Home Plant guides What is wrong with my plant? 10 common problems explained!

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What is wrong with my plant? 10 common problems explained!

Your plant can be a mystery at times. One day it's doing well and the next it's struggling. If you've experienced this before you know that finding out what's wrong is not always easy. The symptoms your plant is showing can mean a lot of different things. It's difficult to deal with this. Luckily there is a solution!

In this guide, we'll walk through each of the possible symptoms. We'll explain what these symptoms mean and how you can help your plant to recover.

These are the symptoms we're going to look at together:

  1. Yellow leaves
  2. Brown tips or edges of leaves
  3. Only bottom leaves turn yellow
  4. Leaves suddenly fall off
  5. Plant starts to wilt
  6. Spots on leaves
  7. Leaves get yellow speckling
  8. Sticky leaves
  9. Plant suddenly stops growing
  10. Smaller than normal leaves

These are the most common symptoms that a plant might show.

How to use this guide

Before we get started, it's good to realize that most of these symptoms can have multiple causes. So how do you find out what's really wrong? Well, you look at each of the causes and start to rule them out.

For example: you have the following possible causes: root rot, nutrient deficiency, and not enough sunlight. If you know that your plant is getting plenty of sunlight and doesn't suffer from root rot you only have one option left: nutrient deficiency. When you rule out possible causes in this way you can quickly find out what's wrong with your plant.

Let's get into the symptoms, what's causing them, and how you can help your plant recover.

Symptoms: What does your plant show?

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Succulent in light Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Symptoms can be confusing at times, they can mean a lot of different things. When you're looking at what could be wrong with your plant, carefully look at each of the possible causes we mention. This way you can find out what your plant is going through and how to help it.

Let's get into the specific symptoms your plants might show!

1. Yellow leaves

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Yellowing leaves is one of the most common symptoms your plant shows in case of trouble. When the leaves of your house plant start to turn yellow, this could mean 4 different things:

  1. Your plant has root rot
  2. Your plant is not getting enough sunlight
  3. Your plant has a nutrient deficiency
  4. Your plant is root bound

The most common causes are root rot or improper sunlight. Nutrient deficiency and your plant being root bound are less likely, but could be what's troubling your plant too.

2. Brown tips or edges of leaves

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Brown tips on Peace Lily

Brown tips on your house plants are a scary sight. Your plant will shrivel up and it looks like it's dying. Luckily, this is not the case most of the time. When you catch your plant turning brown early on, you can still help your plant recover.

Your house plant might get brown tips or edges on their leaves when::

  1. The air is too hot or dry
  2. There is too much salt in the soil
  3. Your plant has a nutrient deficiency
  4. Your plant has root rot

Brown tips are usually a sign that your plant is too dry. This doesn't mean that you should water it more though. Sometimes watering your plant too much could cause the tips of leaves to turn brown. Start by checking if your plant might be in a spot that's too warm for it. If that's not the case, you can look at your watering habits.

3. Only bottom leaves turn yellow

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Sometimes your plant's leaves might turn yellow, but not all of them. If you see the bottom leaves turning yellow or fall of, it could be because:

  1. Your plant is aging
  2. Your plant has a nutrient deficiency
  3. Your plant is root bound

When some plants are getting older and don't replace stems and leaves, like Crotons, they will start to drop their leaves. This is not a problem, but it's a natural thing to happen. These plants don't have a problem, and will still grow leaves on newer parts of their stems.

If you're plant doesn't have enough space or energy to grow, it could also start to drop leaves.

4. Leaves suddenly fall off

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Alocasia leaf fell off

It's a scary thing when your plant suddenly starts to drop its leaves. It's often after you've suddenly changed something in your plant's environment. If your plant starts to drop its leaves, it could be because:

  1. Your plant is in shock
  2. Your plant has root rot

If you've recently moved your plant to another place, it could be in shock. Most plants have no problem with this, but others like Calatheas don't like change. These types of plants need to settle into their new environment before they can thrive again.

5. Plant starts to wilt

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One of the easiest symptoms to figure out is when your plant starts to wilt. This is quite an easy symptom to find out, because it's all because of watering issues. Your plant starts to wilt when:

  1. It has root rot
  2. It has too little water

Finding which one your plant is dealing with is easy. If you haven't watered your plant in at least a week and the soil is dry, your plant is thirsty. If you've recently watered your house plant and the soil is moist, your plant might be suffering from root rot.

6. Spots on leaves

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Some plants are sensitive for certain types of fungal infections. These infections show up as spots on your plant's leaves. The first things to do when you see these spots is to separate this plant from your other plants. The last thing you want is for the infection to spread to other plants.

Now that your plant is in a safe spot, you can figure out which of these two things you're dealing with:

  1. Fungal infection
  2. Water spots

Water spots is less likely to happen and only appears in a few plants, so check for fungal infections first.

7. Leaves get yellow speckling

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If your plant starts to get yellow spots and you can see cobwebs, you're dealing with Spider mites. Spider mites are a very common pest that affect a lot of different plants. Luckily, it's not difficult to help your plant recover from it.

8. Sticky leaves

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Another pest, like the Spider mites, are Mealy bugs and scale. When your plant is suffering from these pests you'll know by feeling the leaves. When your plant is suffering from this pest, the leaves will be sticky and you might see small cotton fluffs or brown spots. Like any other pest, you can help your plant recover when you catch the pest early on. If you leave it around for weeks, you might not be able to help it recover anymore.

9. Plant suddenly stops growing

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If you've kept plants for a longer period of time, you might have noticed that some plants seem to stop growing out of nowhere. This is no problem if it's currently the autumn (fall) or winter, because this is normal. However, if it's currently spring or summer, there might be a problem. Your plant might have stopped growing because of:

  1. Root rot
  2. It has a nutrient deficiency
  3. It is root bound

The most common problem is root rot, but nutrient deficiency and not having enough space to grow are also possibilities. Make sure to check if your plant has root rot first, as this could harm your plant. If that's not the case, you might need to fertilize or repot your plant.

10. Smaller than normal leaves

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If your plant is growing well during the spring and summer everything is as it should be. However, when your plant starts to put out small leaves that aren't as big as they should be, you might have a problem. When your plant starts to grow leaves that are smaller than normal, it might be because:

  1. Your plant has root rot
  2. Your plant has a nutrient deficiency
  3. Your plant is not getting enough sunlight
  4. Your plant is root bound

Your house plant either can't grow bigger because it doesn't have enough energy or space. When your plant doesn't have enough space to grow, growth isn't promoted and your plant will stay small.

Causes: Why is this happening?

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Magnifier with plants Photo by cottonbro

We've looked at the most common symptoms and what these could mean. Let's find out why you plant is showing these symptoms and how you can help your plant out.

Root rot

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Dead leaves from over watering

Root rot is a tough thing to deal with when it comes to house plants. Root rot happens when your plant doesn't get enough oxygen to its roots. This usually happens when you accidentally over water your plants over a longer time. If you water your plant too much once there is no problem. Your plant will recover from this. However, if your plant consistently gets too much water, the soil can't get oxygen to your plant's roots. When this happens, the roots start to rot and you're at risk of losing your plant.

Luckily, if you catch this early on, you can rescue your plant. The very first thing to do is make sure your plant is in dry soil. You can do this by letting the soil dry out or in the worst case scenario repot your plant. If this doesn't work, you can try to rescue your plant in Leca: What is Leca and why is it useful for plants?. If that also doesn't work, you can always try to propagate your plant. If you want to find out more about this, make sure to read "How to rescue a plant from overwatering".

Not enough sunlight

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A lot of plants love sunlight, especially the brightly colored plants with beautiful patterns. When these brightly colored plants don't get enough sunlight, their leaves will turn yellow or pale. When you see this happen to your plant, it's time to move it to a spot that's a little bit brighter.

When you move your plant to a brighter spot, make sure to do this gradually. Most plants deal with change quite well, but there are a few that need some time to settle in. So when you move your plant from a darker place to a brighter place, do this slowly.

It's possible that the yellow and pale leaves won't turn back to their original color. You can trim these leaves and wait for new leaves to grow. These new leaves should have the original color if your plant is getting the right amount of sunlight.

Too little water

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A plant that is thirsty is often easy to spot. These plants will start to droop and their leaves won't look as shiny as they used to. This is often not harmful to your plant, unless you forget to water your plant after it starts to wilt. You can help your plant recover by watering it. Most plant will recover within a matter of hours. They'll look just as good as they did before and it will look like nothing was wrong at all.

Nutrient deficiency

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Your house plant needs energy to grow big and strong. If it doesn't get enough energy from the soil to grow, it won't grow as quickly or turn pale. When this happens, you'll need to give your plant some extra nutrients to grow.

You can do this by fertilizing your plant. When you fertilize your plant, you give it the important nutrients it needs to grow and recover from any harm. After you've fertilized your plant, it should return to normal within a few days. If you'd like to know more about fertilizing your house plant, read "What is the best type of fertilizer for houseplants?".

Plant is root bound

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Spider plant root bound in Leca

Some plants grow very quickly, while others take a while. It's important to regularly repot your plants to give them enough space to keep growing. If you don't repot your house plant in time, it's roots will become too big for the pot it's in.

You know it's time to repot your plant when the roots start to circle the bottom of the pot or if you see more roots than soil. Repot your plant in a pot that's about 5 cm (2 inches) bigger than the pot it's currently in. This way you're not putting your plant in a pot that's too large. If your plant is in a pot that's too large, it's easy to over water your plant and cause root rot.

Hot or dry air

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Burned Parlor palm leaf

Hot or dry air is great for some plant but terrible for others. Your tropical plants love humidity and dry air is their biggest fear. Plants like the Calathea need humidity to thrive and dry air will turn their leaves brown and crispy.

Luckily, there are several ways of fixing this problem. First of all, make sure that your plant isn't exposed to direct sunlight. When you move your plant away from direct sunlight, you're also moving it away from hot air.

The second step is to raise the humidity in the air for your house plant. There are several amazing ways to do this, including: misting your plants, using a humidifier, and placing your plant on a pebble tray. If you'd like to find more ideas on how to raise the humidity for your house plants, you can read "10 ways to raise the humidity in your house". In that guide, we'll explore 10 ways to raise the humidity in your house to help your tropical plants thrive.

Too much salt in the soil

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If you've taken care of plants for a little while, you might have heard or read somewhere that you shouldn't use tap water for your plants. There is some truth in that statement. When you use unfiltered tap water to water your plants you're exposing your plant to the calcium in your water lines. This is not a problem if you do it once. But if you do this consistently, the soil of your plant will have more calcium in it every time you water your plant. You can see this salt built-up in the soil, as it looks like a thin white crust.

Luckily, there are two easy ways to prevent this from happening. The first solution is to only use distilled water to water your plants. This might not be an option for you, so there is another way. You can use tap water, but make sure that you let it sit in your watering can for at least 24 hours before watering your plant. When you wait 24 hours, the salts will sink to the bottom of the watering can. This way your plant won't be exposed to the salts in your tap water.

When you do see the extra salt in the soil, it's easy to get rid of. You can get rid of it by generously watering your plant with "clean" water and letting it drain out of the bottom of the pot.

Your plant is in shock

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You can put your plants into shock by exposing them to sudden changes. For example: moving them from a dark place to a very bright place. Not all plants can deal with this sudden change and they'll need to settle in for a few weeks. When your plants are trying to settle in, they go into survival mode and do everything they can to not die. This includes dropping leaves and stems to preserve the energy it needs to stay alive.

To avoid this situation, you should make gradual changes to your plant's environment. If your plant is currently in shock, do nothing. Let your plant adjust at its own pace. If you move your plant again, it might stay in shock for longer and that could kill it. It's a scary thing to happen to any plant owner, beginner or experienced plant owners alike.

Fungal infection

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Fungal infections aren't very common, but they are most common in plants that you bought recently. This is why it's important to keep your new plants separate from your other plant for the first few weeks. The last thing you want is for any fungal diseases to accidentally spread to the rest of your plants.

You can prevent any fungal infections on your plant by making sure the leaves of your plant stay dry. Fungi need moisture to develop, so when you don't give it moisture, it can't develop. When you see black spots on your plant's leaves, cut those leaves off to prevent spreading.

Water spots

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Water spots aren't a very common thing among house plants and only shows up on a few plants. Water spots are caused by cold water touching the leaves of a few specific plants.

You can prevent these water spots to show up by making sure water never touches the leaves of your plant. If your plant is already dealing with water spots, you can trim those leaves.

Pruning your plant doesn't hurt your plant and actually gives it back some energy to continue growing. "Pruning your houseplants: Why you shouldn't be afraid to do it" will tell you more about pruning and its benefits.

Spider mites

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Spider mites on a Calathea

Spider mites are a tough and common pest on a lot of different house plants. When your plant is dealing with spider mites, you'll often see yellow spots on your plant's leaves. Most of the time, you will also see cobwebs.

You can deal with spider mites by using soapy water to drown them. Another great way to deal with spider mites is using a neem oil mixture. Neem oil will kill the spider mites in a matter of days and will also make sure they don't come back soon.

If you want to read more about spider mites, have a look at "How to get rid of spider mites on your houseplants".

Mealy bugs or scale

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Mealy bugs and very sneaky insects that will infect your plant quickly. They look like white cotton balls on your plant. They often show up through new plants, come from outside, or even from some fruit.

You can prevent mealybugs from getting to your plants to keep your plants away from any fruit, not bringing them outside, and keeping new plants away from your collection for a few weeks. If you're already dealing with mealybugs, keep the infected plant away from your other plants. You can they treat the pest by using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Touch the mealybugs with the cotton swab and they will die quickly.

Another way to get rid of mealybugs is using Neem oil. Prepare a spray bottle with a water, soap, and Neem oil mixture and spray your plant thoroughly. This will kill the pests within a few days.

If you want to read more about spider mites, have a look at "How to use Neem Oil with plants".

Conclusion

In this guide, we've looked at 10 different symptoms your plant might show in case of trouble. These symptoms could mean a lot of different things, so we've looked at the different causes for these symptoms. When you use this guide, you can figure out what's actually wrong with your plant and how you can help it recover.

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 or donate a plant in order to get a guide for the plant you have trouble with.

Tags: crisis

Posted on: Feb 7, 2021 Last updated on: Sep 10, 2021

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