If you love nature as much as I do, you probably already bought a tiny piece of it to the cozy of your home. There are so many benefits from growing houseplants – they bring a fresh sip of beauty, color, calmness and a sense of harmony, make home feels like your place of inner balance…and even help maintain a healthier home environment by purifying air and absorbing toxins. However, they are not simply decoration that you only need to take the dust off from time to time.

Houseplant care is not a joke. It starts with carefully selecting your green home companions in a reputable garden center or retailer to avoid some of the potential problems in near future. Continues with seemingly easy steps like watering and feeding. But even though, sometimes we just tend to lose grip of the situation and problems start to appear. Houseplants can encounter diseases, pests, or suffer unfavorable growing conditions resulting in various symptoms. Learn how to recognize them, diagnose problems and how to treat your plants properly.

The Process of Adaptation

Plants are no different than any other living creature in they need adaptation when introduced to a new environment. Which means, moving the houseplant you purchased from a garden center to your apartment is a stress situation. It was grown under ideal conditions in a greenhouse and needs time to adjust to the light, humidity, and temperature conditions in your home. In the period of adaptation symptoms like leaves drop, leaf tips turn brown, or slight leaf color changes might be normal. If the symptoms still persist after enough time has been given to become established, look for the possible causes. In the next section, you’ll find the most common symptoms, causes and advice to improve your plant’s health.

Most Common Symptoms of Concern

Seedlings grow too slowlySeeds germinate but grow too slowly

If you are not purchasing an adult plant but growing it from seed, you might find it really challenging. Seedlings are so delicate, there is no room for error. Your odds of success will increase if you know the common conditions you might encounter and what triggered it.

If seedlings appearance doesn’t show any sign of a problem, looks normal but growth is slow, then you might reconsider the following conditions:

  • Inadequate light
  • Insufficient fertilizer
  • Too cool

Prevention and treatment:

Try moving the plant to a brighter location or closer to the window. If this causes temperature issues, use artificial light instead to keep the light at an optimal level. Large fluorescent shop lights would do the job, but you can also choose to invest in grow lights developed specifically for plants. Keep the lights on for 12 to 16 hours. Adequately fertilizing your new plants can help avoid deficiencies. Usually, the first fertilizer is to be added no sooner than the first set of leaves has shown up. The food stored in the seed starts to deplete and true leaves sprout to begin photosynthesis. This is the moment when an additional food source is necessary (or good) for the plant to grow. Make sure that the potting soil does not already contain fertilizer. The market now offers a wide variety of organic fertilizers – they are good for your plants and no harsh to the environment.

House plants with yellowing leavesYellowing of Leaves

It is difficult to identify the exact condition that triggered yellowing of leaves. To treat the yellow leaves symptom test alternative solutions to see which one works for your plant. Inadequate watering is one of the main causes for yellow leaves. Check if there is water in the drain tray. Make sure that the plant is draining properly, and adjust your watering schedule if needed. You can use gravel at the bottom under the soil If your container has no drainage holes. But this step doesn’t always give the best results. Use a good potting soil for planting can also support proper drainage. And don’t forget to remove yellow leaves – you can’t bring them back to green again.

If your plant is near an air-conditioner vent, move it to a less turbulent place and see if it stops spreading. If the yellowing begins on the side away from your light source, it might be caused by too little light reaching these back leaves. An unusual color pattern, for example, if veins remain green but tissue changes color might signal that this is a nutrient deficiency problem. Feed your plant with a high-quality organic fertilizer. If you suspect a viral infection – discard the plant since it may infect nearby located plants.

burn tips and brown edges houseplantsLeaf tips or leaf margins get brown

  • Low humidity
  • Excessive fertilizer
  • Poor water quality
  • Low fertility
  • Spray damage (insecticide, leaf glossing products)
  • Unfavorable soil pH
  • Pollutants in the atmosphere

Prevention and treatment:

Check the soil to see if your plant needs more water. Adjust your watering schedule accordingly. If possible change water source. Avoid locations with drafts. The plant might also be exposed to too much sun, move it into a more habitable environment. Reduce the quantity of fertilizer if you think you might be adding too much, or increase it if you are not giving your plant enough food. Stop applying any spray products. If all above doesn’t work – repot your plant in a new soil with different pH parameters.

Gradual Defoliation

If the lower leaves of your plant start changing color and falling down, this might be caused by::

  • Overwatering, which causes root damage
  • Not enough water to support lower leaves
  • Insufficient light
  • Too little fertilizer

Prevention and treatment:  

Repot if needed and begin a fertilizer program. Reconsider water quantity you provide. Change location to supply more light.

sudden defoliation in houseplantsSudden Leaf Drop

  • A sudden change of environment (transplanting, repotting or dividing)
  • Over-fertilization/ Under fertilization
  • Overwatering/ under watering
  • Plant not acclimated to low light intensity
  • Cold damage
  • Pesticide damage
  • Prolonged low light intensity
  • Ethylene exposure
  • Root rot
  • Natural cycle of plants (Ficus benjamina drops leaves its dry season)
  • Spider mites

Prevention and treatment:

When you bring a new plant pet home, make sure you supplied yourself with all basic information about its needs in terms of light, temperature, watering, soil and other conditions. Fortunately, most plants come with instructions. A sudden drop of leaves is a sign your houseplant is in stress. Analyze the situation. If you’ve recently repotted your plant, then it might be in a stress condition which is expected to subside in 2-3 weeks. In this case, you don’t need to take any further actions, but wait and provide sufficient light, water etc. the plant is used to. Don’t add fertilizer if your potting mixture already has it.

If the plant is losing leaves from the center of its foliage, it’s most probably due to insufficient light. Move it closer to a sunny window or consider purchasing a plant light.

Check if the soil is dry or soaked. Not enough water causes the plant to drop leaves. Too much water can be fatal to the plant’s root system. Provide only as much water as the plant needs, try watering from the bottom.

Determine if there are bugs and which kind they are. Treat your plant with an appropriate organic insecticide.

Houseplants don't flowerPlants Don’t Flower

  • Age (the plant may be too young to flower)
  • Insufficient Light
  • Low temperature
  • Nutrient imbalance (too much nitrogen or too little phosphorus)
  • Improper pruning

Prevention and treatment:

Give your plant enough light to thrive. Most flowering plants enjoy bright locations since they need at least six to eight hours of sunlight before blooming occurs. Avoid extremes in temperature, moisture levels, humidity, as well as drafts. Choose an organic bloom-boosting fertilizer to meet the need of your plant (with the right nitrogen – phosphorus proportion). Take some time to learn how to prune.

Excessively slow growth

  • Poor light conditions
  • Potting soil too compact
  • Poor fertilization or watering schedule
  • Root rot
  • Non-vigorous – Some plants in the population just do not thrive

Prevention and treatment:

Exclude the possible causes one by one. Check if the soil is soaked or dry and adjust the watering schedule accordingly. Check Watering, Fertilizing and Lighting sections of the Infographic below for more information on how to ensure adequate growing conditions for your plants. Always read the tag that your plant comes with. It will give you precise instructions how to take care for the specific type of plant.

 houseplants wiltingWilting

  • Over/ under watering
  • Over-fertilization

Prevention and treatment:

Check Infographic below for tips about good watering and fertilization practices.

Check the soil. If it is dry, supply water. Plants should recover in a few hours. If it does not happen, look for other causes and symptoms. Examine plant for signs of disease, soluble salt accumulation, as well as reconsider its the location. Move away from chilling drafts. If you notice that margins and tips of leaves burn and there’s a white crust on leaf edge and on the soil surface, there’s probably salt buildup in the soil. Leach out excess salts by watering thoroughly.


Houseplants Sooty Mold
Photo Credit: Amnon Shavit (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Leaves with black growth in patches

  • Sooty mold (look for aphid and scale insect activity)

Prevention and treatment:

Look for the source of the problem. Since sooty mold is a type of mold that grows in the honeydew or secretion of common plant pests (aphids or scale), it usually comes along with a pest problem. Try to identify which pest have taken over your plant and then take measures to eliminate it. When this problem has been solved, you can take care of the mold. Wash off the leaves, stems, and branches. You can use a cloth dipped in soapy water.

Neem Oil is an excellent choice.  It is a safe, non-toxic product that effectively reduces or kills pests, as well as prevents powdery mildew on plants.


Infographic: Houseplant Care - From Purchasing to Feeding

Infographic: Houseplant Care - From Purchasing to Feeding



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