Why is My Rosemary Drooping? (How to Solve it)


Rosemary drooping

Rosemary is a drought-tolerant plant so the reason your rosemary is drooping is likely a sign of stress due to overwatering or slow-draining soils rather than under watering. Rosemary can also have a drooping appearance because of transplant shock or high nitrogen soils.

Potted rosemary can droop due to lack of water if it is planted in pots or containers that are too small and therefore do not have the capacity for enough soil so that the roots can not draw up moisture before the soil dries out.

Keep reading to learn why your rosemary is drooping and what you can do to solve the problem…

Transplant Shock Causes Drooping Rosemary

One of the most common reasons for rosemary to droop after planting is because of transplant shock.

This is caused by a significant contrast between the conditions of the garden center where you bought the rosemary and the conditions of your garden.

This can be due to the contrast in humidity, watering, heat, sun, soil conditions, or other factors that may cause rosemary to droop as a sign of stress due to a change of environment.

The solution…

The best way to deal with drooping rosemary caused by transplant shock is to provide the optimal conditions for rosemary to grow which means emulating the growing conditions of the rosemarys native environment in the Mediterranean region of Europe.

This means that you should plant rosemary in:

  • Full sun (more than 6 hours per day)
  • Locate the rosemary in an area of the garden with good airflow
  • Plant the rosemary in compost that has been amended with horticultural sand or grit (roughly 20% sand and 80% compost)
  • Do not water too frequently as rosemary prefers well-draining soil that dries out somewhat between bouts of watering.

Rosemary is a drought-resistant plant once the roots have established but it is more vulnerable after planting which is why it requires more care and attention to avoid drooping.

Ideally, you should plant the rosemary in the Spring as this will give the rosemary roots a chance to establish in the new soil conditions and access water before it has to contend with blazing sunshine in the Summer.

If you have planted rosemary in summer then careful watering is required whilst the root system establishes to the new environment to avoid the plant from drooping.

Water newly planted rosemary around twice per week for the first month after planting. This will help to strike the balance between watering enough so the plant has enough moisture but not watering too much which can also cause the rosemary to droop due to moisture sensitivity.

Potted rosemary requires more watering than rosemary planted in the ground to mitigate transplant shock and prevent a drooping appearance due to the pot’s more favorable drainage conditions, so water as frequently as 3 times per week for the first month after planting if the weather is hot and dry.

After a month you can scale back the watering to once every week with a good soak each time which encourages the roots to establish and increases the plant’s tolerance to drought.

If you successfully replicate some of the growing conditions of the rosemary’s native Mediterranean environment then the rosemary will have the best chance of recovering from any transplant shock that may cause it to droop.

Watch this video for how to transplant rosemary:

Too much Nitrogen Causes Rosemary to Droop

Rosemary with a drooping appearance is often a result of a strong concentration of nitrogen in the soil.

All plants require nitrogen for growth however too much nitrogen can cause more harm than good when growing rosemary.

Rosemary thrives in its natural environment on hillsides with well-draining sandy or stony soil (which do not retain much water or nutrients) and it has specifically adapted to growing in these low to medium nutrient soils.

So when rosemary is planted in very rich compost (particularly if the planting area has been amended with manure which is high in nitrogen) it can droop as a sign of stress.

Rosemary drooping is particularly common if you have applied fertilizer to a plant that has a strong concentration of nitrogen.

The symptoms of rosemary that is growing in nitrogen-rich soil (or with additional fertilizer) are:

  • A drooping appearance of both leaves and stems.
  • Leaves turning somewhat yellow.
  • Lots of growth that is softer and sappy (which is then more vulnerable to pests).
  • Excessive foliage growth with an aroma that is not as strong and with fewer flowers in the Summer

Rosemary rarely requires a fertilizer due to its preference for low to medium nutrients soils, however, a half-strength general NPK fertilizer applied in Spring can help stimulate growth for rosemary that is planted in a pot for years and has exhausted the nutrients of the soil.

The solution…

The best way to deal with a rosemary with a drooping appearance is to stop applications of fertilizer. The rosemary will eventually recover as it thrives on neglectful treatment rather than too much care.

However, it is a good idea to ensure the rosemary is in full sun and has good airflow around the foliage as well as good soil drainage. This will help mitigate the risk of disease, which it is more susceptible to when there is an excess of nitrogen in the soil.

In terms of rich soil, I would recommend stopping amending the area around your rosemary with manure or any other mulch as this retains too much water and can add too much nitrogen to the soil.

Rosemary is a hardy plant when established so it should recover from a drooping appearance and return to normal if the growing conditions are suitable.

If you plan to transplant the rosemary then this would be a good time to amend the soil of the new planting area with sand or grit to help replicate the growing conditions of the rosemary’s natural environment.

Sand and grit do not retain much water or contribute much nutrients to the soil which will help balance overly rich soils so they are more appropriate for growing rosemary.

Damp Soils Cause Rosemary to Droop

Another reason for rosemary to droop is because of overwatering, slow-draining soils, or persistent rainfall, all of which result in too much water around the roots which causes the rosemary to be stressed and droop.

Rosemary grows naturally on hillsides in well-draining sandy soils. In Southern France (where rosemary is most prevalent), the climate is hot and sunny with dry heat and infrequent rainfall with mild winters all of which result in the rosemary growing in soils that allow the roots to be dry between bouts of watering or rainfall.

Too much water around the roots of rosemary causes the plant to droop in appearance as a sign of stress. Damp soils not only cause drooping rosemary but also encourage the prevalence of fungal diseases and root rot.

If your rosemary foliage is also turning brown, black, or yellow then this may be because of fungal disease. (Read my article on how to revive a dying rosemary plant).

The solution…

  • Scale back the watering of rosemary to once every 2 weeks during hot weather if they are planted in garden soil. Skip watering for a few days if there has been significant rainfall or many overcast days and the soil still feels moist.
  • Water rosemary in pots and containers once every two weeks from Spring to Fall with a good soak so that water trickles out the base as pots dry out quicker than garden soil.
  • If your garden soil is slow draining (such as clay soils) or boggy and low lying then plant or transfer rosemary in to pots so that you can control the soil conditions to improve the drainage and pots allow for more favorable drainage that rosemary prefers.

In terms of high rainfall, rosemary can grow in rainy climates such as the Pacific Northwest or the UK as long as the soil has been amended with sand or grit before planting to improve drainage.

If you are just planting or transplanting rosemary then I recommend amending the soil so that the pot or hole in the soil is at least 20% sand or grit to 80% compost or potting soil.

Sandy soil for rosemary

Too much sand or grit is always better than not enough as slow-draining soils will cause the rosemary to droop whereas well-draining soils are the optimal conditions for rosemary. In the Mediterranean, some rosemary plants grow and thrive in soil that seems almost entirely sand.

If you are planting rosemary in pots I recommend terracotta pots as they allow for drainage more so than plastic or ceramic pots which retain water even with drainage holes in the base.

With the right balance of watering and well-draining soils, rosemary can recover from a drooping appearance and thrive for many years (as long as it is protected from the cold).

Rosemary Drooping due to lack of water (in pots)

Rosemary care

Occasionally rosemary will droop because of under-watering rather than over-watering. This is not as common because rosemary thrives in drought conditions, however, it can happen in pots, particularly if the pot is relatively small.

If the pot is too small it can dry out too quickly which can cause the rosemary to droop.

Plant rosemary in a pot that is around 16 inches across. A pot or container this size will ensure that there is enough capacity for soil which can retain some moisture after watering so that the roots can draw up water.

In hot weather, it may be necessary to water potted or container rosemary once a week to ensure the plant has enough water.

Terracotta pots are a great choice of material for rosemary care as terracotta allows for some drainage and does not heat up as quickly as plastic or metal containers when in full sun which exacerbates drying and increases the chance of the rosemary drooping.

Key Takeaways:

  • Rosemary can have a drooping appearance because of too much moisture around the roots, soil that is too high in nitrogen, transplant shock, or due to being planted in a pot or container that is too small.
  • To save rosemary from drooping, it is important to replicate the plant’s preferred conditions of the Mediterranean.
  • Ensure rosemary is planted in well-draining soil, low to medium nutrients, located in full sun, and water around once every 2 weeks in hot weather. Plant rosemary in a large pot to ensure the soil does not dry out before the roots can draw up moisture. This will give the rosemary a chance to recover from a drooping appearance so that it can thrive and stay healthy.

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