Why Do Houseplants Die?


One problem most new gardeners seem to face is dying plants. It can be equally frustrating to see plants you care for wilt and die out on you in spite of the care you have provided. Other times, it’s the neglect that kills them.

In this article you will learn about the top reasons why houseplants die, how can you tell if your houseplant is actually dead, a hack to save a dying plant, and a few hard-to-kill plants you may want to look into when you’ve just started your indoor garden.

You might find it helpful to read our article “How to Care for Houseplants”.

Like humans and animals, plants have a few necessities that help them survive. Namely; good soil, enough water, and sufficient light. If you have failed to provide them with one or more of these necessities, chances of them wilting due to diseases and other issues would be unavoidable.

Why Do My Houseplants Die?


Plants are living things, and like all living things they have basic needs in order to survive. All plants, whether outdoor plants or houseplants, need water, soil, light, and nutrients to survive. It’s the amount of each that would determine your plant’s survival. Here are some reasons why your houseplants would die:

Poor Soil and Drainage
Your plant will get its nutrition from the soil. By using the right kind of soil mixed with the right amount of nutrients your plant will thrive. However, if you pick a heavy and clay-like soil, your plant’s roots will not be able to spread and grow.

Choosing a soil that drains well allows air to circulate better and avoids the tendency of overwatering. If the soil is good, water creates a moist environment throughout the soil itself rather than collecting the water and causing the roots to rot due to the soggy consistency of the environment.

Some experts layer their potting soil with pebbles and other airy materials to improve draining time. It is said when you water the soil and it drains within 10 minutes your soil is considered “fast draining” anything over an hour will be slow draining and not ideal for plants.

In line with this, your plant’s pot should also have an exit point for the water. Most terracotta pots come with a hole on the bottom for drainage, and is highly recommended since it works well with heat to evaporate any excess water that may be seen above soil.

Excessive Watering or Under Watering
One important thing you must do before getting any plant is to know them better. Do a bit of research and find out what are the optimal conditions these plants need in terms of care. For example, if you decide to get a succulent, without any knowledge on how to care of them, you can easily overwater them which will cause them to die. In other cases, some plants would need regular watering, and when they are neglected, they will start to dry up and die too.

The key is to moderately water your plant depending on its type. Too much watering will cause root rot and a whole set of fungal problems that would be difficult recover from. Too little water will not let your plant efficiently go through photosynthesis which is necessary for them to make food.

Other varieties, like air plants do not need to be watered per se since they don’t technically thrive in soil, but they would need a good soaking every two weeks. At the end of the day it’s all about proper research, if you want to know what is the best way to take care of your plant, do your part.

Insufficient or Excessive Sunlight
Photosynthesis is the process when plants make their food. In addition to soil and water, the vital ingredient for this process to occur is light. Depending on the type of plant you have, light exposure should also be in moderation as well. Indoor plants thrive well in low-lit spaces but should at least have 4 to 6 hours of indirect sunlight. If in the event your home is not sufficiently lit, you could opt to purchase grow lights and have them installed in your indoor garden space.

There is actually no such thing as too much light, but there is such a thing as too much sunlight. And this can also be a problem. Most indoor plants that are not accustomed to being exposed to full sunlight, or an excess of it may show signs of leaf burns. As mentioned, this is not because of the light in particular, but the heat from the sunlight. If you choose to use grow lights, LED lights that do not emit heat would be the best for longer exposure.

Pests & Diseases
Most parasitic, fungal, and bacterial diseases of plants come from overwatering. Most of these microorganisms and pests come thrive in moist conditions, and are more attracted to the wet soil than your plant itself. But because of the infestation in the soil, the plants lose nutrition. Eventually these pests and microorganisms find their way to your plant. To treat them, there are a series of chemical-based medication you can apply. There are also homemade recipes to eliminate pests and diseases, but one sure thing would be to control the moisture of your soil to prevent this from happening in the first place.

Excessive Fertilizer
Fertilizers are often used as a booster for your plant. They are often recommended for fruit-bearing or flowering plants to encourage blooms, but as long as your soil has a good nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ratio, fertilization is not really necessary. It would often be the cause of a plant’s death especially when used in excess.

If there is too much fertilizers in the soil, this actually makes it very hard for the plants to absorb water and other nutrients it would need. This is caused by the high concentration of salt in the fertilizer’s formula. It may also harm the normal bacterial flora your plants need in order to survive.

Pets or Children
Having plants around pets and kids should be a non-issue, but when within their reach, this can definitely cause problems to your plants. If your pets use your plants as their indoor toilet, the urine of these animals can cause a pH imbalance in the soil and increase the level of nitrogen, which in turn causes root damage. This is due to the high amounts of urea and salts in their urine.

Children on the other hand may be pulling on your plant dislodging it from the soil. They may also be over watering the plants without your knowledge; it is best to keep all plants out of their reach to ensure their long life.

Natural Causes
Some plants may just have lived their life. Some plants would start to wilt after a year or two, while others last longer and can be passed down from one generation to another. Some plant varieties may produce saplings within the same pot that can be easily replanted. While others would require you to germinate the seeds and replant them from scratch.

How to Assess Your Plant?


Telling when your plant is actually dead is actually difficult to conclude. They don’t really have a pulse or a heartbeat to check if they are still viable, and superficially looking at them may not give you the right answer. Here are some subtle signs to know if your plant is dying:

Brown or Dry Leaves
One thing to look at during the assessment phase is the leaf. When the leaf starts to brown and get crisp to the touch, you can be sure that your plant is in need of help. When your plant has absolutely no more green foliage, you need to move to the next step of the assessment to know if this plant can still be saved.

Brittle Stem
With the leaves completely devoid of color, your next option is to check the stem. Scratch off the surface of the stem and observe if it is brittle. The inner portion must have some greenery to it. If it is colorless and looks dry, the only hope for you is to check on the roots to see if the plant is still viable.

Mushy or Brittle Roots
This is your last resort, if the roots are mushy or brittle, there is no hope in saving your plant. But in the event that your roots are still strong, you would just need a little effort and whole lot of patience to help your plant regrow to its former glory.

The key point is that, once the roots are gone you have no chance in reviving your plant. The leaves and stem are superficial parts that can be replaced with the proper course of treatment. When the roots are mushy, rotting, or brittle, your plant is dead and what is dead cannot be brought back to life.

Hacks to Save A Dying Plant
After you have assessed your plant, you can try this hack in saving them. Remember, only plants with viable roots can be salvaged, otherwise there is absolutely no use in trying this.

Remove Dead Leaves and Stems
Depending on the results of your assessment, all dead leaves and stems must be removed. If the stem is dead, keep at least an inch or two of the stem from the root. This is where the new plant would regrow.

Clean the Roots
Remove the roots from the existing potting soil and gently clean them out with water. After doing so, place the roots in a Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) solution for at most 2 hours. Being that the chemical composition of Hydrogen Peroxide has an additional Oxygen atom, this is able to help the plant take in more oxygen that is required for it to grow faster and absorb more nutrients better.

It is important to note that the Hydrogen Peroxide solution must diluted in water. Ideally, 30 parts of water with 1 part of Hydrogen Peroxide is the ideal ratio. You can even use the same solution water your plants with as soon as you have repotted them. It helps a lot with the pest and other microorganisms that may cause harm to your plant.

Repot Your Plant
Avoid using the same potting mix when repotting your plant. Start with a new clean pot, and a well-draining mix with enough nutrients to help your roots thrive. After you have successfully repotted your plant, you may water your plant with the leftover Hydrogen Peroxide solution.

Environment

It is best to keep plants that need special care in an open space with lots of light and air. This allows it actively grow through the process of photosynthesis. Keeping the plant away from light sources will just stunt the growth of your plant.

Maintenance


It is important that you maintain your plant well by providing with ample water. Remember never to overwater your plants and be sure that they are given enough based on their species. For those plants that are not sensitive to salt content, you may water them with an Epsom salt solution. One liter of water with 4 teaspoons of Epsom salt would be the right ratio.

The Epsom salt, in particular, contains magnesium sulfate which helps the plant’s cells absorb nutrients better. Be sure to use this solution in moderation, because, as we know, too much salt can be detrimental to your plant in general.

The next time you see a dying plant, make a preliminary assessment first. You’d be surprised to know that some plants are actually strong enough to survive intense neglect with the right care.

Hard to Kill Houseplants

If you are new to the hobby of indoor gardening, you might have lost a few good plants over a couple of months. This is absolutely normal and it is okay to be frustrated. For new gardeners we would highly recommend these easy-to-care for plants that are close to impossible to kill.

  • Air plants (Tillandsia spp.) Air plants are quite versatile; they can be kept in practically all kinds of conditions and would not even need soil to grow. If kept indoors, all you need to do is place them in an area with indirect sunlight and they will be fine. You would need to give them a plant bath every 2 weeks or so, but that’s the only thing you would need to do in terms of watering them. This is the perfect plant for people who are extremely busy and have a tight schedule.

  • Laceleaf (Anthurium spp.) These plants have beautiful blooms that take little to no effort on your part. Like Airplants you would not need to constantly water them. They do not like moisture, it is ideal to water them only when the soil feels dry to the touch. Kept in bright light, this plant will surely bring life to your living space. If you are unable to provide it with a bright space, you can opt to buy red grow lights that would promote the flowering of this particular plant.

  • Bamboo (Bambusoideae) You would usually find bamboo plants potted in soil if you buy them at your local grocery store. To keep these plants alive, you need to take them out of the soil and clean their roots. Place them in a jar with a few stones and water. This will be the best living condition for your bamboo, you would just have to replace the water every now and then.

  • Bromeliads (Bromeliaceae) One remarkable thing about Bromeliads is that they do not need to be watered directly on the soil. Allow the plant to collect the water from it’s top, and you’ll be set for a couple of weeks or so. This plant is very tolerant to drought, so a little neglect will not harm it. If it has gone through a dry spell for quite some time, you may water directly onto the soil to refresh the plant.

  • Succulents Succulents are similar to cacti and are very tolerant to neglect. They have been quite popular recently due to it’s low-maintenance qualities, absolutely great for those who do not have the time for a daily watering routine. Another great thing about these plants is that there are dozens of varieties to choose from, some have flowers and some continuously produce saplings for repotting. Just keep your succulents in a brightly lit area with enough water to sustain it, and you’re good to go.

If you are a newbie, and you are worrying about your plants dying on you. Choosing one of these plants will definitely be the best for your starter indoor garden.

The reason plants die will always boil down to the proper care you, as a plant parent, provide. As long as they are given their basic needs with a bit of tender love and care, they are sure to thrive in a healthy and happy environment. Do your research, choose a plant that would best fit your lifestyle, and take it from there.

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