Identifying Plant Problems

Identifying Plant Problems

Oftentimes, our plants start to look sad and we are not able to figure out why. It could be from too much light or too much water, too little light or too little water, too much fertilizer or no fertilizer at all. Here we will discuss what to look for when your plants are struggling so you can diagnose and change whatever needs to be done to get your plant back on the right, happy track. 


Signs: Soft, wilted, or curled leaves can be a sign of underwatering. If you notice the plant is drooping and the soil is visibly dry then it is time to water. If the soil is hard as a rock and shrinking away from the pot, it is under watered.

Treatment: When a plant is severely under watered it has become hydrophobic, meaning the soil will not absorb any water. To fix this, the plant needs to be bottom watered, possibly for many hours, until the top of the soil is wet. Some leaves may have died from the plant not getting enough water but simply trim those off and remember to water your plant as much as it needs, depending on the care guides.

Prevention: Make a watering schedule, put it on your calendar once a week to check your plants to see when they need to be watered. Moisture meters are also an option but less reliable than your hands.  


Signs: Yellowing, browning, and soggy leaves is most likely a sign of overwatering. Squishy stems that have a really terrible smell can indicate root rot is the problem. If you are repotting your plants and notice the roots are black and mushy, they have root rot and should be cut off. In the photo below, you can see the soggy leaves sticking to the pot and the stems blackening. 

Treatment: Depending on the severity of the problem, you may just have to let the plant dry out completely before watering it again. If the soil is severely waterlogged, it is best to take the plant out of the pot, wrap a towel around the roots and soil, and let it soak up as much water as possible. Trim off any mushy and brown roots and remove as much soil as possible. After you have done that, let the plant sit out of its pot for a few days so it can dry. Some plants may not recover from overwatering.

Prevention: To avoid over watering your plant, make sure the soil is dried out as much as that particular plant wants. Be sure to follow the care guides, as many plants require more or less water than others. Make sure your pots have drainage holes that allow any excess water to drain out before putting it back into a decorative pot. Empty saucers below your plants after watering. Always be aware that the amount of light your plant is getting will affect how frequently it needs to be watered.

Not Enough Light

Signs: Leaf drop is the number one sign of lack of light for plants. Yellowing, pale, and smaller leaves, plants growing very leggy and producing less variegation are also warnings that your plant is not getting enough sun. In the photo below, the stock on the left has lost a significant amount of leaves and now looks leggy. This is because lack of light. 


Treatment: Gradually move your plant into the appropriate amount of sunlight it needs. Going from a low light spot to bright light will cause shock so make sure to slowly move it to a brighter spot. You can prune leaves that do not look good due to lack of light. 

Prevention: Keep your plants in the appropriate light for their needs. Although some plants tolerate low light, they will most likely not thrive but only survive. 

Too Much Sunlight

Signs: Just like humans, plants get sunburnt, too. If your plant is getting too much sunlight it will most likely get brown, crispy patched on the leaves. They will dry out much faster than other plants but still look wilted constantly. Some plants develop squishy spots, like they have been cooked. The photo below shows significant sunburn on a Monstera leaf.

Treatment: The simplest way to treat an overly exposed plant is to move it into a lower light spot. Some leaves may have burns on them but if the leaf is still green, it is still able to photosynthesis and give energy to the plant. You can trim off the burnt part if the appearance bothers you but keep in mind that browning at the edge will develop. 

Prevention: Know your plants in lighting that suits their needs. If you are getting too much sunlight throughout the day and have no other place for your plants, you can try a sheer curtain that will cause the light to become filtered. Or you can swap out your plants for ones that require direct sunlight. 

Not Fertilizing

Signs: Small, pale leaves, and slower growth during the growing season can indicate you are not fertilizing or not using enough. 

Treatment: You will have to research how often your specific plant wants to be fed in the growing season. Once you figure that out, find a fertilizer that you trust and feed your plant whenever it needs to be. Could range from once a week to once a month. 

Prevention: Just as watering should be a part of your routine, so should fertilizing during the growing season. Make sure to fertilize at least once a month. 

Too Much Fertilizing

Signs: Fertilizer Burn shows up on the leaves as brown, crispy leaves. That can also be a sign of other plant problems so be sure to rule those out, unless you know you have been overfertilizing your plant. Other symptoms are yellowing or browning leaves, blackened roots, leaf drop, and slow growth. 

Treatment: Remove any of the affected leaves. Flushing the soil will be the best option for clearing out all the fertilizer. Run water through the soil for several minutes, allow it to drain, and repeat 2-3 more times. Avoid fertilizing for a month or two after that. 

Prevention: Being aware of how much fertilizer to give your plant at a time is important. Do not overload the plant with fertilizer in hopes that it will start to grow very fast. Make sure to follow instructions on the fertilizer bottle or packet. Dilute if recommended and only fertilize during the growing season.
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