1. Ignoring the instructions
What’s the absolute best way to avoid a dead houseplant? Read and follow the care instructions of course! These will tell you everything you need to know about your plant; its needs and preferences in terms of food, water, light and more. You’ve read the booklet and are still stumped? Consider if you are doing (or not doing!) any of the below.
Ask any gardening expert or florist what the number one killer of houseplants is, and they will tell you it’s overwatering! With many species of plants, there can be a fine line between overwatering and under-watering, which is why it’s so difficult to gauge the precise needs of your houseplants.
Excessive watering causes death as it cuts off air supply to the roots of the plant, washes away vital nutrients, creates the perfect environment for fungus and mold, and leads to root rot. Common signs of overwatering include wilting or yellow leaves, soggy soil, a heavy pot, loose bark and mold on the soil.
Generally speaking, you can avoid overwatering by allowing the soil to dry to the touch in between waterings. You can also insert a finger into the soil up to the second knuckle or test the bottom of the soil through a drainage hole to see how moist it really is.
Under-watering is just as harmful to your plant as overwatering! Plants that aren’t getting enough water will look droopy or wilted and may have yellowing or dried leaves toward the bottom. This occurs because the clever plants attempt to conserve what little water they have for the stalk and roots while neglecting the leaves.
You may also see some root protruding through the cracked, dry soil showing how parched the plants really are! Avoiding under-watering is simple – learn each plant’s watering needs, stick to a schedule, test the soil and arrange for someone to look after them when you’re out of town.
4. Providing the wrong light levels
When it comes to plant care, mimicking the natural environment insofar as possible is usually one of the best ways to ensure plant survival. This is especially true when it comes to light levels. For example, plants that usually thrive in the desert – like succulents – will be used to full sun and so that is what you should provide. Ferns tend to grow on the forest floor, and so are accustomed to low light levels.
If leaves begin to curl under, brown around the edges, or the new leaves are smaller than the old ones, then your plant may be getting too much light. Move it away from the window or filter the light through a curtain. On the other hand, you may need to move your plant closer to a light source if it is beginning to look spindly, the stems grow abnormally long, the leaves lack color and are undersized, or leaves start falling off.
5. Not enough root space
Just like kids, plants go through growth spurts. Once they have grown too big for their current pot, this leads them to become ‘pot-bound’ or ‘root-bound’. As the roots curl around and twist in on themselves, the plant health is compromised.
Signs that a plant has outgrown its current container include:
- Roots poking out of the bottom of the pot
- There are more roots than soil when you ease the plant out of its container
- Straggly, pale plants that have stopped growing
- Water runs immediately out the bottom without soaking into the soil
- Top heavy plants that keep falling over
When gently repotting your plant, ensure you loosen and remove as much of the old soil as you can from in between the main roots. You should also prune off any damaged roots and try to carefully tease apart tightly bound roots so they will be encouraged to spread in their new pot.
6. Neglecting to groom them
Pruning or pinching your house plants helps to keep them looking full and healthy while discouraging pests and diseases.
Cut or pinch off any dead stems or branches as they attract fungus. Likewise, remove brown or yellow leaves which can decay leading to disease and pest infestations that can ultimately kill the plant, or even spread to other houseplants.
Another way to groom your plants is to gently wipe their leaves regularly with a damp cloth. This removes dust helping the leaves get the light exposure it needs to grow. Dusting also removes insects, helping to avoid pest problems and reduces allergens in your home.
7. Frequent relocation
Plants work hard to adapt to their surroundings, so every time you move them to another location you cause them to become stressed as they need to readjust all over again. If your plant is thriving in a particular area based on temperature, lighting and humidity levels, then moving it may be detrimental to its health. Once you find a place where your plant is happy, try to leave it there.
Also known as leaf scald, sunburned plants can suffer irreparable damage and will eventually die unless you rescue them.
Leaf scald is caused by too much direct sunlight on the plant. You will notice the leaves turn brown at the tips, or they may turn white and drop off. Plants that are moved outdoors on sunny days for a little extra sunshine, or plants suddenly moved from shady to sunny locations within the home, are particularly susceptible.
To save an already scorched plant, move it to a shadier location. Reduce watering if the plant has suffered leaf loss, gradually increasing as new leaves begin to develop (check out the tips on under- and overwatering above). You should also reduce fertilizer after leaf loss, increasing as re-growth occurs.
9. Not using the right amount of fertilizer
Plants require three major nutrients to grow and be healthy – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
If your plants aren’t being fertilized regularly, you may notice the lower leaves lose color and drop off, the new leaves are progressively smaller than older ones, and the stems are stunted. Make sure to use a balanced houseplant food regularly and you will see your greenery thrive.
However, too much fertilizer can also do a lot of damage. An over-fertilized plant may wilt even when watered, the leaves may get soft, or the leaf tips might brown. Plants that grow rapidly with lots of foliage but have few (if any) flowers may also be getting too much fertilizer.
10. Providing the wrong humidity levels
Most, but not all, houseplants need humid air to thrive – usually between 50% and 60% – yet the humidity level in the average home is often far below this.
Plants require such high levels of humidity because the pores through which they breathe lose most of their moisture when the surrounding air is dry, and they can’t always replace this through the root. In general, the thinner the leaf, the greater its need for humidity. Thick, leathery, waxy or hairy leaves can survive on lower levels.
If the leaf edges are crinkly and brown, the tips of new leaves dry up, or flower buds brown and fall off, then you need to crank up the humidifier or try one of these ways to naturally humidify your home. You can also move the plants to the kitchen or bathroom, or increase the humidity around the plants by standing the pots on a bed of moist gravel.