How to Nurse a Houseplant Back to Health
When a houseplant—which was thriving just a few days ago—takes a turn for the worse, even the most seasoned plant parent begins to worry. If this has recently happened to you, don't fret; most varieties can be revived after a quick round of troubleshooting. Ahead, an expert shares her best tips for diagnosing the problem, which will help you nurse your favorite piece of greenery back to health in no time.
Diagnosing the Problem
The first step towards bringing your plant back from the edge is determining the issue, says Jenna Fowler, the owner and creative director of Vagabond Botanical. "Light, water, and pests, in that order, are typically the top reasons why your houseplant isn't thriving," she explains. "All plants need are light and water to survive, and each one requires different amounts to make it happy." If you know what type of plant you're dealing with, Fowler suggests doing a quick search to make sure you're currently meeting its basic light and hydration needs.
If you have discovered that your sun-loving plant has been placed in the dark, you're looking at an easy fix. But if you're unsure exactly which type of sunshine your plant needs, Fowler says to begin with some lighting basics. "South and west facing windows provide the best light for most houseplants," she explains. "East windows are good for ferns, monsteras, and ZZ plants, as they can tolerate less sunshine." North windows, on the other hand do not let in much light at all and are suitable for snake plants or pothos. Fowler advises against placing your indoor houseplant in direct sun—it could become sunburned, resulting in fried brown leaves. You might also want to double check your thermostat. "Most houseplants are tropical and prefer the temperature to be around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit," she says.
Too Much (or Too Little) Water
In the wild, most plants take their moisture from the ground, which is why Fowler says she prefers to bottom water her varieties. To do so, fill a shallow bowl or saucer with water and then set the pot into the dish; watch how much it absorbs. "This is the closest to how they would drink in their natural habitat and provides a good visual on how much the plant actually needs during each watering," she says, adding that if you want to measure the exact level, you can always pick up a water meter. "These are helpful when you are trying to figure out your plant's needs."
Plants are typically sold in a plastic grow pot, placed within a ceramic vessel. "This is the best way to home your houseplant. All pots need drain holes—don't let anyone tell you differently," she says. "Keeping the plants in their grow pot ensures water can drain out and air can reach the lower soil. It's also a failsafe when you need to nurse your plant back to health, making it easier to move."
Plants get pests—it's the human equivalent of catching a cold. "It's natural, but it's important to inspect your plant for bugs each time you water," Fowler says. "Wiping the leaves down is also good habit to get into. Be sure to check the back side of the leaves and where the branches meet the trunk, as these are places pests like to hide." The most common pests are mealey bugs, which look like tiny wet dots; they cause droopy leaves, very little new growth, or a white dusty residue on the leaves. "If you spot this pest, you can use a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol to wipe it away," notes Fowler. You can also apply a neem oil spray once per month as a preventive measure.