8 Simple Guidelines for Diagnosing Plant Problems

Reader Contribution by Elena Smith
article image

When plants are not growing and producing as they should, they will tell you what is wrong through their leaves.

The foliage on any type of plant will reveal everything a gardener needs to know about the health of the plant and the condition of the soil. If the foliage is not healthy and green, examine the leaves for pest infestation. If pests are not found, it’s time to look deeper into the garden soil to diagnose the plant problem.

Leaves Tell All

When plant leaves are discolored, have spots or holes, falling off or look unusual in any way, that is the way the plant has of alerting you to a problem.

Plant leaves should be the correct color, and that will vary from plant to plant. Know what your plant’s leaves should look like when healthy, and be observant to any change. This is the best way to discover and diagnosis a plant problem.

Pale Green or Yellow Plant Leaves

When plant leaves begin to pale or turn yellow, one of two things is occurring – the plant is getting too much water or not getting enough nitrogen from the soil. Over-watering can wash nitrogen out of soil and cause the plant leaves to change color. If the nitrogen deficiency is not corrected, the garden plant will be severely stunted and not produce well.

Reduce the amount of water and add a side dressing of nitrogen-rich fertilizer to the plant. This can be in the form of organic or granulated fertilizer, but be sure to follow directions and not over-feed plant with nitrogen.

Too Much Green Foliage

If too much nitrogen is present in the garden soil, plants will produce an abundance of dark green leaves and little else.

Nitrogen is needed by plants to enable them to produce above ground growth. All that nitrogen-laced energy will go into producing healthy leaves and the plant will lack the energy needed to produce fruit, vegetables or flowers.

A balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium will provide complete nutrition so plants can grow healthy leaves and produce.

Yellow Leaf Edges with Brown Tips

When the edges of plant leaves turn yellow, have brown tips and fall off, the plant is telling you it is not receiving enough phosphorus from the garden soil.

To correct this problem, apply one cup of bone meal as a side dressing to the plant to increase the phosphorus level in the soil.  You can also use a water soluble super-phosphate product and apply it to plants according to manufacturer’s directions.

Yellow Spotted Leaves with Brown Edges

Yellow spotted or yellow mottled plant leaves that develop brown edges indicates the plant is not receiving enough potash from the garden soil.

To correct this problem, apply one tablespoon of potassium sulfate around the plant and water in well.

Burying banana peels in garden soil will also help bring immediate relief to the ailing plant. If you have a compost bin, try to increase the amount of banana peels added to it for future use in garden soil.

Plant Leaves Darken at Stem Base

When leaves begin to turn dark green at the stem base and continue to darken all the way to the edges and fall off, this indicates the feeder roots are dying for lack of calcium.

Get calcium directly to plant feeder roots by dissolving ½ cup of Epsom salts in a gallon of water and use to water the plant well. This will provide an instant dose of calcium to the plant and prevent any further leaf loss.

You can also sprinkle ½ cup of dolomite lime around the plant and water in well to increase the level of calcium in the soil.

Yellow Leaves with Green Veins

An iron deficiency will cause the leaves of a garden plant to turn yellow, but retain their green color within the leaf veins. To correct this problem, mix one tablespoon of iron sulfate in one quart of water and use entire quart of water for each garden plant with this problem.

Adding a layer of compost around the plant will also help the plant utilize the iron in the soil more efficiently.

Red or Yellow Leaf Centers with Black Spots

A magnesium deficiency in the soil will cause plant leaves to develop a red or yellow spot in the center, followed by the appearance of black spots that extend to leaf edges.

Correct this plant problems with dose of Epsom salts. Mix ½ cup of Epsom salts in a gallon of water and water each plant thoroughly. Epsom salts contain calcium and magnesium promotes new root growth for all plants and helps to solve many garden plant problems.

Leaf Veins Lighter Than Leaf Tissue

Garden soil is lacking in sulfur when this problem manifests. A dose of sulfur dust worked into the soil around the plant will correct the problem and bring health back to the plant. Sulfur helps to reduce the amount of sodium in the soil and keep the pH in balance.

Elena Smith is a gardener, blogger, designer and DIY enthusiast in New Mexico who channels a love of simple and green living into her work. When she is not blogging, you can find her attending to the flowers and plants in the garden. Connect with Elena at ElenaSmith.net and on Twitter, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.