Most of us seem to have a knack for the utter destruction of house plants. To assist in this endeavor, I have kindly assembled the following list of ways for you to properly ensure the death of your houseplant. Please, follow these rules:
Ok, if you want healthy houseplants, because why else would we have them anyway… do the opposite of what I say…
Give your plant too much water. Over watering is a sure way to root-rot and death. By following a set watering schedule and not testing the moisture content of the soil with your finger every now and again you may find your plant just sitting in a bowl of rotten water. You can achieve the same result if you avoid putting a layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot to allow the excess water to drain away from the roots or just avoid buying a container with drainage holes in the bottom.
Water improperly and allow salt to build up in the soil. This can be accomplished by putting just enough water in your potted plant to wet the soil but not enough to let it run through and drain. You’ll start to see the salt show up as a crust on the potting soil or on the edges of the pot. Repotting a plant that is showing signs of salt buildup will, most likely, save the plant so avoid repotting with fresh soil.
Don’t let your plant have enough sun. You know that you’ve accomplished this when the new leaves are pale green and/or oddly small. Plants with insufficient sunlight will often start to look viney, as they desperately expend energy trying to find some sort of light. On the other hand, some plants, low-light varieties such as spider plants and bromeliads can be done away with by putting them in hot, direct sunlight for hours a day.
Don’t let the plant have enough water. This can be accomplished by simply not watering but you can also achieve this result by placing your plant next to an artificial source of heat such as a heating duct or fireplace. Brown spots on the leaves or brown leaves on your carpet are a sure way of knowing that you are accomplishing your house plant killing goal. Oftentimes, just drying out the room your plant is in will accomplish this task. This is especially easy in the winter when humidity is low anyway. I one time placed a lovely little adiantum on the top of my daughter’s book shelf in full sunlight and left it there for a couple of months without a lick of water. Yup. I took care of that little monster in a jiffy. This leads to another bit of advice on killing house plants…
Forget where you put your houseplants. If you forget them, then you have a good excuse for not taking care of them. Easy. You can also put them in a place where your 16-month old son can get at them, digging the dirt out of the big ones and simply pulling the smaller ones out and hitting the root ball against the window. It was in this situation that I learned that some houseplants are actually not so easy to kill.
Drafts. Yup. I once had a blooming plant that I set next to a poorly insulated window during a particularly cold, windy winter. The draft took care of that baby in no time. Another idea might be to place your blooming or tropical plant near a door that opens regularly and blasts it with cold outside air.
Never change the pot. If you allow your houseplant to sit in the same pot year upon year, the roots will start to circle around the inside of the pot, restricting themselves and drying out the potting soil. This is related to the next rule…
Improperly sized containers. Another sure way to kill or limit your houseplant is to put the plant in a container that is too small to hold it. Moving growing plants to larger containers allows the roots to expand, gives the soil more opportunity to hold water and increases the amount of nutrition available to the plant.
Don’t feed your soil. Adding an organic fertilizer especially suited to houseplants or putting a layer of compost in the potting container is a sure way to keep your houseplant healthy and alive. To achieve houseplant death, let your soil deplete.
Let the bugs have at them! When mites and mealy bugs attack your plants do nothing. Above all do not soak the plant in a solution of warm water and mild soap because that surely will help get rid of those pests.
Ok. So I know this list has been very helpful but …. if your ultimate goal is to have a house full of thriving healthy plants, you can do away with the advice offered above and instead visit the following sites:
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s Growing Indoor Plants with Success
Growing Healthy House Plants
Here’s a great encyclopedia of house plants for you to kill.
Low Light Indoor House Plants
How to Clean Your Houseplants
Jim O’Donnell gardens in the mountains of northern New Mexico. A certified permaculture designer and ecological restoration specialist, Jim’s first book Notes for the Aurora Society was published in 2009.