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The 6 most common reasons your houseplant isn't growing

Help! My plant isn't growing at all! What am I doing wrong? If you're a beginning plant owner, you may be wondering why your houseplants aren't growing. Here are the six most common reasons: improper sunlight, too little or too much water, not enough nutrients, unwelcome growing environment, and pests. Don't worry - each of these problems has a solution!

It can be difficult to figure out why your plant isn't growing so to find the most likely reason, let's look at all of the potential causes and how you can help your plant a little more closely.

These are the 6 most common reasons your houseplant isn't growing:

  1. It's currently autumn/fall or winter where you live
  2. The plant is not getting enough sunlight
  3. The plant is not getting enough water
  4. The plant is not getting enough nutrients
  5. The plant is rootbound
  6. The plant is diseased or infested

Let's look at each of these causes to see if your plant is struggling with one of these and what you can do to help your plant to grow again!

It's currently autumn/fall or winter

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Plant in Autumn

Like hibernating animals, houseplants also hibernate during the colder months of the year. Sunlight is less strong, it's darker outside much earlier, and it's colder outside. During this time of year, your plant will "hibernate". During the fall and winter, your plant will be resting and won't grow, even if you're doing everything right. The goal of taking care of plants in the fall and winter is not to grow them bigger, but it's to keep them healthy.

There are a few things that are very important when you're taking care of a plant during this time of year:

  • Water your plants less often: wait until the soil is dry
  • Move your plants closer to a window
  • Don't fertilize your plants

These actions will help to keep your plant healthy during the fall and winter, but also make it much easier to start to grow when the spring arrives again! If your plant needs to recover from a rough fall and winter, its growth will start later during the spring and summer, so keeping it healthy during this time is the best thing you can do for your plant.

Your plant will start to grow again in the spring and summer. Unfortunately, patience is your best friend during this time. I know, I know, I also want to see my plants grow larger all year round.

The plant is not getting enough sunlight

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Monstera in a dark place

All houseplants need some form of sunlight exposure to photosynthesize and grow. Some plants need more light than others, but they all need some light. If you notice your plant isn't growing at all and it's in quite a dark spot in your house, your plant probably needs a bit more sunlight. However, if your plant is in a bright spot where it might even get direct sunlight, you might need to move your plant to a slightly darker spot. Most plants prefer bright, but indirect sunlight.

When you're not sure what your plant prefers, find a bright spot in your house where your plant won't get any direct sunlight during the afternoon. Direct sunlight during the morning is fine for most plants.
After a few weeks, check on your plant to see if it's starting to grow again. If not, perhaps your plant is suffering from some of the other causes in this guide.

The plant is not getting enough water

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Dracaena with wrinkles because of thirst

Another common reason houseplants don't grow is that they're not getting enough water. Some plants, like succulents and cacti, love to grow in dry soil, but most houseplants prefer the soil to be moist for at least a few days before drying out.

An easy way to tell if your plant needs water, is if your plant shows limb-looking stems or leaves, wrinkled stems and/or leaves, or a slightly faded leaf. These symptoms appear, because the stems and or leaves are normally full of moisture, so they have deeper colors and look "full". If the stems and leaves are dry, these stems will look wrinkled or limb, because they're no longer filled with enough moisture.

The easiest way to water your plant properly is to check the soil of your plant by sticking your finger in the soil. If the top 5 cm (2 inches) is dry, it's time to water your plant. Don't water your plant before the top of the soil is dry because you'll risk overwatering your plant.

Some plants, like the Peace Lily, like to sit in soil that's moist all of the time, so don't let the soil dry out very much before you water it again.

The plant is not getting enough nutrients

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Plants need nutrients to grow during the growing season. These nutrients keep the leaves healthy but also give the plant enough energy to push out new leaves. If your plant is getting the perfect sunlight exposure and is very happy with how you're watering it, you might need to fertilize your plant.

Think of it like this: We, as people, need hydration as well as food to survive. If we're only getting water, but no food on a day, we will still be alive, but we won't have the energy to do anything with our day. Nutrients are essential for your plant to grow and stay healthy.

On average, a houseplant needs to be fertilized once every 14 days to once per month with liquid fertilizer. Liquid fertilizer is the easiest method to fertilize your plant, because it's easier to control the dose and you can just add it to the water you're already watering your plant with. Be sure to check for each individual plant how often you should fertilize them for the best result.

The plant is rootbound

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Plant that is rootbound

Plants usually grow quite a bit during the sprint and summer. Because of this growth, most plants need to be repotted once per year or once every 2 years. Their roots are spreading out and they slowly take over the whole pot. When your plant becomes rootbound, it means there is no place for these growing roots to grow to support the growth of the plant. The roots will start to circle the bottom of the pot to find a way out.

When your plant is rootbound for too long, it can't support its growth anymore and simply stops growing. Alongside the slowed growth, you might also see leaves becoming yellow and dying off. The plant kills these leaves to preserve energy to grow new leaves.

If you notice this happening, the solution to help your plant is simple: repot your plant in a bigger pot. Be sure to use a pot that's only 1 or 2 sizes larger than the current pot. If you put your plant in a pot any larger, you risk overwatering your plant.

Your plant is only struggling with a pot that's too large once the roots start to circle the bottom of the pot. If you don't see this yet, your plant still has enough space and you won't need to repot your plant yet.

The plant is diseased or infested

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Plant with a pest

Unfortunately, sometimes houseplants get sick and/or become infested with pests. If you think this may be the case with your plant, take a closer look and try treating the problem accordingly.

Pests are usually quite easy to spot. If you see any crawling around on the leaves or stems of your plant, you most likely have an infestation.

Some pests, like spider mites, are very small and you most likely can't see them with the naked eye. However, these spider mites leave cobweb-like strings behind on your plant. These are very easy to spot and should tell you you're dealing with spider mites.

If you're unsure which pest you're dealing with, take a photo of it and ask your local nursery for advice. You can also post your photo in the Plant care for Beginners Facebook group to ask other members for help!

Conclusion

Now that you know the six most common reasons your houseplant isn’t growing, take a look at your plant and see if you can identify which of these might be the issue. If you need help, I have some great guides on how to care for different types of plants. Be sure to share this guide with your friends and family – they will appreciate it! And who knows, maybe next time it will be their turn to help you out when your plant starts looking a little sad.

Thank you for reading this post! I hope it helps you to keep your plants healthy and beautiful! If you're looking for more guides on specific plants, you can always request a plant guide to get a guide for the plant you have trouble with.

Tags: crisis

Posted on: Sep 10, 2022

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Frequently asked questions

Why is my plant not growing?
Different plants require different levels of sunlight, water, and soil in order to grow. If you do not know what kind of plant it is, or what its specific needs are, then you cannot properly care for it.
Is my plant rootbound?
A pot that is too small will restrict a plant's growth, while a pot that is too large will allow the plant to become waterlogged. You'll know if your plant is rootbound when its roots are starting to circle the bottom of your pot.
Am I using the right soil for my plant?
A soil that does not have enough nutrients or that is too acidic or alkaline will prevent a plant from growing properly. You'll need a soil that helps to keep your plant at the right moisture levels.
Do I need to fertilize a plant to see new growth?
A plant that is not receiving enough nutrients will not grow as tall or produce as many flowers or fruit as it should. When you fertilize your plant, you give it the much needed energy to start growing new leaves.

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