Symptoms of Sick Plants: Warning Signs All New Growers Need to Look Out For

By Bryan Traficante & Wiley Geren
Published: October 23, 2017 | Last updated: April 23, 2021 02:29:35
Key Takeaways

Plants often give off warning signs when they’re not doing well. For new growers, it may be difficult to translate what these signs mean.

Gardening is a fun hobby that can yield beautiful flowers, delicious food, and personal satisfaction. Anyone can enjoy the delights of gardening, whether they are younger, older, city-dwellers, or country-folk.


Most everyone decides to try their hand at gardening at some point in life, but not everyone continues. Similar to the challenges associated with other hobbies, some become apprehensive when progress isn’t made or unforeseen issues arise. Eventually, the garden (windowsill hangar, raised bed, row garden, wall hangar, etc.) is left untended, and almost-gardeners move on.

Gardening challenges may seem daunting, especially when it comes to its well-being. Fortunately, these issues can be prevented with the right know-how. The most important rule for growing a healthy garden is to maintain close supervision. Plants are alive and equipped with physical warning signs that signal when something is wrong. If these pre-emptive symptoms are identified at early stages, then the garden may be saved.


After choosing the right gardening apparatus and sowing their plants, greenhorn gardeners need to stay vigilant for common illness signs. There are a variety of diseases, molds, fungi, rots, and environmental factors that can negatively affect gardens, but most treatments are universal. Instead of memorizing every illness that can befall a garden, new gardeners simply need to recognize the warning signs.

Warning Signs of Sick Plants in the Grow Room

Most plant issues are identified by a combination of symptoms; however, plants are unique and may not demonstrate every symptom before it’s too late. That’s why new gardeners should simply watch for any symptoms and respond before waiting to categorize the specific disease. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a magnifying glass to recognize issues appearing in your garden.

Discoloration and Wilting


Major symptoms that can be resolved through additional attention include discoloration and wilting. Discoloration occurs when a plant hasn’t turned brown, black, gray, or white yet, but is becoming yellow or pale. It’s a symptom caused by changes in the environment, such as increased temperature. It can also be caused by overwatering, but both can be solved easily. When discoloration becomes present, reassure the soil isn’t pooling water and the garden isn’t receiving more than six to eight hours of direct sunlight.

New gardeners can identify wilting when the plant isn’t thriving or standing upright. Yes, leaves do droop naturally due to weight, but wilting is present when the plant looks “sad.” If the stem isn’t strong, and the whole plant is sagging, then it is wilting. Wilting is a symptom of multiple plant diseases, but can be treated by assessing its environment.


Look at the soil moisture, which should be moist up to two inches down, and for weeds in the garden. Wilting can be caused by a nutrition imbalance as well, so re-evaluate the amount of fertilizer in the soil. Fertilizer is fickle and is best used as directed on the packaging. If you’re unsure about your soil’s quality, home and garden stores often have simple test kits you can use to determine pH and nutrient needs.

Cracks and Abnormal Tissue

Other symptoms include cracks and abnormal tissue. Unfortunately, these symptoms can reflect minor or major plant diseases. The difference resides in the treatment. Usual treatment plans simply need a gardener to reassess the gardening variables and adjust any outliers, but some include eradicating the disease from garden.

While cracks in the stem may result from a cold environment or cankers, abnormal tissue is specific to cankers. Abnormal tissue on a plant resembles bumps of dead tissue or unusual growth on the plant.

Cankers can ruin the plant and spread throughout the garden, so the only resolution is removal. Removing a plant is unfortunate, but necessary if the disease is contagious. It is better to be safe and remove the affected plant before it can do more damage to the entire garden.

Cracks can appear in the stem of fruits and flowers, and they may reflect cankers or a cold environment. New gardeners will find their most invaluable tool is critical thinking in the case of cracks.

If cracks occur during lower temperatures, it is most likely due to the cold environment. If that is the case, place a light sheet or tarp over the garden as insulation. If the environment is unchanged, however, then it may be due to something more serious such as cankers and you may have to remove the affected plant(s).

Brown Spots and Powdery Growth

Brown spots and powdery growth are additional common garden symptoms to be wary of. Although brown spots aren’t a symptom of a contagious disease, powdery growth will most likely spread throughout the garden. Both should be treated by removing the affected plant or fruit from the garden. As previously stated, it’s better to be safe and protect the entire garden instead of saving a potentially contagious plant.

Brown spots are indicative of blossom rot, a disorder that affects the fruit directly. It may be caused by inconsistent watering or a calcium deficiency, emphasizing the importance of watering. If new gardeners want to enjoy the fruits of their labor, consistent watering is of high importance. Garden watering systems set with timers aides in stable, even watering across your garden.

Powdery growth is almost always a symptom of mildew. Unfortunately, one of mildew’s signature moves is spreading, which means it needs to be removed immediately. Mildew is a result of the garden being overly moist; usually caused by poor air circulation. If a gardener finds powdery growth on any part of the plant (mostly found on the leaves), remove the affected leaves or the entire plant to increase air circulation to prevent further mildew.

New Gardener Tip: Be Active in Your Garden

You don’t have to spend all day in your garden and you don’t need to watch it from your kitchen with binoculars. Being active in your garden simply means checking on it daily. Watering once in the morning and once later in the day (if soil is too dry) along with minor tasks like weeding will keep your garden healthy.

It is the neglected gardens that suffer illness, which requires more work and may ruin the gardening experience.

Check on your garden, get to know it, and watch for any irregular colors or growths. If they appear, then analyze your watering pattern, sheltering, air circulation, and weeding. Happy gardening!


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Profile Picture of Bryan Traficante & Wiley Geren

Bryan Traficante is one of the co-founders of Garden In Minutes, where he and his family have one mission: making it easier for people to build and grow great gardens. Wiley Geren is a passionate writer, teacher, researcher, and entertainment enthusiast. A graduate of Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in English and business, he researches and writes gardening articles with Garden In Minutes.

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