot and leave it to dry out before repotting in fresh compost.”

10. Pests

(alenaloginova / Alamy Stock Phot/Alamy Stock Photo)

Visible insects and webbing on leaves indicate a pest infestation, warns Palphramand.

“Common pests include aphids, spider mites, gnats and mealybugs. Treat your plants with insecticidal soap or neem oil and regularly inspect for signs of pests to catch issues early – isolate them from other plants to avoid spreading.”

11. Mildew

A white, powdery matter on leaves, which looks like cotton wool is a sign of powdery mildew, a fungal infection, observes Palphramand.

“Improving air circulation around your plants and avoiding overwatering can help prevent mildew.

“Fungicidal sprays are effective in treating and preventing powdery mildew, ensuring your plants remain healthy,” he adds.