Why Are Your Houseplants Dying?
I love houseplants. Which is why I used to constantly buy new ones, replacing the poor soul who withered and died. I’ve seen a lot of houseplants come and go, victim to my total lack of care, or to my over-eager and misguided attentions. I’ve gotten better at nurturing plant life in my home, but, there are still incidents. Fortunately, access to my sister, who worked as a horticulturist and has a giant green thumb, has taught me a lot. Take, for example, the one time when I found buds all over my favorite plant and sent her a picture, saying, “What’s wrong with my English Ivy? Are those bugs?” and her response was, “Well first of all, that’s not English Ivy…”
Here are some things that I’ve learned from her and from experience about how to keep your houseplants thriving and healthy. Most of all, here are some ideas on how to troubleshoot the problem. If you’re a beginner like me, this should be helpful. Wondering which plants to get that will have great effects in your home, and yet be easy to maintain? Here’s a list of great ideas.
Water and Light: Whenever you get a new plant, check what watering and lighting conditions it needs. Some need consistently moist soil, others need to dry out all the way between waterings. Some plants dislike light so much that they’re best off in a basement. Others need a lot of indirect or direct light.
Fertilizing: We have a tendency to think that potting soil is what potted plants need the most, but the common stuff is woefully devoid of nutrients. So, consider fertilizing your plants. There are lots of convenient ways to do this, from little pellets that you scatter or insert into the soil to homemade compost. (Just make sure that anything you add yourself doesn’t have plant-threatening pests in it first.)
Drainage: All plants need good drainage in their soil, or else the roots rot. Some need more than others, and you might find that they do best with a porous stone worked into their soil for aeration, rather than 100% soil. Make sure that your pot has a hole (or a few) in the bottom. Also, although pots come with that handy little saucer under them, it can be dangerous to think that that will take care of all your drainage needs. It’s better to put pebbles or gravel under the pot and on top of the saucer to increase airflow and drainage.
Air: Something that most plant owners don’t consider is how the airflow is around their plant. If your plant is getting drafts (often from vents and heating or cooling systems) then it could affect its growth. Heating vents will dry out the air around the plant, so unless your plant is a succulent or cactus, it probably won’t be happy with that. And if it’s under the air conditioner, it could get too chilled for proper growth, which it might manifest by drooping or discolored leaves.
Shock: Even if you’re caring for it properly, a plant might go into shock when you move it. Whether this is the process of bringing it into your home after finding it at the nursery, or just moving it to a different location in the house, understand that your plant might drop some leaves and it will need a little TLC if it’s at risk of shock. Keep conditions as consistent as possible.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Plants don’t talk, and they won’t be able to wag their tails and whine at you when something is wrong, either. But they still have ways to show whether they’re happy or struggling. From wilting to browned leaves, once you get the hang of it, it’s easier to tell what your plant needs from the way that it looks. Here are some of the most common symptoms of troubled houseplants:
Wilting leaves: This is usually your first sign that a plant is thirsty. A plant is upheld by the turgidity of the circulation system cycling water from soil to leaves. Without water to flow through the xylem, the plant droops.
Crispy dead edges: This is also usually a sign that a plant isn’t being watered properly. Specifically, this happens when a plant that prefers to have consistently moist soil has periods of drought instead. Crispy edges to leaves can also happen when there’s not enough humidity in the air. To fix this, mist the plant regularly, or you can place the plant’s pot over a tray full of gravel with a puddle of water consistently in the base.
Leggy growth: Often, houseplants start to grow improperly because they’re reaching out for more sunlight. This can cause a sickly appearance, with the plant directing its growth towards more stems and more reaching instead of having thick, lush growth. Place your plant somewhere with more light, or consider getting a plant light.
Yellow leaves: Yellow leaves can mean a number of things, including over-watering (or lack of drainage) or sometimes, a lack of nutrition. You might want to consider repotting the plant in new soil with more fertilizer and more drainage. At the very least, make sure that water isn’t puddling in the pot and buy some fertilizer pellets.
Spots on the leaves: This is often related to pests or disease. The way to treat either of these problems will depend on the specific problem and the specific plant. However, it’s important to note that unhealthy plants are more susceptible to both disease and pests, and so restoring it to optimal growing conditions could help the problem.
Scorched leaves: Scorched leaves are a sign of too much direct sun. Remember that many houseplants are tropical rainforest plants in the wild, and so they’re happiest in humidity and indirect light. If your plant has scorched leaves, move it away from the window.
Roots coming out the drainage holes: If you have overenthusiastic root growth in your potted plant, it’s probably time to let your plant grow beyond its confines. Not only is this good for your plant’s health, but it also helps you get the most out of your plant. You can either move your plant up to a bigger pot, or plant it outside where it has even more space to grow (and can greatly increase your property values.)
Do you have problems keeping your plants alive?
Guest post by Christine H.