Why Is My Dragon Breath (Celosia) Plant Dying?

A stunning variety of celosia, Dragon’s breath plant always attracts attention because of the deep, rich maroon-red color of the leaves and plumes composed of numerous tiny blazing red flowers. 

This hardy beauty for full sun is lovely in mass plantings on flower beds, but even a single individual plant in a container will stand out with its unreal red color.

Yet, although it is one of the simplest and humblest annuals to grow, instead of the flaming red bushes, you may get a pale, leggy, stretched, and spindly plant that withers and dies. 

And, If you are wondering why this happens, here is the answer:

Lack of water

Celosia tolerates dry conditions well, but do not test its endurance by leaving it without water in the bright sun for days! This plant has widely branched roots that do not penetrate deep into the soil, so if the surface is completely dried out, it will quickly show signs of dehydration.

The lower leaves have brown edges; they dry and fall off, revealing a bare stem, the plant does not blooms, and the young new leaves are sickly shrunken and significantly smaller than they should be.

If the dry conditions continue to the extent that all the leaves hang lifeless, there is a high possibility that you will lose. When the plant reaches such a state, watering can no longer help. Therefore, water it regularly without waiting until it is too late!

Excess water

On the other hand, too frequent watering is even more dangerous! Waterlogged soil makes it impossible for the roots to access oxygen.

The plant struggles in such soil, which is evident by the yellowing and necrosis of the leaves that hang limply on twisted stems without strength. 

Moreover, any excess water the plant cannot absorb is an excellent medium for developing fungal or bacterial diseases that eventually destroy the plant.

Inadequate location

Celosia needs at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun daily to shine in its full glory; It is a typical outdoor plant for a sunny garden, patio, or balcony that has a hard time coping with a lack of light. 

Its leaves fade and thin out, its stems elongate or bend in an attempt to reach the sun, and it usually fails to form flowers.

And although inadequate lighting in itself does not necessarily mean ultimate dying, the fact is that such plants are much more susceptible to diseases, which can easily result in the complete decay of the plant.


Given the proper conditions, celosia is a low-maintenance, durable plant that is not particularly prone to diseases. However, resistance is not the same as immunity, which means it can face issues in unfavorable conditions. Here are the most common ones.


Extremely wet and cold weather without enough sunny days is a challenge that this tropical beauty cannot handle. Botrytis or grey mold is one of the diseases you can expect if the soil does not evaporate quickly and water remains around the root system for too long. This condition is caused by a necrotrophic fungus, Botrytis cinerea, which can lead to plant death if nothing is done.

What to do?

If the plant is heavily covered with grey growth, it is best to remove it and at least prevent the infection from spreading to other plants.

However, if the infection has not taken hold, remove and burn all infected parts of the plant and treat it with a standard fungicide for garden plants. 

This measure can help but consider that the causes lie in an inadequate environment, so a change in conditions is just as significant as using means to combat fungi.

And while outside weather is something you can’t control, you can adjust watering by not letting the soil in your container or garden get too soggy. Improve the drainage of the garden soil by burying sand or gravel, and provide plants in containers with a drainage layer at the bottom of the container.

Root rot

Root rot is another severe disease related to excess water that you should pay attention to. It is caused by the Rhizoctonia fungus that lives in the soil and will attack the roots and stems at or near the soil level. Rotten tissue and lesions that become visible usually suggest an advanced stage of the disease, so it is usually too late for such plants. 

In the garden, remove the diseased plant and do not plant another one in the vacant place. You can try to save the plants in the container by removing the infected parts of the roots and moving the plant to a fresh substrate without excess moisture, but this is a process with an uncertain outcome.


Except for climate zones 10 and 11, where celosia can survive as a garden perennial, in most areas, it is an annual ornamental that can be grown from seed in the spring or obtained as seedlings from garden centers. 

If you want to enjoy the luxurious beauty of its leaves and flowers until the first frosts, pay attention to the following:

  • Plant your Dragon Breath Plant in pots or beds when the soil temperature reaches 60 F. These plants are sensitive to the cold and struggle and stagnate if planted too early.
  • Water them abundantly, once a week if there is no natural rainfall, carefully if the summer is wet and rainy. It is always better to start with smaller doses until you see how the plant reacts!
  • Additionally, mulching the base of the plant will make your job more accessible in the long dry summers as it prevents the soil from drying out too quickly!
  • Feed the plants carefully, as the roots can quickly burn due to too enthusiastic fertilizing. You can add slow-release fertilizers to the soil for garden plants or feed the plants in the container once a month with a liquid fertilizer for flowering plants diluted to 1/3 of the recommended dose.
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