By Andie Wommack, Douglas County Extension
Often of people get houseplants as gifts or buy them to add to their home décor. A couple weeks after they get it home, the plant starts to deteriorate. The leaves start turning colors or, if it’s a blooming houseplant, the blossoms start to die. This is not always cause for alarm. Getting the plant from the store to your home can be stressful, and it could also simply be that the leaves or blossoms have reached the end of their lifespan.
Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants. The instinctive reaction when we see a plant in distress is to water it. As it continues to deteriorate we continue to water it unnecessarily. Too much water takes up all of the pore space in the soil which causes the plants to suffocate. When it comes to houseplants, more is generally not better. Your watering schedule will depend on what kind of plant you have and things like the pot and media it is in, how much sun it is getting, humidity, and temperature. Some plants do not tolerate dry roots so they should be watered when the top layer of soil begins to feel dry. Other plants prefer to dry out slightly between watering so feel the soil below the top layer and water before the soil becomes completely dry or the plant begins to wilt. Water your plants thoroughly, but do not allow them to stand in water.
Generally, homes in Colorado are much less humid than the tropics where many houseplants come from. Providing extra humidity in your home would benefit both your plants and your family. Our heating and cooling systems circulate dry air, sometimes creating an environment with less than 10% humidity. Misting plants can help increase humidity but can also cause foliar diseases. Setting your plants on a humidity tray (a tray filled with gravel and water) is a better solution as long as the bottom of the containers are not sitting in water. Many cacti and succulents have adapted to dry conditions so they are also great candidates for houseplants in Colorado. It is also important to fertilize yourhouseplants every other watering or so. You can use a balanced fertilizer, although some houseplants like orchids or African violets benefit from specialized formulas.
Another reason your houseplant may be struggling is that it needs to be repotted. If you pull your plant out of its pot and there is more than a 50-50 ratio of roots to soil, it needs to be repotted. If there is more than 50% roots in the pot, your plant will dry out quicker which can make it hard to keep up with watering. When choosing a pot for your houseplant it is really important that it had drainage holes. Many decorative pots don’t have drainage holes so you may want to double pot them by having your plant in a plain pot placed inside of a decorative one. Choose a pot that is 1-2” larger than the root ball of your plant. Always use fresh potting mix when you are repotting your plants and bleach pots if you have used them before. Some plants like orchids and cacti need specialized pottingmixes. When you are repotting your plant, trim any dead roots and discard them. Loosen the roots. If the roots are tightly bound, cut the bottom third in a couple of places and gently move the roots apart. Make sure the plant is sitting about an inch below the surface of the pot.
Your houseplant may have a disease or insect problem. Look for visible signs of insects on your plants if you notice them deteriorating. You can see many houseplant insects with your naked eye. If you think you may have an insect problem, reach out to your local Extension office or nursery for help diagnosing your plant and coming up with a treatment plan.
CSU Extension has a wide variety of resources on houseplants and their care. If you cannot find the information you need or have further questions, please reach out to your local Extension office!