Signs Your Soil Is Depleted

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You've labored under the blazing sun in your garden. You’ve rescued your flowers from the harsh winter. You and those plants have been through so much together, but they still won’t flourish like you wish they would. Well, it may not be the plant’s fault. The soil could be to blame.

Soil problems are a silent killer. While plant problems are often tied to the weather, pests, or the gardener, the truth is if your soil isn't properly maintained, nothing will grow well. But if your soil is depleted of nutrients, it won’t go unnoticed forever. Eventually, you'll see negative results in your plants. Here are several signs that your soil is not as healthy as it ought to be.


A garden of wilted sunflowers.

Contrary to popular belief, wilting is not always because of the heat or the sun. Soil depletion can sometimes cause wilted leaves and droopy plants. When the stems are wilting, they may be too weak to hold up the rest of the plant. The leaves could also appear limp or shriveled. These symptoms could be traced back to low levels of nitrogen or improper aeration.

Slow or Stunted Growth

One of the most obvious soil depletion symptoms is an issue with growth. The affected plants will either grow slowly or their growth will be stunted completely. You may also realize that the leaves stay smaller than normal. If you notice your plants aren’t growing properly, it could mean a nitrogen deficiency, low acidity, or a high amount of clay is in your soil.

Colorful Leaves

A colorful leaf of green, yellow, and purple.

While you definitely want your flowers, fruits, and vegetables to produce vibrant colors, you don’t typically want these colors to appear in the leaves. Most plants have green leaves, so if you notice that there's some discoloration in them, it may mean your soil is unhealthy. When your leaves are yellowing at the bottom of the plant, nitrogen may be to blame.

Dark green or purple-looking leaves appear when there is a phosphorous deficiency. The sugars can build up in the leaves, turning them dark colors. In some cases, the problem is with the soil not having enough phosphorous. Another reason why the plants are not getting enough phosphorus may be the temperature of the soil. If the soil is too cool, the plant may be having trouble absorbing the phosphorus.

No Blooms

Perhaps one of the easiest symptoms to notice is when your flowers or plants aren’t blooming. After all, aren't blooms the point of planting them in the first place? If the soil is to blame, it could very well be the plant is receiving too much nitrogen from the soil. There could be a number of other reasons your plants may not be blossoming, but the soil could possibly be the issue.

Bad Roots

An uprooted plant in a garden with exposed roots.

Soil problems can be uncovered by digging down to the roots of your plant. Nitrogen depletion gives plants weak roots, which could cause them to tip over from not having enough stabilization. Roots sometimes grow differently when they aren't getting proper nutrition. If the roots are stubby, short, or swollen, it may be indicative of an abundance of aluminum.

Strange Soil

Sometimes you have to go straight to the source get answers. If you notice the ground where you’ve planted doesn’t look right, then it probably isn’t.

To test it, you can take a handful of damp soil and examine it. Try to prod the soil clump. If the soil falls apart immediately when you release your grip, it's probably too sandy. In this case, the water can move through too quickly and the plants can dry out. A clump of soil that doesn't easily break apart when prompted is probably high in clay. Clay often makes your soil cracked and dry-looking. When looking at your soil, an indicator of poor aeration is puddles of water.