Plants are one of the best ways to decorate your home, bringing a little bit of nature and greenery into an urban dwelling space.
But what if your thumbs are more brown than green, and you’ve been having bad luck with your potted shrubs and succulents?
Well, chances are, it’s not luck that’s at play. Plants are pretty predictable, and the causes of death tend to come down to the same few factors. That’s good news, though, as it’s easy to narrow down a course of action.
Here are some common reasons why indoor plants die, along with helpful tips on how to keep them alive and flourishing.
People tend to associate more water with healthier plants, but moderation is key. Some symptoms of overwatering include wilting coupled with wet soil. Indoors, where sunlight tends to be indirect and scarce, it’s better to keep the plant on the drier side.
The easiest way to identify overwatering is to check for root rot. Healthy roots are firm and pliable, while rotted roots tend to be black, limp and seaweed-like. Root rot may also be present even if your plant looks healthy on the outside. So, the next time you can’t figure out the reason for your plant’s sudden death, be sure to check for root rot.
• Understand your plant. Certain plant types, like money plants, require less watering, while some thrive in wet soil, like the umbrella palm. Know your plant well so you can avoid dosing it with too much water.
• Allow sufficient time for the soil to dry through in between waterings.
• In the case of root rot, giving your plant the best chance at survival involves cutting the affected area away. Remove the plant from its soil and trim the rotten parts off. If a large portion of the roots have rotted, prune about one-third of the leaves away as well. With fewer leaves to support, the roots have a better chance at re-growth. Lastly, rid the plant of possible root fungus by dipping the remaining healthy roots in fungicide solution and repotting the plant in new soil.
Similar to overwatering, wilting, yellowing and curling may be signs of a dehydrated plant. But if your plant is dehydrated, the leaves will be dry and crisp, instead of limp like in overwatered plants. A quick screwdriver test can help to determine if your plant is indeed dying of thirst. If you find it difficult to push a screwdriver deep into the soil, it’s likely that dehydration is present.
• Water your plants more often. As with pets or children, growing plants require consistent commitment. Help yourself out by setting calendar reminders to water your plants on time, and check on them once in a while.
· Choose porcelain or plastic pots instead of clay pots. Clay pots draw water from the plant more rapidly as water evaporates from both the sides and the top of the pot.
· If you’re finding it hard to keep up with your plants, opt for easier plants that require less watering. Examples include succulents, cacti, money plants and ZZ plants.
3. POOR DRAINAGE
If your plant is suffering from mouldy soil and root rot, and you have ruled out overwatering, poor drainage is the likely issue. Never grow your plant in pots without drainage holes. If your pots have drainage holes, check if you have emptied the still water in the tray below. If this water has accumulated and your plant is perpetually sitting in water, its roots will turn limp and rot, just like how skin shrivels up like a prune with prolonged exposure to water.
• Remember to pick pots with good drainage systems, and diligently empty excess water.
• Watering and drainage issues are closely related. The better your drainage system, the more leeway you have to make mistakes with your watering, as excess water is drained quickly.
4. YOU’VE BEEN CHANGING YOUR MIND TOO MUCH
Plants adapt to where they are placed, if given sufficient time. When you constantly shift your plant around, you are disrupting its natural ability to adapt to the environment. Plants tend to grow towards light, so when they are moved too frequently, they are unable to direct their growth to the right places for survival.
• Settle on specific spots for your plants, while keeping in mind their need for light.
5. TOO LITTLE OR TOO MUCH LIGHT
Plants that receive insufficient light tend to look pale and limp, while those receiving excessive light usually have charred, brown leaf edges. Certain indoor spaces do not compensate sufficiently for direct sunlight, so here’s what you can do.
• Plants that need more light should be placed on windowsills; alternatively, you can install LED growth lights and direct them at your plant. These artificial lights help to make up for the lack of sunlight indoors.
• You can also opt for plants that thrive in low light, like the ZZ plant, the pothos and the Staghorn fern.
6. LACK OF DUSTING
Indoor plants tend to collect a lot more dust than outdoor ones, simply because there is less ventilation. Over time, dust and other particles can clog the surface of the leaves and block the plant’s ability to trap sunlight for photosynthesis.
• Besides ensuring they get sufficient light and water, clean your plants once in a while to keep them healthy.
7. CHOOSING THE WRONG SPECIES
Some plants are simply unsuited for indoor growth. They thrive in direct sunlight and require consistent care. If you find that your dedication towards your plant has not been paying off, you might be investing your efforts in the wrong plants. To increase chances of survival, pick hardy plants that only require light watering and indirect light.
Stunted growth, collapse of stems and discoloured leaves may be signs of over-fertilising. Chemicals that accumulate in the soil deter plants from absorbing water efficiently, making them vulnerable to pests and eventual death.
• Remove damaged parts of the plant.
• Wash out excessive fertiliser by watering your plant thoroughly and allowing the water to drain out the bottom. Repeat this at least four times to ensure that all the fertiliser is leeched away.
• For small indoor plants, you may also consider repotting the plant in fresh soil.
• Refrain from fertilising your plant for the following few weeks.
Being a responsible plant owner means understanding what your plant needs. With these tips in mind, look forward to growing your own bunch of happy and healthy greens.
This first appeared in 99.co.