Understanding Plant Death: The Most Common Reasons Houseplants Fail

Understanding Plant Death: The Most Common Reasons Houseplants Fail

Last Updated on September 28, 2021 by Kimberly Crawford

They may look gorgeous and healthy in the store, but once they are brought home, things may go downhill fast. Here are the most common causes of houseplant death.

It’s always disappointing when a houseplant dies, but most of the causes are easily preventable. Here’s how!

RelatedWhy Do Your Plants Die And How To Avoid It?

7 common reasons your houseplants die and how to save them

1. Overwatering


By far, this is the most common reason houseplants die. While all plants need water to live and thrive, the level needed varies. For example, cacti and succulents (such as the Jade Plant) require much less water than a Baby Tears.

Too much water forces oxygen out of the soil, literally smothering the roots and causing them to rot. Overwatered plants are limp, yellowing, and usually have soft, mushy stems. If rot has set in an unpleasant odor may be present. Preventing overwatering is not difficult.

First, it’s important to know as much as possible about each plant and what its specific needs are.

Second, always check the soil before watering. The first inch or so of the soil should be dry before additional watering is done. To check, a finger, pencil, or moisture meter can be used. The meters can be found at most garden centers, nurseries and box stores for $5 or less, and when inserted in the soil will show whether the soil is wet, moist, or dry. Moist is the one to shoot for.

Finally, make sure plants are in containers with good drainage.

2. Underwatering


This is the second most common reason houseplants die. Plants cannot absorb oxygen and nutrients from dry soil.

Underwatered plants are dry, brown, and crispy. Some may drop leaves, others will simply have shriveled up and have brittle leaves and stems. Prevention is the same as for overwatering.

3. Too Much Light

too much light houseplants

While all plants need light to make the food they need to thrive, too much light is actually a bad thing. Plants, like people can get sunburned!

Signs of too much sun are faded leaves, yellowish white spots, and wilting. To prevent, make sure plants get bright indirect light only. This is easily accomplished by placing them where they will get sunlight filtered by a curtain.

4. Too Little Light

low light houseplant

This is as much of a problem as too much light. Without proper light, photosynthesis does not occur and plant growth suffers.

Signs of light starvation include sluggish growth, unusually small and pale leaves, and limp stems. To prevent make sure even plants marked low light get several hours of bright, indirect light or partial shade every day.

5. Dry Air

dry air kill houseplants

Dry Air is an enemy of most houseplants. Foliage suffers in dry conditions, resulting in dried out tips and brown, curled up edges, and insect infestation is encouraged.

Spider Mites love hot, dry air. To prevent, use a humidifier if possible. Other solutions include displaying plants in groups, regular misting, and humidity trays.

6. Drafts and Cold Air

frosted rose plant

This is another enemy of houseplants. Never place houseplants near air conditioners, drafty areas, or in a direct line between a door and a window.

Another killer people don’t realize is windowsills. Plants love a sunny windowsill, especially in winter, but at night temps there can drop quite low. Never place a houseplant between a curtain and a window on cold nights-it can get so cold there that frostbite can occur!

7. Infestations/Infections

Signs of Common Houseplant Diseases

These sort of problems often come home with the plant, especially those a kind hearted gardener decided to rescue from a bargain bin or clearance shelf.

Remember, most plants are there because something is wrong! Get in the habit of checking plants over carefully before purchase.

Don’t be afraid to sniff the soil, look under the leaves, and tip the pot over to check for roots poking out of the drainage holes. Buy only the healthiest, freshest houseplants!

Houseplant failure can be disappointing, but by following the tips above the chances of it happening at all can be greatly reduced!

why houseplant death

Understanding why houseplant death: the most common reasons houseplants fail
Understanding Plant Death: The Most Common Reasons Houseplants Fail