Updated: 16-Mar-2021

I am guessing you’d rather care for your houseplants than kill them? If you look at the things you could do to finish them off you’ll understand how to keep them alive.

Recipe for Murder?

Caring for houseplants should be easy – they want to live. You just have to give them what they want. Ignoring their needs is a recipe for Murder…

Like most living things their most important needs are water, light, food and warmth. In the right quantities… that’s where you could go wrong.

  1. Overwatering

    The number one cause of death for most houseplants is overwatering. People see the plant is struggling and give it more water to perk it up. But too much water can drown the roots.

    Both under- and overwatering have similar symptoms: wilting and yellowing leaves that drop off.

    What can you do to prevent this death?

    Don’t assume a struggling plant needs more water. Test the soil with your finger to feel if it’s wet. Stick your finger in the soil a couple of inches or so. If the soil is moist at this depth there’s no need to water. If the soil is dry at this depth then water thoroughly.

    Bonus tip: it’s good to give your houseplants rainwater occasionally as it’s free of the impurities you find in tapwater.

  2. Underwatering

    The second most common cause of death for a houseplant is underwatering. This can happen if you forget to water your plants and you don’t notice them struggling. The warning signs are the same as for overwatered houseplants – wilting and yellowing leaves that drop off.

    What can you do to save this plant?

    The plan of action is the same as for overwatering. Test the soil as above and water thoroughly if the soil is dry. Let the water soak through into the container below so that you reach the roots.

    Bonus tip: skip these problems altogether by making self-watering containers.

  3. Strangling by the roots

    After a period of months or years, plants can outgrow their current pot causing them to become ‘pot-bound’ or ‘root-bound’. Instead of growing down, the roots curl around and fill the pot preventing the uptake of nutrients. You can leave the plant to slowly strangle itself or if you care for your houseplants take action when you see the signs.

    Tell-tale signs include:

    • Roots poking out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot
    • Straggly pale stem and leaves
    • Water runs straight out the bottom rather than soak into the soil
    • Plants become top-heavy and frequently fall over

    What can you do to keep this plant alive?

    The only thing you can do when a plant becomes pot-bound is re-potting into a larger pot.

    • Loosen the old soil from between the roots
    • Prune off any damaged roots
    • Tease apart curled roots to encourage them to spread normally in their new pot

Care for your houseplants hippo

Look out for falling leaves… if you care for your houseplants

  1. Infection by pests and diseases

    The cause of death for most houseplants is avoidable but the one possible exception is attack by pests and diseases. If they don’t kill the plant they can weaken it so much that the ‘ordinary’ problems on this page take hold with grim results.

    What can you do to tackle this crime?

    First of all you need to examine all the leaves of a struggling houseplant carefully. Some of the signs of a pest infestation are difficult to see.

    Many toxic chemical sprays zap everything on the planet including you. But if Life matters to you then please opt for a natural pesticide or make your own.

  2. Exposure to cold temperatures

    Most houseplants originate in tropical climates so they’re not used to low temperatures or frost. In general they need daytime temperatures of 65–75 degrees (and about 5–10 degrees lower at night).

    What can you do to keep this plant alive?

    If it’s too cold for you then it’s going to be too cold for a houseplant. The best way to care for your houseplants is to place them in a room with a warm temperature and away from drafts or windowpanes.

  3. Dehumidifying the air

    Remember that humidity is high in the tropics where most houseplants originate. In contrast your home has low humidity thanks mainly to central heating and air-conditioning. So in this respect plants have different environmental needs from humans – go figure 🙂

    What can you do to prevent this murder?

    Avoid positioning plants close to radiators or direct sources of heat. Plants find it easier to maintain their own humid area if you group them together. You can improve humidity by misting the plants regularly and place them on a pebble-filled tray of water.

    Be sure to keep plants out of drafts and away from heating and air-conditioning vents.

    Bonus tip: the most reliable way to maintain humidity for your houseplants is to use a humidifier.


    The most reliable way to maintain humidity for your plants

  4. Frazzling with direct sunlight

    Most houseplants in their native environment grow in the shade of larger plants so low light is often less of a problem than too much. It’s wrong to assume that every plant will enjoy direct sunlight streaming through a window; in fact few do.

    What can you do to prevent this fatality?

    Plant needs do vary so this is one instance where you must consult the information on the plant label. Consider how many hours of light is coming through your windows. If the label says to avoid direct sunlight then avoid a window location.

  5. Light starvation

    Too little light is rarely a life-threatening situation for a houseplant. The tell-tale signs will be falling leaves but the plant will soldier on, waiting for ‘the sun’ to come out. You would have to persevere a long time if you wanted to kill your houseplant by starving it off light…

    What can you do to save this plant from oblivion?

    Every plant needs some light. Once again you have to consult the label to establish light requirements. Bring struggling plants out of the shadows but that doesn’t mean they could withstand direct sunlight.

  6. Overfeeding

    Too much feed can produce lots of weak growth rather than sturdy stems leaving the plant open to disease. In contrast underfeeding or not feeding at all rarely causes a life-threatening situation for a houseplant. Plants extract nutrients from the soil so if you’ve recently purchased the plant the soil will already contain nutrients anyway.

    What can you do to keep this plant from a bitter end?

    Choose an organic fertiliser and read the instructions to understand how much your plant needs. Don’t assume that adding more means better results! Scientists have determined the optimum level of nutrients for best growth!

So there you have it. 9 ways to inflict death on innocent houseplants. Or 9 ways to care for your houseplants. You decide 🙂

And did you know that your houseplants care for you too?

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