By this time of year, many plant enthusiasts’ homes may be packed full of plants they intend to overwinter or perhaps they’ve received some new additions from the holiday season. In many cases, the plants were beautiful upon arrival, but now that they’ve been indoors for a while they seem to be going downhill in a hurry. How could such healthy-looking plants go from being so lush and beautiful to being this pale and wilted in just a few short weeks?
If this scenario describes you, then take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Each year I get calls from residents who are concerned about their indoor plants. These calls occur in higher frequency during the winter months, as many of these plants are now growing in conditions that are less than ideal.
Indoor plants face several issues in the indoor growing environment, including light quality and intensity. Indoor light intensities are often low or limiting in December and January, and this may cause the foliage to fade or turn a yellow-green color. Low humidity and dry air conditions created by home heating systems may also weaken plants. Combine fluctuating temperature extremes with improper watering and fertilization and you’re well on your way to a severely stressed out plant.
While over-watering frequently sets up the stage for root rot, which then in turn finishes off your once-beautiful houseplants, low light and dry air can also lead to the demise of your beloved indoor plants. Proper management of these growing factors, of course, is essential to your maintaining healthy, vigorous houseplants.
But how do you know what to do to correct the problem before it is too late? In this scenario, the best cure is prevention, as those with little house plant experience can look for certain danger signs that plants show when they are under stress. You can then usually tell what you are doing wrong and take corrective action to revive your plants.
Below are some common symptoms expressed by “sick” plants and tips for revival:
- Weak or spindly growth.This is almost always due to insufficient light. Give your plants more light by placing them closer to a window or supply supplemental lighting via grow lights.
- Soft or rotten stems. Too much water is the cause! Cut back on your watering schedule and only when the soil is dry approximately one to two inches below the surface. Sometimes the soil surface may be dry but the root zone may be saturated. Watering plants growing in over-saturated soils will lead to root rot. Make sure the pot’s drainage holes are not clogged and don’t let your plants sit in water-filled saucers for more than an hour.
- Wilted foliage. This can be a tricky symptom, as it can be caused either by underwatering oroverwatering. Excessive fertilizers can also draw water from the roots, which causes the plant to wilt. If the plant has a root or stem disease, this will prevent water uptake, causing the plant to wilt. Other causes of wilting are low humidity, moving shock, a sudden change in light or temperature, cold or hot drafts, high heat or frost damage.
- Defoliation. Rapid defoliation may be caused by temperature fluctuations, changes in light, overwatering or underwatering, and exposure to cold and disease. Gradual defoliation, which is when lower leaves turn yellow and drop, can be caused by over watering (root rot), underwatering, lack of sufficient light, low fertility or disease. Keep in mind that an occasional leaf may drop due to natural aging.
- Yellow and/or wilted leaves.Often caused by too much water, which in turn causes root rot, yellowing may also be caused by insect infestations (scale or spidermites), low light, high temperatures or insufficient amounts of fertilizer. Older plants may become pot-bound, which may result in a yellowed or wilted condition. In this case, repot to a larger container using fresh potting soil.
- Brown leaf tips. Low humidity, excess fertilizer, water that is high in fluorine, damage from pesticides, unfavorable soil reaction (a high or low soil pH), or root loss due to excessive water in the soil may cause tips to brown. Water containing fluorine should be allowed to sit for several days before using. Trim out brown tips with sharp scissors to improve the looks of your houseplants.
- Brown leaf edges: Low humidity may be the cause. Increase humidity by grouping plants or by placing them on a bed of moistened pebbles in a tray. Misting or placing a cool-vapor humidifier in your plant room will increase humidity.
- Rot at soil level.This is usually caused by over watering, yet plants that are set too deeply or a fungal or bacterial disease may be the problem. In most cases you will have to discard the plant, although you may be able to start new plants by taking cuttings from upper sections that are healthy.
For more information on tending house plants, contact the County Extension office or register for the Fannin-Gilmer County Agriculture and Natural Resources Blog “A Fruitful Discussion” at: https://site.extension.uga.edu/fannin-gilmer/.