How to kill your houseplants

GROWINGAGREENERWORLD.COMFebruary 20, 2014 

MCT

Killing your houseplants is easier than you think. In fact, most of the time we do that and don't even mean to. No doubt you've heard the term, loving something to death. Well, sometimes we do that with our own plants, especially the ones inside.

OVERWATER IT

If you really want to kill your plants quickly, water them a lot. It's the No. 1 contributor to houseplant death. Far more plants die from overwatering than under-watering, both indoors and out. However, if you'd like to prolong their life, water less. Stick your finger into the soil. If it's damp hold off on the watering until the soil is dry.

KEEP IT AWAY FROM LIGHT

The most important criteria for determining if a plant is suitable for surviving indoors is its ability to survive in low light environments. Although some houseplants can survive on just artificial light, they are the exception. Even those benefit from natural light. Whatever you do, deny your plants any exposure to natural life-giving light. Above all, keep them away from south-facing windows. That's their favorite exposure! And for good measure, never rotate the plants periodically so all sides benefit from direct, natural sunlight.

PLACE THEM NEXT TO A HEAT VENT

Heaters and air conditioners also act as dehumidifiers, making average humidity levels well below the 40-percent to 60-percent humidity plants prefer. So just park them in the direct path of an air vent, especially hot air. No wonder people that actually want to help their houseplants increase the moisture around their plants by placing them on top of pebbles in a shallow tray. The water-filled tray is as an effective way to provide additional humidity.

BE SURE TO OVER-FERTILIZE IT

It's like turning houseplants into junk food junkies. No long-term nutritional value here - just lots of artificial stimulants. Eventually something has to give. Forcing plants to grow with artificial stimulants under lower light environments places unnatural stresses on the plant and can disrupt a plant's natural cycles and rhythms and deplete reserves. Perfect! Yet houseplant lovers know that plants growing indoors typically don't photosynthesize at the same rates as outdoor plants in a higher light environment, so supplemental nutrient needs are therefore less.

ALLOW PLANTS TO BECOME POT BOUND

Just because that plant you've had since college is still looking good above ground, don't assume all is well below. Eventually roots can become so intertwined within the confined space of a container; water, nutrients and even oxygen can have a tough time getting through. Whatever you do, don't change out the pot now. You're on a sure path to self-destruction. Compare that to someone trying to prolong the plant's life. Once a year or so, they'll actually lift the plant out of the container and check the roots. If tightly wound in a circular pattern, the owners will loosen the roots to break up the pattern. Then, they repot the plant into a larger container and replace with fresh potting soil too.

IGNORE PEST PROBLEMS

Many insects hitchhike into your house undetected under the protective cover of beautiful foliage. In fact, houseplants can be the perfect host for many pests since they aren't exposed to natural beneficial insects and other predators that would otherwise keep populations in check. Do nothing. Left unchecked, pests will continue to parasitize your plant by eating the leaves or sucking the life out of it. Just keep your plants away from water sprays or a mild soapy water solution. Common houseplant pests such as aphids, mealy bugs, white flies and others hate that. Stiff water sprays will blast them right off the leaves, and the soapy water will surely dry them out to the point they can't survive.

These time-tested methods to bring houseplants to an early demise have been proven time and again. However, if you find that houseplants are something you'd like to keep around a bit longer, most demand very little to keep them looking their best. With just minimal care, they can provide years of enjoyment and add beauty to any indoor environment.

Joe Lamp'l is the host and executive producer of Growing a Greener World on PBS.

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