Why Is My Potentilla Dying? (7 Reasons And How To Fix Them)

Potentilla, also known as Cinquefoil or Mock Strawberry, is a delicate looking but actually very hardy shrub.

It is part of the rose family and closely related to strawberries, in fact the fruit bears a strong resemblance although they are inedible.

In this article we look at the common causes of poor health in Potentilla, and how to fix them.

So if you want an answer to “Why is my Potentilla dying?” this article is for you!

  1. Too Cold
  2. Not Enough Sun
  3. Too Hot
  4. Poor Drainage
  5. Pests – Spider Mites And Aphids

Too Cold

Potentilla can often suffer winter dieback after a very cold snap.

The stems will be dead and brittle with no foliage or flowers.

How to fix:

  • If come spring your Potentilla is not budding as usual, then prune the plant back hard to about 10cm from the ground.
  • It should come back fine the next year.
Why Is My Potentilla Dying (7 Reasons And How To Fix Them) - Potentilla Fruit

Not Enough Sun

The natural habitat of Potentilla is meadows and mountains, so they are used to uninterrupted sun.

They need a good 6 hours of sunshine.

If they are planted in the shade Potentilla can become leggy and pale.

How to fix:

  • Make sure to plant Potentilla in a sunny spot.
  • Make sure they have some room in the border, as if they are planted to close to other, taller varieties they may receive too much shade.
Why Is My Potentilla Dying (7 Reasons And How To Fix Them) - Abbotswood Potentilla

Too Hot

Although Potentilla like full sun, they are generally found in the Northern Hemisphere where temperatures are cooler.

They can sometimes wilt in very hot temperatures if planted in Southern Hemisphere countries.

This can also now be the case in Northern Hemisphere locations as we are seeing hotter and drier conditions due to climate change.

Foliage and flowers will look soft and droopy.

How to fix:

  • If possible, provide some afternoon shade during hot spells.
  • This can be done by moving potted Potentilla, or erecting a temporary tarp or similar shade over Potentilla in the ground.
  • Also provide some extra irrigation during these times.
  • Water from the base rather than from the top to avoid leaf scorch or fungus affecting the foliage.
Why Is My Potentilla Dying (7 Reasons And How To Fix Them) - Potentilla Pink Flower

Poor Drainage

This tends to be the main reason for Potentilla ill health.

Like most plants, Potentilla do not like to sit in saturated soil.

Overwatered Potentilla foliage will start to turn yellow, leaves will fall, and the roots can begin to rot.

How to fix:

  • If you have soil that is prone to compacting or waterlogging, add some sand or grit to improve drainage.
  • If your Potentilla is in a pot, make sure the drainage holes are a good size and also raise the pot up on legs.
  • Don’t overwater – always feel the soil before watering, ideally it should be moist but not wet.
  • If it is already damp then do not water more.
Why Is My Potentilla Dying (7 Reasons And How To Fix Them) - Potentilla Palustris

Pests – Spider Mites And Aphids

Potentilla are generally free from pests however they can be attacked by spider mites and aphids.

These will both suck the sap from foliage and new growth.

Aphids produce a sticky honeydew substance that sticks to leaves and attracts a black mould.

Spider mites are tiny so you may not see the actual mites, but you may see white webbing and the affected leaves look distorted and curled, with yellow stippling.

In both cases damage is minimal if numbers are low, however large infestations can devitalise the plant and eventually kill it.

How to fix:

  • Aphids and the mould they attract can be wiped off with a mild dish soap solution.
  • Spider mites can be knocked off into a bucket of soapy water.
  • You can also spray both of them off with a jet of water.
  • Prune any badly affected parts of the plant and dispose of (not in the compost heap).
  • Pests tend to attack plants that already weakened in some way, so make sure Potentilla are healthy otherwise.
  • Encourage natural predators like ladybirds, other insects, frogs and birds by having a high level of biodiversity in your garden.
Why Is My Potentilla Dying (7 Reasons And How To Fix Them) - Ladybird Eating An Aphid

Fungus – Leaf

As Potentilla are most at home in sunny, open areas, they do best in dry and ventilated conditions.

If they find themselves in locations that are humid with no airflow, this can cause the development and spread of fungus on the foliage.

Common types of leaf fungus are:

Leaf Spot – Leaves develop brown or black spots with necrotic (dead) centres.

Rust – Both foliage and stems are covered in orange/red/brown powdery pustules.

Powdery Mildew – Whole leaves are covered in a white powdery mould.

Downy Mildew – The upper surface of leaves have angular blotches of yellow discolouration, the under surface shows a pale grey or purple furry mould growth.

How to fix:

  • Remove all affected leaves and dispose of (not in the compost heap).
  • Sterilise all gloves and tools used.
  • Clear all fallen debris around the base of the plant and do this regularly to maintain good airflow.
  • Add a layer of mulch to create a barrier between fallen spores and the plant.
  • When watering, avoid splashing the foliage from above as this will increase moisture sat on the leaves and also disperses spores into the air. Water at the base with a hose or watering can instead.
Why Is My Potentilla Dying (7 Reasons And How To Fix Them) - Yellow Potentilla Flowers

Fungus – Root Rot

This common fungus develops when Potentilla sits in water saturated soil.

Overwatering and poor drainage are usually the cause.

The root system begins to decompose and cannot function to take in water.

There may be sudden leaf drop, maybe just in one section at first.

The plant will continue to fail and will eventually die back fully.

How to fix:

  • Don’t overwater your Potentilla and make sure it is in a sunny spot as this will aid water evaporation.
  • If you have heavy soil, add sand or grit to improve drainage.
  • Don’t plant Potentilla too deeply or in depressions or dips that collect water.
  • Keep an eye on Potentilla in pots to make sure the drainage holes don’t become blocked.
  • If your plant does become infected, try to improve the drainage and hopefully the Potentilla will recover, although you may lose some sections.

Final Thoughts

Potentilla are a cheery and hardy little plant.

Good for coastal environments and also great for containers, the flowers come in many colours with the most common being yellow.

All of the shrub Potentilla are deciduous however in very mild climates they may manage to keep their foliage through the winter.

Alpine ground cover Potentilla are usually evergreen.

Their main care needs are full sun and good drainage, if you can give them that they should be happy and productive.

Pair them with Pittosporum as they have similar habitat requirements.

They will benefit from a light prune every now and again in early spring, before the flower buds form.

If you are having a problem with your Potentilla that you can’t identify, drop me a message and I will do my best to help.

2 thoughts on “Why Is My Potentilla Dying? (7 Reasons And How To Fix Them)”

  1. Hi we just bought two Potentilla plants and both are dead . The gardeners
    claimed they are sturdy enough to survive this hot Kamloops B.C. desert slope. Planted them in good soil.

    • Hi Rena,
      That’s a real shame. Potentillas do like sunny conditions but don’t like it too hot. It’s possible that it was too hot for them to get established before they wilted. Can I ask what temperatures/weather you’re seeing at the moment?
      Sue X


Leave a Comment