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7 Reasons Why Your Cilantro Plant is Wilting & How to Fix it

Is your cilantro plant showing signs of poor health, such as yellowing and wilting? Identifying the exact cause of your plant’s declining health can make sure that you make timely and effective corrections to revive it. It also takes out the guesswork, preventing you from unknowingly making the situation worse.

Here are 7 reasons why your cilantro plant is wilting and how to fix it:

  1. Overwatering
  2. Underwatering
  3. Excessive heat and sunlight
  4. Incorrect soil type
  5. Incorrect soil pH level
  6. The growing container is too small
  7. Insect damage or disease

Read on to learn the telltale signs of the problems listed above and which remedies to implement to fix them and restore your plant to good health.

Photo of freshly cut cilantro lying on a wood table
Photo by Zhi Qi

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1. Overwatering Your Plant

Overwatering is one of the most common reasons behind plant problems. When you overwater your cilantro plant, the soil around it may become waterlogged.

Too much water in the soil causes plants to drown due to oxygen deficiency.

Consequently, the roots become damaged and cannot supply water and nutrients to the shoot. Overwatering a plant also makes its roots susceptible to root rot because it creates the perfect environment for fungi and oomycetes that cause the disease.

Signs of Overwatering

  • Yellow cilantro leaves
  • Yellowish, water-soaked spots on the leaves, which eventually turn dark brown or black
  • Loss of vigor that is characterized by wilted leaves and drooping stems
  • Leaves dropping from the plant
  • Stunted growth

How to Fix an Overwatered Cilantro Plant

If you’re sure the cause of your cilantro plant wilting is overwatering, there’s still a chance you can save it. If it’s not too far gone, you could get away by not watering it for a few days, and let the plant dry out naturally. If you fear your plant has been waterlogged, then take the following steps:

  1. Uproot the wilted plant
  2. Gently clean the roots under running water.
  3. Cut off all brown, soggy roots just above the damaged area.
  4. Transplant or repot the plant in new soil that’s well-drained but that retains some moisture. Use a pot with drainage holes to prevent root rot.

2. Underwatering Your Plant

If you’re underwatering your cilantro plant, that could also cause it to wilt. For optimal growth, cilantro in its early stage requires about 1 inch (2.5 cms) of water daily and about the same amount of water weekly when grown.

Outdoor plants typically need more water than those kept indoors because higher temperatures and direct sunlight dry the soil faster.

Similarly, container-grown cilantro plants require more regular watering for healthy growth, especially on hot days. And those planted in small pots are often likely to wilt from lack of water because small containers hold less soil volume and consequently less water.

Signs of Underwatering

  • Wilting due to loss in turgidity
  • Brown, dry leaf tips that feel crispy
  • Dropping leaves
  • Dry, crusty soil
  • Slow plant growth

How To Fix an Under Watered Cilantro Plant

If you’ve not been watering your cilantro plant enough, these measures can help revive your plant:

  1. Water your plant regularly and adequately. Watering your cilantro at least once or twice a week will help retain moisture in the soil. However, you may need to water your plant daily during hot weather to keep it hydrated.
  2. Replant your cilantro in a larger pot. A large container can hold more soil and compost and therefore retain more moisture. Ideally, it should have a diameter of at least 12 inches (30 cms).
  3. Add compost and perlite to your potting mix. Repot your plant in a fresh soil mix containing compost and perlite or sand. These materials help retain moisture, improve drainage, and provide aeration. If you’ve planted your cilantro in a vegetable garden, add layers of compost around the base of the plants and top with mulch for moisture retention.

3. Excessive Heat and Sunlight

Cilantro thrives in full sun or light shade during brutal summers or in southern zones where the sun is intense. However, if you expose your plant to extended periods of hot temperatures, it may suffer from heat stress, affecting its function and development.

Heat-stressed plants will generally wilt, which is a sign of water deficiency. If ignored, the plant will eventually dry up before dying. But note that cilantro temporarily droops during hot hours of the day to conserve moisture. Then when the temperatures drop, usually in the evening, it perks up.

Wilting, in this case, occurs to reduce water loss through transpiration. A wilted leaf exposes less surface area to light intensity, which slows down the rate of transpiration. You’ll want to observe your plant at different hours of the day to ensure it’s not dying, just adapting to heat.

The longer a plant remains wilted, the higher the likelihood of irreversible damage.

Signs of Heat Stress

  • Leaf wilting
  • Leaf dropping
  • Leaf scald
  • Bolting, i.e., the premature flowering of plants
  • Stunted growth
  • Overly dry soil

How to Fix Heat Stress in Cilantro Plant

If your cilantro plant has suffered heat stress, here are various ways you can help it recover:

  • Move your potted plants to areas in your garden or balcony with shade during the hottest time of the day
  • Protect the plant from the harsh late morning and early afternoon sun with shade cloths or an old cotton bed sheet
  • Ensure your cilantro is getting adequate water to keep the soil cool and moist
  • Insulate the soil with mulch, which conserves moisture by blocking the light and regulating soil temperature
  • Don’t prune burnt or dead leaves as they shade the lower, new leaves and branches. When cooler and wetter weather comes, you can remove any unsightly, brown leaves.
Photo of brown compost scooped into an individuals hands
Photo by Lauraganz

4. Incorrect Soil Type

Cilantro can thrive in any rich, nutrient-dense soil that’s light, moist, and well-drained. But you must water it regularly with just enough water to help it stay consistently moist and keep your plant from wilting.

Be careful not to overwater the soil as this causes it to become waterlogged.

Soil saturated with water makes the perfect environment for root rot-causing fungi. It also causes plant roots to lack enough oxygen to function as they should. Diminished root function and root rot can lead to the death of the plant, if not addressed urgently.

To prevent this, check the soil moisture at least once a week and only water your plant when the top 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cms) begin to feel dry. Secondly, use a container with good drainage. Third, if your pot is smaller than 10 inches (25 cms) across, consider replanting in a larger one that will retain more moisture and lock it in for longer.

Signs of Incorrect Soil Type

  • Wilting leaves
  • Leaf discoloration
  • Dropping leaves
  • Poor plant growth
  • Poor soil drainage
  • Heavy soil
  • Dry soil
  • Incorrect soil pH

How to Fix Wrong Soil Type

You can amend your poor-quality garden or potting soil and turn it into healthy soil if you:

  • Work compost or worm castings into the soil. Organic matter boosts the soil’s fertility and helps it retain moisture, promotes good drainage and aeration, and improves the soil structure.
  • Mix in some perlite or coarse sand in the soil. These materials modify soil structure to improve the soil’s drainage and aeration.
  • Get a soil test. It reads your soil’s pH level and nutrient content so you can know which adjustments to make to ensure its optimal health and fertility. It pinpoints deficiencies in soil nutrients, such as potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus, so you don’t have to guess which amendments you need to make to nourish your soil. If you need a soil test kit, I recommend the Luster Leaf Rapitest found on Amazon.
  • Mulch the soil surface. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, keeps the soil from becoming too warm, and increases soil fertility when it decomposes.

5. Incorrect Soil pH Level

Your cilantro plant could be wilting due to too low or too high pH levels of your soil. Like soil quality, pH level is also essential in growing healthy and consistent herbs.

Cilantro grows best in soil with a pH ranging between 6.2 and 6.8.

Soil pH determines which nutrient ions are available for uptake in the soil. Each nutrient ion has a preferred pH range in which it becomes readily accessible to plants at safe levels. So, if your plant is wilting, do a soil test to determine the pH of its growing environment.

If the pH level drops, it results in a deficiency of some nutrients, such as phosphorus, and toxicity of others, such as iron. And when the pH level rises, some nutrients become less available while others reach toxic levels.

Signs of Incorrect Soil pH Level

  • Wilted leaves
  • Leaves turning yellow, red, or purple
  • Brown spots on leaves
  • Leaf tip burn
  • Stunted growth
  • Leaf necrosis

How to Fix Wrong Soil pH

Depending on the results of the soil test, here’s how you can adjust incorrect soil pH levels:

  1. Increase soil pH (liming). Apply powdered limestone to the soil. The finer the limestone, the faster it dissolves. Alternative liming agents include wood ash and calcitic lime.
  2. Decrease soil pH. Introduce aluminum sulfate or sulfur to the soil. The former acts very quickly and changes the soil pH as soon as the soil absorbs it. Organic matter like compost and peat can also help lower the pH level.

6. The Growing Container is Too Small

Your cilantro plant may be wilting because you’ve planted it in a small container. Soil is the primary source of the nutrients plants need to grow and survive. A small pot means reduced soil volume, which, in turn, means fewer nutrients for your plant’s root system.

A pot that is too small also reduces soil water holding capacity and aeration.

As a result, you’ll notice your plant soil tends to dry out quickly, which increases the risk of plant wilting. You will, therefore, need to water your plant more regularly to keep the soil moist.

Small containers also confine roots, restricting their growth and causing them to compete for resources. Root restriction can have the same effect as soil moisture stress, even when the soil’s water content is sufficient for efficient plant growth.

Signs Your Plant Needs a Bigger Pot

  • Dry soil
  • Stunted growth
  • Wilted leaves
  • Yellow leaves
  • New leaves appear smaller
  • Roots poking out of the drainage hole

How to Fix Small Pot Problems

  1. Replant your cilantro in a larger pot or container, ideally one with a diameter of at least 12 inches (30 cms). Alternatively, get a pot that’s about 2-4 inches (5-10 cms) larger in diameter than the one you currently have.
  2. Repot using the correct type of soil to ensure your plant gets adequate nutrients and stays hydrated. Cilantro grows best in well-drained, moist soil.

7. Insect Damage or Disease

When growing cilantro, various kinds of pests and other diseases may affect your plants.

These include:

  • Bacterial leaf spot
  • Bacterial soft rot
  • Powdery mildew
  • Aphids
  • Armyworms
  • Damping-off
  • Fusarium wilt
  • Galls

Wilt is a common symptom of plants in distress due to bacterial diseases, fungal diseases, and insects.

There are measures you can take to help prevent plant pests and diseases and keep your plants thriving. For starters, ensure the soil you’re growing your cilantro is healthy by making it nutrient-rich, improving its water-holding capacity, and improving its structure.

Correctly spacing your plants is also crucial.

If your plants are too close together, they compete for resources, which stresses them and makes them vulnerable to diseases. The recommended spacing between cilantro seeds is 6-8 inches (15-20 cms) apart.

Signs of Insect Damage or Disease

  • Wilting leaves
  • Yellowing, browning, or reddening of leaves
  • Dropping leaves
  • Stunted plant growth
  • Water-soaked spots on the leaves turn dark brown to black and later become necrotic, or dead
  • Mold growth
  • Presence of small, soft-bodied insects
  • Egg clusters on the leaves

How to Fix a Pest or Disease-Ridden Cilantro Plant

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to cilantro plant pest infestation and diseases, as each problem requires a unique solution. Some issues, like damping off, bacterial leaf spot, and bacterial soft rot, can only be prevented, not treated. For pest infestations, check out our post on natural pesticides.

Here’s how to get rid of some of the most common pests and diseases affecting cilantro:

  • Aphids: Spray the plants with a strong jet of water if the infestation is mild or use insecticidal soap for moderate or severe infestation.
  • Powdery mildew: Use a commercial fungicide to control the problem. Or you can spray a baking soda and water solution or garlic water solution on the leaves.
  • Armyworms: You can handpick caterpillars with gloves, spray Bacillus thuringiensis, or introduce natural predators of armyworm larvae.