What about that forlorn pot of wilted flowers? Here are some ideas that can help save the day ... and your plants.

As the weather gets hotter, gardens dry out more quickly and require more frequent attention. If your garden is struggling to make it through a drought, these tips can help.

man looking at wilted plants

Is it too late?

Shriveled leaves don't necessarily mean a plant is dead or cannot be saved.

First, check stems for signs of life. If they are pliable and firm with some green inside, you can potentially revive the plant. The same is true for the roots. However, if stems and roots are dry and brittle, the plant is a goner.

Are you seeing ...

Wilted leaves that don't bounce back in the evening
Yellowing, curling/rolling leaves
Blossom, leaf, or fruit drop
Brown leaf tips and margins
Smaller fruit
Smaller leaves/stunted shoots
Evergreens and conifers losing needles
Footprints in a lawn taking longer to spring back

What you can do

Always resist the urge to pull up or prune a wilted plant. Some plants suffering from drought go dormant and only appear to be dead. Dead woody plants are brittle and brown; dormant wood is green or white underneath the bark. Remove dead wood anytime.

To avoid compacting the soil, be careful where you step. Some plants are easily damaged by root compaction.

Begin by watering slowly and deeply, letting moisture soak into the soil. Don't use numerous light sprays. The most effective method for watering is a slow and even stream that percolates directly down to the root zone. One or two thorough soakings are much better than frequent light sprinkling.

Let water soak in slowly with a Made in USA, 50 foot soaker hose.

person holding wilted plant

Mulch around plants to conserve soil moisture and moderate soil temperatures. Organic mulch, such as bark, grass clippings, shredded leaves, or straw is preferable. During a heatwave or drought, light-colored mulch will reflect sunlight and help cool soil.

Dusty plant leaves should be cleaned by spraying them lightly. This also helps to reduce insect infestations. During the hottest part of the day, don't spray plants located in full sun. This can burn the leaves.

Control weeds. They compete with plants for moisture and nutrients.

Water shrubs at their base and under the branch spread until the soil is moist to a depth of 6-8 inches. If you are using a sprinkler, place a container nearby and make certain it catches at least an inch of water.

Plants vary in their ability to tolerate stress from drought. For trees and shrubs, water new transplants first, then those that have been in the ground 2-5 years. Water small trees last.

Water early in the day

woman watering plants

Plants absorb the most water in the early morning. Watering your garden at that time will help minimize fungal diseases as well as lessen evaporation.

Avoid using fertilizer during a drought. The salts can burn roots.

Trees and shrubs

A deep irrigation every 1-2 weeks will often keep these plants alive during a drought, especially if the soil and roots are relatively deep. Shallow soils require watering more often. Most well-established trees and shrubs can survive a longer period between irrigation if they are watered deeply each time.

Remember, if you stop watering your lawn to conserve water, the shrubs and trees that have been dependent on that water will need another source of moisture to prevent limb dieback and death.

Following a drought, ash, birch, and redwoods are especially susceptible to dieback characterized by the progressive death of twigs, branches, shoots, or roots, starting at the tips.

green shrubs

(my photo)

Fruits and nuts

Keeping fruit and nut trees alive during severe drought can be accomplished by lengthening the amount of time between irrigation. When trees are stressed, heavy fruit drop can occur, and fruit size will be smaller. This can be partially offset by heavier thinning in the spring.

To produce a good crop, deciduous fruit and nut trees need continuous sufficient water in their root zones from bloom until harvest. Severe water stress resulting in leaf loss will reduce blooming the following season. It can also be a cause of dead branches, sunburn, and insect attacks.

In order to set fruit, citrus trees must have adequately moist soil during the spring. For the best fruit, they also require a steady supply of water throughout summer and fall.

cut daisy blooms


These plants can often survive on about half the water they receive in a normal year. However, some dieback may occur. To avoid serious stress from drought, groundcovers should be watered at least every three weeks from late May through September, depending on location and soil conditions.


The average tomato plant needs more than 30 gallons of water during the growing season. Vegetables are especially difficult to keep alive during an extended drought. Tomatoes, beans, and root crops require regular watering and will not tolerate long periods without sufficient moisture.

wilted tomato plants

In addition, peppers, tomatoes, corn, eggplant, squash and melons require at least a month of weather between 80° to 90° in order to produce a good crop. As long as they don't run out of water, they're equipped to survive the heat. On hot days, they conserve energy and moisture by resting. The foliage may look wilted, but will perk up again in the evening. Use mulch and a soaker hose to keep these plants hydrated.

Vegetables and fruits that perform best during the summer include peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, sweet potatoes, Southern peas, okra, eggplant, Malabar spinach, shallots, corn, melons, sorrel, and loose leaf/bibb lettuce, named after John Bibb, the Kentucky lawyer who developed the variety.

malabar spinach

(Red Malabar spinach on my deck)


Warm season lawns, such as Bermuda grass and buffalo grass, are more tolerant of drought than are cool season grasses, which may die after a month or two without water. Increasing mowing height to 3-4 inches may help get your lawn through a drought. If grass does turn brown, it can frequently be revived with a thorough watering as long as drought conditions don't persist too long.

southfork ranch
(K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash)

Plants remember drought

watering wilted plants

"Plants subjected to drought actually remember this stress from day to day, learning to adjust their responses to better cope with it. The discovery by University of Nebraska plant scientists could someday aid in the development of more drought-tolerant crops."1

Artificial shade

shade cloth

During the hottest weather, the sun's heat can often be mitigated by using artificial shade. For instructions on how to make a temporary sunshade, click here.

Shade those patio plants during the worst of the summer with a Made in USA, patio shade cover.

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