Stress management for plants

Wayne Hobbs Environmental Horticulture Agent
Posted 3/7/18

What do you do after a long day at work or when stress just gets to be a bit too much? We often find something that releases this stress and allows the physical and mental toll to subside. However, …

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Stress management for plants


What do you do after a long day at work or when stress just gets to be a bit too much? We often find something that releases this stress and allows the physical and mental toll to subside. However, your plants can become stressed as well and they do not have the option of watching a favorite movie or taking a nap. It is up to you to limit the stresses they face as much as possible.

What stresses plants?

Plants can be stressed by many different parts of their environment, usually anything that alters their optimal growing conditions. Too much rain or irrigation, drought, disease, wind, pests, lack of essential nutrients, frost and physical damage can all work to lower the quality of plants lives and can lead to even more issues.

Effects of Plant Stress

How can you tell your plants are stressed? Look for signs that the plant is not growing properly, such as a slower growth rate, a lack of leaves, discolored foliage, or wilting among others. Sometimes these issues can even look like disease.

A big sign of stress is leaf, fruit or blossom drop. Citrus was heavily stressed this year by the weather, leading to a much lower yield than normal as they shed their fruit to survive the wet summer and Hurricane Irma. This will occur in other plants as well.

Stress can also make a plant much more likely to have disease or pest issues. Turf that stays too wet will often get fungal or insect issues so it becomes key to manage your irrigation properly and flooding can make it likely a tree could be attacked by insect pests.

Limiting Plant Stress

So, what can you do to limit the stress in the garden and landscape? The best place to start is to research the needs of your plants and provide optimal growth conditions. One part that is often overlooked is to make sure they have the proper soil conditions, light and temperatures to thrive before they are planted. A plant that is improperly placed will always have issues. To find out the needs of your specimens, check or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office for help.

Once planted, make sure to manage irrigation and fertilizer properly. Mulch can also be used in beds to slow the loss of water and to improve soil conditions but remember that if left against the stems of plants, it can lead to further stress.

Cut all turfgrass at the proper height because if you allow it to grow too tall between mowings or scalping it too short, can lead to major issues. Only prune plants when needed and do so at the proper time of the year. A common example of this is when shrubs are hedged too frequently, leading to death of branches or when green fronds are pruned from palms which causes them to lose their stored energy, which attracts palm weevils.

Another overlooked stressing agent is also traffic over a plant’s root area. Heavy machinery, vehicles, or even piles of dirt and debris near a plant can result in plant stress and even death. Finally, keep an active lookout for disease and pests in the landscape (at least once a week) so that issues can be dealt with before they escalate.

If you have any horticultural, agricultural, 4-H, or family and consumer science questions, contact the University of Florida/IFAS Clay County Extension Office online at or call by phone at (904) 284-6355.


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