Inside Out Blog

16 Jan

Dealing With Houseplant Problems

“My name is Jane. I kill houseplants.” Fess up. This is you. You fell in love with those “Monstera Monday” photos online and promptly filled your windowsill with a collection of exotic tropical houseplants. Now your floor is littered with piles of dropped leaves and the overgrown succulents are virtually tipping over. 

Leggy houseplants in winter

Houseplants that are reaching or fighting for more light can get leggy. In the interiorscape trade, this is known as “plant stretch” or etioliation. This natural process creates tall plants with “stretches” of weak stems, pale color and distorted leaves. Temperature also plays a role in making stretchy plants. The greater the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, the greater the chance of plant stretch.

Can etioliation be fixed?

Well, it will take some plant surgery and perhaps the sacrifice of the original plant. The good news is that you will learn how to propagate more plants in the process. The quickest solution is to use a sharp knife and clip off the top of a stem, dip it into rooting hormone, and pop it into some soil. Nodes or the nubs on the stem will then sprout new roots. Succulents can even be propagated from single healthy leaves, but this takes a lot more time.

leggy houseplant
Leggy houseplant

If the thought of plant surgery seems scary, try pinching back the plant instead. Aim for correcting what looks overgrown and pinch back to the area of normal (not leggy) growth. Different plants react differently to this treatment, and some may not recover. Do a little research or try it on just a few stems first.

Succulents with root hairs

Vining succulents reaching for the light tend to sprout “hairs” along the stem. These are known as “aerial roots”.  Aerial roots are a sign that the plant is reaching for light or that it may soon tip over. (Shown in featured image above.)

Aerial roots are there to anchor that section of stem when it “lands”. You can give these stems a hand and clip them off, dip them in rooting hormone, and rest them on some cactus soil. And voila! You have created new succie babies!

To solve the stretchy plant problem in the long run, give your houseplant collection more light by adding plant lights as the nights get longer. Move plants away from drafty windows or cover them as seasons change, and cut back on fertilizer and water.

Windowsill weather

Second to lighting conditions, the right room temperature is key to healthy plants. Fluctuations in temperature are really tough on houseplants. It’s not necessary to lug all of the plants away from the windowsill, though. Try slipping newspaper sections or bubble wrap between the window pane and the plants for some insulation. Or create a mini sauna and cover the plants with a plastic bag. Just remember to uncover them as the sun heats them up unless you’re going for the “steam in the bag” effect.

Yellow leaves on houseplants

It is natural for a leaf or two at the base of a plant to turn yellow as new growth emerges at the top. But if leaves are yellowing over a long period of time, the confusing reason may be too much or too little water or low light conditions.

Overwatering houseplants is much more common than underwatering. Check that you are not drowning your plants. Waterlogging a plant causes root rot and yellowing leaves. Use pots with drainage holes; thoroughly drain plants after watering, and check the root ball for rot periodically.

Brown, crunchy leaf edges

While brown leaf edges on houseplants sometimes means cold sensitivity or scorching, it usually means a lack of moisture. You can always get out some scissors and trim leaf edges as they brown, but it’s better to get to the source of the problem by adding more humidity. Try placing a humidifier in the room or misting plants with tepid water. You can also try placing plant pots on a tray of pebbles and water. Just don’t let the plant actually stand in the water.

Brown leaf tips

Some tips for proactive houseplant care:

  • Pay attention to the individual light, temperature and humidity needs of the plants.
  • Do not overcrowd groups of houseplants.
  • Water thoroughly to rinse salts from the soil.
  • Dust or wash plant foliage.
  • Pinch off dead flowers and yellowed leaves.
  • Turn plants regularly.
  • Bend or tuck vining plants in the direction they should go.
  • Check for rotted roots.
  • Change plant location as light or seasonal conditions change.
  • And when all else fails, pick a different plant.

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