Plant Care Check Points

Once you look after house plants for a while, you get a sense of what might be wrong and how to correct it. By following a few rules and taking time to inspect your plants on a regular basis, many potential disasters can be avoided. Try to develop a routine for examining your plants when you water them. It will only take a couple of minutes but will repay you with attractive plants that can last for years.

Before you start

  • Always note the name of a plant when you buy it. That way, you can find out its likes and dislikes.
  • Always get a new plant home as quickly as you can in cold weather. Never leave a plant in a hot car.
  • Always act quickly if you see a problem. It may mean the difference between restoring a house plant to health and beauty, or losing it.

Settling in

Often a new plant takes time to settle in, and may drop a few leaves, but if it seems to go downhill from the moment you get it home, double check light, heat and watering. Some symptoms may have several, or even opposite, causes. For example, Fuchsia leaves will fall off if the plant is over- or under-watered. A second symptom often helps you decide what the exact problem is.

cold damageProblems with leaves

Wilting leaves usually mean underwatering, but may mean waterlogged potting mixture. With thin-leaved plants, it could be too much heat and light, and not enough humidity. Check, too, for root rot and pests such as eelworm and vine weevil.

  • Curling leaves which fall prematurely may mean draughts, not enough heat or overwatering. Pests called leaf rollers may be the cause.
  • Loss of variegation may mean poor light, but plants tend to ‘revert’ to their all-green form, unless all-green shoots are cut off.
  • Lower leaves turning yellow and dropping is natural with some plants, especially if old or recently repotted. If several leaves turn yellow and fall, it may be overwatering, too cold or draughty.
  • Leaves turning yellow is caused by lime in the potting mixture of lime-hating plants, or hard water.
  • Brown leaf tips and edges may mean dry air or under-watering, or possibly bruising by passers by.
  • Holes, tears and notched edges are usually caused by chewing insects: caterpillars, weevils or earwigs.
  • Blotches or spots have many causes: water splashed on leaves, pests, diseases, too much sunlight, overwatering, or watering with very cold water.
  • Sudden loss of all leaves is usually due to a severe drought, major change in the temperature, cold draught or sudden increase in light.

Problems with growthwilting leaves

  • Lack of growth may be due to the time of year— most plants slow down in winter or to the plant itself – many Cacti are slow growing naturally. Otherwise, it could be lack of food, light, heat or over-watering, or the plant may be in need of repotting.
  • Stunted growth may be caused by root pests and diseases, such as virus, or sap-sucking insects, such as red spider mite, aphids or scale insects.
  • Tall, spindly growth is almost always due to lack of light. Overfeeding a plant in winter is a common cause.
  • One-sided growth is due to light coming from one direction only. Regularly quarter-turning plants on a windowsill corrects this.
  • Complete collapse may be due to overwatering, which causes root and stem rot; underwatering; a sudden chill; or root pests or diseases.

How to maintain humidity

The air in a centrally-heated home is usually too dry for sensitive plants, and species needing high humidity can die without regular mist-spraying or a moist pebble tray.

Take a pot a few sizes larger than the plant pot and line it with moistened peat. Bed pot in it and keep peat moist. Create a micro climate for moisture-loving Plants by grouping them together. The air around them will retain humidity. Spray them daily in warm summer weather. Many plants like to be mist-sprayed. Lukewarm rainwater or distilled water is best.

Flower problems

No flowers

  • Is the plant meant to flower? Ferns never flower; some plants, such as Croton, never flower in the home.
  • Is the plant mature? Bird of Paradise takes a few years to reach flowering size.
  • Is it the right time of year?
  • African Violet flowers all year, but Jasmine flowers only once a year.
  • Is there enough light?
  • Too little light prevents Cacti and Pelargoniums flowering.
  • Are you over-feeding? Many bulbs and Pelargoniums flower better when hungry.
  • Are you under-feeding? Medinella and Begonia need heavy feeding to flower.
  • Does the plant need to be potbound?
  • Wax Plant and Olivia flower better when pot-bound.
  • Is it too old? Young plants of Busy Lizzie flower better than old ones.
  • Is the plant infested?
  • Thrips destroy or damage Begonias, Cyclamen and Fuchsias.

Flowers fade too quickly

  • Are the flowers meant to last?chimines have naturally short-lived flowers, but Chrysanthemum should go on for weeks.
  • Many of the serious effects of over- or under-watering can be forestalled by a modest investment in a moisture meter.
  • Is the air too dry? Azalea, Cyclamen and Calamondin Orange flowers fade and drop in dry air.
  • Is it too hot? Polyanthus, Hyacinth and Cineraria need cool temperatures.
  • Is it too cold? Lantana and Chenille Plant need high temperatures.
  • Is the potting mixture too dry? Italian Bell Flower, Azalea and Paper Flower need a steady supply of water.

Buds drop off

  • Were the buds showing colour when you bought the plant?ll-green Chrysanthemum buds often flail to open.
  • Is the air too dry? See above. Madagascar Jasmine and Cyclamen need moist air for buds to open.
  • Is it too hot? See above.
  • Is it too cold? See above. Oleander buds need warmth to open.
  • Is the potting mixture too dry?
  • Was watering erratic? This causes Hyacinth to drop buds.
  • Is the potting mixture too wet? Fuchsias drop buds it too dry or wet! Is there enough light?
  • Did you move the pot? Christmas Cactus drops buds if moved.
  • Was there a dramatic temperature change? Few buds can tolerate this.
  • Is it infested? See above.
  • Is it in a draught? Gloxinia buds can’t stand draughts.

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