11 Cures For Unhappy Houseplants
Issues with environmental conditions, care, or simply age can lead to a range of symptoms that make your houseplant look unhappy. Houseplant expert Madison Moulton gives you 11 cures to bring your houseplants back to good health.
Houseplants are the ideal solution for plant lovers without the backyard space to grow outdoors. Even with an expansive garden, filling your home with greenery is rewarding. If you have unhappy houseplants, you need cures to regain that lush and abundant greenscape!
Unfortunately, your houseplants don’t always look as good as when you bought them. Issues with environmental conditions, care, or age can lead to symptoms that make your houseplant look unhappy. Yellowing leaves, wilting, and general lack of growth are all signs of unhappiness that must be investigated.
Depending on the cause of the problem, you can try a few cures to bring your plants back to good health. Assess the symptoms and your care to determine the most effective cure from this list.
For my fellow forgetful waterers, often the quickest cure for an unhappy houseplant is simply a drink of water. Watering properly is at the top of the list of indoor-growing basics you should master.
Although houseplants don’t require daily watering and monitoring in most cases, they also shouldn’t be forgotten completely. Without water, cells lose their structure, causing the leaves and stems to wilt. Water is also how nutrients are transported around the plant. Without it, you’ll notice leaves slowly turning yellow or brown at the tips.
Before you water, check the texture and moisture levels in the soil. If the soil is dry and compacted (pulling away from the sides of the pot is a key sign), it’s best to water from the bottom.
This will saturate the soil without running off the sides as it might when watering from the top. You can also aerate the soil with a small stick to create pockets of space moisture can seep into.
This cure works quickly – within a few hours, you should notice the leaves and stems perking up. If the soil was dry for a long time, it may take longer for the plant to recover completely. Also, prune away any discolored leaves. These won’t return to normal, only drawing unnecessary energy away and slowing recovery.
If your plant is wilting and yellowing, but you’re 100% sure you haven’t underwatered, the opposite issue may be the problem.
Overwatering is equally as damaging as underwatering, if not more. Excess moisture in the soil stops air from flowing around the roots and encourages fungal growth.
If the soil is not allowed to dry out – in other words, if you water too often – the problem will worsen until the roots start to rot. Root rot can quickly spread to other parts of the plant, making it unsavable.
Some signs to look out for are mushy stems and yellowing leaves. The soil will also take longer to dry, and the roots absorb less moisture. Fungus gnats are another sign of excessively moist soil, although they don’t always indicate issues with overwatering.
The ‘cure’ for this issue is the easiest of all – stop watering. Give the soil a chance to dry out before you consider watering again. Use your finger to test the moisture levels often, watering again only when the soil has sufficiently dried. Remember to adjust your watering schedule to avoid the same problems.
Whenever I’m asked to diagnose dying houseplants, the most common issue is lack of sunlight. Some houseplants may be labeled ‘low-light’ friendly, but that doesn’t mean they can survive in rooms without windows.
Indoor gardeners also underestimate how much light plants are receiving. You can test this by using a light meter or the various apps available to measure light (albeit less accurately).
Place the meter next to your houseplant throughout the day and on days with different weather conditions. You’ll be surprised at how little light most houseplants receive unless they’re directly in front of windows.
Sunlight is necessary for houseplant growth and survival. Low photosynthesis rates will lead to stunted growth, discoloration, and possibly the death of your plant. A quick cure for most houseplants in these conditions is to move them to a brighter area of your home.
Make any environmental changes slowly to avoid shocking your houseplants. Move them to a brighter area for a few hours at a time to give them space to adjust. East or south-facing windows with some afternoon protection are ideal for most common houseplants.
As with watering issues, the converse of lack of sunlight can lead to unhappy houseplants. Direct sun exposure during the hottest parts of the day (even indoors) will scorch sensitive leaves, leaving bleached or brown crispy patches on the leaves closest to the light source.
Classified ‘houseplants’ are not technically meant to grow indoors. They are outdoor plants that respond well to indoor growth, largely because of their shade tolerance.
Most popular houseplants, even those for beginners, come from tropical jungles that receive filtered or dappled light throughout the day. Exposing houseplants to intense direct light when you bring them home results in almost instant damage.
Direct sun is brighter than their native conditions and the greenhouses they grow in before reaching the nursery or your home. Quickly changing lighting conditions will lead to unsightly problems that require immediate attention.
You don’t necessarily have to move your plant to cure this houseplant issue. Filtering the light in front of bright windows is a simple solution that allows you to keep the plant in the same spot, adequately protected. Hang a sheer curtain to filter the direct sun and avoid any scorching.
Even if sunlight isn’t a concern, the position of your pot may still be the problem. If your houseplants are wilting and drying out quickly without explanation, you may need a cure for drafts.
Although plants are used to gentle winds, strong drafts that change environmental conditions throughout the day are unwelcome. Placing your plant in front of an open window or door or in the path of air conditioners or radiators will lead to dry soil and extended stress, along with damaged leaves and drooping stems.
There is no need to move the plant if you’re willing to keep the problematic window closed (or the air conditioner off). This is the ideal cure because it maintains the same environmental conditions while removing the primary stressor.
If that’s not possible, you need to find a new position for the plant. Consider light, temperature, and humidity when choosing a new position to avoid compounding stress.
Considering the excitement plant parents experience when they spot a new leaf, it’s understandable that a dying one is distressing.
However, fading leaves are a part of plant growth and don’t always signify an issue. Often, leaves yellowing and drying up are simply the result of age. Although these make the plant appear unhappy, you only need a quick trim to help them perk up again.
Houseplant owners are often reluctant to pull out their pruning shears. But I promise you won’t hurt your houseplant; you’ll be helping it. Dying leaves draw energy away from the plant that could be directed toward new and healthy growth. This also reduces the risk of pest and disease issues that could spread to healthy parts of the plant if left unchecked.
If you don’t remove more than a third of the leaves at a time, you won’t notice any negatives when pruning unhappy houseplants. Trim in the right place and keep the strongest stems and leaves to boost new growth.
If your houseplant has been in the same container for several years and now looks unhappy after years of successful growth, the pot is probably the problem.
Root growth beneath the soil translates to growth above the soil line. As new leaves develop and stems stretch, the roots must also grow to support the new plant material.
But houseplants are confined to containers, restricting their root growth. Once those roots extend to all empty areas, they start to wrap around each other and even grow above the soil line or out the bottom of the container in search of resources.
Besides roots growing through drainage holes or above the soil line, rootbound plants may also wilt or yellow as roots struggle to deliver water and nutrients to where they are needed. Stunted growth is an important sign that indicates you must repot as soon as possible.
When choosing a new container, don’t overdo it. Excess space in the container can stunt growth and lead to root rot. Choose a container around one or two sizes up, depending on the age and growth rate of the plant.
They may not perk up immediately, but you’ll notice unhappy houseplants turning around a few weeks after being repotted.
A new pot isn’t the cure for unhappy, mature or slow-growing houseplants that don’t really need more space. Repotting may still be the answer, depending on the quality of your soil.
Without regular upkeep, soil in containers will degrade over time. It loses its ability to retain moisture and nutrients and may become compacted, suffocating the roots. Since good soil is the foundation of good plant growth, bad soil will quickly result in unhappy houseplants.
Look out for soil that dries out much quicker than usual or lacks the airy texture it had when you first bought or repotted the plant. These signs, along with wilting and yellowing, indicate a need to repot.
When replacing the soil, keep the texture as consistent as possible. Plants don’t appreciate change and will experience far less shock when transplanted into the soil the roots can quickly adapt to.
Avoid using garden soil, which typically doesn’t have the right texture for houseplants and may carry pests and weeds indoors. Look for houseplant potting mixes (or succulent and cacti mixes for succulent plants) to keep them happy in the future.
If possible, make your own mix so you know exactly what’s going into it. This also allows you to modify the soil to a texture and nutrient consistency you know your plants are used to.
When you purchase a new houseplant from your local nursery or online, the soil typically contains slow-release fertilizers to provide nutrients over time. But as these nutrients get used up to fuel new growth and keep the plant alive, they need to be replaced to sustain growth.
If you haven’t refreshed the soil in a while and haven’t fertilized your houseplants, a lack of nutrients may cause their unhappiness. This issue isn’t common in new plants but occurs in older ones that haven’t been fed during spring or summer.
Luckily, the cure is easy. A balanced fertilizer containing macronutrients, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients will replenish the soil, resolving many growing problems. It will take a while for the results of this cure to show up, but after a few weeks, you shouldn’t notice any further decline.
It’s important to note that extra unnecessary fertilizer won’t boost growth. It will have the opposite impact, damaging the roots and stunting growth.
Apply fertilizer according to the instructions on the packaging only – never more. I like to start with a half-strength dose and add more only if needed to avoid damage.
Many popular houseplants, from the famous Monstera to collectible Calatheas, come from the tropics. In their native habitats, they are used to humidity levels remaining above 70% throughout the year. If your humidity dips too low, you’ll notice signs of unhappiness over time, such as brown leaf edges and stunted growth.
I’m not talking about moderate humidity here. Houseplants can typically adapt and survive in humidity above about 40%. But if your indoor air is dry – lower than 30% – your tropical houseplants will become stressed.
You have a few options for increasing humidity in these cases. Rule out misting, as it only temporarily improves conditions and can lead to fungal growth.
Instead, try moving the plant to a higher humidity room, using a pebble tray, or grouping a few houseplants as long as all other environmental requirements are met.
These fixes increase humidity, but only slightly. It won’t be enough to save your plants in very dry rooms. In that case, a humidifier is the best cure, providing consistently high humidity in the air directly around the plants.
Some technical humidifiers can be pricey, but they are worth the investment if you want to make unhappy houseplants happy again.
An unhappy houseplant doesn’t always require immediate action. Because of differences in conditions and care, your houseplants won’t always look as good as the day you bought them – and that’s okay.
Fussing over them and changing routines and conditions often results in more unhappiness. You may think you have a black thumb, but simply leaving your plants be for a while could cure all your problems. Don’t forget about them completely, but you don’t need to constantly feed, water, repot and prune.
Most houseplants will experience ‘unhappiness’ at some point – it’s part of indoor gardening. How you respond to this unhappiness and the cures you implement will determine whether they perk up again.