SOS: Why Do My Plants Keep Dying?

By Beth Garner
Published: March 3, 2020 | Last updated: April 23, 2021 03:28:55
Key Takeaways

Many houseplants are surprisingly resilient, provided they get enough (but not too much!) water, nutrients, light and space. If any of these necessities are lacking, a little bit of care and attention in one particular area can help bring your beloved plants back to life.

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We all know the joys of nurturing a houseplant—delicately and lovingly watering it, tidying up any rogue dead leaves, making sure it is in a nice, sunny spot and watching as it grows.


Sprucing up your home with plants not only adds a pop of color to your home, but also helps to filter and oxygenate the air and reduce dust. Don't even get us started on the calming effect plants have inside the home!

But, the time and effort we put into looking after our plants only to see them wilt and die is anything but calming.


It happens slowly at first—a brown or crispy leaf here and there, and then another, and before you know it your plant has wilted and has lost its mojo.

There’s nothing more demotivating in the gardening world. You feel like it is all your fault, like you are cursed to destroy the plants you adore. Fortunately, there are ways to give your plants the best chance to not only survive, but thrive.

There are several components your plant requires for healthy growth, including water, nutrients, light and space.


Each of these components is just as important as the next. If one is lacking, a little bit of care and attention in one particular area can help bring your beloved plant back to life.

Are You Watering Your Houseplants Too Much?

It is incredibly satisfying to give your plant a drink one day and see it revive itself and stand tall and proud the next day.


For everyone who has experienced this, there comes an urge to give your plant an extra drink or two to help it on its way.

Unfortunately, this can lead to your plant becoming waterlogged. Consistently wet soil stops oxygen from getting to the plant, causing it to starve.

A good way to tell whether your plant needs watering is to stick a skewer into the soil from the surface down to the bottom of the pot.

Upon removal, the skewer should look fairly clean with minimal soil. This is a better test for dehydration than just thumbing the surface layer of soil, as the entire soil mass must be monitored. If the soil is saturated, leave the plant to dry a little in between watering sessions.

You can also test whether the plant needs more water according to its weight. If the container is particularly heavy, this means there is enough water in the soil yet to be soaked up. If the soil is somewhat lighter, the plant can enjoy some light watering.

Ensure the container has several drainage holes to allow any excess water to run-off and not drown the plant from the roots up.

Read More: Physiological Disorders of Indoor Gardens

Make Sure Your Houseplants Have Enough Nutrients

A tell-tale sign your plant is lacking in nutrients is when you start seeing wilted, dry, brittle, or yellowing leaves.

Revive a sad-looking plant by applying a little plant pick-me-up in the form of plant food or water-soluble fertilizer, which can save even plants that look like they are beyond help.

Start with a general-purpose fertilizer to see if that helps, keeping in mind that plants require the three macronutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium—in generous amounts, followed by the three secondary plant nutrients: calcium, magnesium and sulfur.

Finally, recognize that the following micronutrients are also important: boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, nickel and chloride.

Read More: Setting the Record Straight - Primary vs. Secondary Plant Nutrients

Check That Your Lighting Is Right

Place your plant where it is most likely to get a decent amount of sun per day. You may think moving your plant to another room to get more light is a practical solution, but in my experience, plants become accustomed to one environment and should rarely be moved.

Similarly, do not rotate a lopsided plant that looks like it is about to fall over.

Although you may think doing so will encourage the plant to stand upright, this can cause leaves to stop growing. If you are struggling to find a sunny spot in your home, consider buying artificial sun lamps or switch to plants that can cope in shadier environments.

Make Lots of Room

Just like humans, plants need enough room to breathe and grow in order to be happy and healthy. Re-pot plants to a larger container as soon as they are brought home and as a general rule of thumb, move plants to bigger pots every couple of years.

When doing so, cut any excess roots so they don’t become too tight around the plant and gently move the soil between your fingers to encourage growth in the plant’s new living quarters.

If all else fails, you can always buy a soil analysis kit to ascertain if your soil is too acidic or alkaline.

Read More: Top 4 Reasons Why Your Garden's pH is Out of Whack

Maintain Your Indoor Plants

Trim back any dead leaves or stems to ward off mold and promote healthy new shoots. A bit of maintenance can go a long way and give your plant a new lease of life.

Room temperature should be between 50-85°F, with humidity around 80%, which can be harder to maintain in winter when the air is drier due to heating.

To increase humidity, group several plants together and spray leaves occasionally with water. Keep in mind that your plant may just be dormant for a while.

Depending on the type, you will get to know what is normal for it once you have had it around six months. Have patience that your beloved plant will come back, possibly even bigger and better next year.

Read Next: Why More Growers are Switching to Fabric Pots


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Written by Beth Garner

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Beth Garner is a freelance writer based in the UK where she maintains a small plot of crops in her urban garden.

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