7 tricks to save that dying houseplant in your living room

February 8 | Guest post by Adrienne
leafs of dying plant
By: CC BY 2.0

Are you a notorious plant killer? Have you ever bought a beautiful, exotic looking houseplant and displayed it proudly in your home only to realize two weeks later that the leaves are turning brown and it has completely wilted? Before you throw that plant into the compost pile there are some things you can do to try to save it.

Indoor plants die for many of the same reasons that outdoor plants do. Insufficient lighting, too much or too little watering, and pests are some of the main reasons plants die. Providing your house plants with the right environment is the best way to ensure that your plants are healthy and happy. You don't need to be an expert gardener to enjoy a house full of luscious plants. You just need to know the signs of a sick plant and what to do bring it back to good health.

Make sure you choose houseplants that can survive on the amount of light you can provide

All plants need food, water and sunlight to survive, but different plants require different amounts of each. You wouldn't put a cactus in a dark room and expect it to thrive would you? Keep in mind the amount of light your house plants need and place them in your home accordingly.

Room temperature may be too low or the air may be too dry compared to the environment your plant needs

Many indoor plants are actually tropical plants adapted for the indoor home environment. Raising your homes' humidity can help alleviate most issues with dry air. If you suspect the air in your home is too dry, try using a humidifier or place some of your plants on a tray with pebbles and water on the bottom to raise the humidity. Most of my houseplants do very well when I place them in my bathroom. They love the higher humidity.

Watering may be the single most important aspect of healthy plants

People tend to over water, creating a breeding ground for fungi and diseases. Always check the soil first to determine if watering is necessary by sticking your finger in the soil. If it's dry, add some water but if it's wet or slightly moist, leave it alone. If the leaves on your plants are turning yellow, it's a sign that they are receiving too much water. If the leaves feel brittle and crisp, your plant is thirsty. Give it some water ASAP!

Make sure all houseplants have adequate ventilation

Don't overcrowd them. Make sure you trim off dead leaves and flowers on a regular basis.

The best way to deal with most diseases is with prevention

Once the plant is infected with fungi or pests it's likely too late. Always inspect your plants to make sure they are pest free before you purchase them. When repotting, use clean soil and scrub pots before reusing them to kill any disease organisms that may be present.

Indoor plants also need regular fertilizing to maintain healthy growth

As a general rule, most houseplants should be fertilized from January through September, and then given a "rest" period for a few months. Use a fertilizer from the nursery specifically made for indoor plants. In a pinch, old aquarium water from your fish tank makes great indoor plant fertilizer.

Make sure you dust your plants on a regular basis

Dust clogs the "pores" of plant leaves, making it difficult for the plant to breath. Dust also blocks some of the sunlight that plant can absorb, interfering with photosynthesis. Dust and grime can also attract mites and other insect pests

What are your best tips for taking care of your houseplants?

  1. Use filtered water or at least leave it out in the watering can for 24 hours for the chlorine to evaporate as it can cause tip burn (brown, dry tips and edges of leaves).

    3 agree
  2. Re: Make sure you dust your plants on a regular basis — a suggestion I learned is to put the whole thing in your sink or tub (or outside for very large plants) and give the whole thing a gentle rinse. Make sure the pot can drain out all the extra water, and let it sit for a bit to dry off. It's great to do this on the first very warm day of spring if you're doing it outside.

    2 agree
  3. Short of rinsing the entire plant like Sara suggests, how does one dust plants?

    I've a black thumb, everything I have dies. I have thing of succulents that regularly needs to take trips to my moms so she can revive it. I have a half dead orchid, and a ugly but thriving snake plant that is the only thing I've managed to keep alive for about 8 years.

    2 agree
    • Once in a while on a warm watering day, take the plants outside and mist the leaves really well with a spray bottle. Indoors, you can gently wipe the leaves down with a moist cloth, supporting the leaf with your hand.
      Some people use canned air, but that often gets WAY too cold for a plant.

      2 agree
  4. If the leaves are wilted or faded, check the underside of the leaves. If there are tiny white mites or cottony stuff where the leaf joins the stem, wash the leaves in mild soap or detergent, a solution just a little stronger than dishwater. Either wipe it on with a cloth or spray liberally. You could use insecticide instead, of course, but detergent works and isn't as nasty to have in the house. Dousing nearly any insect or spider with soap water works wonders.

  5. Wow… plants are even more complicated than I thought! I think I'll just stick with not buying houseplants. >_<

    • I'm not great with house plants so I think of them as long-living cut flowers. A $10 green plant provides a lot bang for the buck if it lives for 2-3 months!

      2 agree
  6. Just learned this, especially relevant for northern climates. If the outside temps are frigid, the air on the inside of the window can be too cold for some plants. If there's a cold snap expected just bring the plants 18" or so away from the window. And then move back as the day warms up. They'll miss the sun but for tropicals the sudden freeze can kill them. Great lecture from Mel Zaloudek of Berwyn IL.

    3 agree

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