Why do my house plants keep dying?

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Houseplants and herb pots add life and interest to indoor living spaces. After you invest time, money and energy into caring for your indoor garden, it can be frustrating when the plants begin to die off. There are a number of explanations as to why your plants may not survive, including environment, disease or even pests.


Step One

Disease - Untreated plant disease is one cause of houseplant or indoor herb garden death. Powdery or waxy substances on plant leaves are a sign of disease. Other signs of disease in your houseplants and indoor herbs include discoloration, spots, wilting, rotting, fuzzy growth and stunted growth. Different diseases cause different symptoms, but most diseases fall into one of three categories: bacterial, fungal or viral. Examples of plant disease include blight, powdery mildew, damping off and root rot. Once identified, plant diseases may be treated with antibacterial, antifungal or antiviral products. Prevention of disease includes proper watering and moisture conditions, as well as keeping plants properly pruned.


Step Two

Light - Light conditions play a large role in the overall health of houseplants and indoor herbs. Depending on the type of houseplant, at least partial sun or light exposure is necessary to keep the plant growing properly. Herb plants require full sun if possible, but partial sun suffices in certain cases. Lack of proper light or too much light may ultimately kill indoor plants. Symptoms leading up to this fate include stunted growth, failure to flower or fruit, loss of foliage, wilt, yellowing of leaves or burnt leaves (in the case of too much light). Prevent death by improper light by researching your individual plants and their lighting needs. Provide shade for those that need little light, or provide additional light with an ultraviolet lamp for those with too little access to sunlight.


Step Three

Moisture - Improper moisture, most often lack of moisture, is a common cause for death of houseplants. Improper moisture, whether it is too much or too little, causes symptoms such as wilting, leaf spots, discoloration and rotting. Research your individual plants to determine the correct amount of water each needs to receive. Watering too frequently is just as deadly as watering too infrequently for some plants. Furthermore, overly moist soil leads to disease in all plants. A rule of thumb for plants that require lots of water is to keep the soil moist but never soggy or muddy. For plants that prefer less water, allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Insert your finger an inch into the soil for these plants; if the soil feels dry at this depth, it is time to water again.


Step Four

Soil - Soil must be of good quality and nutrient rich to keep plants healthy. Poor soil or a problem in the soil could lead to death of a plant. Symptoms of soil problems, aside from the ultimate death of the plant, include discoloration, spots, stunted growth and loss of foliage. Treat soil with fertilizers before planting your houseplants or herbs by working peat moss, compost or well-rotted manure into the soil. Increase soil's ability to hold in moisture by adding vermiculite to the potting mix. Even the richest soil loses nutrients over time, so fertilize your plants regularly, following the directions on the fertilizer package to prevent death by poor soil.


Step Five

Pests - Garden pests are not limited to outdoor gardens -- pests affect houseplants and indoor herbs just as frequently and severely. Once an infestation of pests becomes too severe, the plants die out. Signs of pest infestations before a plant's death include lesions or spots on the plants, stunted growth, discoloration, scalding of the leaves, waxy residue on the plants, wilting, loss of foliage and holes in foliage. Pests include mites, mealy bugs, nematodes and whiteflies. Prevent pests by inspecting plants regularly and treating problems with insecticides or soaps. Remove infected areas of the plant and separate infested plants from other plants until the infestation is eliminated to avoid spreading the pests to other plants. Prevention of pests and prompt treatment of infestations prevents death in plants due to pests.


Step Six

Container - Indoor plants improperly potted may eventually lead to the death of the plant. Discoloration, loss of foliage, wilt, rot and stunted growth all lead to death of an improperly potted indoor plant. Prevent container problems by researching your individual plants and selecting containers appropriately sized for their stages of growth. As smaller plants grow larger, choose a container slightly larger and repot the plants. Continue upgrading the pot size when the plant fills its current container until the plant has reached its mature size. Choose containers with plenty of drainage to prevent standing water; additional drainage holes may be added to pots using a drill. Choose plastic pots for plants that need to hold in moisture and clay pots for those needing less moisture.


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