13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

These 13 common houseplant mistakes are easily avoidable. In fact, as a newbie plant parent there are several common mistakes new plant lovers make. In this article we review some of the most common houseplant mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Since the Covid lockdown, droves of people have hopped on the houseplant band wagon. And for good reason. People were spending significantly more time at home indoors and needed some much added green from the outdoors.

Those new to indoor gardening, may have experienced a few problems along the way. In fact, you may have even lost a plant or two. Even if it was a plant known as a ‘beginner plant’.

Most common houseplant mistakes are completely avoidable. In fact, they can easily be corrected if you act quickly after identifying the problem. Also, certain houseplants will show symptoms earlier than others. Therefore, it is even more important to catch these problems sooner than later.

If you have 1 or 101 house plants, odds are you have made at least one of these mistakes. Let’s review 13 common houseplant mistakes many new plant parents make. By avoiding these common houseplant mistakes, you can ensure healthy and happy growth for your plants.

Overwatering House Plants

Not only is overwatering one of the most common mistakes, but it is also the most damaging. House plants growing in soil with excessive moisture suffer from a lack of oxygen. Thus, leading to irreversible damage to the roots and a loss of vigor in the plant. 

Typically, stunted slow growth with yellowing or brown leaves are symptoms of overwatering. Plants may also wilt. However, the soil remains wet. 

Be sure to check for mold or root rot if you have overwatered your plant. Overwatering houseplants limits the plant’s ability to breathe and plants literally drown. If you notice mushy, brown, slimy roots, the plant likely has root rot. 

Rotting roots are unable to draw up water or nutrients. Resulting in the common symptoms of yellowing leaves or wilting we may see in our houseplants. Some plants, like pothos, display yellow leaves faster than others, giving you an indication of a problem early on. 

Before watering, always check the soil with your finger. If the top layer is still moist, wait another few days. Prevent overwatering your house plants by buying a moisture meter. Indeed, a simple inexpensive tool that I highly recommend. 

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Remember houseplants are far more capable of surviving underwatering than overwatering. Under watered plants will show signs of wilted leaves, dry soil, crispy leaf tips, and slow growth. 

To bring your plant back to life, first slowly begin to water it. Second, give it a good soak and let the water drip out of the bottom of the container. Third, leave it for a few hours, and then check if the soil is dry or moist.

Most house plants need water about once a week. Of course this will vary on the type of plant, its size, age, and your environmental conditions. 

Pots without Drainage Holes

Drainage holes
13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Drainage is king for potted plants. A drainage holes at the bottom of your pot is critical to avoid overwatering. It allows excess water to drain freely so adequate air is available for the roots. Healthy roots mean healthier plants. 

So what do you do when you find a gorgeous pot with no draining? I like to keep my plant in the plastic nursery pot and set it inside the decorative pot. Ensure that after watering your houseplant has drained completely before setting it back in the decorative pot.

Another option is to drill your own drainage holes in the bottom of your pots. In fact these drill bits work great for drilling holes in glass or ceramic, or really anything that would be pretty holding plants.

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Also, make sure not to let water sit in your plant saucer. They are great for protecting floors and other surfaces, but they do need to be emptied after watering. In fact, any leftover moisture will soak into the soil, resulting in waterlogging and possibly, root rot. After about 30 minutes after watering, be sure to empty out any excess water out of the plant saucer.

Additionally, pots with permanently attached saucers may be a challenge to empty. It is much better to use a pot with a detachable saucer. Be sure to empty the excess water as best you can so the soil has an opportunity to dry out.

Waiting Until Houseplants Wilt to Water

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes
13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Do not wait for houseplants to wilt before you decide to water. If leaves wilt from lack of water, it is possible that some of the plant’s roots may have died. Definitely not good for the plant. In fact, some houseplants never fully recover if you let them wilt too long.

Try your best to water your plant before it begins to wilt. Although less damaging than watering too often, waiting too long to water your plants is also a critical mistake to avoid. This is one common mistake I am often guilty of.

Low Light Does Not Mean No Light

A common search online is ‘Low light plants’ or ‘no light plants’. However, low light does not mean no light. Low light plants do exist. Although, most plants typically grow best in brighter light.

Light intensity is measured in units called Lux. Lux is equal to one lumen per square meter. In fact, the minimum requirement for low light plants is around 1000 lux. 

Anything below that can be classified ‘no light’, under which most plants will not survive. They can hold on for a couple of months, with some being more resilient than others, but they will certainly have shorter lifespans.

Harsh Direct Light

Most houseplants come from tropical rainforests where they are used to dappled shade. Be sure not to place your plants in harsh direct sunlight, as it will burn the leaves. In fact, just like humans, intense UV rays can lead to sunburn. Thus, causing unsightly brown spots on the leaves that will never revert back to green.

Some houseplants can handle an hour or two of direct sun and may even grow better in these conditions. However, it can only be the gentle, early morning sun that isn’t too damaging. Scorching, midday, direct sunlight, can cause permanent damage to the leaves.

Using the Wrong Soil for Indoor Plants

Indoor plants and outdoor plants have different requirements. Avoid using any regular garden soil. Therefore, opt for a specialized houseplant potting mix with amendments that allow it to drain well and deliver oxygen to the roots.

Indoors, houseplants get far less sunlight and evaporation is much slower. In these cases, standard potting soil often holds too much moisture, quickly resulting in root rot if not managed carefully.

Regular potting soil is generally designed for outdoor container plants. It drains far better than garden soil and often contains the right ratios of nutrients needed to grow plants. But, it does hold on to quite a lot of moisture to combat the quicker evaporation that occurs in full sun outdoors.

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

What Soil to use for Indoor Plants?

Indoor plants need loose, well-drained soil. Especially if they are placed in an area with indirect light. Perlite is my favorite material for adding drainage and keeping the soil airy and open. A potting soil for indoor plants containing 25% perlite will have excellent drainage and aeration. Thus, helping to promote healthy roots and vibrant growth from your houseplants.

Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix is also great for indoor plants. Designed to be less prone to gnats as it contains no compost or bark. Contains coconut coir, which holds and releases water and helps soil easily re-wet.

Additionally, you can also easily make your own indoor potting soil. First, combine two parts potting soil. Next, add one part perlite and one part coconut coir. Finally, adjust the mixture as needed based on your specific plant.

Can I use Outdoor Soil for Indoor Plants?

No, do not use outdoor soil for indoor plants. First, it’s heavier than potting soil so air can’t travel well. Second, it retains water longer, which can lead to root rot. Third, it lacks vermiculite, perlite, etc. needed for proper drainage.

Repotting Houseplants

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Did you know that repotting your houseplants can be a stressful experience for them? Specifically because their roots are disturbed and they are in a different environment. In fact, it may take them a long time to adjust and some slowed growth. 

Limiting this stress is helpful for long-term growth. Therefore, you should only repot when it is actually necessary.

This is even more important when first bringing a plant home. It can already take a new plant many weeks to adjust to its new environment in your home. Repotting immediately only adds to that stress, making it harder for the plant to acclimatize.

When to Repot Houseplants?

Wait until you notice roots circling around the bottom of the pot or growing through the drainage holes. If roots are coming out of the drainage holes, it is definitely time to repot. Wilting and stunted growth are also signs that your plant may need some additional space. Repot quickly and return your houseplant to its home as soon as you can to limit shock.

How often to Repot plants?

For most houseplants repotting every two to three years is sufficient. Of course this may vary depending on the type of plant, and its growing space.

Choosing the wrong Sized Pot

When repotting houseplants, there are a few common mistakes you need to avoid, from soil choice to watering. However, the mistake that can have the biggest impact on long-term growth is the size of the pot you choose.

Repotting House Plants into Bigger Pots 

Some plant parents think if they repot into a much larger pot it will grow bigger in the long run. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most houseplants. In fact, most houseplants prefer to be slightly rootbound. Often resulting in faster stem and leaf growth rather than root expansion and development. 

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Pot size for Indoor Plant

When repotting a houseplant, choose a pot that is 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) larger than the current size if the plant is currently in a 10 inch (25 cm) pot or smaller. However, If your current pot size is larger than 10 inches (25 cm), choose a pot that is 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) larger in diameter.

When repotting, it’s generally best to choose a pot only one to two sizes up at most. There are, as always, exceptions to the rule, but this practice will be suitable for most tropical houseplants.

Can a Pot be Too Big for a Plant?

When given a pot that is too large, slower-growing houseplants will take much longer to spread into the new spaces. Also, it may slow growth above the soil during this time. Additionally, excess soil can also hold onto too much water as there are no roots to wick it away. Therefore, leading to potential problems with mold growth, rot and root diseases. Furthermore, too large of a pot can make it difficult to keep the soil firmly packed around the plant’s roots.

Over Fertilizing

Many people equate more fertilizer with more growth. However, over fertilizing, can cause burn marks on the foliage of your plant. Always read the instructions, so you do not fertilize too often or too much. In fact, when you over fertilize, additional salts build up in the soil that end up burning the plant rather than improving growth.

Signs of Over Fertilized Plants

  • Crust of fertilizer on the soil surface.
  • Yellowing and wilting of lower leaves.
  • Browning leaf tips and margins.
  • Browned or blackened limp roots.
  • Defoliation.
  • Very slow or no growth.

Regular fertilizing is an important part of your houseplant care routine. However, it needs to be done carefully and sparingly. 

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Fertilizer for indoor plants

Did you know that fertilizer overlooking fertilizer is one of the most common houseplant mistakes? Houseplant fertilizers help feed indoor plants with nutrients needed in order to thrive. In fact, neglecting this key step will fail to replenish the potting soil with minerals that indoor plants require. 

Unlike outdoor plants, they do not have a supply of organic matter. Applying fertilizer as directed helps ensure that your houseplants continue to grow happy and healthy. Also, the best indoor plant fertilizers should contain a balance of minerals to ensure plants have healthy roots and lush foliage.

Fertilizers for houseplants come in multiple forms. For example, they can be liquid, nutrient-rich granules, or slow-releasing spikes or pods. Houseplants should be fertilized in the growing season (spring to summer).

How Often to Fertilize Indoor Plants?

The frequency of houseplant fertilizer really depends upon the product. It can vary from every 2 weeks to once every 3 to 4 months. Always carefully read and follow the printed directions. 

Also, do not fertilize houseplants during the winter months. Most houseplants are not actively growing in winter and do not need fertilization.

Best Fertilizers for Indoor Plants

Miracle Grow Indoor Plant Food is an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer. This balanced fertilizer has an even N-P-K ratio of 1-1-1. Additionally, it has a handy pump applicator. Therefore, making it easy to feed plants directly from the bottle or accurately measure fertilizer to dilute with water to hydrate all types of houseplants.

This all-purpose fertilizer is also suitable if you grow edible plants indoors. The manufacturer recommends feeding plants weekly with this plant food.

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Espoma Company Organic Indoor Plant Food is a liquid organic houseplant fertilizer that is easy to mix and use. An all-purpose plant feed that has an N-P-K ratio of 2-2-2. Thus, suitable for any type of indoor plant. Made from poultry manure, kelp extract, fish protein, and bone meal.

This liquid houseplant fertilizer has micro-nutrients added to help keep your plants healthy. Additionally, beneficial microbes keep soil healthy and fertile. The handy measuring cap helps reduce the risk of over-fertilizing houseplants.

Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food is a granular, slow-release plant fertilizer that keeps your plants fed for up to six months. An N-P-K ratio of 20-20-20, contains copper, boron, iron, manganese, and zinc. Additionally, granules are coated with resin to release nutrients gradually when you water the plant.

To use this granular houseplant fertilizer, work in the granules to the top 3-inch (7.5 cm) layer of potting soil. The manufacturers have a “no burn” guarantee if you use the fertilizer correctly.

Aquatic Arts Indoor Plant Fertilizer is a liquid fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio. 1 teaspoon for every 2 cups of water includes nitrogen, phosphorus and other vitamins to boost root and growth. In fact, over 4,000 4.5 star ratings on Amazon.

Clean Plant Leaves

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Unfortunately, most houseplants do not receive natural rainfall to remove dirt and dust from their leaves. The dust build-up not only makes glossy leaves look dull, but it restricts the absorption of sunlight and photosynthesis. Therefore, causing slow or stunted growth in your houseplants. 

In fact, photosynthesis is the process plants use to make their own ‘food’ for growth. Using water, carbon dioxide and sunlight to fuel the process, plants are able to grow and sustain themselves. 

Clean Indoor Plant Leaves 

Houseplants can be gently wiped down with a soft, damp cloth every few weeks. Doing this will keep your plants breathing and prevent pests.

Houseplants are not one-size-fits-all

Another common houseplant mistake is neglecting your plant’s specific needs. In fact, not all houseplant care is the same. Some may be more difficult to care for than others. Additionally, some have certain requirements that set them apart from others.

For example, variegated plants need brighter light than their non-variegated versions. This is key to maintaining their color and growth. 

When you buy a plant be sure to check the label. Then, do your research on that exact species to properly meet its needs. While most don’t differ from standard houseplant care, many do. And missing that can end up being a big mistake.

There is no such thing as having a ‘green thumb’. If you find yourself killing plants regularly, it is probably because you have not researched what the plant needs. For example, type of soil, mineral intake, sunlight and water intake. Indeed it is a learning process. 

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

Fussing Over Your Plants 

An excessive display of anxious attention or activity; needless or useless bustle. Does this sound like you? Are you a helicopter plant parent fussing over your house plants too much? Indeed well intended, but fussing too much typically causes more problems than it solves.

Overwatering, stresses from changing environments and over fertilization, are caused by fussing too much. Of course, if a problem presents itself, it is best to make necessary changes in care. Also, be sure to give it time to recover before trying more solutions.

Houseplants are typically happier with more neglect than too much attention. In fact, they are a lot more resilient than most people give them credit for. So avoid killing them with kindness.

In Closing

Growing houseplants is a journey. In fact, anyone can learn how to take care of plants. It may just be a matter of trial and error at first. Now that you know the 13 most common houseplant mistakes, you can start to avoid them. 

Fortunately, the good news is that many of them can be remedied if you identify the problem and move fast. Overall, proper care and maintenance is important, so just watch out for signs of distress. You will soon be on your way to growing happy, healthy houseplants.

13 Common Houseplant Mistakes

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