Help! Why are My Houseplants Dying?

Kimberly Bean
Kimberly Bean
Published on March 7, 2017

It’s hard enough to keep outdoor plants alive during hot summer and cold winters, but when indoor plants start suffering, it can be even more alarming. When symptoms arise, the first thing to do is check for evidence of a pest infestation. If that’s not the problem, it’s time to look at how you’ve been caring for the plant.

Plants’ needs vary, and it can be challenging to find the right balance of moisture in the soil, sunlight to shade, and optimal temperatures. Most plants sold to be grown indoors hail from the tropics, more specifically, tropical rainforests. If you can recreate those conditions, you should be one step closer to giving your houseplants a healthy environment.


The symptoms of under- and overwatering can be similar, but generally, if the leaves seem soft with spots that look rotten, and the leaves aren’t developing as they should, the culprit may be too much water.

If the plant isn’t getting enough water, the foliage will appear dry, with brown edges. The leaves on the lower part of the plant could be yellow or curled. You can help the plant by watering more often.

Only a few houseplants – succulents are an exception – can tolerate dry soil. You also don’t want the roots to sit in soggy soil, so try to keep the soil wet enough that it is similar to a well-wrung sponge.

Not sure when to water? Stick your finger into the soil about an inch deep. If it feels dry, slowly water the plant until water drains from the bottom of the pot. Or, place the pot in a container, and add water to the container until it reaches halfway up the outside of the pot. The soil will suck water from the container. When the top of the soil is wet, take the pot out of the water and allow it to drain completely before placing it back on its saucer.


Even shade-loving plants need a bit of sunlight now and then. Like the understory in a rainforest, houseplants thrive in dappled sunlight. Others, though, may require more sun. If any of your houseplants have these symptoms, move them to a place where they will get more indirect sunlight:

  • Foliage that curls upward
  • The plant is stretching toward the light source
  • New growth is unusually small
  • Leaves fall off the plant

Before you move the plant, check its leaves for dust. Even a little dust can block sunlight, so first dust the leaves before moving the plant.


The air in the tropics is heavy with moisture. Many houseplants, like the Boston fern and African violet, thrive in the humidity. Unfortunately, the air inside out homes tends to dry out when we run the heat in the winter and the A/C in the summer.

If the buds on your African violet don’t open, lack of humidity could be the cause. Other symptoms include darkened edges on the leaves, dry and shriveled leaves, and slow growth.

The best solution is to set a cool-mist humidifier close to the plant. Set it close enough that the plant benefits from the moist air but the foliage doesn’t get too wet. Double potting the plants can help, too. To do this, pick a second pot that is slightly wider than the one your plant is in, and place the potted plant inside. Fill the empty spaces between the pots with peat moss. Keep the moss moist, and it will give the plant a moderate amount of humidity.


If your plant drops its leaves, it might be telling you that it doesn’t like the temperature of the room. The best temperature for most houseplants is between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t place plants near draft sources like doorways, furnaces, and air conditioning vents.


Experts say you should feed your houseplants each month while they are actively growing and withhold fertilizer in the winter. A plant that needs nutrients will show the same symptoms as some of the other problems mentioned here, so if making other changes doesn’t help the plant, consider how much and how often you fertilize it. Nutritional deficiency can be dignified by dropping lower leaves, weak growth, or a pale or yellow-green color. If the leaves are burned, the plant may be getting too much fertilizer or the fertilizer isn’t diluted properly. Organic fertilizers will help you avoid the burn — as long as you don’t use too much. Follow the label directions carefully.

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