How To Save A Dying Vine By Knowing What Ails It

Vine plants have always had a special appeal to them. Who can ignore their signature creeping, their aesthetics, and even security value? Let’s also not forget the many nutritious and delicious fruits and vegetables yielded from vines. There’s a lot to love about vines. What can be done to save a dying fine?

Saving a dying vine entails assessing the problem and following general steps to nurse it back to health. The problem could be related to soil, irrigation, pests, sunlight, disease, or weather. The solution usually entails proper watering, sunlight, soil type, fertilization, and pruning.

Unfortunately, vines are not infallible and they are susceptible to several issues that can lead to their untimely demise. The following article looks at these potential root issues so you won’t be caught by surprise. Even more importantly, we have some guidelines on how to pull your dying vine back from the brink.


Why Is My Vine Dying?

To get to a solution, we need a full understanding of the problem. There are many general solutions to issues with vines, but not only is it a good idea in general to diagnose the ailment, some of them require specific remedies.

There are many reasons a vine could be dying. Some include disease, over watering, under watering, fungus, animals, too much sunlight, too little sunlight, soil pH and nutrient levels, soil percolation, etc. There are general solutions as well as specific ones related to each issue.

Now, “dying” is a good start, but without knowing how exactly the plant is dying, you’ll be working in the dark. So let’s take the main points to consider when trying to heal your sick plant.

Disease Kills Vines Through Fungus, Mildew, And Bacteria

At the sight of wilting, drying, or discoloring vines, many people would automatically blame some sort of disease. In a fair number of such instances, that assumption would be correct. 

Vines are very prone to diseases, especially from fungi and bacteria.


A common fungal infection is Anthracnose, which attacks their leaves and fruit. Signs of Anthracnose include brown spots and blotches on the leaves as well as lesions and bruising on fruit. After a while with the disease, a vine’s leaves can dry and wilt as the plant dies.

In less severe cases, the plant weakens and produces less flowers, leaves, or fruit depending on the vine type. According to the OSU College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences department there are many parts of the vine that Anthracnose can attack.

Parts of the vine Anthracnose attacks:

  • fruit stems
  • leaves
  • petioles
  • tendrils
  • young shoots
  • berries

Powdery Mildew And Vines

Powdery mildew is another disease that attacks vine crops like cucumbers and pumpkins. Also caused by a fungus, this disease is characterized by a powdery substance all over a vine and its fruit. This then leads to the browning of leaves, fruits, and the eventual slowdown of the growth and production of the vine.

The spores are carried from one leaf or plant to another by the wind. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, to prevent this mildew from forming vines should be placed in locations with more sun throughout the day since this type of mildew likes shady areas.


Bacteria are also a major threat. One disease that attacks grapevines, in particular, is Pierce’s disease. While this is not the only bacterial infection that can attack your vines, this is one of the more common ones.

This disease leads to blockages in the root transport vessels, effectively reducing a plant’s capacity to take up water. Eventually, this results in the vine turning brown, especially in newly grown sections. The leaves also turn brown and, if unattended, the vine will eventually die.

The main culprit of this disease are an insect pest that we will deal with in a later section. The leaf hopping sharpshooters. According to the CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture) this disease affects the entire southern United States from Florida to California.

Fungi Target Vines

Experienced grape farmers will also tell you about black rot, an infamous problem that is brought about by fungi like Guignardia bidwellii. Black rot also attacks leaves and fruits, with the former turning red-brown. Soon afterward, the leaves develop lesions and the grapes develop dark spots that eventually spread and ruin the crop.

Though specific funicides exist that work well for this type of problem, one of the main factors in controlling the spread is according to Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is sanitation. This is not cleaning as in scrubbing, but more pruning and overall removal of dead or infected stems, leaves, and berries before spores spread.

Animals Can Be Harming Your Vines

At my home in Tennessee, we have many enormous, old trees in our back yard. For that matter so do most of our neighbors. With some of them dropping acorns (so many that it affects where we park on our driveway in the Fall) there are many critters that gleefully call the area home.

If you have ever experienced the destructive nature of a squirrel or two, then think of what 10 or more living in your back yard can do. They leave my bulbs alone due to strategically placed chicken wire just under the mulch, but just about every other plant has had a burrowing squirrel pawing at its root at one time or another looking for food to stash away.

Vines are no different. The root systems can be damaged by digging squirrels, chipmunks, moles, and even neighborhood dogs. Vines rarely hold the food sources these animals want, but look for holes dug in and around your plants.


This digging could not only harm root systems, but could also allow too much water to get to them or other diseases. They may not be looking specifically for the root system of your vine, but there could be a tasty grub, nut, or other mouthful nestled in beside them.


These adorable little guys are berry addicts. If you are growing strawberries, blueberries, or anything ending in berries, and these fur balls are anywhere in the vicinity, you will have them lining up to rummage through your plants.

I had an entire family regularly coming to my back door year ago because my daughter, who was a teen living at home at the time, loved to leave berries out on the back porch and watch them gobble them up from the sliding glass doors. I have to admit, it was cuteness overload.

Yet, many times this can lead to an infestation of the hungry things. They will multiply and begin to burrow all around your house waiting for their next meal. Vines that have berries will attract them and their predators as well (hawks, cats, etc.)

For these guys as well as most of the small animals on this list, chicken wire in the right places will go a long way. Though chipmunks normally don’t cause damage to the vine itself, they can relieve you of most of your berries in no time flat.

For an easy and inexpensive roll of chicken wire that you can have at your door in just a few days, I recommend this roll from Amazon.


Another culprit could be birds taking advantage of any fruit you may have on your particular variety of vine. Some birds are even more destructive due to their flocking communal nature. If they set their sights on your vines, they will bring a lot of friends along with them.


Whether it is your family pet or a neighborhood dog allowed to run loose, these furry diggers can wreck a vine and its root system. Not all dogs tend to dig and even those who do may not do may only do so to get under a fence. Yet, if your vine draped over said fence or if the dog is an excessive digger, trouble could be on the horizon.

Vines, like most plants, don’t take kindly to having their root systems disturbed or even damaged. Even if the digging is slight, if it happens regularly it could begin to affect the blooming, growth, and overall health of the plant.

Keep an eye on any family or community canines. The could be the root of your problem. One way to fix the issue if it does arise is with some in expensive and oh so useful… chicken wire. This can be fashioned around the base of the plant and covered with soil or mulch.

Then next time the pup tries to dig will be his last. Their paws will feel the scrape of the wire immediately and decide to move on to other buried treasure. Again, I recommend this roll of chicken wire from Amazon.

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Insect Pests

Besides animals, vines may also fall victim to insect pests. There are so many pesky insects that it is important to identify which ones are attacking your vines if pests are the problem. Here are some of the common ones that you may encounter.

The Squash Vine Borer

The squash vine borer is an insect that attacks squash plants. Yep, squash plants are actually rangy vines. The bug loves to feast on the sap inside the stems, which results in noticeably drastic wilting and browning.


You also have to worry about nematodes, microscopic roundworms that may live in the soil. While most nematode species are harmless, some are really bad news for your plants. Malicious nematodes may feed on your vine plant’s roots and eventually inhibit water uptake, which threatens the plant’s life. Other nematode species can carry certain viruses that will finish off the weakened vine.


Mites are another threat. These tiny creatures attack leaves directly to access chlorophyll. While a few mites here and there are hardly noticeable, they reproduce fast and, if you’re unlucky, you could have a full-scale invasion on your hands. A sizeable outbreak of mites can seriously harm the efficiency of a vine’s photosynthesis.

The Leafhopper Sharpshooters

The sharpshooter, a member of the leafhopper family, is an insect that is infamous for its potentially devastating effect on vine crops, especially grapes. These little suckers attack vine stems and feed on sap. The only problem is that sharpshooters can carry bacteria that cause Pierce’s disease…and they may move in swarms!

Beetles Love Flowering Vines

You also have beetles and various insect larvae (such as cutworms), which may attack flowering buds on a vine. Moth cutworms are particularly problematic because they are largely active at night and seemingly disappear when the sun comes up.

Beetle species like the click beetle may hibernate in your mulch or any nearby ground debris before coming out in the spring…with a voracious appetite for plant buds. Fortunately, click beetles aren’t as devastating as cutworms or sharpshooters.

Moth Larvae (Cutworms) Destroy Vine Leaves

Skeletonizer moth larvae are cutworms that aggressively attack plant leaves. These insatiable pests will consume leaves in their entirety, leaving “skeletons” of leaf veins in their wake. To make things worse, skeletonizer cutworms usually attack in the middle of summer, which greatly amplifies the risk of your plants suffering from sunburn.

Those Darn Aphids

The most notorious vine pest has to be phylloxera, a small insect from the aphid family. These tiny monsters attack grapevines, and they attack in numbers. Shockingly, phylloxera was responsible for almost halting global wine production after the bugs wrought havoc across Europe and the Americas in the late 1800s.

Lack Of Water

Water is the key to life for all living things, including plants. Your vine plants need water to carry out many basic functions and develop fully. Water is responsible for the formation of sap, a plant’s lifeblood, as well as certain cell structures.

When a plant fails to receive enough water, it is forced to rearrange its priorities to conserve whatever water is in its system. Vines are no different, and a lack of water manifests itself in a variety of ways.


The most obvious sign of a lack of water is wilting leaves. When there is a shortage of water, the plant sacrifices its leaves to minimize the amount of water lost to transpiration.

In a nutshell, transpiration is the process of water moving from the inside of a plant (where it is highly concentrated) to the outside (where it isn’t concentrated). Transpiration is an adaptation to protect plants that have taken up too much water.

Lack Of Water Means Lack Of Nutrients

A lack of water will also lead to your vine being deprived of essential nutrients. 

Water is responsible for dissolving certain soil nutrients so they may be taken up by the roots. It is, in essence, a vehicle for these nutrients and without, it the plant will suffer.

Over time, the lack of water (and resulting lack of nutrient uptake) will kill a vine. 

Too Much Water

Interestingly, too much water is also a problem.

While water is crucial, plants can only take up so much of it at a time.

Equally important to water is air, which provides the roots with oxygen. 

The problem with overwatering and, in some cases, poor soil drainage, is that the roots may be “drowned” by being constantly surrounded by water. This then leads to other problems like root rot.

Root rot, mixed with poorly discharging water, is the perfect recipe for fungi, bacteria, and nematodes. As we’ve already seen, these pests are capable of creating a variety of infections.

To protect themselves, plants may constrict transport vessels in the roots and cease all water uptake. Eventually, the plant will suffer the same effects of underwatering and nutrient shortage.

Lack Of Sunlight

Plants need light to carry out photosynthesis, a food production process.

A vine that is completely in the shade may fail to absorb enough light for efficient photosynthesis, which may lead to an inability to support itself. Though there are definitely vines that only require partial sun, putting many vines in your home and locating it away from a window could spell its demise.

Vines outside will respond differently to levels of sunlight depending on the type of vine they are. Some require more or less light and it is important that you keep this in mind when choosing its location.

If a Wisteria vine full of blooms would look great by your back door that happens to be shaded all day by a large oak, you may be disappointed in the results if you try to make this happen. Wisteria need full to partial sun. They would wither and eventually die in heavy shade.

Climate And Environment

Your climate can have a big impact on the well-being of your crops, ornamental vines, and even indoor plants. Whether they are permanently affixed outdoors or if they are potted and can spend time both in and outside, weather plays a major role in the health of your vines.

Vines that are suited to cooler climes (cream pea vine, Kentucky wisteria, and honeysuckle) may struggle in hotter areas, especially if they aren’t watered accordingly.

The opposite is true for hot weather vines, which include coral vines and Mexican flame vines. These vines are particularly susceptible to cold snaps during harsh winters. 

A cold snap is when vital parts of a plant’s stem or branches are severely damaged by prolonged exposure to cold or freezing temperatures. Snaps can reveal themselves long after winter has passed. If you notice one side of a vine looking less healthy than the other after a harsh winter, chances are you’re dealing with a cold snap. 

A tip that we use for many of our plants and have used for decades in our commercial plants for customers: Many vines can thrive while being kept in a suitable pot. This can help in harsher climates for vines not suited to the temperature and moisture extremes. They can be moved in and out of doors easily.

This helps avoid frosts, freezes, and harsh storms that could otherwise damage or kill delicate vines and their root systems.

Soil Type

Though it may not be a problem for the experienced gardener or landscaper, those new to the hobby or business may not consider the type of soil a vine is planted in and the long term effects it could have. These effects could take a while to begin to show and seem as if something external is attacking a vine.

For example, in the south we are plagued or blessed, whichever you choose, with dense clay soil. This type of soil has many drawbacks from sinking house foundations to very poor water percolation. Some vines will do better than others in this type of soil, but many will feel the effects of low nutrient levels, poor root air circulation, and bad irrigation.

Mixing in the proper soil and additives is vital for the longevity of vines in this type of environment. This also includes things like fertilizers, soil conditioners, and mulches.

How To Save A Dying Vine

Now that we’ve seen some of the reasons why your vine may be dying, it’s time to look at how you can intervene. I’ve outlined a few basic steps to help you save your vine. This is not only for those that can identify the problem or problems from above, but for those that cannot pinpoint the exact cause of the issue.

Saving a dying vine usually entails:

  1. Proper and regular watering
  2. Timely pruning
  3. Relocation for adequate sunlight access
  4. Fertilizing and caring for the soil
  5. Controlling dampness
  6. Avoiding general herbicides and opting for specific organic versions

For many of the specific problems listed above, there may be extra steps needed. This could entail chicken wire to keep away rodents, focused treatments for bacteria or fungi, or covering plants during extreme weather that cannot be relocated.

  • The first step is to water the plant properly, factoring in your climate and current weather conditions. Lack of water is the most common issue behind dying plants, so watering is a good place to start.
    • If you suspect that the problem is due to overwatering, you must not add any more water. Instead, you must boost the soil drainage around the vine by adding sandier soils. If the vine is potted, ensure the pot has unobstructed holes at the bottom. You must then let the soil dry out for a few days and check on the plant. 
  • The next step is to trim some leaves. This is especially important in the case of root rot. Without healthy roots, supporting a lot of leaves might prove to be too much of a burden for your vine.
  • Relocating the plant might also be a necessity if it is potted. You might want to try a position with more sunlight or shade, depending on the particular vine.
  • The next step is to add more nutrients to the soil. This can be done through store-bought fertilizers, aged compost, or manure. We recommend anything with a healthy dose of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) as well as micronutrients like manganese and boron.
  • Additionally, you want to ensure the vine’s leaves are always dry to avoid fungal infections. Wipe down any water droplets you notice on the plant, especially if they are a result of splashing.

Finally, we have a preventative tip concerning pests…

NEVER use general-purpose pesticides to target individual pests. Consult plant experts on the best solutions for specific pests and always choose organic if possible. Not all critters are malicious, and general-purpose insecticides can end up harming the beneficial ones.

The Final Touches On Saving A Dying Vine…

It takes knowing what the problem is to adequately deal with the issue. Hopefully I have laid out an easy path for you to diagnose the problems that could be plaguing your vines. Most things here can apply to flowering, fruit bearing, or common vines.

Following the general steps that I outlined above as well as any specific recommendations under the specific issue should set your vines on the path to recovery. Prevention is more important and more effective than trying to fix the issues that have escalated later. Starting many of these tips even for healthy vines can stave off trouble in the future.

The major factors in keeping a vine healthy or returning it to health include…

  • Proper watering
  • Proper soil
  • Proper pruning
  • Proper fertilization
  • Proper sunlight

A healthy and strong vine can fend off attacks from many diseases and insect pests. Keeping them healthy can make your job of diagnosing future problems much easier and effective.

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Mathew Booe

Mathew has worked in landscaping professionally for over 10 years. He is a grandpa and frequently interviews other experienced landscapers and lawn care experts who are also grandpas for these articles.

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