Why Plants Don’t Grow – What To Do When Plants Won’t Establish


Whenever you movea plant, the plant is stressed. It remains stressed until it establishesitself in the new location. You hope to see the plant spread its roots intosurrounding soil and thrive. Yet, sometimes a plant won’t establish and,instead of thriving, declines. Read on for information on some of the reasonsfor establishment failure after transplant and what you can do to prevent it.

Why Plants Won’t Establish

Do your plants fail to establish? It’s always discouragingwhen a new plant you’ve installed in the garden doesn’t grow well. If you seeleaves yellowing and falling or branch dieback, it is probably a case ofestablishment failure.

Plants fail to establish for many reasons, includingdiseases and pests. Generally, plants don’t grow after transplant because ofmissteps in planting or cultural care after planting. Too small a planting holeand improper irrigation are the leading issues.

Newly installed plants, both annuals and perennials, requireadequate care and attention in order to develop and thrive in your garden. Theymust be situated in an appropriate location, planted correctly, and providedproper irrigation to thrive. When any of these factors are lacking, your plantwon’t establish.

If you see a plant that appears to be ailing, loses leaves,or lacks vigor, it could be from failure to establish.

Preventing Establishment Failure

If you understand why plants fail to establish, you canusually prevent this sad result. Before you transplant, be sure that a plant isappropriate for your hardinesszone and for the location. Some plants require fullsun, others partialsun, and some prefer shade.If you get the hardiness or exposure wrong, the plant will not thrive.

A newly installed plant needs to be able to spread its rootsinto the soil of the new location. To make sure that is possible, prepare alarge planting hole, loosening the soil on all sides. Loosen the plant roots aswell if they are curled inside the pot. Then, position the plant in the hole atthe correct depth, usually the same depth as in its prior pot or growinglocation.

Irrigation is very important for transplants and too littleirrigation is a primary reason why plants don’t grow after transplant. You needto water the plant regularly in the days after transplant, often enough to keepthe soil moist. Continue this practice for several months.

Take care if the soil is heavy like clay.In that case, too much water can rot the roots, so you’ll need to strike abalance.


Reasons Why Plants Don't Produce Fruit

By this time of year, gardeners across the country are either already harvesting fruit and vegetable crops, or eagerly awaiting the first harvest of the season. While we hear stories about people's gardens producing so much zucchini that they fill neighbors' cars with it as a prank, an increasing number of gardeners are experiencing lower yields of fruits from their gardens. Why would a plant flower, and then not bear fruit? How can it be remedied?

Inadequate Pollination is a Problem

One reason that plants do not produce fruit is inadequate pollination. Most food crops require pollination in order to yield fruit or seeds. A major sign of inadequate pollination is when plants produce plenty of flowers, but barely any fruit. Squash, zucchini, melons, cucumbers, apple trees, and almond trees are examples of plants that rely heavily on pollinators in order to bear fruit.

Attracting Pollinators

It's important to attract pollinators to your garden by establishing a bee-friendly landscape. Pollinators like native, perennial plants. Beesource, an online community for beekeepers and beekeeping, publishes a great chart of nectar and pollen plants, organized by region. It's a good idea to consult with either an agricultural extension expert, or member of your local native plants society, in order to find out which plants will be most beneficial for gardens in your area. Part of the plan needs to be planting a garden that blooms in all four seasons, including in winter. If you suspect that your plants are not being pollinated by natural pollinators, you should look into manual pollination.

Severe Weather and How to Compensate

Another reason why your plants might be under-producing is the weather. Unusually hot, cold, dry, or wet conditions can interfere with fruit production. Wind and heat can dry out soil and scorch plants. Excess moisture may cause mold and fungus growth on plants, and also may attract and keep certain pests around. Frost is capable of damaging the flower buds and blooms of fruiting plants to the extent that the plants will not bear fruit. You might need to be protecting plants in cold weather, or watering them more if they're getting brown in high heat.

Too Much or Too Little Fertilizer

Excessive or insufficient fertilization is another reason why plants have smaller yields of fruit, or none at all. Before you fertilize your garden, it is important to have a soil analysis done by your local cooperative extension, so that you know which nutrients your soil needs, and which nutrients it already has in rich amounts. If soil analysis is not a possibility for you, consider simply layering a small amount of compost under mulch of straw or a similar material. Compost and straw mulch improve the quality of most home gardens. To avoid over-fertilizing, go light on the compost and heavier on the straw mulch. Cover crops can also restore nutrients to tired soil.

For more garden solutions, find a reliable landscaper in your area.


Shade: Lack of adequate light is another very common reason that many types of plants do not flower. Plants may grow but not flower in the shade.

Cold or Frost Injury: Cold weather may kill flower buds or partially opened flowers. Plants that are not fully hardy in your area are the most susceptible to this type of cold injury.

Excessive pruning of crape myrtles will damage future flower buds.
LayLa Burgess, © 2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Drought: Flowers or flower buds dry and drop off when there is temporary lack of moisture in the plants.

Improper Pruning: Some plants bloom only on last year’s wood. Pruning plants at the wrong time of the year can remove the flower buds for next year’s blossoms. Many spring flowering plants, such as azaleas begin setting next year’s flower buds in the late spring. Pruning these plants in the summer or fall may prevent flowering next year. Cutting back a plant severely, such as with climbing roses, can remove all the flowering wood.

Nutrient Imbalance: Too much nitrogen can cause plants to produce primarily leaves and stems. The plant will be large and usually very green and healthy but will have few or no flowers.

Nutrient deficiencies may result in reduced flower production or poor pollination. However, nutrient excess can be harmful to plant growth. For example, phosphorus levels need to be sufficient in the soil for flower formation, but excessive amounts reduce the availability of several micronutrients to plants, especially iron. A boron deficiency may lead to incomplete pollination. Pollen quality, pistil formation (part of the female flower), and pollen tube elongation are affected by insufficient boron. But, be aware that there is a fine line between sufficient and excessive soil boron, which can become toxic to plants if the levels become too high. Therefore, test the soil periodically for the recommended fertilizers for various plants. For more information on how to test the soil, see HGIC 1652, Soil Testing.

Cold Period Required: This is true for most spring flowering bulbs. Some trees planted in latitudes in which they do not normally grow may also fail to bloom. Various apple cultivars and peaches require exposure to certain periods of low temperatures, or flowering will not occur.


Water and Humidity

Most growing plants contain about 90 percent water. Water plays many roles in plants. It is:

  • A primary component in photosynthesis and respiration
  • Responsible for turgor pressure in cells (Like air in an inflated balloon, water is responsible for the fullness and firmness of plant tissue. Turgor is needed to maintain cell shape and ensure cell growth.)
  • A solvent for minerals and carbohydrates moving through the plant
  • Responsible for cooling leaves as it evaporates from leaf tissue during transpiration
  • A regulator of stomatal opening and closing, thus controlling transpiration and, to some degree, photosynthesis
  • The source of pressure to move roots through the soil
  • The medium in which most biochemical reactions take place

Relative humidity is the ratio of water vapor in the air to the amount of water the air could hold at the current temperature and pressure. Warm air can hold more water vapor than cold air. Relative humidity (RH) is expressed by the following equation:

RH = water in air ÷ water air could hold (at constant temperature and pressure)

Relative humidity is given as a percent. For example, if a pound of air at 75°F could hold 4 grams of water vapor, and there are only 3 grams of water in the air, then the relative humidity (RH) is:

Water vapor moves from an area of high relative humidity to one of low relative humidity. The greater the difference in humidity, the faster water moves. This factor is important because the rate of water movement directly affects a plant's transpiration rate.

The relative humidity in the air spaces between leaf cells approaches 100 percent. When a stoma opens, water vapor inside the leaf rushes out into the surrounding air (Figure 25), and a bubble of high humidity forms around the stoma. By saturating this small area of air, the bubble reduces the difference in relative humidity between the air spaces within the leaf and the air adjacent to the leaf. As a result, transpiration slows down.

If wind blows the humidity bubble away, however, transpiration increases. Thus, transpiration usually is at its peak on hot, dry, windy days. On the other hand, transpiration generally is quite slow when temperatures are cool, humidity is high, and there is no wind.

Hot, dry conditions generally occur during the summer, which partially explains why plants wilt quickly in the summer. If a constant supply of water is not available to be absorbed by the roots and moved to the leaves, turgor pressure is lost and leaves go limp.


Roots and planting depth

You need to examine the roots as well. A plant that has remained in a particular container for too long will often have roots circling the outside of the root ball. In severe cases especially, these roots can make it hard for the plant to grow a normal supporting root zone around the plant, radiating out in all directions. If this happens, the plant, especially trees, will likely be damaged in heavy storm winds due to inadequate root zone development.

Another common situation leading to plant failure is planting too deep. A plant planted deeper than it has been growing in the container has a decreased chance of growing a new root system able to sustain the developing plant.

Another common situation is the improper application of weed control chemicals. Gardeners often rely on herbicides to control unwanted weeds in the landscape. The roots of your trees and shrubs extend out under the turfgrass and may be targeted by the herbicide application.

For more information on these and other plant growing requirements, please contact your local county extension office or look up relevant publications on the UF/IFAS Extension EDIS website (www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu).

Sam Hand, Jr. is an ISA Certified Arborist and an Associate Professor of Extension at Florida A&M University and Edwin R. Duke is an Associate Professor of Horticulture in the College of Agriculture & Food Sciences at Florida A&M University. They are both volunteer writers for UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. For gardening questions, email the extension office at [email protected]

Never miss a story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat using the link at the top of the page.


Watch the video: All my plants


Previous Article

Information About Prayer Plants

Next Article

Tips For Winterizing Potted Strawberry Plants