Plant Health Care

As I mentioned in a previous post, I quickly learned how to identify plant health care issues with indoor plants, and I thought I’d share some of my insights here. I’m not an expert on plant diseases, or how to identify different types of plant pests, but I can quickly identify signs and symptoms of over-watering, too much light, too little light, etc. The best indoor plants can be killed by these common mistakes. Some of these symptoms may also be symptoms of diseases, so if the steps that I recommend for plant care don’t help, you may want to consult with a nursery for more help.

Plant Health Care – Too Much Water

Plant Health Care - Aqua Globes

Figure 2: Aqua Globes help balance watering

When a plant has too much water, the tips or edges of the leaves may turn brown. Often the soil will smell kind of like sour milk and will get a brown crust across the top. At times the little white pieces in the soil turn kind of a muddy brown. If the base of the plant is a sickly brown right above the soil, that is an indication that the plant is rotting from too much water and you may not be able to save it. African Violets and Succulent plants are 2 varieties of plants that you should especially keep an eye out for these signs. It is very common for them to be over watered and get root rot.

If you notice these conditions stop watering your plant until the soil feels dry to touch when you stick a finger down into the soil 1 inch (2.5 cm). If the plant pot is sitting over (or in) water, remove the water while you let the plant dry. After the plant has dried out sufficiently, water it and then let it dry out again between future waterings. If the plant pot does not have drainage holes, repot the plant into a pot with good drainage and let the plant sit in a dark corner or dark room for about 3 days to recover from repotting.

Plant Health Care – Too Little Water

When a plant has too little water, the leaves will droop, flowers may drop off, and the soil will be powdery dry. Give the plant a thorough watering to the point where the water runs out of the holes in the bottom. Let the water drain out completely and then give the plant some “rest” time in a dark corner for a day or two. After that rest period return it to an area with the correct light for the type of plant and water it again when the soil feels dry down to 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the surface of the soil.

Keep in mind that plants in the same family can have different watering requirements. For example, Miniature Roses tend to need more water than regular sized Roses. Some indoor plant stands are self watering which can help alleviate the stress of trying to figure out how much water to give your plant.

If you have trouble finding a balance with watering your plants, you might want to try watering bulbs, like in Figure 2.

Plant Health Care – Too Little Light

 When a plant has too little light, the leaves will be washed out. For example, Spider Plants will turn from green and white to a yellowish blend of the colors, and Coleus will lose the vivid beautiful reds and purples and become more green, white, and yellow. If a plant is out of sufficient light for a long enough period, the plant will become spindly looking and grow in the direction of whatever light source it can find.

Plant Health Issues - Healthy Coleus

Figure 1: Healthy Coleus

To correct the problem, identify the type of plant that you have and give it the correct light source. For example, African Violets love bright, indirect light. For people who live in the Northern Hemisphere a North-facing window tends to be ideal for an African Violet. On the other hand, many succulents require bright, direct sunlight in order to thrive. Once you have the plant in the right light conditions, turn it frequently so that it grows evenly.

Plant Health Care – Too Much Light

If a plant has too much light the symptoms may resemble a plant that has too little water. There may be scorch marks on the leaves from the light burning them, and the soil may be very dry.  If your plant has symptoms like these, identify the plant and google it to find out what type of light it needs. Many plants prefer bright indirect light such as from a North-facing window (Northern Hemisphere).

It is common for many tropical plants to receive too much light because their owners know that they are tropical. However, many tropical plants (including some Palm Plants) grow in the shade and humidity of rain forests, and actually need less light and more water than one may expect.

Plant Health Care – Plant Pests

When you bring a new plant home keep it away from your other plants for at least a week so that you can make sure you are not introducing new diseases or pests to your other plants. Taking this precaution can save you a lot of headaches down the road.

If your plant is suffering from an infestation of plant pests, you may see some signs such as holes in the leaves, little black or white mounds or balls attached to the under-side of the leaves or to the stem, or the leaves may turn a sickly yellow or brown and drop off. I am not a proponent of pesticides because they tend to make people and animals sick. For that reason I highly recommend food grade Diatomaceous Earth. You can actually eat food grade Diatomaceous Earth, and your pets can safely eat it too. If you dust it on the leaves and soil of the plant it will kill the pests and not harm your plant. You can even mix it in water and mist it onto the leaves. Warning: ONLY use food grade Diatomaceous Earth because regular Diatomaceous Earth is harmful to your lungs and your body in general. Here is a link for the place where I buy my food grade Diatomaceous Earth (they only sell food grade).

Plant Health Care – Root Bound

Obviously the easiest way to know if a plant is root bound is to pick the pot up and look at the drainage holes. If you see bits of plant root poking out the holes, it generally means that your plant is due for a repotting. Another sign to watch for is spindly growth where there’s a single stalk with few leaves, and the leaves tend to drop off near the bottom of the stalk. A plant like this looks generally unhealthy and that’s a good sign to look for roots at the bottom. Also, if you have a foliage plants such as Spider Plants, and  they start growing flowers, then that can be an indication that they are root bound as well. Some flowering plants bloom best when they are a little root bound, so double check on the requirements for the specific plant before repotting if you are in doubt. After repotting a plant, be sure to give it a few days in a darkened room to recuperate from the shock of being uprooted.

The oddball plants in regards to being root bound are Orchids. They need to have their roots out in the open air in order to survive. They send out tendrils of fleshy plant that is sometimes hard to differentiate from a flower spike, but they are roots and should be allowed to stick outside of their flower pots. Orchid care tends to be different from most other plants, and I recommend that you research specifics about them if you are having problems with your orchids.

Poisonous Plants

It’s a good idea to wear gloves when repotting or pruning poisonous plants. While many varieties of poisonous plants (such as Cyclamen) are only dangerous if ingested, some are poisonous if you get cut by their sharp fronds.

 Sources and Citations – research source



Popular Tropical Plants

The term “Tropical Plants” refers to plants raised in an area that is always warm. Your local nursery will carry some tropical plants for growing indoors or you can buy them at Some of the common ones attempted by home horticulture include:

Tropical Plants - Bamboo

Figure 1: True Bamboo

Some true Bamboo plants will survive under household conditions but will require extra care; the plant prefers to be outdoors. Bamboo needs a lot of light and may need to be placed outside periodically to maintain the best health. Many indoor plant stands can be used outdoors, and have wheels to make transporting large plants easier. For the best plant health care, be careful to not over-water Bamboo. If grown in a nursery, an atrium, or greenhouse with high humidity you will likely have a healthy Bamboo plant!

Note: Lucky Bamboo, found even in grocery stores, is not a true bamboo but a member of the lily family from the tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia and Africa. It is one of the Best Indoor Plants for Beginners because it is very easy to care for. Do not use tap water on this plant unless the water has sat out for 24 hours; change the water weekly. This common plant prefers indirect sunlight and a temperature between 65-70 degrees. Give it an occasional feeding of a mild solution.

Tropical Plants - Hibiscus

Figure 2: Hibiscus

Hibiscus is also a native tropical plant. Heat is the most important factor for this plant during the winter. Considered outdoor flowering plants in parts of North America, they must be moved indoors from the yard or garden for the colder months. The Hibiscus is grown as an indoor plant in parts of Europe, Canada and colder areas of the US. Hibiscus cleans the air and releases oxygen back into it.

Tropical Plants – Yucca

Yucca is a tough perennial shrub consisting of 40-50 species, that is flexible and low maintenance. Yucca are also among the best (indoor or garden) air cleaning plants. They are native to hot, dry areas of the Caribbean, North-, South-, and Central America. Prized as an ornamental garden plant, some of the Yuccas have edible parts: seeds, fruit, flowers, stems and some Yucca, even the roots. Be cautious though, because some Yuccas are highly poisonous plants. If you don’t know what the plant is, make sure you call your local poison control center if a person or pet ingests a Yucca.

Although you can plant it in flower pots, the Yucca does better in a raised garden bed where it will get full sun. See the wikiHow link for propagation instructions.

Tropical Plants – Cactus

Tropical Plants - Cactus Garden

Figure 3: Cactus Garden

Cactus has been part of our diet for about 9,000 years; 2,500 species are known. The plant has diverse uses such as food, drink, sealant, caulking, toy manufacturing and dye for the cosmetic industry. The Cactus is also a common house plant and found not only at the nursery but even in grocery and drugstores. Perennial Cacti are stem succulent plants and can last through severe drought by storing water in their stems, leaves and roots. They require many hours of sunlight on a daily basis and well-drained soil.

Tropical Plants – Palm Plants

Palm Plants are tropical plants that come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some produce flowers and fruit while others are prized for their foliage. Some are so big that they can only be grown outdoors or in very large buildings, while others make wonderful little houseplants. Like Spider Plants and Cyclamen, many varieties of Palm Plants come from Africa and other tropical climates.

Tropical Plants – Orchids

Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum are 2 species of Orchids native to the tropics, and enjoy daytime temperatures of 73° – 85°F, with humidity at approximately 85%. They prefer an East/Southeast facing window where they can get at least 6 hours of sunlight every day. Some people simplify their Orchid care by keeping them in the window above a shower because these species love the warmth and high humidity.

Tropical Plants - Zonal Geraniums, Appleblossom

Figure 4: Zonal Geranium

The Zonal Geranium was initially discovered in South Africa, but grows well in any tropical climate globally. This is an easy plant to grow indoors, and given enough light, will bloom continuously in dazzling shades of white, pink, red, fuchsia, salmon and light purple. The flowers grow in clumps similar to Hydrangea. These plants are commonly grown in flower pots. From personal experience I would say that geranium plants will not grow from a leaf, as some recommend, but rather from a cutting of 2-3 joints; just plant it above the first joint, water it thoroughly and allow the plant to dry out before re-watering. Some geraniums are also now grown from hybrid seeds—planted in small plugs; they often are a better plant/bloom than the geranium grown from a cutting.

Tropical Plants – Gardenia

The perennial evergreen shrub, Gardenia, is from a line of 142 species of flowering tropical plants belonging to the coffee family. The gardenia is normally grown outside; some will become small trees reaching 15 m (49.2 feet).  They are native to areas of Africa, Southern Asia, Australasia, and Oceania. The leaves of this plant have a strong texture; the flowers are singles or in small clusters of white or a soft yellow. Much like Roses and Peonies, the fragrance of the gardenia is beautiful and you may enjoy it for weeks as it blossoms from mid-spring until mid-summer—IF—you learn the basics of this tricky plant’s growing conditions and regular

Flowering Plants - Gardenia

Figure 5: Potted Gardenia

The Gardenia flower is a common choice for a beautiful corsage—vying with Roses and Orchids; it is one of the most fragrant flowers for the garden or indoors. Many gardenias are classified as an endangered species such as the Hawaiian Gardenia; there are only about a dozen of the very fragrant small trees remaining. Gardenias are a rather high maintenance plant that you don’t often see in flower pots—needing specific soil acidity, lots of water and sun, cool temperatures with high humidity; pests love them—especially whiteflies, scales, spider mites and aphids.

Tropical Plants – Horticulture

Horticulture is the science, technology, and business of plant cultivation for  the advantage of mankind; working at home in your own garden or potting plants for indoors is an example of horticulture at its basic level whether it’s tropical plants, garden vegetables or a leaf from your Mother’s favorite African Violet!

Sources and Citations – research source – research source – research source – research source – research source – research wource – research source