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Why Do My Houseplants Keep Dying & How to Break the Cycle

Posted on August 22 2021

Why Do My Houseplants Keep Dying & How to Break the Cycle

You killed your first houseplant, huh? Well, all we can say is: Welcome to the club! While a dead or dying first… second… or third plant may make you feel like a plant parenting failure, it’s actually all too common. You don’t have the accursed gardening “black thumb”! So why do your houseplants keep dying? How can you break the cycle?

Why Do My Houseplants Keep Dying?

Reason #1: Unsuitable Plants

It’s probably fair to say that everyone has purchased a plant based on a whim rather than the environment they have to offer. For instance, you just have to have a String of Pearls because they’re fabulous on Instagram, but do you really have the humidity and light to support its little pearly life? 

The proof is in the pudding: Some plants will die because they hate your house (not you). Sure, you can go out and purchase humidifiers and grow lights, but if you’re a houseplant newbie, your best bet is to buy plants that suit your home!

How can you determine the best location for plants? Become familiar with the natural light that your home has to offer by doing the shadow test! It’s incredible how a few measly feet can make the difference between a plant graveyard and a haven. Read our blog on the topic for step-by-step instructions!

Read up on your prospective plant’s care requirements before purchasing. You’ll notice everything you need on our product descriptions. Don’t have a humidifier? Avoid plants that are labeled “high humidity.”

“Beginner Plants” Based on Light

Looking for some ideas on your next perspective plant? These are suitable for an average household humidity:

Low Light

  • ZZ Plants (including the ‘Raven ZZ’)
  • Sansevieria ‘trifasciata’ (aka the traditional, dark green Snake Plant)
  • Sansevieria ‘cylindrica’
  • Pilea Obtusifolia
Medium Light
  • Philodendron ‘Moonlight’
  • Philodendron ‘Orange Prince’
  • Philodendron ‘Lemon Lime’
  • Philodendron ‘Birkin’
  • Sansevieria ‘Moonshine’

Bright Light

  • Scindapsus ‘Silvery Ann’
  • Ficus elastica (all varieties, including the ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Tineke’)

Reason #2: Mis-watering

Are you an “over-lover” or a “forgetful friend”? Both will eventually cause the demise of your little leafy friend. The most common? Overwatering.

Stopping the Overwatering Habit

If you instinctively water your plant immediately after unpacking it, this section is likely for you! It’s easy to start watering plants because you emotionally feel like they’re thirsty, rather than analyzing the facts (the soil). 

While you should always become familiar with your specific plant variety, many houseplants require the first 1-2 inches of soil to dry out completely before rewatering. Learn to use your index finger as a measuring stick: 

  • 1 inch: First Knuckle
  • 2 inches: Second Knuckle (where your finger actually bends)

That’s how much soil needs to be dry-dry before you rewater! What’s “dry-dry”? Crumbly dirt that’s a neutral temperature. If it’s still cool, that means there’s still moisture!

Don’t stick to a strict watering schedule as part of your housekeeping routine. You may be surprised; it could take a leafy plant 2 weeks or more before it’s thirsty again (longer for Succulents and Cacti)! 

If you need help overcoming your watering fears, you can invest in a moisture meter like this one. As a beginner, simple is better! Avoid meters with fancy digital readouts and exact numbers since these can actually be more confusing than helpful.

Looking for more tips and signs of overwatering? Check out our full article!

Stopping the Underwatering Habit

As a rule, occasionally underwatered plants still have a higher survival rate than those that are overwatered. (Yipee, that’s one perk!) But, if you want your plant to flourish, you need to iron out your routine!

Listen When Your Plant is “Talking”

If you have a leafy variety, you’ve likely seen visual signs that your plant is thirsty. Curled leaves and limp stalks are two examples of chronic underwatering symptoms. Solution? Water your plant. How? Thoroughly. Drench your plant until water pours out the drainage holes for 2 minutes. Resume a healthy watering routine afterward: don’t overcompensate!

Silent Die-ers

Succulents and Cacti are their own breed and often die in silence: they give no outward signs until it’s too late. If you’re a forgetful waterer, set reminders on your phone to check your Succulent or Cacti’s moisture levels regularly. (They also have apps for this!)


For touchable Succulents, gently bending their leaves can also give you a clue. Why? That’s where they store moisture. Floppy “leaves” = thirsty succulent.


Reason #3: Low Humidity

In some plants, a lack of humidity can cause unsightly symptoms that lead you to conclude that you’re a notorious plant killer! For example, the Pilea ‘peperomioides’ (Chinese Money Plant) is commonly labeled “beginner.” Give it proper light, water it perfectly… but if it doesn’t get enough humidity? Your leaves will be tiny, quickly yellow, fall off, and your overall plant seemingly never makes progress. (Pretty depressing, right?)

For plants that need just a little extra oomph, investing in a fine mist spray bottle (like this one) can make a world of difference!


Getting Over Grief

We feel you: you’re still sad and maybe a little scarred over the loss of your first plant! Can you really move on? Yes, you can. Is this your last plant death? Definitely not. So, learn to be resilient now! That’s part of the beauty and challenge of houseplants: figuring out what makes them tick and how to keep them thriving! And in all honesty, plant parenthood takes practice and lots of trial-and-error.

Summary

So, did you find the answer to: “Why do my houseplants keep dying?” It could be your (1) houseplant selection/home environment, (2) watering habits, or (3) low humidity. Do you need assistance in diagnosing a plant that’s barely hanging on? Don’t forget you can reach out to us for help on our social media (@the_exotic_forest). We are here to explain your losses and celebrate your successes! 

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