My plants are dying! Help me!

Bures sur Yvette, France

I've always had a very non-green thumb... but I keep trying anyway! I've just moved to an apartment with a little balcony planting area. It was full of very healthy weeds when I arrived, but I wanted to grow some herbs and flowers. I've been planting those, using just the dirt that was already there, plus whatever dirt the plant comes with. I really have no idea what's at the bottom of the planting area. It's concrete, but I don't know how deep (there is at least one foot of dirt). Anyway, my plants look really bad, and I don't know if I'm overwatering, or underwatering, or what... it rains a little bit every few days. Please take a look at my pictures and help me! The basil has been hanging on for several weeks now, but the flowers were just planted last Saturday and looked great when I bought them.

A couple more notes... there are some ants living in the dirt, I think... also, when I arrived it was quite rainy and all the weeds were doing well. It's been more sunny and dry recently, and all the weeds died. So maybe underwatering? But I read about overwatering, and it looks like that too... the dirt does seem very dry on the surface though. Thanks!

Thumbnail by erinmg85 Thumbnail by erinmg85
(Zone 7a)

All the signs are there of overwatering. Pull back some, do a finger test. Push your finger down into the soil. If it goes down about 3"-4" and it's dry, then water. How much sun do your plants get? All that I see are full sun.

Bures sur Yvette, France

Thanks for answering... I haven't watered them for about two or three days.... I pushed my finger in, and it seems totally dry 4 inches down. Does that mean I should water them again today?

They get several hours of full sun per day, though it's cloudy a lot here. The balcony faces roughly north-east, so mostly in the morning and early afternoon I guess.

Stamford, CT(Zone 6b)

I think kwanjin is in the right area, but my question is related. As you can see, weeds grow anywhere and any how. Except for plants that like it really wet, your container or planting medium needs some drainage. I would purchase a bag of potting soil mix and a small bag of vermiculite or perlite and add a few tablespoons to lighten and aerate the soil. The potting mix will have some fertilizer in it.

I consider myself a reasonably good grower, and I, too, sometimes have problems with basil, so don't feel too bad. My basil plants do better in the ground than in containers. Cloudy is not bad for plants. They still get a full spectrum of light without a lot of heat. You may have more of a green thumb than you think....


Bures sur Yvette, France

A little more information... I decided to dig down and actually find out what's at the bottom of the planter. I only did so on the end though, since I have plants in the middle... The bottom is about a foot down, I guess sealed concrete? I didn't see any drainage holes, but there could be some near the middle of the planter, I have no idea (it's about 7-8 feet long). I did find lots of ants!! They are currently going crazy, and they seem to be taking lots of little white balls over to the neighbor's balcony garden (just weeds in there). However, the soil seemed to be completely dry all the way down. I've read conflicting advice on whether ants are good or bad for gardens. Any thoughts?

I'm planning to go to the store today to buy some potting soil, with some additives to help drainage. I don't think I can afford to completely replace the existing soil, but maybe mixing some new stuff in would help. Should I also be putting a layer of something in the bottom? Thanks again.

Opp, AL(Zone 8b)

The little white balls the ants are carrying are the babies, the eggs. What they might be doing or if they are beneficial (the little tunnels provide access for air into the soil) or harmful (farming aphids or other pests) depends on what kind they are.

Additives can't help with drainage if there is no drain hole. If it's enclosed, you might want to get something that likes to be moist all the time and put the other plants in pots. You can take cuttings of your basil, which will root in water very quickly. The roots of that plant are probably in pretty bad shape judging by the foliage and may not be worth trying to save.

Concrete can leach lime into the soil, so there could be a PH imbalance.

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Erinmg85 good for you for trying to get a little garden up and growing,it's never easy for any gardeners when taking over someone elses patch of dirt, you just dont really know what soil has been used, if weed killer have been used or eve if it's been a cat's toilet however, it should be said that there would be clues as to what the soil was used for but you have to be able to test the soil and know what you need soil wise for growing edible stuff.

I think your on the right track now by going out to buy some GOOD quality compost / soil, but also depending on what your growing veg / flowers or herbs
They normally have different needs, like herbs like well drained soil as they are normally grown in the mediteranian countries where the soil is free draining and there is lots of sun so, I like to add some fine grit to my soil to help drainage but you might not need that because your not using a garden setting but, they need watering say every evening,
Flowers like a good rich soil with addad compost / animal manures well rotted like chicken pellets for example, (never over feed) just go by what is says on the packet however, well rotter horse / cow manure is even better for flowers AND veg except root veg like carrots / parsnips etc as the manure helps over feed and the plants dont bother growing nice long roots in search of moisture or neutrients as you are giving then that with the manure, I like to manure Autumn and sew the veg seeds spring which is better.

If You are able to get rid of the old soil and get some new stuff, you would be better but if you cant do this, I would add as amuch humas like compost and well rotted manures to help bulk up the soil, this also helps feed and hold some moisture when you water, and that will help your plants grow better.
As for the ants, nests of ants can be distructive to growing plants at the roots but they also encourage things like green-fly etc as they feed of the sugary excriment the flies leave behing, there are powders, sticky traps and other things that dont cost too much that are helpfull get rid of some types of anys, other type of ants are more horrible to us humans, IF you have a large nest in the veranda I would sugest you have very dry soil and the info given will help fix that, Ants dont NORMALLY like wet or damp conditions, and the little white things the ants were running off with were eggs / tiny grubs just born and the worker / nursery ants will do anything to save / protect these, even take them away to start a new nest site off.
Hope all this helps you get a grip on your new garden and just dont get stressed out, there are plenty people here to help with any questions you have.
Good luck, WeeNel.

Chongqing, China

Yes, followers and a lot of animals like fish just need appropriate water instead of watering all the time. So, don't be afraid, a little bit shinning will be OK.

Worcester, MA


placing large rocks or dumping a bag of landscaping pebbles at the bottom of the bed could create additional drainage. I've used both when planting in containers large and small and it does help. I also add an inch or so of mulch on top - helps with keeping a watering schedule (with less watering and less of a chance the bed will completely dry out before you get back to it). Also, every now and again I aerate the soil with a hand fork or small cultivator.

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