What you can do to revive a struggling garden

Wednesday August 05 2020

Perennial plants will keep your garden looking good throughout the year as they can survive in all seasons. PHOTO | ISMAIL KEZAALA

Gardening is a fun and engaging activity, but it can be frustrating too. Seeing a garden in which you have invested all your time, money and emotions struggle and eventually die is a heartbreaking experience.

Some people never recover from the disappointment and give up altogether, while others become neurotic gardeners. But Maureen Atuhumuza, a horticulturist, says sometimes there is nothing one can do to keep a garden alive and sometimes a few changes will be helpful.

To know what measures are needed to revive your garden, you need to understand what the problem is in the first place. There are many reasons plants fail. But the commonest are pests, poor soils, drought and sometimes too much water or sunlight.

Soil quality
Good soil is an important element for a thriving garden. Although different plants are supported by different types of soils, there are however, common factors that must be present in every type to be deemed good enough for plant growth.

Good soil according to Atuhumuza, should be loose enough to enable roots to push through, it should be able to retain water for moisture tolerant plants or drain easily for drought loving plants, it should have a lot of live organisms (bugs, worms etc) to support the ecosystem and should be a rich dark colour.

“A rich dark brown colour is an indication that your soil is rich in nutrients. When your soil starts losing this colour, it means nutrients have been depleted from the soil. To save your garden, add some fertilisers or manure and mulch to control dissipation of nutrients,” Atuhumuza advises.


Sometimes the type of soil is wrong for the plants in your garden. Soils are described as acid, neutral or alkali and different plants fare better in certain situations.

Acid loving plants such as rhododendrons or azaleas camellias will not thrive in alkaline soils, but most plants will grow quite happily in alkaline or neutral soils.

“For the good health of your garden, get your soil tested before you start planting. If you are unable to test, see what your neighbours are growing and try to plant similar plants,” she suggests.

Overload of good things
Sometimes plants die from too much of a good thing, especially water and sun. Plants need both to grow but they can take them in moderation. Too much sun will dry your plants and too much watering will drown them. Atuhumuza suggests striking a balance.

“If you notice the leaves turning brown and crispy, it means they are getting too much sunlight and are in need of more water. If the tips of their leaves are turning white or yellow, it is an indication to water less and let them enjoy sunlight,” she says.

Pests, diseases and animal destruction are more obvious to notice.

Traps, netting or plant friendly chemicals, may help keep unwanted pests away. Ekkehard Spiegel, also suggest growing plants, which have a strong scent because they are considered to have a pest repellent effect. Good examples of these are society garlic, rosemary and lavender.

Natural death
And lastly, it could be sad but true that your plants are dying a natural death. According to National Gardening Association, plants can be classified as either annual, biennial, or perennial.

Annual plants live for only one growing season, during which they produce seeds, and then die. Familiar annual plants include impatiens, zinnias, and sunflowers. Biennial plants, such as some types of foxglove, live for two growing seasons before setting seed and dying. The term perennial is reserved for plants that live for more than two years.

So your plants will only stay healthy for their lifespan and die. There is nothing you can do to make them live longer. When petals begin to fall, you can trim the stem of the spent flower, which neatens things up a bit and stops the plant from putting energy into trying to make seed.

Mixmatch perennials with non-perennials
But if you want your garden to always look as if it is always in bloom, you can mix them up.

Another option to avoid going through the heartbreak of seeing your plants die with the season, is to stick to perennials. Perennial plants remain in the ground year after year. Once established, many perennials need minimal upkeep in the form of watering and fertilising.

Additional reporting from garden.org