Vinegar is widely used and misused in gardening. The recovery process may look precarious if you’ve recently had to put your precious plant babies through a harsh vinegar treatment to get rid of pests like thrips. With such an acidic liquid, it’s only natural to be concerned about whether your plants can recover from being sprayed with vinegar.
Plants can recover from being sprayed with vinegar if treated immediately or if the solution was diluted before application. On the other hand, a concentrated vinegar solution can damage your plant’s cells due to its highly acidic properties, so recovery is unlikely without the proper treatment.
There are a few avenues of treatment if your plant has been exposed to vinegar. The remainder of this article will discuss vinegar’s effects on plants and how to counteract the effects in order to keep your plants healthy and thriving.
Vinegar’s Effects on Plants
Vinegar contains an ingredient called acetic acid. At high concentrations, it can burn and damage plants upon contact.
New and experienced gardeners use either of the following types of vinegar:
- Cooking vinegar. It has a much lower acid content (up to 5%) and is often diluted with other ingredients.
- Herbicidal or horticultural vinegar. This type of vinegar is intentionally used in gardening. It is much stronger (up to 40%) and can be used to kill weeds or treat pests.
Despite the significant difference in concentrations, both types of vinegar have acetic acid that can cause damage to your plants by breaking down their cells. When that happens, the plant will wither and blacken in color.
Vinegar (or acetic acid) works quickly, typically within a matter of hours, making it an ideal solution to have in the garden shed. However, accidentally spraying it on a healthy plant can be detrimental, so it’s vital to take action immediately afterward by following a few steps.
Although often used as a weed killer, it’s best to understand that indiscriminate use of vinegar in the garden can also kill your desired plants, as the liquid dries up any plant tissue upon contact by sucking out the fluid from the cells.
6 Steps To Treat a Plant Sprayed by Vinegar
If you’ve accidentally sprayed one of your plants with a vinegar solution, there are a few steps you should take as soon as you can. Let’s explore them in more detail.
1. Separate Your Plant From the Others
Whenever possible, separate the affected plant from the others to make the treatment more accessible. You can skip this step for outdoor plants. However, you may want to bring your indoor plant up to the bathtub or kitchen sink, where you can conveniently treat and clean it up afterward.
2. Rinse Your Plant Completely
Using room-temperature water, rinse every part of your plant. Don’t leave anything untouched. You must wash off any vinegar from the plant and its pot as quickly as you can since the acid in the vinegar will immediately begin to eat away at the areas it touched.
Be careful when using a garden hose when treating your plant outdoors. A showerhead with gentle pressure or a spray bottle can make this job more convenient.
Moreover, water that is too hot or cold can shock the plant’s system even further. That’s why it’s necessary to use tepid water. Keep the temperature around 70 °F (21.1 °C).
3. Keep the Soil Moist
If the soil absorbed much vinegar, altering the pH, you might as well keep the soil moist for a few days. However, you must also consider your plant’s moisture requirements.
Maintaining a consistent moisture level in the soil is vital because it adds a layer of protection to the roots that are combating the effects of vinegar. You’ll want to keep a close eye on the moisture level of your plant’s soil for the next few days to ensure it’s consistently maintained.
4. Add Mulch to the Soil
Mulch will help keep the moisture level balanced, so adding a layer around the planet’s stem is a good next step to help the roots stay strong and the soil absorbent. Mulch consists of various ingredients that decompose over time, like tree bark, leaves, and wood chips.
5. Keep the Plant Away From Direct Sunlight
The sun’s heat rays can work with acetic acid to burn the plant quicker, so keep your plant away from direct sunlight during recovery. Move your indoor plant away from the window to a shadier location.
On the other hand, you can move your outdoor plants to a roofed area, such as your porch or underneath your roof’s eaves. Alternatively, you can set up a light burlap or tarp above them as protection from the sun for a few days.
You can try the Burloptuous Gardening Burlap Roll (available on Amazon.com). It is durable and can withstand wind damage. It’s also lightweight, making it easier to install and dismantle when necessary.
6. Re-pot Your Plant With New Soil
Check your soil’s pH if your plant starts showing signs of distress. If it’s too acidic, you must re-pot your plant. In order to repot your plant, you should:
- Prepare a new pot with fresh soil. Use a pot of the same size as the original. If the plant’s new pot comes without a drainage hole, make some to encourage proper drainage. Fill the pot about ¼ of the way with soil and keep it close by to transfer the plant quickly.
- Prune the plant of any dead leaves. It’s possible that the acetic acid reached some leaves and not others. Before you move your plant, prune off any dried-up leaves. Doing this prevents the plant from allocating as much energy trying to keep those leaves alive and can instead redirect that energy to the rest of the living greenery.
- Use a small shovel to dig in a circle around the plant’s stem. A few inches down, you will find the root ball, which will need to be separated from the rest of the soil. Once you’ve located the root ball, use the shovel to gently pry it out of the soil with the rest of your plant.
- Re-pot your plant in its new home. Once it’s centered, fill the rest of the pot with fresh soil and pat it down to secure the root ball.
- Add water and mulch. Feed your plant generously yet again to help the roots grow, and add a layer of mulch to the top soil to maintain the moisture levels. Letting the excess water flow out can help flush out acetic acid residues and neutralize the pH around the roots.
- Monitor your plant over the next few days. If you manage to treat it in time, it should slowly come back to life. After 24-48 hours of no plant death, you can remove the tarp and return the plant to its original location.
How To Use Vinegar Treatments Safely
Naturally, you want to avoid accidentally spraying your plants with vinegar, whether it’s a homemade solution or a herbicidal one. While some vinegar treatments are excellent for killing unwanted garden weeds or treating pests such as thrips, the reality is that such a solution is not easily controlled and is highly destructive.
If you’re using a homemade solution, it’s critical to ensure you’re diluting the solution properly. Keep in mind that the stronger the vinegar, the more damaging it will be without dilution. However, too much dilution might render the vinegar solution ineffective.
Different strengths of solution will work for various plant conditions, but there should always be vinegar mixed with a few other ingredients (typically water, salt, and dish soap).
The lightest and best vinegar to use when concocting your own herbicide at home is white vinegar. Most recipes recommend a gallon (3.79 liters) of white vinegar mixed with a cup (273 g) of salt and a tablespoon (15 ml) of dish soap.
Remember: acetic acid is corrosive and can burn the skin in high quantities and concentrations. This is especially true when using horticulture vinegar.
Wear protective gear to avoid getting acetic acid on your skin when creating the solution. Try wearing eye protection, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants. Cover your skin as much as possible.
If you get any of the solutions on your skin or in your eyes, immediately rinse it off with cool water and call your doctor for the next steps.
When using a vinegar solution on a plant, there are a few things you can do to prevent accidentally spraying your healthy ones. For example, you can move the pest-infested plant away from the others or use a tarp to cover the surrounding area.
You can also use a spray bottle with a thin nozzle to spray the liquid directly on the area you’re treating. A misting bottle will surely spread the solution to nearby plants.
Plants can recover after being sprayed with vinegar if you take immediate action and treat the plant as soon as possible. Treatment involves rinsing the plant and re-potting it into fresh soil. After reading this article, treating your plant baby after an accidental vinegar spray should be a breeze.