7 Things You Think Are Helping Your Plants, But Are Actually Killing Them

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No one buys a plant thinking, “This will be perfect for me to kill this month!” Most of us want to take care of our plants and help them thrive but, unfortunately, that can be more difficult that you might think. Who hasn’t felt their heart sink at the sight of a burned leaf or a drooping stem? And while there could be many reasons your plants aren’t thriving, one might be that you’re caring for it too much.

I don’t mean you’re like, talking to it too much or buying it expensive fertilizer. I mean that many of the ways we care for plants can actually kill them, if done incorrectly or in excess. Keeping a houseplant alive is actually a much more delicate dance than all of those perfectly posed Instagram shots of monstera deliciosas may have led you to believe.

But fear not! I’m here to help. I’m a real life Plant Lady, with over 20 green friends of various sizes and shapes all around my home. My mom is also super into plants, so I grew up learning all kinds of tricks and tips from her. Here are the things I learned from her — as well as some nuances I learned along the way — about how the ways you’re caring for your plant might actually be killing it.

1. Watering A Lot

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The number one way that people kill their plants? Watering them. I know, I know — it’s confusing. Plants need water! If you don’t water them, they get all sad and droopy. But the thing is, if you wanter plants too much, they also get all sad and droopy. And if you water them way too much, they’ll get root rot, which is exactly what it sounds like: Sad, rotten roots. And once those roots start rotting, it can be really difficult to get them back.

Finding a balance between just enough and too much water can take some practice, but here’s a good pro tip: Get in the habit of checking in on your plants on a regular schedule. If you only have a couple plants, maybe check once or twice a week. Put your finger in the soil up to the first knuckle. If it comes out dry, your plant baby is ready for some water. But if it comes out with moist soil clinging to it, give it another day or two.

2. Putting Them Right In The Sun

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Sun is another good-for-plants-but-not-in-excess situation. While all plants need sunlight in order to thrive (remember learning about photosynthesis in elementary school?), most plants want bright, indirect light. The key there is indirect, which means your plants want to be in a room that’s well lit, but they don’t want to get too much light directly on their leaves. If you have them in a window, for example, an opaque white curtain will diffuse the light just enough.

If your plant is getting too much light, you might find that it’s drying out quickly, sagging its little head, or that its leaves are turning brown. Try shifting it somewhere it can enjoy the sun without getting burned.

3. Repotting In A Much Bigger Pot

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Repotting is an important part of plant care. Not only does it give your plant nice, fresh soil to thrive in, but it also gives its roots room to stretch. However, when you’re repotting it’s important to only go up one size. That means don’t go from the little starter plastic pot you bought it in right to that cute 16 inch on from Instagram that you’ve been coveting!

The reason for this is related to water and moisture. If there’s a lot of soil below where the roots have grown, then the roots can’t suck the moisture out of that soil. That means the soil stays moist longer, potentially exposing your plant to root rot or pests that thrive in moisture. So be sure to keep it only one size up (or two, if it’s a fast-growing plant) when you repot each year.

4. Not Fluffing The Root Ball

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When you repot a plant, you might find yourself being extra careful with the root ball. It is, after all, a major life source for your plant — and one that’s normally hidden and protected underground. But the best thing to do when you’re repotting is to actually break up the root ball (or “fluff” it) a little bit. This encourages new growth, both from the roots that break and because separating the roots from each other gives them room to stretch out.

5. Not Trimming Them

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I know it can feel like a bummer to trim your big, thriving plant but — trust me — it’s a good move. Trimming a plant, especially in spring, encourages new growth and keeps your plant from getting too leggy. Also, if there are any dead parts on your plant that you haven’t removed yet, the plant is still trying to feed it. Don’t let it waste its energy on a part that’s already gone! Remove it so it can focus on creating new growth.

6. Giving Them Lots Of Fertilizer

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Fertilizer is great — it gives your plants the nutrients they need to grow! But fertilizer follows a trend you might have noticed in this article: There’s such thing as too much. Over-fertilization can lead to a build-up of salts and other unabsorbed nutrients in the soil, which can alter the pH of the soil and make it difficult for the plant to absorb water. That can result in “fertilizer burn,” which is when the tips of leaves turn brown and crunchy because the water can’t reach them.

The amount of fertilizer your plant needs also changes based on the season, with most plants needing more in spring and summer — which is when they’re growing — and less or none in winter — which is when they’re resting. Your best bet is to do a quick online search to find out what each of your plant babies needs, because it’s going to be slightly different for all of them.

7. Misting Them

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Misting keeps up the humidity around a plant, which is great for most plants — especially ones that grow in the jungle. But while misting is really good for some plants, it can be a detriment to others. For example, African violets hate being misted (or getting any water on their leaves at all) and will actually get permanent brown dots on their leaves if you mist them. So before you break out that spray bottle, make sure your plants are into that.