Plant stress 101: Signs, symptoms, prevention and treatments

Just like you, plants get stressed out. Everyday pressure can have a big impact on our moods and stress levels can start affecting how we look. The same happens to plants – both indoors and outdoors. Signs of plant stress can be alarming for gardeners, but worry not! Wonder has put together a guide to help you nip plant stress in the bud. 

Get to the root of the issue of plant stress

Signs and symptoms of plant stress and how to ease your plant back to health

Stressed plants are more susceptible to pests and illnesses. Like us when we’re sleep-deprived and susceptible to colds and flu, our garden vegetables and other perennials are less able to endure feeding larvae or spreading fungus. Let’s explore the signs and symptoms that indicate your plant is feeling pressure from its environment. 

  1. Wilting leaves

Wilting and drooping leaves are most commonly caused by a lack of soil moisture, but they can also be an indicator that your plant is infested with pests or diseases. Wilting is also a typical reaction to intense heat. Either way, wilting is a sign that your plant is feeling the effects of stress. 

a calathea plant with wilting and drooping leaves caused by plant stress

Remedy your wilting leaves: 


Excessive moisture in the soil can cause plants to wilt by suffocating the roots and forcing air out of the soil. If the soil is overly damp, stop watering and allow time for it to dry. If the plants do not recover, the problem cannot be with the water (or the damage was too severe).

To check if the soil is overly damp, perform a finger-dip test: 
  • Simply insert your index finger up to your first knuckle into the dirt near the stem of your plant. 
  • If the soil seems dry to the touch and your finger comes out clean, your plant hasn’t been overwatered. At this point, you may give it a drink of water or wait until your scheduled watering day of the week. 
  • If the soil around your fingertips is still wet, your plant doesn’t require any further water. Instead, pick up a book and unwind, allowing your plant to do the same.
Not enough water

Even though the soil surface seems moist, you shouldn’t assume that plants have enough water. Dig down and make sure the soil is damp to a depth of at least 15 cm for most vegetables, plants and other annuals. If the soil is excessively dry, water the plants well; they should recover in 24 hours. 

  1. Bleached foliage

Sunburn appears as bleached spots on newly transplanted plants or plants that have been relocated outdoors. Leaves which are most exposed to the sun will show this type of discolouration.

While finding a spot or two of discolouration on your leaves can feel concerning, plants will usually outgrow minor sunburn.

Avoid sunburn

To avoid sunburn, seedlings and other sensitive plants should be progressively exposed to direct sunshine over a period of several days. 

Blackened Leaves

Frost damage can cause black spots on leaves. If the plants have been nipped by a mild frost, the most exposed leaves will display the greatest damage.

Remedy your blackened leaves: 

Treat frost damage

Don’t cut off damaged foliage until the threat of frost has gone and new growth has commenced. Once there’s the first sign of new growth, prune off damaged foliage. 

A close up of an outdoor plant with blackened and yellowed leaves
  1. Ragged Foliage

Rain, hail, and strong gusts may all cause ragged foliage. Despite the fact that this is mostly an aesthetic problem, it also leaves your plant more open to attack by disease pathogens. 

Remedy your ragged leaves: 

It is often advisable to remove damaged foliage because of this. The leaves will often be swiftly replaced.

Cut away any dead leaves, dormant stems, or brown areas of the leaves that you observe.

It’s okay to remove foliage or stems using your hands; just be careful not to pull too firmly or you risk damaging the healthy section of your plant. 

Use pruning shears or scissors to cut through harder stems or to remove brown leaf margins and tips. To avoid spreading any illnesses or pests, remember to clean your shears between each plant.

  1. Off-Colour Foliage

Similar to humans, plants require a balanced diet that is rich in all the necessary major, minor, and micronutrients in order to operate at their best.

A nitrogen shortage may be the cause of discoloured foliage. If the hue is lighter than usual, there may not be enough nitrogen in the body of your plant. 

Consider an iron shortage if the leaf veins are green but the space in between them is yellow. 

A reddish or purple hue is frequently present in plants that lack phosphorus. A general lack of vital nutrients might be the cause of stunted development.

Remedy your discoloured leaves: 

Generally speaking, fertilisers offer a wide range of slow-release nutrients, including micronutrients. 

Wonder Lawn and Leaf is a fast-acting sustained release of nitrogen, which can give your evergreen plants and shrubs the nutrients they need.

Wonder Super Phosphate is our high phosphorus fertiliser for encouraging root growth in lawns, seedlings, trees, and shrubs. This specialised fertiliser is perfect for feeding roots and increasing root growth. It can promote plant growth and prevent the formation of reddish or purple leaves.

Try Wonder Iron Chelate to treat iron deficiency and chlorosis (yellowing) of leaves.

Explore our full range of fertilisers online. 

Read more: Fertilisers designed for your flowers, lawn and veggie garden, Fertiliser and compost: When to use what.

  1. Dried Leaf Margins

Dry leaf margins may be a sign of wind or fertiliser burn. Crunchy leaf edges can also be a sign that your plant is thirsty and is in need of some more watering, or a more consistent watering schedule. 

Remedy your dry-edged leaves: 


To avoid over-fertilising, always follow the instructions on the fertiliser’s label. Burning is uncommon when using slow-release fertilisers, like those from Wonder, because the nutrients are distributed gradually over time and not all at once. 


Shield your young plants from the wind with a wind barrier, nearby plants, or garden cloth to help keep them protected from windburn. 

Other factors that can cause plant stress

Bad neighbours: Companion planting that doesn’t work

The cultivation of different types of plants together for their mutual benefit is known as companion planting. However, an inappropriate grouping of plants makes your plants more vulnerable to stress, and more helpless to pest and disease attacks.

Research and prepare the best lighting and watering conditions for the plants utilised in the landscaping.

Some examples of bad neighbours in your garden are:

  • Cucumber and basil
  • Sunflowers and potatoes
  • Corn and tomatoes
repotting a small pot plant carefully to avoid  transplant shock

Transplant shock: Repotting care

A plant that has been recently dug up and moved may exhibit indications of withering leaves, dying branches, or may die entirely. The damage to the plant roots during the transplanting procedure is what causes transplant shock.

You may treat or lessen the plant stress produced by repotting a plant with a little tender loving care and preventative measures.

A day or two before you intend to repot your indoor or patio potted plants, water them with Wonder Kelp. This will lessen the chance of shock and make it simpler to remove your plant from its pot.

 A product shot of Wonder Kelp, an organic seaweed concentrate for plant growth stimulation and repotting

Keep your cool with Wonder

There are several strategies to assist your plants in adjusting to change. Well-maintained plants will also be better equipped to survive stressful situations. 

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