Why do my house plants keep on dying?
Hi there, plant killer. Welcome to planet houseplant, where *hopefully* I can reform your black thumb
First things first: what kind of plant do you have?
Plants for beginners:
These are plants are either hard to kill or cheap enough that it doesn’t matter if they succumb:
|Plant type||Hard to kill?||Cheap?|
|ZZ plant||yup||about £10?|
|Monstera Deliciousa||Y/n (easy to keep alive, can be hard to actually grow||yes, for a baby, no for an adult|
|Aglaonema||Yup – mine wants for nothing||medium £10+, but the aglaonema pictum tricolour is like, £100 D:|
|Cactus||yup||varies massively, but you can get them for under £5|
|Asparagus fern||Yup – not a true fern, so forgiving of a bit of neglect||Yup – you can get them for under £10|
Plants you should leave the hell alone:
I know they look pretty, I do. But just wait until you can keep a pothos alive for a couple of months before moving onto something a bit more challenging.
|Plant type||Hard to kill?||Cheap?|
|Maidenhair fern||Nope – easy peasy||yup (under a £5, but it’ll die quickly if you neglect it)|
|Calathea||varies, but can easily get brown leaves||There’s a lot of variety, but you can get cheap baby ones. Don’t like tap water at all.|
|Fiddle leaf fig||Nope||No! You can occasionally get a bargain if you don’t mind a wonky one, but beware of cut-price ones – it could be ill|
|Alocasia||Nope||Actually, they can be, but their survival ate can be low with newbies. Stick with the Alocasia Amazonica – it’s the cheapest|
|Carnivorous plants||Nope||You can often pick them up for a reduced price because they go downhill fast. But they are finicky little buggers|
|Hoya||depends on the variety||Whilst it’s possible to find cheap ones in the UK, it ain’t easy|
Ok, so you have your plant. But why is it dying?
There are very few plants that can get by with being forgotten for a long time. You could probably keep cacti alive for a few months (depending on how big they are) without watering it, but you wouldn’t see much growth.
Cacti and succulents do need regular waterings, contrary to popular belief. They also like to be thoroughly soaked when they’re watered. The crucial thing is that after the thorough watering they’re left to dry out.
Failing to keep an eye on your plant can also lead to pests getting a hold. Pests that have been on your plant for a long time can either kill it or cause permanent scarring.
I get it, you love your plant and you don’t want it to die, but don’t water it every day, or even every week in some cases.
If you’re guilty of loving your plants to death, I would highly suggest you get yourself a moisture metre. It’s just a probe you stick in the soil, and when it says ‘dry’ you water your plant. Easy.
Overwatering can lead to root rot and make plants look oh, so appealing to pests.
If you have a hard time with leaving your plants alone, consider potting your plants in terracotta pots – they’re super cheap and they allow the water to evaporate out through the clay.
Have a look at my resources page to see the moisture metre I recommend (it’s really just the cheapest one)
Lack of drainage
Lack of drainage can cause root rot so be careful.
This basically comes down to checking that your pot has holes in the bottom. If you want to use a beautiful plant pot but it doesn’t have holes in the bottom, I’d recommend keeping your plant in its (plastic) nursery pot and sitting the whole thing in the pot – that way you can take it out to water it.
You’ve put rocks in the bottom for drainage
I have a whole post that delves into why this is a bad idea here, but in a nutshell, you’re actually removing drainage, not adding it (due to the perched water table) and can leave plants more susceptible to root rot.
You’re using tap water to water your plants
Most plants actually aren’t bothered about being watered with tap water, depending on where you live, I suppose. If you can drink the tap water, I think most plants will be fine.
However, some plants are picky little bastards that don’t appreciate the chemicals and salts (like chlorine and chloramine) in tap water, and it can either kill them or cause their leaf tips to go brown.
Plants that don’t like tap water include Calathea and carnivorous plants. Avoid if you don’t have access to rain, fishtank, filtered or tap water.
You’re shocking your plants when you water them
Water with room temperature water. There are rumours that plants like cool water when it’s hot and lukewarm water when it’s cold (I can understand the logic there), but I tend to stick to room temperature.
I personally collect rainwater in a bucket, and then bring it into the house the night before I plan on watering. However, if I forget, I’m not above adding a bit of warm tap water (probably a big no no) to the water to bring it up to temp.
You’re repotting them too soon
I would recommend leaving your plant in its nursery pot for as long as possible. I tend to re-pot when the roots are coming through the bottom of the pot (and sometimes not even then, but that’s due to laziness and is not great).
If your plant is desperate to be repotted, then I’d still recommend giving it a week to get acclimatised to its new environment. Many plant parents say that it’s fine to re-pot straight away, but I prefer to be safe.
I have a whole post of re-potting here.
They don’t have enough light
If you think you have a dark house, I’d stick to low light plants, such as pothos, philodendron, and spider plants. Best case scenario is that your house is brighter than you thought and all your plants will grow like mad.
The humidity is too low
If you stick to the ‘easy care’ house plants in the first table, you should be ok with regular humidity, but if you have a dry house, stay away from ferns and calathea. They grow on the floor of the rainforest where it’s pretty damn humid and can develop brown leaf tips and have stunted growth if their environment is too dry.
You can mist and put pebble trays everywhere, but if you’re serious about upping your humidity then you’d be better off buying a humidifier. Have a look at my resource page for my suggestions.
Your plant has pests
Firstly, isolate it. Then have a look and see if you can see any pests – mealybugs are white and leave cottonwool-like stuff on your plants, spider mites leave little webs (although don’t confuse them with actual spider’s webs – I don’t know how to tell the difference other than if it’s spider mites your plant will die and if it’s spiders it won’t), and scale insects look like…scales.
I usually turn to Pinterest and search for what they look like up close.
I treat all pests in largely the same way: pick off the ones I can see, and then spray the whole plant with diluted neem oil. If it’s a sturdy plant that can take it (like a big cactus) I take it outside and blast it with the hose.
Don’t feel too bad if your plant dies – because sometimes plants just die. I, for example, can’t seem to keep dieffenbachia alive, which are well-renowned for being suuuper easy to take care of.
This post can also make it seem a lot more difficult to keep plants alive than it is, but as long as you get to grips with the easy-care plants first, you’ll succeed.
You see, once you get into the rhythm of checking your plants over on a regular basis and seeing if they need water, or need to dry out, or are leaning towards the light (move ’em closer), you’ll get the hang of it.
And then you can move onto more finicky plants, but because you’re used to keeping an eye on them, you’ll manage fine. Plant care is basically 30% remembering that your plants exist and 70% not drowning them.