The Rocket Guide to Pests & Diseases – Part 2: Wilting

In the second of our three part guide we look at what might be causing your plants to wilt. It could simply be a lack of nutrients or water, but sometimes there are other causes which tend to either involve some sort of grub that is feeding on the roots of your plants or a fungus driven disease that has been lurking in the soil.

Identifying the problem

The first thing to do when you see signs of wilting is to rule out potential lack of water or indeed excess of water. So, if it has been dry recently check the soil. If you dig a spade or fork into the soil you should be able to see that the soil is moist down to at least 4 or 5 inches. Any less than this indicates that it’s too dry and your plants are likely to be dying of thirst. Get the watering can out and give them a good drink (in the evening or early in the morning is best) and they should spring back to life within a few hours.

Equally, make sure they’re not waterlogged. This is often a problem with plants grown in pots and containers. If the soil is soggy, then don’t water them for a few days and bring them undercover so they don’t get rained on. If there is anything you can do to improve drainage (like adding stones to the base of the pot) then this will help. If the pots are sitting in a saucer of water, then remove it.

Once you’ve ruled this out, check our flow chart.

Click on the image below for a closer look.


Dealing with the problem

Some things are easier to deal with than others, so take a deep breath and prepare for some vegetable casualties…


This is most likely to affect brassicas (cabbages, kales, broccoli, cauliflower etc). Sadly, there’s no cure. You’ll have to burn affected plants to prevent it from spreading. It’s a spore held in the soil, so best not to plant brassicas in that location for a few years.


These little caterpillars come from moths. They are usually found in areas that have been heavily vegetated, so might appear if you’ve just cleared a new area in the garden for a veg patch or something like that. Birds love them, so carefully dig around the base of the stem of affected plant and pop them into a bucket – find a suitable part of the garden to feed them to the birds!

Fusarium Wilt

Caused by a fungus carried in the soil, this is unfortunately one of those diseases that can’t be controlled and you’ll have to burn any affected plants.   It doesn’t affect many veg plants, but has been known to strike down on tomatoes, beans and asparagus. Unless you can find some resistant varieties, you probably won’t be able to grow on affected soil.


Not to be confused with a fashion item, the leatherjacket is the larvae of the cranefly (aka Daddy Long Legs.) If found in your veg, you should carefully dig around the base of the stems and pop them into a bucket ready to feed to the birds in a different part of the garden.

Root Rot

This is another disease caused by fungus spores that are lurking in the soil. Burn any affected plants (which are most likely to be tomatoes, peas or beans) and avoid planting them in the same spot for a few years.

Verticillium Wilt

This is yet another fungus related disease that can lurk in the soil. It’s most common to find it in the greenhouse. Burn any affected plants, and if you can, clear the soil surrounding the affected plants as well to minimise spreading.

Violet Root Rot

You tend to see this more on root veg (carrots, beetroot, parsnips) and tubers, such as potatoes. It’s another of those fungus driven diseases and the only solution is to burn affected plants/roots and not grow them again in the same spot for a few years.

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