Why are My Herbs Drooping? (The Solution)


Why are my herbs drooping

The reasons for herbs drooping is because of overwatering, underwatering, extreme heat or too much fertilizer. Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and rosemary droop because of overwatering fertilizer whereas leafy annual herbs such as basil and cilantro droop due to underwatering and heat stress.

Causes Reasons for Herbs Drooping
Watering too often:Overwatering herbs prevents the roots from up-taking nutrients and moisture which causes drooping.
Slow draining soils:Soil draining too slowly promotes the conditions for root rot causing the herbs to turn yellow with a drooping appearance.
Underwatering:Pots can dry out very quickly and should be watered more often to prevent herbs such as basil and cilantro from drooping.
Hot weather:High temperatures cause herbs to droop temporarily as a survival strategy to conserve water, even if the soil is moist.
Too much fertilizer:Too much nitrogen causes excess growth with weaker stems causing the herb to droop.
Lack of pruning:Annual leafy herbs such as basil and cilantro should be pruned every 3 weeks in Summer to maintain shape and prevent drooping foliage.
Not enough sunlight:Mediterranean herbs require full sun and can grow leggy and droop when in too much shade.

The most important distinction between popular herbs (which influences why they droop) is that Mediterranean herbs such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano are adapted to tolerate drought and grow in dryer conditions with lots of sun sandy soils that are lower in fertility whereas leafy annual herbs such as basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, mint and chives prefer more soil moisture, regular pruning and can grow in partial shade.

Keep reading to learn the 7 reasons why your herbs are drooping and how to avoid these mistake and solve the problem…

1. Watering Herbs Too Often Causes Drooping

Watering herbs too often excludes oxygen from the soil which interferes with the herb’s roots ability to uptake moisture and nutrients which causes herbs to turn yellow with a drooping and dying appearance. Over watering also causes root rot resulting in herbs turning yellow and drooping.

One of the most common reasons for Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and rosemary drooping is because they are overwatered.

Mediterranean herbs drought resistant as they are specially adapted to the climate of Southern European countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece where they experience infrequent rainfall, in full sun and grow in sandy well draining soils.

Therefore they generally require watering once every 2 weeks in Summer, if planted in pots without any significant rainfall and do not require any additional water once established in garden boarders.

If you ware watering more often then this then you are overwatering your Mediterranean herbs (or perhaps there has been too much rain) and this is the reason they are drooping, so scale back the watering immediately, so that the roots have a chance to dry out and your herbs can recover.

As Mediterranean herbs prefer dryer conditions, they are particularly vulnerable to root rot from overwatering which causes herbs to turn yellow or brown and droop.

(If your herbs are turning yellow, brown and drooping, read my articles how to revive a dying Lavender, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Oregano for more information on how to save herbs with root rot).

Annual herbs such as basil, parsley and cilantro prefer moist soil conditions and are therefore less vulnerable to drooping because overwatering. However they can still droop as a result of saturated soil which excludes oxygen from the soil which is required for root respiration.

Parsley leaves turning yellow and drooping due to overwatering.
Parsley leaves turning yellow and drooping due to overwatering.

If the roots cannot respire they cannot uptake moisture and nutrients causing the herb to droop, turn yellow and die back.

To solve the problem, scale back the watering of your annual herbs as they typically only need to be watered once every 3-7 days.

(Exactly how often to water your herbs depends on several factors, read my article how to water herbs to learn more about when to water your herbs according to your conditions).

Once the soil has had a chance to dry out somewhat then they should return to normal in the following weeks.

Do consider that overwatering, slow draining soils and pots without drainage holes in the base all have the same effect of retaining too much moisture around the roots of herbs, causing them to droop and die, so resolving the problem means that you have to address all the issues to ensure water can flow freely from the base of the pot after watering.

Always plant herbs in pots with drainage holes in the base and avoid using a saucer or tray underneath the pot as this can prevent excess water draining away from the roots effectively, causing root rot.

(Read my article, how to revive dying herbs if your herbs are drooping, yellow and have a dying appearance).

2. Slow Draining Soils Results in Drooping, Dying Herbs

Herbs stems and leaves droop in slow draining or saturated soil as this promotes the conditions for the fungal disease root rot and prevents the herb’s roots up-taking the nutrients and moisture they require causing herbs to droop, turn yellow and die back.

All herbs require well draining soil with a porous structure that allows water to infiltrate, so that moisture reaches the roots, yet drains away effectively so that the roots are not sat in boggy saturated soil.

If the soil drains too slowly because the herbs are planted in clay soil or boggy areas of the garden then this promotes the conditions for root rot and other fungal disease pathogens which cause herbs to droop and turn yellow.

Mediterranean herbs in particular suffer in slow draining soils and even regular, unamended compost as it retains too much moisture which is contrary to their preferred soil conditions.

Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and rosemary are native to the relatively dry climate of Southern Europe and grow in sandy or gritty soils often on hill sides which are very well draining.

Sandy soils create a very porous soil structure which allows water too drain quickly and does not retain moisture in the same way that organic matter (such as compost or leaf mold) does.

If you have clay soil or boggy areas in your garden then it is best to grow herbs in pots as they have have more favorable drainage conditions and you can customize the potting mix to suit your herbs rather then trying to amend the existing garden soil which can be difficult.

For herbs that are drooping in slow draining soils is is essential to transplant them into pots as soon as possible.

Replant your herbs in a pot that is ideally 12 inches across and for Mediterranean herbs (such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano) use a potting mix that is approximately 70% all purpose compost to 30% horticultural sand or grit.

(Read my article, choosing the best pots for herbs).

This mixture of sand, grit and soil replicates the conditions and typical proportions of Mediterranean soils to provide the optimal levels of drainage for your herbs.

Watch this video on creating the optimal soil mix in pots for lavenders, which is applicable for all Mediterranean herbs as they all require sharp drainage:

For annual leafy herbs (such as basil, cilantro, parsley, mint and chives) repot the plants in a pot ideally sized 12 inches across (pots this size contain more soil and can retain more moisture so the herbs do not suffer drought stress).

Leafy annual herbs require more moist soil conditions then Mediterranean herbs so plant them in ordinary compost or leaf mold as these materials have the capacity to retain moisture yet also have a porous structure that allows excess water to drain away from the roots which creates the perfect balance of moisture for your herbs.

Once your herbs are in the right soil, water appropriately and are grown in pots that have drainage holes in the base then they can start to recover.

3. Underwatering Causes Herbs to Wilt

Herbs such as basil and cilantro droop because of dry soil. Leafy annual herbs require well draining, yet consistently moist soil and frequent watering in hot weather to prevent wilting. Smaller pots dry out quickly causing herbs to droop so should be watered more often.

The leafy annual herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint, parsley, dill and chives all grow in soil that is consistently moist yet well draining.

The optimal balance of moisture for these herbs is achieved with porous, friable compost or potting soil and frequent watering.

If the soil around the roots of annual leafy herbs dries out for a significant time then they wilt quickly due to their larger leaves which loose a lot of water and preference for moist soil (Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and rosemary have much thinner leaves which is an adaptation to reduce water loss and survive drought).

If the top inch of the soil has dried out then water your annual herbs with a thorough watering. When watering potted herbs, ensure that water trickles from the base of the pot after watering to ensure the water has reached the roots.

If it is a hot summers day with blazing sunshine then shade your herbs during the hottest part of the day to allow it to recover from its drooping state without having to contend with high temperatures.

As long as your herbs have not suffered severe drought stress from chronic underwatering your herbs should recover in the next few days after a generous watering.

Always water at the base of the plant rather then overhead watering as to help prevent fungal disease such as powdery mildew. Water in the mornings to charge your herbs with water before a hot day.

Wilting basil that requires watering.
Wilting basil that requires watering.

As you can see in this photo, the soil has come away from the side of the pot because it is so dry. If this is the case for your herbs water it immediately and try to water proactively every few days to prevent the soil drying and the herbs drooping.

4. Exceptionally Hot Weather Causes Herbs Leaves to Curl and Stems to Droop

At the hottest days of the year, the stems of herbs droop and the leaves curl temporarily as a survival strategy to cope with drought and heat stress. The drooping herb is attempting to reduce the surface area of the leaves to decreases water loss as a way of preserving moisture.

Sage leaves curling inwards to conserve moisture.
Sage leaves curling inwards to conserve moisture.

Nearly all types of herbs droop as a response to heat waves as a mechanism to conserve water and survive, so increasing watering does not alleviate the drooping appearance.

Mediterranean herbs such as sage and oregano are adapted to the blazing sun and high temperatures in the South of Europe and drooping temporarily in reaction to a overwhelming heat helps them to minimize water loss from the leaves and does not generally harm the plant in any way.

If your herbs are drooping because of high temperatures then the affect is usually temporary and the herb recovers when temperatures have cooled down in the evening.

Even at the hottest times of year do not water Mediterranean herbs more then once a week even if they are drooping in the heat as they are very sensitive to root rot from overwatering. Mediterranean herbs are drought resistant and thrive in Summer even if they occasionally droop.

For the leafy annual herbs such as basil and cilantro, it is important to keep the soil moist as they are native to environments with more shade and grow in soils that hold more moisture, therefore they are less well adapted to coping with high temperatures hence their propensity to droop more often then Mediterranean herbs.

For your annual herbs, ensure that the soil is consistently moist during heat waves and if planted in pots move the pot to an area with morning sun followed by shade in the afternoon to protect your herbs from the hottest part of the day and prevent the herb drooping.

In cooler temperatures your herbs should perk up again. If not then there is a different reason why your herbs are drooping.

5. Too Much Fertilizer Causes Stems to Droop

Too much nitrogen fertilizer causes stems and leaves of herbs to weaken and droop under their own weight. Mediterranean herbs such as thyme and sage are adapted to low fertility soils. Fertilizer decreases the concentration of essential oils in the leaves reducing aroma, flavor and causes herbs to droop.

Mediterranean herbs (such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano) grow in sandy or gritty soils often on hillsides in their native environment.

These sandy soils doe not retain nutrients or moisture and the sand or grit itself does not tend to contribute much nutrients to the surrounding soil.

This means most herbs are adapted to living in soils that are relatively low in fertility and actually thrive in these conditions, producing the best aromas and flavors.

Too much nitrogen which is a key ingredient in fertilizer promotes foliage growth at the expense of flowers, aromas and flavors. The resulting growth tends to be floppy and droop down without much flavor or culinary value.

Drooping herbs due to fertilizer are also much more vulnerable to pests (such as aphids) and disease in their weakened state which are normally a rare problem for herbs.

Even the leafy annual herbs (such as basil, cilantro and mint) do not require any additional fertilizer if they are planted in good compost as it impairs their flavor.

Also consider that certain soil amendments such as manure are high in nitrogen and can cause the same drooping affect and reduce the concentration of essential oils in the leaves which give herbs their aroma and flavor.

The key to healthy non drooping herbs is to avoid the use of fertilizer and plant Mediterranean herbs in soil amended with sand or grit as the emulates the level of soil fertility in which they grow their best in their native environment.

Even for basil, and cilantro the best tasting leaves I have grown have always been planted in ordinary multipurpose compost without any fertilizer or additional soil amendments as these are the conditions to which they are accustomed and their essential oils are at a higher concentration which gives them their distinctive flavor.

6. Lack of Pruning

Annual leafy herbs such as basil and cilantro can droop because of a lack of pruning. Leafy herbs should be pruned every 3 weeks during Spring and Summer to prevent them from growing too tall and drooping under their own weight.

Annual herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint and parsley can grow very fast in the Summer when they have enough moisture, enough sunlight and warm temperatures hwich is great if you use your herbs for cooking.

However if they are neglected they quickly grow tall and perhaps spindly and often droop under their own weight. At the peak times of year it is important to harvest your herbs perhaps once every 3 weeks and aim to keep the herbs at a height of around 8 inches.

Watch this helpful YouTube video for how to prune basil:

Pruning regularly to a height of 8 inches the herbs helps to keep your herbs healthy, bushy with lots of new leaves which have the best flavors.

Pruning every three weeks also prevents your herbs from flowering too early. After the herbs have flowered the leaves do not taste quite the same and the herb can die shortly after, so pruning helps with extend their growing season.

Simply cut your herbs back with a sharp pair of pruners or scissors every three weeks to a height of 8 inches to prevent annual herbs drooping and ensure a productive plant with lots of leaves.

Note the Mediterranean herbs do should generally only be pruned once per year and for lavenders and rosemary it is important to not cut back into the woody growth. Annual pruning of your Mediterranean herbs in Spring prevent leggy drooping growth.

7. Not Enough Sunshine Causes Leggy, Drooping Growth

Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and rosemary require full sun. If the herbs are in too much shade they grow leggy and droop as they search for more light. Herbs such as basil or cilantro can display poor drooping growth when in too much shade.

Leafy annual herbs always grow best and produce the best tasting leaves when they are in morning sun followed by afternoon shade.

This ensures that the herbs have enough light to grow but do not suffer heat stress when the temperature typically peaks in the afternoon and the annual herbs can tolerate a lot more shade then Mediterranean herbs and still grow well.

In really low levels of light herbs grow tall and grow towards the strongest source of light. This causes them to grow weak and droop down.

Cut any drooping growth back to around 8 inches long and move your herbs to an area with more light so they can recover from their drooping appearance.

It is more difficult to revive Mediterranean herbs that are drooping as they do not like regular pruning. However you should move your Mediterranean herbs to an area of full sun (6 hours or more) to ensure healthy robust growth that does not droop and cut back any drooping growth in the late Fall or early Spring with a sharp pair of pruners.

Key Takeaways:

  • The most common reason for herbs drooping is because of dry soil. Potted herbs dry out quickly in the sun which causes herbs to droop as a signs of heat stress or dehydration. Move the herb to a cooler area and water thoroughly so it can recover from a drooping appearance.
  • Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and rosemary droop because of saturated soil. Mediterranean herbs are adapted to well draining, sandy soil. Too much moisture around Mediterranean herbs to droop and turn yellow or brown because of root rot.
  • Herbs often have a drooping appearance as a reaction to high temperatures. Herbs leaves and stems droop or wilt temporarily in the heat to reduce surface area which decreases water loss and conserves moisture. The herbs usually recover from a wilted appearance when temperature cool in the evening.
  • Herbs droop when planted in slow draining soils such as clay or in pots without drainage as they retain too much water around the roots causing root rot. Herbs require well draining soil with a porous structure to allow water to drain away from the roots to prevent drooping.

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