Here’s a secret that gardeners don’t talk about much: We have killed plants. Yes, it’s true, our green thumbs were once as black as compost. The only difference is, we learned from our mistakes.
Houseplants can be a proving ground for gardeners. You can have good luck with supposedly temperamental orchids and lousy luck with easy-as-pie succulents.
Because home environments vary in light, temperature and humidity, finding the balance that works for your houseplant is the key to indoor gardening happiness.
Generally speaking, houseplants flourish with temperatures in the range of 60 to 75 degrees, and tropicals like humidity between 50 and 70 percent. This is cooler and more humid than the average home.
To increase humidity, mist tropical plants. They also like lots of light and your home’s available light may need to be supplemented with grow lights to give your houseplants what they need.
To get the most out of your houseplants, “read” them. As you conduct the triage, look for signs of stress:
- Are the leaves yellow? It could be that your plant is overwatered. Make sure your plant has adequate drainage and back off on the watering regimen.
- Are the leaves curling? Administer water, stat.
- Are there unwelcome visitors on your plant? Webs and white stuff are the clues there. Read up on care for pest-stricken houseplants.
In the event of more serious problems and you suspect that the plant is not long for this world, check the stem. If there is any bit of green in the stem, and it’s pliable and firm, there’s hope.
Next, check the roots. As with the stem, you want the roots to be pliable and firm. If they are slimy or dried up, trim them away.
If there is no sign of life, toss the plant and start over. Review our list of 5 Houseplants You Can’t Kill for plants that can handle a bit of neglect.
If there is reason for hope, shake out the soil, and repot it with fresh potting mix. Place it in a space with about half as much light as is normally recommended. Administer water, and water again only when the soil is just moist to the touch, but not wet.
Continue treatment and check over the next few weeks to see if there is new growth. If not, then trim more of the dead stems and roots and continue in a location with half the recommended light allowance.
One thing not to do when a plant is stressed is to add fertilizer. That will only further stress the plant. When new growth appears and the patient shows signs of a steady recovery, only then can you begin feeding the plant.
Sometimes a plant in distress is simply rootbound, the sign of a mature plant with roots that have taken over the soil to the point where they take on the shape of the soil.
It’s OK to trim the smaller roots that grow from the main, thicker ones. Use pruners, scissors or even a garden knife to reduce the length of the roots. Repot it with fresh potting mix in a slightly larger pot to encourage new growth. For more intel on repotting, check out The Best Way to Repot Your Houseplants.
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