Why Did My Rosemary Die? 15 Reasons and How to Revive It

Who doesn’t love this herb? When planted rosemary is turning brown, herb lovers and plant parents often panic. Learn how to fix it.

With its pine-like fragrance and versatility in the kitchen, rosemary is a treasured herb for any gardener. But this Mediterranean native can be particular about its growing conditions. If your rosemary starts turning brown and dying back, don’t give up on it just yet! Here are the most common reasons rosemary dies and tips to revive your plant.

Overwatering and Poor Drainage

Excess moisture is the number one killer of rosemary. Its roots need oxygen and quickly suffocate in wet soil. Overwatering leads to fungal root rot that can rapidly spread and kill the entire plant Poor drainage from heavy clay soil or a container without adequate holes exacerbates the issue

How to Fix It:

  • Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings. Rosemary prefers drought to constant dampness.

  • Add organic matter like bark chips or compost to improve drainage. Incorporate perlite or gravel into potting mix.

  • Repot in a container with large holes if drainage is poor. Terracotta pots work well.

  • Trim off any black mushy roots and repot in fresh well-draining soil.


While rosemary handles drought well, severe dehydration will still damage the plant. Brittle, dry foliage that snaps when bent indicates the plant urgently needs water. Prolonged underwatering can kill the entire shrub.

How to Fix It:

  • Check soil moisture before watering. Drench soil deeply when the top few inches are completely dry.

  • Water potted plants until water flows from the drainage holes

  • Add mulch to help retain soil moisture if growing in dry climates.

  • Consider setting up a drip irrigation system on a timer for consistent moisture.

Insufficient Sunlight

As a Mediterranean herb, rosemary thrives in full sun and needs at least 6 hours of direct daily light. Too much shade results in minimal fragrance and lackluster growth. The plant may become lanky as it reaches for sunlight.

How to Fix It:

  • Place rosemary in the brightest location possible or supplement with grow lights.

  • Prune back nearby trees/shrubs that may shade the plant.

  • Choose a sunnier planting area or move containers to optimize light exposure.

  • Grow heat-tolerant varieties if your climate has intense afternoon sun.

Frost Damage

Rosemary is extremely vulnerable to frost and cold damage. Even a few hours below 25°F can injure or kill the plant. Entire sections may turn brown or black after exposure to freezing temps.

How to Fix It:

  • Cover plants with frost cloth or move containers indoors when frost is predicted.

  • Prune away dead material, leaving 1⁄4 inch above live growth. Protect new shoots from further frost.

  • Discard damaged plants only after the last spring frost passes and no new growth appears.

  • Choose cold hardy cultivars like ‘Arp’ or ‘Madeline Hill’ if growing in zone 7 or colder.

Excessive Heat

While heat-loving overall, rosemary suffers without adequate water and airflow if temperatures exceed 100°F consistently. Prolonged heat stress scorches the foliage and may kill the plant.

How to Fix It:

  • Ensure rosemary gets at least 1-2 inches of water per week during hot spells.

  • Mulch to maintain moist soil. Prioritize drip or low-flow irrigation.

  • Increase shade and air circulation. Misting leaves cools the plant.

  • Plant in part-shade areas that offer afternoon relief or partial sun protection.

Improper Pruning

Rosemary’s woody branches and stems resemble a shrub. Pruning into the older wood can damage or kill the plant. Only tip prune young, green growth. Over-pruning stresses rosemary and removes its food source.

How to Fix It:

  • Never use hedge shears or cut deep into rosemary’s dense centers. Only prune outer soft tips.

  • Always leave plenty of healthy leaves and stems intact after pruning to recover.

  • Disinfect tools between cuts to avoid transmitting disease.

  • Apply organic fertilizer or compost tea to help the plant bounce back after pruning.

Pests and Diseases

A weakened rosemary plant is more susceptible to harmful insects like spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, and aphids. Root rot, botrytis, powdery mildew are possible fungal diseases.

How to Fix It:

  • Remove badly infested sections. Spray pests off with water and treat with neem oil.

  • Improve airflow and promptly remove diseased material. Disinfect tools after use.

  • Apply organic fungicides for disease prevention and treat promptly when spotted.

  • Introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and predator mites that eat pests.


Rosemary can live over 10 years in ideal conditions. Eventually the plant becomes woody, stops flowering, and starts declining. Death is gradual in older plants. Propagate new plants for replacement.

How to Fix It:

  • Take stem cuttings from healthy new growth to start replacement plants before the original dies.

  • Root cuttings in water or potting mix, then transplant once established.

  • Grow new plants alongside old ones to preserve a uniform look before removing the latter.

Poor Soil Quality

Heavy clay or sandy soil lacking in nutrients prevents roots from thriving. Rosemary needs a loose, fertile soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH around 6.5-7.0. Acidic soils below pH 6.0 cause yellowing leaves and poor growth.

How to Fix It:

  • Test soil pH and amend with dolomitic lime if too acidic. Wood ashes can also raise pH.

  • Improve water drainage and aeration by mixing in compost. Incorporate sand into clay soils.

  • Fertilize sparingly with organic options like kelp meal and alfalfa meal that provide micronutrients.

  • Replace depleted container soil with fresh potting mix.

Excess Nitrogen

Rosemary doesn’t need much fertilizer, unlike heavy feeding vegetables. Overapplying nitrogen creates lanky, weak growth. The plant becomes more susceptible to disease and death without its signature fragrance.

How to Fix It:

  • Avoid overfertilizing. Rosemary does fine in average soil without amendments.

  • If fertilizing, use options low in nitrogen like bone meal, blood meal, kelp meal, etc. that provide trace nutrients.

  • Rely on compost, compost tea, and organic mulch to slowly feed rosemary over time.

  • Flush soil with water to remove built up synthetic fertilizer salts if needed.

Transplant Shock

Rosemary does not tolerate major root disturbances well. Bare root plants or those transplanted improperly often fail to establish and deteriorate. Always move rosemary with its root ball intact if possible.

How to Fix It:

  • Water thoroughly before and after transplanting.

  • Move rosemary on cool, cloudy days to reduce stress.

  • Ensure the root zone receives mycorrhizae fungi to aid nutrient uptake.

  • Temporarily shade transplants while they establish over 2-4 weeks.

Environmental Changes

Sudden variations in light, temperatures, humidity, or exposure quickly stress rosemary. For example, moving a potted plant from indoor to outdoor conditions or vice versa. Gradual acclimation is essential.

How to Fix It:

  • Transition indoor rosemary slowly over 7-10 days to prevent transplant shock.

  • When moving plants outdoors, provide shade for the first week or two.

  • Bring outdoor plants indoors before frost but situate them in a cool area at first before warmer rooms.

  • Maintain stable temperatures and environmental conditions when possible.

Repotting Too Frequently

Although rosemary may eventually need repotting into larger containers, doing so too often disrupts the roots. Plants stressed from frequent bare root disturbances struggle to thrive.

How to Fix It:

  • Avoid repotting rosemary more than once every 2-3 years.

  • Slide plants from pot to pot without bare-rooting when upsizing containers.

  • Propagate new plants from cuttings and replace old ones if they decline from multiple repottings.

Lack of Air Circulation

Stagnant, humid air encourages fungal diseases and pests that can weaken rosemary. Powdery mildew, botrytis, root rot, and wilt are more problematic without adequate airflow around the leaves and soil.

How to Fix It:

  • Space plants 1-2 feet apart and prune to open their shape for air penetration.

  • Use fans indoors to keep air moving. Position outdoor plants in breezy spots.

  • Remove weeds, mulch, and debris that hold moisture around plants.

  • Avoid overhead watering and wetting foliage.

Root Bind

If left in the same container for too long, rosemary’s roots choke each other as they expand. The tightly packed roots prevent proper moisture and nutrient absorption. Plants often decline if severely root bound.

How to Fix It:

  • Carefully remove the root ball and loosen bound roots before repotting.

  • Trim 1-2 inches off the bottom and sides of the root ball to encourage new growth.

  • Transplant into a container at least 2 inches wider before roots fully wrap the sides.

  • Propagate replacements if rosemary fails to recover after loosening bound roots.

With some care adjustments, you can often revive struggling rosemary plants and restore their vigor. But catch issues early before damage is irreversible. Growing rosemary in the ideal conditions greatly reduces plant stress and mortality.

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Going back to how water can make rosemary leaves turn brown: as we already said, this could be because the plant was overwatered, which caused root rot. Excess water can also deplete soil nutrients in plants either container grown or in the ground. So a brown rosemary may also indirectly be the result of a lack of nutrients.

If the browning really is caused by too much water, the roots will shrink, which will make the leaves turn brown. Underwatering can also cause brown foliage.

Is My Rosemary Dead?

Why is my rosemary plant dying? I’ve said it myself and not too long ago. My usually robust, bright green rosemary was turning a dull, drab brown. What could the problem be?.

There are a few reasons for a rosemary plant turning brown. In my case, I believe the culprit was too much water. The rosemary was actually one of two; twins in matching containers at the entry to my home. The containers get full sun and as you can imagine, they dry out quickly. It seems that both my husband and myself were watering the pots. Too much water equals brown foliage due to root rot.

Root rot is something we’ll talk about more, but first let’s look at some other possible reasons why herb leaves might be turning brown.

How to revive a plant (Rosemary) | Gardener Without Borders


How do you revive a dying rosemary plant?

Provide a diluted dose of liquid kelp or seaweed to help the plant recover. Prune away any dead or damaged foliage. Only water rosemary when the upper few inches of soil have completely dried out. Locate the rosemary in a warm, sunny area.

Why did my rosemary die suddenly?

When it’s not protected from chilly temperatures rosemary can suddenly and rather drastically turn brown. Needle drop often follows this color change. Effectively the plant has been killed by cold. Another reason for rosemary to turn drab brown is also weather-related.

Does rosemary grow back if it dies?

If it’s dead, nothing short of a miracle will bring it back. Take a cutting from it – scrape back the outside and if you see any green in the stem, it’s still alive.

Why is rosemary so hard to keep alive?

However, maintaining a rosemary plant indoors can be a little tricky. During the winter, warm and dry air inside homes can wither its leaves and desiccate the twigs. Rosemary needs cool and moist conditions in wintertime, as well as a good amount of sunlight (or artificial light that doesn’t emit heat).

Why do Rosemary plants die?

In this article, we discussed the common reasons why rosemary plants die. We learned that rosemary plants can die from a variety of causes, including overwatering, underwatering, pests, diseases, and transplant shock. We also learned how to identify the signs of a dying rosemary plant and how to prevent and treat problems.

Why does my Rosemary plant rot?

One of the most common problems with soil that rosemary doesn’t like, is if it’s too compacted or heavy. Clay-like soil leads to poor drainage and when this happens, the rosemary plant roots become waterlogged and cause root rot. This is bad news for your rosemary plant.

Why is my Rosemary turning brown and dying?

If your rosemary is turning brown and dying, there could be a number of different reasons it’s happening. Rosemary plants are hardy plants, but they can still fall victim to certain pests and diseases. In this article, gardening expert and former organic farmer Logan Hailey shares the most common reasons for a brown, dying rosemary plant.

Can Rosemary die from overwatering?

Rosemary is a hardy and even drought-tolerant plant once established so more often than not, in our attempts to give our plants the right conditions, it will be overwatering that will cause your rosemary plant to die. Rosemary plants don’t like to sit in soggy wet soil, so it’s important not to overwater them.

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