Indoor Houseplants – Common problems and cures

Houseplants add beauty to a room. They also have air-purifying properties that are beneficial to homes and offices.

With proper lighting, watering and fertilizer your plants will stay healthy. If you keep your plants clean and observe their appearance you will notice if there seems to be a problem with your houseplants.

Here is a list of some of the more obvious problems you may notice with your plants. If you correct these problems quickly you plants will not suffer. If left unattended, you plants will become unhealthy and die. Unhealthy plants will also spread disease to your other plants.

Scale – Scale will show up as tiny white or brown shells on leaves, stems or both. They can be hard to see at first. Remove the insects by using a strong water spray, tweezers, a toothpick, or a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. Take extra care not to get alcohol on the plant itself:  this could burn and injure the tissue. Wash the plant with a solution of 2 teaspoons liquid dishwashing soap to one gallon of water.

Mealybugs – Mealybugs leave a sticky honeydew on leaves and the waxy white insects will be on the on undersides of the leaves.  Use the same procedure as above to get rid of the problem.

Root Mealybugs – Plants will lose their vigor and the roots and soil will be covered with white, waxy powder. This is more common on cacti and other succulents, African violets, ferns and fuchsia plants.  To cure the problem, wash the roots thoroughly and repot the plant in fresh soil and a clean pot. In severe cases, discard the plant and sterilize the pot before you use it again.

Spider mites – Will be barely visible dots moving slowly on the undersides of leaves. You may also notice a fine webbing more visible when you hold the plant up to light. Spray the plant with water to dislodge the mites and wash ash the plant with soapy water like you would for a  scale problem.

Whiteflies – You will notice clouds of tiny white flies around the plant and sometimes there will be a sticky honey-dew on upper leaf surfaces. Spray the plant with water to dislodge mites. Wash the plant thoroughly with soapy water and a soft brush.

Reduced growth – If you notice that the leaves are small and yellow this could be a Nitrogen deficiency. Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer and consult a houseplant book for specific guidelines.

Wilting foliage with possibly some of the stems wilting and leaves that are yellow and falling could be an over watering problem or poor drainage. Also look for roots that are peeling or disintegrating. This is a sure sign the soil is too wet. Cut back on water and you may consider putting a fan on low to help dry the soil, particularly the roots. Replant in a better-draining potting mix, and make sure the pot has drainage holes.

I put my plants on small dishes or trays with pebbles to help keep excess water away from the roots and to give the plants more humid air around them. This is beneficial especially in the winter months when the air becomes dry.

Poor growth and wilting leaves means the plants are not getting enough water. Water more frequently and consult a houseplant book for your plant’s specific requirements. You can also improve the moisture retention of the soil by adding compost or commercial water-retention granules.

There are two other ways to notice any plants problems. One is to rotate the plant in the window or rooms ¼ turn every week. This keeps the plants growing tall and not leaning towards the brightest light source. Also clean you plants. Plants do accumulate dust and keeping their leaves clean aids in the plant being able to absorb air and will let you see any insect infestation quickly.

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7 responses to “Indoor Houseplants – Common problems and cures”

  1. admin

    Using rubbing alcohol for treating scale, mealybugs and spider mites works wonders for me… but you do need to make sure you don’t get the alcohol on the plant tissue. Denise

  2. Gaetane Ross

    I really want to grow plants in my house, it makes such a difference on the look of a room, your advice will be very useful to me, thank you.
    Keep it coming.

  3. Rena

    Thanks Densie,
    For answering questions I’ve always had about house plants.
    This is one area that I needed help. I found it on your site.
    Much needed info!

  4. Diana

    Very interesting, I didn’t know that their were that many insects that could attack my indoor plants.

  5. Julie

    Don’t you hate bugs?! THanks for the great tips, much better than using the toxic sprays!!


  6. Nick Prapas

    I haven’t thought of adding plants indoor until now. I guess i have to start thinking of it. thanks for the useful tips,


  7. admin

    I find plants to be relaxing and add a great feel of peace to any room. I hope the tips help, Denise

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