How to make houseplants healthy

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Below are some top tips for you to keep your houseplants healthy from Which? Magazine:

Wilting leaves


Dry, frazzled leaves that are withering or dropping.


Roots are drying out quickly.

Plants affected

Ferns, in particular maidenhair fern (adiantum), ladder or Boston fern (nephrolepis), and brake fern (pteris). Also potted indoor azaleas.

What you can do

Check your plants’ watering needs more frequently. Ferns in small pots are particularly vulnerable to this problem – pot them into larger pots with fresh compost around their roots. Azaleas are better potted on in spring (into ericaceous compost). Keep your plants away from radiators and consider moving them to a cooler room if necessary.

No flowers


Flowering houseplants refuse to bloom.


As long as plants are healthy and being watered correctly, they should flower in their season. The usual reason for failure is lack of light.

Plants affected

Peace lily (spathiphyllum), clivia, flaming Katy (kalanchoe), moth orchid (phalaenopsis) and flamingo flower (anthurium).

What you can do

Check that the plant is healthy in other respects and then move it slightly closer to a window. Use a high-potash feed to encourage flowering, and buds should follow when it’s their season to be produced.

Brown leaf tips


Brown leaf tips.


Exposure to excessively hot, dry air. A well cared for plant can be completely healthy apart from the tips, which spoil its appearance.

Plants affected

Prayer plants (calathea, ctenanthe, maranta), tradescantia, good luck plant (cordyline) and palms.

What you can do

Move plants away from radiators or turn a radiator off. Increase humidity by placing single plants on a wide drip-saucer filled with moist gravel, or group several together so they create their own humid microclimate.

Grown too big


Plants are too large for their space.


Some of our common houseplants are trees, large shrubs or giant climbers in the wild, and when well cared for will grow into huge specimens.

Plants affected

Swiss cheese plant (monstera), rubber plant (Ficus elastica), kangaroo vine (cissus), evergreen grape vine (rhoicissus), yucca, dracaena and mango.

What you can do

Make cuttings from healthy shoots, or try air layering (wounding the stem near the tip and wrapping it in rooting compost while still attached to the plant). Prune the plant back hard to within 30cm of the base, depending on original size. Cut any higher and it will sprout higher up and end up top-heavy.

Leaves dropping


Leaves dropping.


A sudden change in environment, such as temperature fluctuations or a draught. Light coming in from one direction only. Large plants can become pot bound and can’t take up enough water.

Plants affected

Figs (ficus), zebra plant (aphelandra) and Malabar chestnut (pachira).

What you can do

Where leaves are falling from the shadier back of a plant, turn occasionally so all sides receive equal light. Consider potting on or root pruning – shaving off 5cm from the outside of the rootball before potting it back into the original (cleaned) pot.

Sooty mould

Symptoms Sticky patches and sometimes black sooty mould on leaf surfaces. On closer inspection, green, beige or brown scale-like creatures, 1-6mm long, clustered around leaf veins and stems.


Sap-sucking scale insects that excrete sugary emissions on which the sooty mould grows.

Plants affected

Citrus, orchids, clivia, palms, schefflera and ferns.

What you can do

Be vigilant, as the sooner you take action the better. Wiping removes the adult scales but also spreads eggs, which are held under mature scales. Spraying with an insecticide, such as Baby Bio Houseplant Insecticide, Provado Ultimate Bug Killer 2 or Bayer Greenfly Killer, is usually necessary. Organic solutions include plant oils and extracts, fatty acids and urea/mineral lattice.


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