In my (admittedly biased) opinion, houseplants are amazingly versatile – they make for great decor, can be fun to collect, and caring for them comes with a wide variety of mental health benefits. But the journey that is plant parenthood isn’t always a smooth one. It isn’t always as simple as bringing a plant home and watching it thrive (although I really wish it were!). When you bring lots of leafy friends into your life, it’s totally normal to encounter a few issues. From wilty yellowing leaves, leaf loss and crispy tips to lack of growth and pests, here’s how to figure out what’s going on with your plants and what you can do about it. And, if all else fails, I’ll share a few signs it may be time to give up on your plant.
If you have an unhappy houseplant on your hands, the first step is triage: figuring out why your plant is dying. This is by far the most challenging part of plant care, because many of the symptoms that a struggling or dying plant may exhibit can be attributed to a variety of causes. For example, wilting can be caused by overwatering or underwatering, which are actually opposite conditions (too much water and too little water respectively). It can be hard to pinpoint what’s going on and what to do about it, so when in doubt, turn to your favourite search engine, type in your plant and the symptoms it’s exhibiting (for example, “monstera leaves yellowing”) and peruse the results to help figure it out.
If your plant’s leaves are wilting, it could be a sign of either overwatering or underwatering. To help you figure out which, feel and look at the plant’s soil. If the soil feels damp or looks moldy, it may be overwatering. Let your plant dry out thoroughly before watering again. If the soil feels dry or appears to be pulling away from the sides of your pot, that’s a sign of underwatering. Give your plant a thorough drink and see if it perks up.
Yellowing Leaves & Leaf Loss
If your plant has leaves that are yellowing and falling off, don’t panic! It’s totally normal for plants to loose old leaves as it puts out new ones. However, if your plant’s leaves are yellowing and dropping in alarming quantities, your plant may need nutrients. Try adding a fresh layer of soil to the top of your plants pot, or giving your plant some diluted fertilizer next time you water.
Lack of Growth
Maybe you’ve had your plant home for a while and notice that it hasn’t been putting out new growth. It’s totally normal for plants to go through an adjustment period when they first get home. Plants also tend to go dormant during the winter, meaning they put out less new growth and instead focus on sustaining the leaves they already have.
Edema is little brown or red spots on a leaf, usually on a new leaf. The good news is that, on its own, it won’t kill your plant. Edema usually occurs due to irregular watering. When new leaves are forming, sometimes the plant’s roots can suck up more water than the plant can use, causing cells to burst in the leaves. This in turn causes those little brownish red spots. Edema isn’t fatal, and often the spots will go away as the leaf matures. However, it can be a sign of irregular watering, so consider implementing a watering schedule.
Related: The 15 Luckiest Plants for Your Home
Overwatering and underwatering are some of the most common plant issues. Crispy-edged leaves are often signs of underwatering, whereas rotten-looking, dark brown patches tend to be indicate overwatering.
If you suspect underwatering, water your plant thoroughly and regularly, allowing it to dry out slightly between waterings. Overwatering can be a bit more challenging to recover from, as it can easily lead to root rot. Soggy, overwatered soil that accompanies it can be a breeding ground for anaerobic bacteria, which in turn can cause the roots of your plant to rot. If you suspect root rot, check the roots – if they’re brown and mushy, trim the rotten roots, let the plant dry out, and repot the plant in sterile soil.
Brown Crispy Leaves
If your plant has brown crispy leaves – sometimes brown crispy-tipped leaves – but you’re pretty confident it’s not underwatered, this could be a sign of low humidity.
There are two ways to boost humidity. The first is misting the plant with water frequently; the other is to add a humidifier to your space! Your humidity-loving tropical plants will thank you!
Pests are a common issue for plant parents with many plants. Identifying and treating pests could be a blog post on its own! If you see signs of pests (splotchy yellow leaves, small brown spots, cobwebs, white fuzzy spots) use your preferred search engine to try to identify what the pest is and how best to treat it.
In general, when it comes to pests, neem oil is your new best friend. Mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of neem oil into a spray bottle of warm water. Shake it up and spray it onto the plants. Even if you don’t have pests, neem oil is a great preventative measure as well!
Insecticidal soap is your other best friend. It smothers and kills many pests and their eggs. Follow the instructions on the packaging, and apply regularly.
When to Call it Quits
Losing a plant is such a disappointing feeling, and deciding whether to give up can be a difficult and emotional call to make.
Some signs that there may be no recovery left for your plant: if the pest population is out of control, if your plant has no healthy leaves left, or if your plant problems are negatively impacting your mental health.
For more tips from Amanda on how to revive a dying plant, check out the video below: