7 Reasons Your Lavender is Wilting and Drooping
Are your lavender plants suddenly wilting, and starting to droop? These hardy herbaceous perennials can tolerate quite a bit of neglect, but they aren't invincible. In this article, gardening expert and former organic lavender farmer Logan Hailey looks at the common reasons this may happen, and how to fix it!
At their best, lavender plants are beautiful, fragrant, voluptuous shrubs. But when they’re unhappy, these perennial herbs can look pretty pathetic. A wilting or drooping lavender plant is a sign that something is wrong. This hardy plant can become stressed by poor soil, over-watering, transplant shock, or nutrient issues.
While most gardeners associate wilting with thirsty plants, lavender is a bit different. Wilted plants can be a sign of water stress, but it can also be linked to poor soil, a small pot, or a particular disease.
Let’s dig into the possible reasons why your lavender is wilting or drooping and what you can do to revitalize it.
The number one mistake beginner gardeners make is overwatering. Overwatering causes lavender to look droopy and heavy. Whether it’s irrigation or heavy rainfall, a huge flush of water can be good after a period of drought.
However, a continuous influx of water or water sitting around the roots can make it really unhappy. Underwatering can also cause wilting, but it is less likely to happen because of this plant’s tolerance for drought.
Overwatering is particularly problematic in heavy clay or compacted soils. These soils lack the large particle sizes needed to flow water freely through the root zone.
The roots are easily suffocated by a lack of drainage. This Mediterranean herb is naturally adapted to dry, well-drained soils with high amounts of sand or gravel.
It resents having “wet feet”, or roots that are sitting in water. Soggy soils can lead to a range of problems like root rot, crown rot, nutrient deficiency, and eventually, plant death.
Let soil thoroughly dry out between waterings and it will slowly perk back up. This is especially important if your soil doesn’t drain very quickly. While you can’t control the rain, you can certainly control irrigation.
Most lavender growers don’t put any form of irrigation on their plants at all. You can stick your finger in the soil at least 6” down to make sure it is dry before irrigating again.
If your skin comes out clean, it is safe to water. In most regions, lavender only needs supplemental water on the hottest, driest days of summer.
It’s fairly common for lavender to wilt soon after you have planted it or transplanted to a new location. This usually isn’t something to worry about and will resolve on its own.
We’re all in a bit of shock when we suddenly move from one place to another. Transplant shock is what happens when a plant is having trouble adjusting to a new location. Whether you recently planted lavender in the ground or in a container, it can get stressed out in the process.
Transplant shock is usually temporary. Compacted soil, aggressive handling at transplant, lack of water, or intense hot or cold weather can increase the chances of wilting after planting. In the worst scenarios, transplant shock can severely stunt the growth or cause lavender not to bloom.
Be very careful during the transplanting process. If the plant is young, you should avoid disturbing the roots as much as possible. On the other hand, mature plants that have become very root bound in their pots may need to have their roots loosened up in order to adjust to the new soil environment.
Watering with a diluted kelp solution can help prevent transplant shock. While lavender is drought-tolerant, baby transplants need a consistent supply of moisture for at least the first month of establishment.
Take the time to thoroughly prepare the soil before moving your plant to a new pot or a garden bed. Amend the soil with perlite, pea gravel, ground limestone, or horticultural sand to improve drainage. Also, make sure it is a slightly alkaline pH between 7.0 and 7.5. This will make it easier for your plant to adjust to the new area.
Too Much Fertilizer
Unlike most garden crops, lavender thrives with very little to no fertility. In fact, professional growers usually advise against fertilizing at all. Too much nitrogen is the most problematic. When it gets a huge dose of nitrogen (especially if it’s synthetic, quick-release nitrates), the plant channels its energy into leaf production.
While this may seem like a good thing, it can actually weaken the stems and cause them to look wilty. As the lavender grows excessive amounts of foliage, the leaves become weaker and may even turn a yellowish color.
When too much fertilizer is in the soil, the lower leaves are usually the first to wilt. Then comes an overall droopy appearance, along with stunting, discoloration, and low-fragrance flowers (or no flowers at all).
If you have already added a lot of fertilizer to the soil, the best course of action is to transplant the herb into a less fertile area. If this isn’t an option, you can carefully dig up areas of fertilized soil around the plant and replace it with gravel or sand.
Water may flush out the fertilizer over time and resolve the issue on its own. Pruning can also help the plant channel its energy into the roots so that it stops wilting so much.
Small Pots or Containers
Lavender growing in an incorrectly sized pot can quickly start to droop. The plant doesn’t have enough root space to grow to its fullest potential, which means it will look sad and wilted. Lavender plants are known for their extensive root systems.
As a potted lavender tries to extend its roots deeper, it hits the side of the container and starts to wind around the sides, becoming root bound.
This makes it hard for the plant to take up enough water to survive. Small pots also dry out very quickly and don’t have enough soil to insulate the roots from temperature fluctuations.
The smallest recommended pot is 16” in diameter, but larger is always better. If you want to keep lavender in a compact container, be sure to select a dwarf variety that is bred to thrive in small spaces.
Lavenders easily wilt in hot weather. Though these plants love the bright sunshine and dry soils of the Mediterranean, temperatures above 90°F can cause a droopy appearance.
This is most likely to happen during a sudden heat wave after a period of pleasant weather. Your plant may not have had enough time to adjust to rising summer temperatures.
This wilting is usually temporary and will subside as the plant adapts to the heat. In some cases, you may have chosen a variety that can’t handle extreme temperatures.
Don’t water the plant in the middle of the day. Instead, wait until cool evening weather and see your plant perks up. Check the soil moisture and give it a drink only if it is fully dried out. If you live in a hot climate, select heat-tolerant varieties like ‘Phenomenal’ hybrid lavender or Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas).
If wilting is associated with yellowing or browning leaves, you may be dealing with rotten roots. This is the most common lavender disease that often coincides with overwatering.
Heavy soils, mushy or smelly roots, and poor drainage (water pooling on top of the soil) are other indicators of root rot. Lavender demands well-drained soils that are rocky, gravelly, or sandy. Waterlogging can suffocate the roots and lead to the growth of this fungal disease.
In spite of the available water in the soil, the plant may look wilty or droopy because the roots are too clogged up to adequately suck up water. This disease is most common in chilly, wet, humid winters in areas like the Northeast and Northwest.
Root rot is difficult to reverse once it takes hold of your plants. Some gardeners have had success digging up the plants, pruning away rotten roots, and moving to a better drained area. But you may have to dispose of infected plants to prevent spread to nearby lavender shrubs.
The best way to prevent root rot is to properly prepare the soil before planting. Drainage is key, which is why materials like horticultural sand, gravel, limestone, crushed rock, perlite, and peat moss are so often mixed into their soils.
You should use a broadfork or digging fork to loosen and aerate the soil 1-2 feet deep before planting this perennial herb. If you have struggled with root rot, avoid overwatering at all costs.
New lavender shoots that suddenly wilt, brown, or get black spots are a sure sign of a fungal disease called shab. The pathogen Phomopsis lavendulae attacks the branches and stems in the early spring.
It usually starts with the youngest shoots and can spread to other parts of the plant. As the disease spreads, the new growth will quickly begin to wither and die.
Unfortunately, there are no treatments for shab-infected plants. Dig them up and burn them to prevent spread. Plant in a container or a different area of the garden.
To prevent lavender shab, source only certified disease-free plants. You can also select ‘Dwarf French’ or other shab-immune varieties.
As you can tell, almost all the causes of wilted, drooping lavender are related to water or soil. But unlike most plants, the wilting is not usually a sign that lavender is thirsty. This drought-tolerant plant actually droops when it has too much water.
Overwatering or poorly drained and over fertilized soil can cause all sorts of problems. The best thing you can do to prevent wilting and drooping is to provide it with the conditions it loves:
- 6-8 hours per day of direct sunshine
- Extremely well-drained soil with sand or gravel
- Minimal water (let it dry out in between irrigating)
- A large enough space to let its roots thrive
- No fertilizer
Still struggling with your lavender plants? Learn more about the most common lavender mistakes new gardeners make with their plants.