Why Plants Die – What did I do wrong?

Plants die for several reasons:

1. Drying outPlants Die

Failure to provide in sufficient quantities the water on which life depends will cause leaves to wilt and, eventually, they turn brown and shrivel up. In time the plants will die.

2. Over-watering

This is the greatest plant-killer of all. In winter its effects are rapid. When the roots are drowning they lose efficiency; the leaves droop, and the plant appears to be short of water. If more water is given, however, the plant will soon be dead.

The following signs will help you to tell whether wilting is caused by too much moisture or too little:

  • Thumb pressure on the surface will show if the soil is dry or wet;
  • Dry wilt usually shows browning and shrivelling of leaves;
  • Wet wilt usually causes the leaves to turn yellow and become floppy and limp.

3. Draughts

It is not so much the passage of air which is damaging as the sudden drop in temperature and humidity that accompanies the draught. In nature, plants can withstand wind because it never affects warmth and humidity to the same degree as a draught in a room. Chilly nights

Most plants will stand lower temperatures than is commonly believed, but they cannot endure large changes in temperature.

Take, for example, a plant that spends the day enjoying winter sunshine on the window sill of a heated room. When curtains are drawn at night, the plant is in what can become a frost pocket. It is insulated by the curtains from the warmth that remains in the room and cold from outside penetrates the window glass resulting in icy conditions.

The obvious remedy is to bring plants into the warmest part of the room on cold nights. Tender stems can be given the added protection of several thicknesses of newspaper wrapped around pot and plant.

4. Lack of humidity

The dry atmosphere caused by modern central heating often results in shrivelled leaves and, ultimately, the death of the plant – methods of combating these adverse conditions have already been described.

Give some thought to where you place your plants. Do not put them on the mantelpiece over an open fire, or over a radiator, unless there is a means of deflecting rising heat.

5. Hot sunshinescorched-leaves

Geraniums and a few other indoor plants will not object to full sunlight provided that the pot and soil are not exposed. Most other plants will dry out, suffering scorched leaves and flowers.

6. Lack of light

Continual deep shade will kill almost all plants.

7. Fumes

The fumes given off by gas, coal fires and oil heaters can be toxic in varying degrees. Careful ventilation is the only possible remedy.

When they look sick:

1. Pale spindly growth

In winter this can be the result of the plants being kept too moist or too warm for the light available. The balance is wrong. During growth periods it can be caused by lack of light or by starvation which can be overcome by feeding.

2. Yellowing leaves which drop

This can be caused by draughts, lack of humidity or over-watering.

3. Dry brown leaf tips or margins

Sunburn (scorching), water splashes on leaves; lack of humidity, fumes, over-watering or over-feeding can all cause these symptoms.

4. Dropping flower buds

A change in the position of the plant to one it finds less acceptable; over-watering; lack of humidity, sometimes over-feeding just as the buds are forming.

5. Rotting leaves or stem

This is caused by fungus attack, over-watering in winter, open wounds or water splashes on the leaves.

6. Wilt

The plant may be waterlogged, too dry or too hot and dry. Yellow leaves If they are otherwise healthy then the cause is either an accumulation of lime in the soil or some soil deficiency.

7. Sudden and considerable leaf shedding

Dry roots, large changes in temperature or light levels, fumes and draughts can all be the cause.

8. Poor contrast in colour in variegated foliage

The reason for this is always insufficient light.

9. Poor performance in growth season

It may need re-potting or feeding, or it may be over-watered.

Preventive medicine

Human beings usually thrive in a healthy environment simply because their living conditions are good. They do not suffer such misfortunes as exposure or undernourishment. Even so, they are not immune to attack from viruses and similar enemies. In most cases, the effects are curable, and in many instances prevention is possible.

Your indoor plants are in a similar situation. By now, you know how to maintain the conditions they need to keep them alive and well. A healthy environment is the greatest protection they can have, but they are still vulnerable to attack from insects and fungus. To notice that the shoots of your favourite plant look pale and distorted and immediately act on the assumption that it needs feeding will achieve nothing if the cause is aphids beneath the leaves. There is only one method of identifying attack by pests, and that is to know what the different pests look like and examine the plants regularly for signs of any attack.

Fortunately, there are proprietary products to cover any eventuality. In the main, they are simple, safe and clean to use; many of them are in aerosol form. Each of the remedies produced by a reputable company carries clear, precise instructions for use and, since you are handling potent chemicals, you must follow them carefully. An overdose will have serious effects on the plant.

Fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides are widely available from Garden Centres and Nurseries. To get rid of sap suckers like greenfly, spray the pests with insecticide. Look, too, for systemic insecticides and fungicides which act through the plant’s own system and are comparable to immunization in animals. Systemics are sprayed on the plant which then absorbs them. In the case of such an insecticide, the plant becomes poisonous to its attackers – one bite into the plant and the insect dies. With systemic fungicides also, the plant becomes a hostile host, and the fungal attack fails. Some can even be applied after the disease has taken hold; they still have a curative effect, but it is better to spray beforehand and prevent infection. Systemics are valuable aids; they protect the plant against a hidden insect or patch of mildew that you might otherwise overlook. The application has to be repeated at intervals as the systemic effect diminishes and new growth should also be sprayed.

Although pests attack indoor plants far less frequently than plants growing in the open, the comfortable conditions and the absence of predators result in a fairly quick growth in the severity of an attack when it occurs. Early discovery and treatment are very important. Six insect pests are listed which may attack your indoor plants. Others exist, but it is unlikely that your plants will be affected by them.

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