Why is My Tree (Or Shrub or Flower) Dying? Abiotic Problems Could be the Cause

freeze damage on hydrangea

Hydrangea leaves damaged by a late spring freeze. Photo: D. Ricigliano

Professionals in the landscape and greenhouse industry, trained horticulturists, and Master Gardeners often use the term “abiotic disorder” when diagnosing a plant problem. To the layman, this can be very confusing. To add to the confusion, signs and symptoms you see on your plants can look very similar to the damage caused by insects and diseases.

Surprisingly enough, the vast majority of plant problems are not caused by insect pests or diseases. Typically, the first thought that comes to mind when a plant is looking “ill” is that some insect or fungus has attacked it without much thought that it could be something else.

Abiotic problems, which are nonliving and not caused by a pathogen or pest, can be challenging to diagnose. Site conditions, soil, weather, planting, and watering techniques are examples of things that need to be considered, but there are many more. Sometimes decline can begin immediately after planting. Proper planting is critical to give nursery plants the best possible start right from the beginning. Once plants begin to decline it is difficult to bring them back to healthy, thriving specimens. Many people don’t notice the slow demise and contact us when it looks like their plant died overnight.

On the Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC) website, abiotic problems are referred to as “Cultural and Environmental” problems and can be found under the “Learn” section or listed under “Common Problems“ in the plant-related sections. The following are some common examples that cause serious plant issues. There are many more.

Additional Resources

By Debra Ricigliano, Lead Horticulturalist, University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center

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