How To Save Dying Herb Plants

How to Rescue Wilted Herb Plants

Dying plant in a bucket
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Planted in your outdoor garden or in your kitchen window, herbs can liven up your space and can be very beneficial for your health as well. A useful food source, herbs at home can help you avoid last-minute trips to the store when you need a handful of herbs to spice up your dish. They're beautiful and aromatic. Think of ready-to-use pots of basil, chives, rosemary, mint, cilantro, sage, or parsley, sitting in your kitchen window or outside garden.

However, herbs, like any plant, need special care and attention. Here are a few tips on how to care for these plants and how to bring them back to life if they're looking "under the weather."

Sunlight

While many herbs tend to be fairly sensitive to too much sunlight, perhaps your herb plant is looking languished due to the lack of sunlight. Make a quick evaluation of where the plant is located and if it is picking up some rays. Depending on the herb type, they can require upwards of 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Before planting, be sure you have a sunny spot for your herbs, and research which ones need more sunlight and which are better kept in indirect sunlight. There are even some herbs that can grow and develop in full shade.

If one of your plants isn't looking healthy, it might need more sun or it might be getting too much of it, so move and reassess where you're placing them. Rosemary, lavender, basil, chives, dill, tarragon, and oregano love direct sunlight, but cilantro, marjoram, parsley, or thyme thrive with indirect sunlight.

If one of your indoor plants needs more sunlight but you don't have a sunny spot to place it in, or the time of the year isn't providing enough light, buy a supplemental grow light, a tool that provides light and affects the growth of the plant by using different frequencies that affect the plant physiology.

illustration with tips for growing herbs
Illustration: Kaley McKean. © The Spruce, 2019

Water and Humidity

Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow and are often very forgiving of neglect, poor soil conditions, and strange weather. But if one of your plants looks droopy, with shriveled leaves and wilted stems, there's a decent chance that your herbs simply need a long, deep drink of water. The rule of thumb is to make sure the herb soil is damp to the touch, and if it feels dry, it needs water, no matter if the herb is planted indoors or outdoors.

Before you take drastic measures to rescue your herbs, simply water them amply. Be generous but don't overdo it, as you can "drown" the roots. Monitor the amount of water the plant has by taking subtle cues from the soil: as long as it's quickly drinking up the water, it should be in good shape. Within a couple of hours after watering, some herbs might start perking up, unfurling their leaves.

For indoor pots, check the humidity in your house. Air conditioning systems in the summer and heat systems in the winter, affect the water content in the air. Some plants can be sensitive to this and start looking saggy. A humidifier in the vicinity can help, or three-to-four generous sprays of water (mister setting) daily on the leaves could also be beneficial.

Soil and Fertilizer

Use a good soil mix. If you're a newbie at herb planting, ask for help at your local nursery and buy a good quality mix as well as a fertilizer that you can use on your plants every few weeks.

If your plant is looking unhealthy, and you already checked the water and sunlight that it absorbs, maybe its time to change up the soil and add some fertilizer. Make your own fertilizer by mixing a tablespoon of Epsom salts with a gallon of water and spraying it monthly for a healthy dose of magnesium and sulfur.

Appropriate Pot

For indoor herbs, a pot that is too small can constrain the growth of the plant. Use pots that are between 8 and 10 inches in diameter for any herb. It might look too big at first, but the herb will comfortably grow into it; larger pots can accommodate multiple herbs, so if you have space for a larger pot but not for multiple medium-sized ones, go for it, as herbs will thrive planted together. Simply choose herbs that need either the same amount of sunlight a day, or that can thrive in indirect sunlight.

Replant herbs that are in small pots, and if your larger pots with multiple herbs look overcrowded, assess if some of the herbs need to be replanted somewhere else. Too many herbs together fight for nutrients from the soil, water, and sunlight.

Harvesting the Herbs

The plant has to be big enough for you to harvest. In addition, not all herbs are created equal so research when it's the best time of the day to harvest, how much you need to clip, and where do you need to make the cut. Depending on the plant, they may need to be clipped near the bottom of the plant, above a certain height of the stem, or closer to the leaves, but never clip more than a third of the height, as the plant might never recover. Depending on your herb, light pruning or hard pruning might be best.

If you harvested the herbs and the plant is looking unhealthy, it might be a signal that you overdid it. Wait a few days, giving the plant the chance to bounce back; if not, it might be time to plant a new one.