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growing pains 8 common growing problems

Growing Pains: 8 Common Gardening Problems

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Sometimes no matter what you do your plants end up looking a little bit sad. Here we identify several common gardening problems and their causes, and what you can do to get your plants back to their perky selves in no time.

1. Legginess

Leggy seedlings gardening problems
Image by Matthew Bellemare

One of the most common gardening problems caused by low light conditions. The difference between a healthy and a “leggy” plant can be most easily seen in seedlings, though larger plants can be affected as well. Legginess happens as a result of too little light, and causes the plant to grow tall and thin in an attempt to get closer to the light source. Leggy plants will often topple over as they grow taller, and will not have the strong and straight appearance of a healthy plant.


If your plants start to look this way, they need more light! Move them to a place where they get more sunlight than they are currently getting, or alternatively, you can supplement the light in their current situation by adding a grow light.

2. Leaf Scorch

leaf scorch gardening problems
Image by Utah State University

Gardening problems like this one can be difficult to diagnose as it has many potential causes. Leaf scorch presents itself as a browning of the tips, edges and margins of the leaves on your plant. If left untreated, the leaves will wilt and eventually die. Leaf scorch can be tricky to solve because there are several causes including:  soil compaction, transplant shock, lack of nutrients, under watering, fertilizer toxicity, and herbicide injury.


The solution lies in determining the cause of the problem and correcting it. If you’ve been letting your plant get too dry between waterings, try and keep your watering schedule more consistent. If you’ve over fertilized, you can flush the soil with water (make sure your containers have drainage holes) in order to bring down the fertilizer concentration that has built up in the soil.

3. Sunburn

leaf sunburn sunscald
Image by Scot Nelson

Sunburn is something we see particularly on young tender plants, especially if they have been newly transplanted to the outdoors.  If the foliage on your plant looks bleached (lighter in color or even white), your plants may be getting a sunburn. This is not a huge concern as most plants will recover once they acclimate to their new environment, but it’s a good thing to avoid if you can.


Harden off young plants prior to leaving them outside and exposing them to the elements. You can do this by leaving your plants outdoors in a sheltered location for a short period during the day, and then bringing them back indoors. Repeat this every day for 7-10 days, increasing the time each day until they are left out for a full day. By this point your plants should be acclimated to the outdoor environment and can be safely left outside permanently.

If you’re still having problems, giving your plants protection from the harsh afternoon sun during the hottest part of the day can be beneficial.

4. Frost Damage

Frost damage gardening problems
Image by Government of Manitoba

Cold or frost damage occurs, as the name implies, when your plants are exposed to freezing temperatures. This normally appears as blackened foliage, especially on the most exposed parts of the plant. If your plants are exposed to the cold for too long they can wither and die. Remember: strong winds can exacerbate this condition by making the temperature feel colder than it actually is.


Bring plants inside or move them to a sheltered or covered area when temperatures are expected to dip near or below freezing. If you already have plants that have minor frost damage, pick off the affected leaves and leave the healthy ones. If the damage isn’t too bad the plant may recover.

5. Wind Damage

Wind damage is one gardening problems that particularly plagues many urban growers. Wind can inflict many different wounds to a plant’s foliage, so there isn’t a typical example to show you, but in general causes tearing, breakage, and desiccation of leaves, stems, and branches. A double-edged sword, wind can also quickly dry up the soil in containers, leaving nothing for plants to drink up to replace the water that is quickly evaporating from its leaves.

Plants with large tender leaves are most susceptible to damage from high winds. Generally, the higher up you are the windier it gets, so rooftop gardens and balcony gardens on high floors have to deal with this issue quite often.


Bring plants inside when it is very windy, or set up a wind block to protect plants. We put up a reed fence or screen to protect our plants on our 10th floor balcony on windy days, but you can also find these in willow or bamboo.


If damage is limited to a few leaves, you can pick them off so the plant is less unsightly. Otherwise, there is not much to be done other than to wait and see if the plant is able to recover on its own.

6. Wilting

wilting plant gardening problems
Image by Scot Nelson

Wilting manifests as a sad, droopy looking plant with limp leaves, stems, or branches. It can be caused by many factors, but the most common cause is under watering. Normally, the youngest leaves at the top of the plant are the first to show symptoms.


As luck would have it, this problem is generally easy to fix because most plants recover once they’ve been watered again. However, if too much time has passed and the plant has gone too long without an adequate water supply, it may be past the point of saving. A great way to avoid this issue if you don’t have the time every day to water your garden is to install a drip irrigation system. There are plenty of drip irrigation kits available online that are easy to set up, and will have you sitting back and enjoying the sunshine without a care in the world, while your plants get watered automatically. 

If watering doesn’t fix the wilting problem, your plant may be suffering from a type of disease that inhibits its ability to draw water from the soil. See our article on common diseases for more information.

7. Yellowing Leaves

yellowing leaves yellow gardening problems
Image by Alexa Iwashyna
The most common cause of yellowing leaves is moisture stress. Leaves can turn yellow on the bottom of the plant if it is not receiving adequate water. However, leaves can also turn yellow due to over watering.
Figuring out which extreme is causing the problem can be tricky, especially for new gardeners, but take a look at your watering habits to determine the probable cause. In general, a good rule of thumb is to stick your finger in the soil up to the first knuckle. If it feels dry, then it’s time to water—if it’s still damp then hold off!


Correct inconsistent watering. A good rule of thumb is to water when the top 1″ of soil is dry to the touch. You must also ensure that you have good lightweight soil, and good drainage holes in your containers. This in combination should ensure that your plants are getting the right amount of water to aid in their recovery.
To eliminate the guesswork in determining if your plants need to be watered or not, you can use a soil moisture meter which will tell you exactly how wet or dry your soil is.

8. Fertilizer/Salt Burn 

Symptoms of fertilizer burn present themselves as brown or dried up leaf tips and edges. This problem is caused by an excess of fertilizer building up in the soil, caused by fertilizing with too high concentration or fertilizing too often. If the condition worsens, the whole leaf may dry up and drop off, and tips of branches may die.


If you suspect you have over fertilized, you can reduce salt burn by flooding the soil with plenty of water, and letting it drain from the container several times. NOTE: Make sure the container has good drainage before you do this!

If you’re sure that the watering situation isn’t the problem, yellowing leaves can have several other causes. The lower leaves may not be receiving enough sunlight because the uppermost leaves are blocking it out, though there isn’t much you can do about this. Yellowing leaves can also be caused by several diseases, or nitrogen deficiency. Take a look at our post on common diseases to see if you can make a diagnosis, or treat a nitrogen deficiency with a fertilizer high in nitrogen, such as blood meal.

Hi - I'm Brie! I’m a plant enthusiast here to help you keep your plants alive and thriving with beginner-friendly plant care advice and tutorials.

I’ve been growing all sorts of plants for years in my tiny apartment, both indoors and on small balconies & outdoor spaces. Let’s create your jungle!

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