You love your plants, right? And you didn’t mean to kill them, obviously, but you did. We’ve all been there! One moment they’re happy as larry and the next they’re a crisp of their former selves…
However, after a fair bit of experience and a lot of research, it turns out that the warning signs of distress in plants are always there, you just have to know what to look for. Often the solution to a plant flopping or flourishing is as simple as putting them on the windowsill instead of the bookshelf!
The biggest telltale signs are usually be seen in its leaves, making it easy for you. Leaves are the food-producing organ of plants much like stomachs are to us, so the condition they are in can tell you a lot about a plant’s health, whether it’s getting enough food, light and water, or too much. We thought we would share with you a quick cheat sheet on answering the age old question ‘What’s wrong with my plant?’
What’s wrong with my plant?
Pests or Infections
Leaves with brown spots, holes, nibbled edges or insects anywhere on the plant are sure signs of pest infestation or disease. Whilst power mildew or grey fuzzy mould on leaves attract and encourage insect infestations on the plant.
Before buying and bringing a new plant home, make sure you inspect the plant thoroughly for any signs of pest infestation or disease because it will likely spread to your other plants at home. If the plant is already in your home, isolate the plant, remove any infected leaves and wipe insects off using a damp cloth or soapy water. Applying neem oil helps controls many house plant pests and fungus as it is also an organic insecticide.
Overwatered plants usually have very wilted, droopy leaves that are still soft and pliable even when they are dead (i.e. drowned). This is most common with cactus which are commonly overwatered (a good rule of thumb is to water them next to never).
Water your plant consistently but less often, allowing the water to soak thoroughly through the soil. This will encourage stronger root growth as the plant learns it doesn’t get watered so vigorously so needs to store the water it does get.
Lack of Sunlight
Plants that are lanky, floppy, pale, are shedding leaves or have new growth that is pale and flimsy are probably not getting enough sunlight. With succulents, the plant often gets leggy where the stem grows long and the leaves become widely spread.
Some plants require direct sunlight while others need only indirect sunlight, finding out which type is most suitable for your plant will help you determine whether it’s getting enough sunlight or not (you can refer to our previous guide here for information on certain plant types). Move the plant to a windowsill, keeping the blinds open and move plants and infrequently as possible because often they will have to re-orientate themselves to sunlight by growing new leaves.
Leaves will often have brown leaf tips or edges or go “crispy” when the plant is not getting enough water. When water passes through the soil without soaking in, it also means the soil has been dried out and the plant is most likely dehydrated.
Increase the frequency of watering, and on first watering, make sure to thoroughly soak the soil with a pitcher of water or the pot in a sink and leaving the tap on in a small trickle for 15 minutes. Another solution could be to repot the plant in a larger container because the roots could be too tightly packed and are fighting for space (and water).
Lack of new growth, new leaves that are pale with light green veins or new leaves that never grow to the same size as the old ones or are misshapen are usually signs of nutrient deficiencies. Most signs will manifest as yellowing of leaves in the case of deficiencies in nitrogen, potassium (yellowing of tips and edges), and iron (full yellowing of leaf).
Add organic matter such as compost or coffee grounds to the soil which also slowly lowers pH over time and increases microbial life and improves the structure of your soil. In particular, plants low in iron need a soil pH below 7 which can be facilitated by adding acidic mulches such as pine needles.
Low humidity allows moisture on the leaf surface to evaporate quickly which is especially so for tropical plants which thrive in humid conditions. Lose leaves or brown streaks that develop on leaves is a sign of sir that is too dry which is particularly common during winter months.
Spray the leaves during the winter months to mimic humid conditions and keep humidity loving plants in smaller rooms which are less drafty or in bathrooms that get steamy when you shower. Spray plants with water frequently and cluster plants to increase humidity.
Just like people, plants can go through trauma and heal so if your plant is not looking it’s best or is losing a lot of its leaves, don’t give up on it, there is still hope! Normally what it’ll need is a little TLC, water (or lack of) and time but don’t be too hard on yourself either if you do end up losing one or two, reading these small signs and problems all comes with a little experience and time.