5 Surefire Ways to Kill a Houseplant

A little corrective action can prevent your home from becoming a plant graveyard. (Photo: Sascha Burkard/Shutterstock).

You bought that houseplant because it would add a lush, tropical feel to your home. Now look at it! The poor, scraggly thing looks half dead. Soon, no doubt, it will be completely gone.

You're doing it again — killing another houseplant. What are you doing wrong?

Becky Brinkman, manager of the Fuqua Orchid Center at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, may have the answer. She says there are five guaranteed ways to kill a houseplant.

1. Water your plant according to a schedule that suits you instead of when the plant needs it.

A good grower learns to recognize the change in the color of the potting as it dries out. The top inch goes from dark brown to medium tan. Check the color of the mix at least every other day.

2. Put your plant where it looks nice instead of near the correct light source.

Don’t underestimate how much light intensity plants need to grow well. An eastern exposure unobstructed by trees or curtains works well for most houseplants, including those that need low light. Plants that need full sun do best with a western exposure.

3. Choose a poor potting mix.

Not all mixes are created equally. A good houseplant mix has a high percent of peat moss. When you buy a mix to repot your plants, choose one that is light and fluffy, not dense and heavy. Check the label. It should have a low percent of composted pine bark.

4. Never repot it.

Peat moss breaks down after about two to three years. As it decomposes, it starts to retain too much moisture and not enough oxygen. The combination can rot and/or suffocate the roots. In addition, over time, the mix becomes increasingly acidic and nutrients become unavailable to the plant. The result is stunted yellow growth.

5. Never fertilize it.

An actively growing healthy plant needs food. How many meals in a row would you like to miss? Many houseplants (orchids and African violets are an exception) are fairly heavy feeders. If your plant needs water twice a week, the fourth watering could include a dose of fertilizer at 1/2 strength.

Are you guilty of one or more of these houseplant offenses? If so, now’s the time to take corrective action.

If it’s too late for some of the plants you already have, use the guide above to care for future purchases. Get off on the right foot by choosing plants with light needs that match the location where they'll sit in your home. Labels will tell you if the plant needs low, medium or high light.

Once you have the right plant in the right spot, your home will no longer be a dreaded plant graveyard. Instead, you’ll be able to enjoy that lush, tropical look you wanted all along.