Poor, innocent houseplants. African violets brighten our tabletops, English ivies freshen the air in our living rooms, and Peace lilies (Spathiphyllums) decorate dark corners. What do we do, in return for the beauty and pleasure they give us?
We kill them.
Not intentionally, of course. Sometimes we just neglect them, but occasionally we’re guilty of loving them to death, giving them more attention (usually water) than they require. Others starve to death from lack of fertilizer, or slowly strangle in outgrown pots.
Death by brown thumb is never a pretty sight. Read on to see how it can happen, and learn how to avoid committing planticide.
Step 1. Overwater.
Overwatering is probably the No. 1 cause of houseplant murder. Few plants can survive constantly soggy roots, so wait until the soil in the pot feels slightly dry before you give your plant a refreshing drink. After the water drains through the pot, dump any excess from the plant’s saucer. If you can’t get the hang of how often you should water, it’s worth investing in an automatic indoor watering system. Bonus: The system will pinch-hit for you while you’re on vacation, so you won’t come home to find a desert landscape on your windowsill.
Step 2. Keep Your Plants In Their Original Pots. Forever.
After awhile, your plants will outgrow the pots they came in. Once a year, lift your plants out of their pots and check their roots. Have the roots grown into a tightly wound ball? If so, gently knock off the soil and unwind them. Replant, using a slightly larger pot and fresh soil. Use our Buying Guide for potting soil to choose the right medium.
Step 3. Give Your Plants Direct Sun.
It’s not healthy for people to be exposed to direct sunlight all day, every day, and it’s not good for most houseplants, either. Read the tags that come with your plants. If they need a southern exposure, give them a sunny window, but don’t place them close to the glass, where soaring temperatures can burn them. If your plant likes low light, try a north-facing window. Many other houseplants will enjoy an eastern exposure, where the light is typically bright but cool.
Step 4. Put Up With A Few Pests.
A few bugs can multiply quickly and spread to the rest of your indoor plant collection, so treat problems when you see them. Try knocking the pests off with a gentle spray of water from the kitchen faucet, or visit your local Home Depot if you need help finding something to battle pests or diseases.
Step 5. Never Fertilize.
Houseplants grow more slowly than most outdoor plants, but watering will eventually cause the nutrients to leech out of the soil. Replace them with a fertilizer made especially for indoor growing conditions.
Once they start to grow and thrive, you’ll be inspired to give your houseplants some company. Pothos and ferns look great in bedrooms and baths, and tough, carefree Sanseveirias do fine almost anywhere. When you build up your confidence, you’ll find that a beautiful Costa Farms Phalaenopsis orchid is easy to grow indoors. So lose that guilt. Now you know how to avoid houseplant murder!
Water image: Shutterstock/Clearly Ambiguous