What's ailing my houseplant?

It’s hard enough to keep our outdoor plants alive during a Scottsdale summer but when the indoor plants start popping off it can be even more disheartening. When something is wrong with any plant, it pays to examine how you’ve been caring for it. If there is no evidence of pests on the plant, there are several other issues to consider.


Indoor plants often suffer from receiving either too much or not enough water. The symptoms of both problems can be similar, but as a rule of thumb, if the leaves show soft, rotten spots and they aren’t developing properly, you may be overwatering and the plant may have root rot.

If, on the other hand, the leaves have dry, brown edges and the leaves toward the bottom of the plan are curled or yellow, it may need more water or more frequent irrigation.

As long as the plant isn’t a succulent, the soil shouldn’t be allowed to dry out for most houseplants. Aim at keeping the soil moist, not soggy.

To determine when it’s time to water, stick your index finger about an inch into the soil. If it feels dry to the touch, it’s time to water. When you do water, put the plant in the sink or outdoors and slowly pour water over the soil, keeping it off the foliage, until it begins draining from the bottom of the pot. Allow it to drain completely before returning it to its spot in the home.


Even shade-loving plants require some sunlight, but since most houseplants are tropical in nature, try to mimic their natural environment, such as in the understory of a tropical forest. Remember, the amount and intensity of sunlight in your home varies, depending on the season, with the least amount of sun for the shortest period happening in winter.

If your houseplant shows any of the following symptoms, you may need to move it to a spot where it gets more sunlight:

  • Leaves that curl upward
  • The plant is leaning toward the source of light
  • New growth is stunted and perhaps not the same color as older growth
  • Leaves drop from the plant

Aside from moving the plant to a new location, be aware that dust on the foliage may block the light as well, so dust the leaves once a week.


As mentioned earlier, most plants sold to be grown indoors are tropical in nature so they require a moderate amount of moisture in the air. This is especially tough to provide in Scottsdale where we run our air conditioners almost constantly in the summer.

Consider purchasing a small, cool-mist humidifier and placing it close enough to the plant so that it receives moist air but the foliage doesn’t become damp. An alternative to this is to fill a dish with pebbles or colored glass, add water until only the tops of the pebbles remain dry and place the plant on top of the dry spot. The water in the dish will supply humidity to the plant. Don’t allow it sit in water – ensure that the tops of the pebbles remain dry.


If the room is too hot or too cold, your houseplant may respond by dropping leaves. Try to keep the temperature at 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. Also, keep the plants away from furnaces, air conditioning vents and doors that are frequently opened to the outdoors.


The ideal fertilizer for houseplants is one that is balanced, such as a 10-10-10 formula with micronutrients. They don’t require fertilizer in the winter but you should supply them with it monthly during the spring and summer, tapering to bi-monthly during the fall.

Read the label and follow the directions carefully as to the amount of fertilizer to use. Too much or too strong a dose can kill the houseplant.

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