Rescue remedies for stressed out plants (part 1)

Previously, I had lamented on how caterpillars, namely cutworms, had feasted on my veggie seedlings. In this post, I will share three effective rescue remedies that I use to strengthen my plants against plant predators and other stresses.

What other stresses? Well, they are not so different from things that stress people out. In the tropical context, it would be weather extremes such as torrential rains, droughts, high heat and strong winds. Another stressful situation is during transplanting when plants are relocated from cozy containers to a more exposed environment, and their roots get disturbed.

Or if you are like me, who has a fondness for rearranging plants like furniture, we may hinder a plant’s growth every time we dig it up to move it. Sometimes, this is necessary when we discover that the growing plant doesn’t fit the original space that we had planned for it due to space constraints, light requirements, soil conditions or aesthetics. Other times, it’s itchy fingers.

Like people, plants become more vulnerable to sickness during stressful periods. Stressed plants may not have enough energy to build strong physical barriers against predators – things like thorns, spines, hairs and a thick epidermis. Stressed plants also may not be able make enough defensive biochemicals to actively inhibit, deter or kill invaders.

Whether it’s stress inflicted by predator, weather or gardener, there are anti-stress remedies that help build plant resilience. Here are the ones that I keep in my plant first aid kit:

  • Kelp. I use a soluble seaweed powder, consisting of three kelp varieties, to stimulate plant growth and activate the plant’s defense system against predators and pathogens. Kelp is also food for the  soil food webwhich is why I usually apply it with my next rescue remedy, EM.
  • Effective Microorganisms (EM). I use a brand called EM-1 which is a mixture of three groups of microbes – photosynthetic bacteria, lactic acid bacteria and yeast. When applied regularly to plant and soil, EM-1 helps to control the population of harmful microbes, enhances plant growth and enriches the soil food web.
  • Neem oil. I use a cold pressed neem oil that contains 3785 ppm of the active compound azadirachtin, which is the highest that I can find. This has proven to be very effective in controlling leaf-eating insects and larvae.

It has been 4 weeks since the caterpillar fest. I started my plant rescue programme by picking off as many caterpillars as I could spot. Then I sprayed neem oil for three consecutive nights after the rains. That seemed to have deterred more caterpillars from visiting. The neem oil might also have stopped previously laid eggs from hatching. When I didn’t spot any more caterpillars, I sprayed liquid kelp mixed with EM on alternate evenings for a week.

I am relieved and happy to report that most of the veggies have recovered and are thriving. The picture at the top and below show how they look now.


Before I end this post, it’s important for me to stress that these rescue remedies are not magic bullets. I find that they work very well on temporarily stressed plants. If the plants are regularly stressed and are growing in poor soils, these remedies have limited efficacy especially in the long run. Healthy soils with a lively soil food web are the foundation of resilient plants. I will share how I grow healthy soils in future posts.

Read more on liquid kelp, EM and neem oil and how to buy them in my next post.

3 thoughts on “Rescue remedies for stressed out plants (part 1)

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