Plants can sometimes be a mystery to us, whether we’re a beginner or a experienced plant owner. At Plant we receive a lot of questions, often paired with the worried expression of a concerned plant-parent. Am I watering enough? Too much? How do I know if my plant is getting enough light? Am I doing something wrong? Here to (hopefully) help is a guide to diagnose an ill-looking plant, or to simply reassure that you are doing something right.

As plants require a balance of sunlight and water, finding that balance is often the key to solving your plant worries.


Tropical Plants

For tropical plants the “guidelines” are flexible. Depending on the type of tropical the lighting and watering requirements vary greatly (for example, fern care is drastically different than snake plant care). With that said, the signs for underwatering, overwatering, and lighting conditions will present themselves in similar ways.

“IDEAL” CONDITION

Signs:

  • Leaves are green and perky
  • Soil is neither dry nor soaking
  • Plant looks generally “happy”

Solution

  • Plant is receiving enough indirect light (think bright, but no sunshine touching the plant)
  • Plant is receiving water at regular intervals (once the top inch or so of soil dries out it gets water)

UNDERWATERING
Most common in bonsai, ferns, and certain palms

Signs:

  • Crisp, wilted leaves
  • Yellowing leaves with brown, crispy ends
  • Soil is bone dry, and possibly pulling away from the pot

Solution / Prevention

  • Adapting a more frequent watering schedule (feel the top inch of soil and water when dry)
  • Misting the leaves (especially helpful for ferns)

Plant Recommendations

  • Snake plants (Sansevieria)
  • Zamio (ZZ or Zamioculcas)
  • Pothos
  • Spider Plants
  • Ponytail Palm
  • Succulents/Cacti

OVERWATERING
The unsuspecting result of loving our plants too much

Signs:

  • Leaves are wilted but not dry (think of wilted lettuce – limp and floppy)
  • Leaves are yellowing, or turning a blackish-brown
  • Soil is constantly wet, possibly growing green algae (bugs could also be present)
  • In extreme cases, root rot

Solution / Prevention

  • Repot with new, dry soil
  • Let soil dry to the touch, and water again only once soil is dry
  • If your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole, add drainage with a layer of gravel (it won’t help against soaking, but will provide a bit of a buffer)
  • TIP: If you’re prone to overwatering, split your watering schedule up into two days. It’s better to water the plant with less water, more frequently.

Plant Recommendations

  • Ferns
  • Bonsai

TOO LOW OF LIGHT

Signs:

  • Extreme leaning towards light source (all stems/leaves grow towards one side)
  • Leaves losing colour or becoming yellow (and possibly dropping)
  • Slowed growth

Solution / Prevention

  • Find a new, brighter home for your plant (or take your plant into a bright location a few times a week, then return to original spot)

Plant Recommendations

  • Zamio (ZZ or Zamioculcas)
  • Snake Plants (Sansevieria)
  • Pothos

TOO MUCH LIGHT

Signs:

  • Leave edges are crisp and brown (essentially burnt)
  • Dry, brown spots elsewhere on the leaves
  • Soil is drying out too quickly

Solution / Prevention

  • Move plant away from direct sunlight, or filter light through a sheer curtain

Plant Recommendations

  • Bird of Paradise*
  • Yucca*
  • Umbrella Plant (Schefflera)*
  • Crotons*
  • Herbs
  • Succulents/Cacti
    * These plants can tolerate some direct sun, but not full exposure all day

Succulents/Cacti

For succulents and cacti, neglecting them is more or less the key. As long as they get enough sun and aren’t overwatered, they’re happy.

“IDEAL” CONDITION

Signs:

  • Signs of a happy succulent are hard to spot, not to mention describe. Typically if they are growing, without the signs mentioned below, you’re good to go

Solution

  • Plant is receiving enough sunlight
  • Soil is left to dry out completely in between watering

UNDERWATERING
Most common in jade and aloe vera

Signs:

  • Leaves are wrinkled and pruney
  • Tips of the leaves are drying out, shrinking, and turning brown
  • Soil is pulling away from the pot

Solution / Prevention

  • Water more frequently (be careful not to overcompensate and overwater!)

Plant Recommendations

  • Cacti
  • Agave
  • Lithops (Living Stone)

OVERWATERING
A common culprit of succulents and cacti dying

Signs:

  • Leaves become mushy to the touch
  • Leaves falling off (but not drying out first)
  • Leaves/stems turning blackish-brown
  • Soil is constantly wet, possibly growing green algae (bugs could also be present)

Solution / Prevention

  • Repot with new, dry soil
  • Let soil dry out completely, and water again only once soil is dry
  • If your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole, add drainage with a layer of gravel (it won’t help against soaking, but will provide a bit of a buffer)
  • TIP: If you’re prone to overwatering, split your watering schedule up into two days. It’s better to water the plant with less water, more frequently.

Plant Recommendations

  • Jade*
  • Aloe vera*
  • Tropical Plants
    *These plants still require a minimum amount of water, if you’re still overwatering then succulents may not be for you

TOO LOW OF LIGHT
Another common enemy of succulents and cacti

Signs:

  • New growth is “reaching” towards the light source, with increased spacing between leaves
  • Colour starts to fade
  • Soil stays moist for too long

Solution / Prevention

  • Find a new, brighter home for your plant
  • You could try to prune off the “stretched” growth, but it may not grow back normally

Plant Recommendations

  • Haworthia*
  • Gasteria*
  • Rhipsalis*
  • Hatiora*
  • Tropical Plants
    *These plants will still require direct sun or as much bright light as possible

TOO MUCH LIGHT
Believe it or not, succulents and cacti can get too much sun! This usually happens when moving the plant from lower light into full sun exposure.

Signs:

  • Browning discolouration of the leaves
  • Unusual rough patches (think burnt)

Solution / Prevention

  • Before moving a plant into full sun, gradually increase the amount of sun it gets
  • Unfortunately the only fix is to trim the burnt leaves away, but they may not grow back the same

Plant Recommendations

  • Cacti
  • Firesticks
  • Echeveria

FROSTBITE
In our climate, as soon as the temperature dips below -5°C our plants can get frostbite when taken outside. It’s important to cover up plants when taking them home or transporting them.

Signs:

  • Wilted leaves (similar to underwatering)
  • Blackish discolouration

Solution / Prevention

  • Unfortunately there isn’t a way to recover a frostbitten plant, other than trimming away the affected areas
  • Wrap plants up (specifically the foliage) before taking them outside in colder temperatures!