Will Stunted Plants Ever Recover?

The growing season can be busy. Picking and choosing where we focus our energy, whether on our new irrigation set-up or our first attempt at composting, can be difficult. When we find that a plant has become stunted or stopped growing, we may wonder whether recovery is possible or we’re wasting our time.

Stunted plants will usually recover depending on what caused the stunting in the first place. If it’s too much sun, water, or a nutrient deficiency, attending to the issue will help your plant grow. However, if you stop watering, give the plant no light and it dies, it will not recover. 

If you know that your plant is just stunted–living as usual but just not thriving–and not dying, there is a good chance that recovery is possible. Hopefully, with this article in your toolkit, the process of helping your plant recover from stunted growth won’t be too time-consuming or frustrating. Below, we will talk about the common causes, prevention, and ways to fix stunted growth in plants.

Do Stunted Plants Return to Normal?

Sometimes, we notice stunting immediately. Other times, a typically growing mature plant will stop thriving with no rhyme or reason. Should we toss these plants or wait for them to return to normal?

Stunted plants return to normal most of the time as long as you fix or attend to the cause of the stunting. However, if your plant has been stunted because of exposure to something poisonous, it’s unlikely to recover. It’s essential to know the difference between “stunted” and dead, as well. 

Stunted plants might return to normal (as long as not too much damage has been done), but not overnight. You’ll need to assess the cause of stunting and fix it if you want your plant to recover. If you aren’t interested in taking on any plant projects and just want to leave the plant untouched, it may wilt and die. Or, if it does continue living, it just won’t grow any further. 

Signs Your Plant is Stunted 

You might notice a stunted plant as soon as it germinates. Your stunted plant won’t grow as quickly as its counterparts and might appear to have weaker stems or more soft, thin leaves. You might not need any comparison plants if you’re a seasoned gardener. You’ll know a plant is stunted based on how previous years’ crops started.

A stunted plant is expected at the beginning of growing, but plants can also become stunted in the middle of their life cycle. These stunted plants aren’t going to grow as quickly or strongly as their counterparts or might just stop growing altogether. They also might be your flowering plants that aren’t yet producing flowers or vegetables that won’t return any yield. 

Fixing Stunted Plants

Doing your research is my number one tip for preventing a stunted plant and fixing one that’s already stopped growing. Once you observe your gardening techniques, you may notice that you’ve been treating your plants in a way they don’t like to be treated. If you’ve been a flower gardener for years and have switched to fruits or veggies, you’ll notice right away that some of your old techniques just won’t do.

Figure out what has stunted your plant in the first place, and then you can move forward from there. If your plant is just stunted and hasn’t grown in a while, there’s a good chance you can get it back into good shape. However, once you notice the plant has wilted or died, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost your chance. Now, you know what doesn’t work for that type of plant, and next time you give it a try, you’ll have practiced!

The Importance of Seed Storage (Fix for Bad Seeds)

You can prevent stunting from happening from the very beginning of the planting process, starting with the little bag of seeds. You have to store your seeds in a dry, dark, cool place. Not doing so is like storing cheese on the counter. Improper storage of your plant seeds will make for “bad seeds” that are doomed to germinate slowly, not grow to proper size, and become stunted.

The Trifecta of Plant Health

Light, water, and pH are the trifecta of plant health. Whether you’ve noticed stunting right at germination or halfway through the life cycle of your plant, you should consider all three. The pH determines what nutrients are available to your plants, water will help hydrate your plants, and light feeds them and makes them grow.

You can get a moisture meter and test your soil to assess its health. Some moisture meters come with settings for light, water, and pH. It’s worth mentioning that a 10/10 on any of these scales doesn’t necessarily mean everything is great. Some plants prefer more moisture, lower pHs, or higher amounts of sunlight than others. 

Luckily, if you know your plant species, you can look up their preferences with a quick google search by looking at the back of the seed packet or checking the farmer’s almanac. Then, you can assess whether one of these three things isn’t being adequately attended to for your plant. 

Nutrient Deficiencies and the Right Soil

Plants need light, water, and soil to grow. It’s essential to use high-quality, nutrient-rich soil for your plants after germinating. Using a starter soil for your plants is usually meant just for the germination process, and often these soils don’t have the proper nutrients to support your plants in continual growth. 

Nutrient deficiencies can be hard to pin down because plants need a blend of seventeen different nutrients to live. If you do some research on your plant, you might find that your particular crop likes to have more nitrogen or phosphorus than other plants do.

Repotting a Plant 

Have you ever heard that goldfish will only grow to a size appropriate for their bowl? Plants are similar in that way. 

A giant plant potted in a tiny terracotta pot will only grow to that size. If you’re germinating a plant in a tiny plastic pot and it’s doing well, but it won’t grow anymore, this is excellent news. It means the germination has been successful, and you can transfer it to your garden.

If you have a houseplant that has stopped growing, this is a sign it might need to be repotted into something bigger, too.  

What Causes Plant Growth to Become Stunted?

You may be tossing and turning at night, wondering why none of your seeds have grown how you expected. Was it something you did? Was it a packet of bad seeds? 

Plant growth becomes stunted because of bad seeds, low light, bad watering habits, or a nutrient deficiency in the soil. Plant growth may also be stunted when it is ready to be transported to a garden or a bigger pot.

Another factor to consider is pests. If you have a pest problem on your hands or have used the wrong treatment for pests, this could be the cause of a stunted or dead plant. The signs should be pretty straightforward if this is your problem. 

All plants are different and require a different labor of love, so it’s essential to know your plant species. Chances are that if you are treating your plant and its seedlings perfectly, but something is still amiss, you aren’t the only one who has dealt with this problem. Online forums can be helpful and validating for those hard-to-nurture plants. You may even find some tips and tricks.

Common Causes of Stunted Plants

A stunted plant may look smaller or weaker than its counterparts, or may just be growing differently. 

Some common causes of stunted plants include:

  • Bad seeds
  • Low light/too much light
  • Low water/too much water
  • Bad watering techniques 
  • High or low pH
  • Wrong soil
  • Nutrient deficiencies 
  • Pest infestations
  • Mold growth or harmful fungi
  • Root rot
  • Need for a bigger pot 
  • Need for a trim 

As you can see, too much of a good thing (like light or water) can be just as harmful as not enough. Every flower, plant, vegetable, and fruit has specific needs that must be met in order for it to thrive. For example, some plants must be watered every day, while others must dry out completely before being watered again. 


A stunted plant can be a huge disappointment, especially if you’ve been putting a lot of time and care into that particular plant. However, it’s important to remember that proper care doesn’t look the same for every plant. All plants have different needs when it comes to light, watering, pH, nutrients, and repotting schedules. Research each of your plants and remember to treat them as individuals because they are! You can save a stunted plant with proper attendance to the issue at hand.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

Recent Posts