Plant Care

Caring for a Stressed Plant

Do's and Dont's of Caring for an Ailing Plant

Despite our best care, hibiscus sometimes get stressed by life and circumstances. Pests attack them, and after we get rid of the pests, the plant is left in a somewhat stressed state. Unexpected or extreme heat, cold, drought, or flooding stress plants. Any kind of move to a new location stresses a plant, and this applies to the plants we ship too. Shipping stress falls right in this category, as does transplanting. Vacations with less-than-ideal plant sitters stress plants. Rambunctious puppies, cute little wild bunnies, the neighborhood kids' wayward bikes..... a million and one things can suddenly cause unexpected stress to your hibiscus plants. All of us need to know how to deal with a stressed plant, and sadly, there are a lot of myths in the gardening world about what to do in a case like this. So let's look at the DOs and DON'Ts of helping a stressed hibiscus.

First Do No Harm: DONT's . . .

Don't Remove Any Green Leaves:

Seedling of the Month
A stressed hibiscus plant ~ What should we do to help it?
Even if the leaves are wilted and look dead, as long as they are green, do not remove them. The plant will eventually shed them naturally, and any live cells that still exist in the leaves can still photosynthesize. A wilted plant needs all the photosynthesis it can get, so you don't want to do anything to reduce it. Wilted leaves can sometimes perk back up, even if just partially, so give the plant all the time it needs to recover what it can. The wilted leaves may stay there for weeks sometimes, until the plant is able to grow new leaves to replace them. Just stay calm and leave it all alone.

Don't Transplant:

Never transplant a stressed plant! Never! For some reason, gardeners are frequently told that transplanting will save a sick plant, but it's the exact opposite. Transplanting adds much more stress to an already-stressed plant. Even the most careful transplanting damages at least some roots, and the last thing a stressed plant needs is more damage of any kind. Additionally, transplanting means new soil, and often a new location, which means the plant has to expend energy getting used to this new environment at a time when it needs all its energy to deal with whatever it has already been through. Just leave the plant in its pot or in its spot in the ground, and disturb it as little as possible.

Don't Fertilize:

A sick or stressed plant needs a break from dealing with fertilizer, even if it's just for a couple of weeks. Let it rest, chill, and deal only with completely innocuous clear water. Nitrogen is good for plants, but if a plant's system is not working well, it is stressful for the plant to deal with it. So stop fertilizing until you see crisp, green leaves and new growth.

Don't Prune Unless You Have Tested and Know There is Rotten Wood:

If you don't know how to test for rotten wood, scroll to the bottom of our Pruning page and very carefully follow the directions to test each part of your hibiscus. Cut away only the rotten wood. Cut as little as possible. If there is no dead or rotten wood, do not prune! Pruning is stressful for a plant, and you don't want to add any additional stress to your plant at this point. Wait until it is fully growing and healthy in a couple of months before you do your pruning.

Help Your Plant Recover: DO's . . .

Do Remove Yellow Leaves:

Yellow leaves have lost all their chlorophyll and are no longer useful to the plant. Plus, they may harbor pests! So go ahead and remove all yellow leaves. Throw them away in a closed plastic bag and put the bag in your outside trash container in case there is anything that could contaminate your other plants.

It is normal for more leaves to continue yellowing for 2-3 days. Damage can take a few days to show up, so keep removing the leaves as they turn yellow.

Do Move Potted Plants out of the Sun:

If your plants are in pots, move them out of the sun. Find a spot that has bright shade - no direct sunlight at all, but close to the edge of the shade, so there is a lot of indirect light close by. Direct sunlight forces a plant to work at creating sugars, and a sick plant needs to take some time off from work to rest and recuperate, much like a human who takes a sick day to recover from an illness. Pulling a potted plant out of the sun gives it that kind of restful time off from its work.

If your sick plant is in the ground, try to give it some shade if you can - a big potted bush or object on the sunny side to shade it, or a bit of shade cloth draped over it. This may not always be possible, but if you can figure something out, you will help your plant recover more quickly.

Do Mist or Gently Shower Your Plants Frequently:

To provide extra hydration and humidity for your plants, mist them daily with a soft mist if you can. Just fill a spray bottle with water and thoroughly spray the plant on all sides of all the leaves, stalks and branches. If you have a lot of plants in a garden, and misting is not feasible, then use your garden hose or bugblaster and gently spray them every other day to thoroughly wet all parts of the plant. This accomplishes two things: 1) It helps hydrate all the top growth of the plants and reduces the need for the roots to work so hard to provide all the hydration the plants need, and 2) it helps prevent opportunistic pests that can get an easier foothold when your plant is ailing.

Do Use Growth Enhancer or Houseplant Formula:

Both of these products were designed with growth hormones and extra minerals to boost stressed plants and will help snap your plant out of the stress more quickly. Only use one of these products - they both contain some of the same ingredients, so you don't need both of them. But it is safe to use one of them every time you water your plants. These products often work when nothing else will work, and they give your hibiscus the best chance to recover from any kind of stress.

If you don't have one of these products, use only plain water. Do not use any other types of fertilizer. The higher levels of nitrogen will stress a sickly plant.

How Long Should I Do This?

Continue all these strategies with your plants until you see your plant perk up and create new green leaves. Resist the temptation to stop all your recovery activities at the first signs of new growth. Hold steady and keep providing all these supports until the new growth shows actual small branches with multiple green leaves.

At this point, you can GRADUALLY start returning to normal.