Step-by-Step Houseplants Health Check with First Aid Tips

It can take quite a long time until signs of unhealthiness and distress become visible on your houseplants. That is why you should check on all your houseplants’ health regularly, even if there are no obvious signs of unhealthiness apparent as of now. If you do that, you can catch pests or watering, soil, and light issues right at the start and keep your plants from any harm.

Checking a house plant’s health is done by inspecting leaves and stems for wilting, dry, yellow, or brown spots as well as the roots and soil for mold, outgrowth, and texture. Further, incipient pests and fungi can be spotted in joints or underneath leaves as well as in the surroundings of the roots.

In this post, I will take you through the main steps which a regular house plant health check should include and give you valuable first-aid tips for those plants in need. With these easy-to-follow steps you will soon be an expert at judging your plants’ health!

How to Know if Your Houseplants Are Healthy in 8 Steps

Let’s dive right into it! The following parts of your plants will be checked:

  • The soil and root conditions
  • The stems
  • The foliage

Tip: To really do this health check on a regular basis, I find it easiest to integrate it into my watering routine. Whenever you water your plants, do this quick check.

You can check your houseplants’ health in 8 steps:

1. Leaf Tips – Do the Leaves Show Brown Tips or Edges?

One of the most common observations you will make is probably brown tips or edges on the leaves of plants.

Those are usually not a sign of any urgent matter, but should not be neglected either.

It usually means there has been a lack of humidity in the air, too much fertilizer used or you might have moved your plant too often which it did not appreciate.

First Aid Tip: Use an air humidifier, especially in wintertime, and don’t move your plants

  • For higher humidity: Mist your plants whenever possible, though for a more sustainable effect use an air humidifier in your space to elevate humidity constantly.
  • Use less fertilizer in the upcoming weeks: Brown tips might make you think your plants need extra nutrients, but the opposite is often the case. Try it with less fertilizer.

2. Foliage Color – Are There Any Yellowish Leaves?

Generally, any plant lets go of old leaves every now and then. A couple of dried or yellow leaves are usually no need to worry about.

If a lot of leaves turn yellow, it is usually a sign of overwatering the plant which over time makes the roots decay.

First Aid Tip: Empty out any leftover water from the pot and try to get back into a regular and appropriate watering routine

  • Empty out leftover water from the pot and don’t water again until the upper layers of soil have completely dried up.
  • Plants love routine! They get used to a certain watering schedule – if you change it up all the time, it will cause them much stress. Try to stick to a watering routine.

Rule of Thumb: Before watering plants, always stick a finger into the soil to check its moisture: If the upper two centimeters are dry, you can water, if not, wait with watering.

3. Foliage Aspect: Are There Any Yellow or Brownish Spots/Edges on the Leaves?

If there are any spots that occur on single leaves or even on several leaves that look like the sun has burnt a hole through a magnifying glass, then that is exactly what it is: A sunburn.

This happens mainly to plants that are placed right behind windows. The windows act as magnifying glasses and burn certain spots on the leaves. The same goes for indoor plants which are put on the balcony or somewhere outside in summer. They are often not used to direct sunlight and might get sunburns, too.

First Aid Tip: Place the plants further away from the window or when outside, provide them with some shade

  • To prevent further sunburns, move the indoor plants further away from the window.
  • If you have indoor plants outside in summer: Provide them with some shade such as with a bigger plant that is used to the sun.

4. Plant Appearance – Is the Plant Looking Fresh with Upright Stems and Leaves or Is It Wilting?

A clear sign that a plant does not have enough water and is going through a drought is wilting, droopy leaves, and stems.

A minor drought might not be that visible, but you can feel it when you touch the stems and leaves and they feel all saggy instead of fresh and tight. Very soon though the plant will be visibly affected and look like it is utterly depressed, letting everything hang towards the ground.

First Aid Tip: Give it some water, but do not overwater it

  • When you see such signs of drought on your plant, it is easy to subsequently overwater it by giving it way too much water in a gesture of care.
  • Instead, it is much better to just give it a little water the day you notice and then check on it every day and give it a little again. Step by step, it will recover.
  • Once it has recovered from its droopiness, you can water it normally again.

5. Disease Check – Any Dark or Light Spots on Leaves and Joints?

Pests and diseases such as fungi come in different forms and shapes.

The most visible ones are the spiderweb-looking threads of spider mites. These threads are usually strung between the stems and leaves, well visible in the light. Sometimes, old dust can be mistaken for such – another reason to dust your plants regularly!

Brown spots on the surface of the leaves can also be from mites or it can be a sign of a fungal disease.

One such example is shown in the image of the spathiphyllum, also called the peace lily. Its leaves are affected by the cylindrocladium fungi which makes them wilt and dark brown spots with a lighter halo appear.

First Aid Tip: Crush moving bugs with fingertips or treat the whole plant with natural fungicides

  • If it is a minor infection: Try to crush the bugs with your fingers without damaging the leaves. Repeat this every day.
  • If a major infection: Use natural fungicides and pesticides to get rid of what’s plaguing your plants. Spraying soap water or tobacco water is a good remedy against many bugs and pests such as mites, scale insects, or mealy bugs. Repeat the treatment several times per week.
  • If it is a type of fungi like cylindrocladium: Cut off the infected leaves as soon as possible and dispose of them in the regular waste bin. Misting the plants as often as possible with water helps as well.

6. The Root System – Is There Outgrowth?

For the root check, first look at the bottom of the plant’s inner pot. Is there a big clump of roots dangling at the bottom? Then your plant has outgrown this pot by far. This is called being rootbound.

This will not become a problem overnight, but in the long run, you definitely want to give this plant more space to ensure healthy growth.

First Aid Tip: Cut back outgrowing roots at the bottom of the pot

  • As a quick measure, you can cut back the overgrowing roots a fair bit.
  • As a long-term measure, plan to repot the plant next spring. Plants are best repotted in springtime when they are most active.

7. Soil Conditions: Are There Loose and Caved In Spots and/or Damp, Moldy Smell?

Most signs of unhealthiness show up in the plant’s upper body parts such as the leaves and stems. Though the soil should not be neglected. It is the plant’s very base from which it gets most of its nutrients.

Does the soil in the pot seem very loose instead of compact and is it caved in around the middle? Have you noticed that water flows right through the pot and out the bottom even though it was completely dry?

These are all signs that the earth is leached out which means that it has lost its capacity to contain nutrients or water.

Does the soil smell very damp or moldy? That is a clear sign of overwatering. The plant has probably been standing in water for quite a while, creating this damp smell.

First Aid Tips: Fill up the loose and caved-in parts with fresh earth and empty out leftover water

  • Add some fresh earth to fill up the pot and give it back its capacity to contain humidity and nutrients.
  • Do not press the earth down too hard. Just mix the fresh earth into the old as much as possible until it gets this thick and rich texture back.
  • If the soil smells moldy and is very damp, empty out any standing water from the pot and give this plant only a little water until the soil has dried up a bit.

8. Location: Is There Anything Blocking the Plant’s Light Sources?

Last but not least, take two steps aside and look at the plant’s location. Did you by accident put anything between the plant and its light sources? Is it next to a heating element that could cause it trouble in winter?

Also make sure none of your plants is standing completely alone: Plants like to have planty company next to them. I think having clusters of green spots distributed in the space also looks so nice and gives your space this kind of jungle feel.

First Aid Tip: Avoid blocking the light source by removing obstacles

  • Move any obstacles in the way of the light source of the plant.
  • Cluster your plants in groups around your space.

Some Extra Wellness Tips for Your Houseplants

  • Do not move them if possible: Plants have evolved to be immobile creatures that grow roots in one place and adapt to it – contrary to animals that have evolved to be mobile and travel. You can imagine that a plant does not like to be moved, as this is unnatural to them once they got used to a spot. Try to only move them when really necessary or when a certain spot has proven to be unsuitable for it.
  • Dust them off with a light brush: Dusting your plants enables them to use the full surface of their leaves again for photosynthesis. As many plants have a protection layer on their upper surface, try not to touch the leaves too much with your hands. I recommend using a soft brush for dusting.
  • Wash them off in the shower: Certain tropical plant species like philodendrons, monsteras, or ficus benjaminus, love to be standing in the light rain of a shower. It cleans them off, rinses their pots through well, and gives them an extra kick of freshness. Make sure you let the inner pot drain off well before putting it back into the pot. There should be no standing water left.
  • Snip away all the dead leaves: Dead and dried-off leaves in between the stems take up space and can inhibit growth in those areas. Regularly snip away all dead parts to promote thicker growth.
  • Play some calm music: Music has stimulating effects on plants. Spoil your green housemates with some calm music in the mornings every now and then. Read more about the effects of music here.
  • Use natural fertilizing ingredients in your water: To boost your plant’s health, there are plenty of options for preparing your own natural fertilizers such as banana water or diluted coffee. Read more about the most common ingredients to add to plant water here.

Why Do My Houseplants Keep Dying?

If you don’t do such a regular health check on your houseplants, you might well miss out on issues they are facing until it is too late. Plants are tough – signs of illness very often only show up at a very late stage.

I recommend you integrate your health check into your weekly watering routine. This way you can prevent issues from the start and keep your plants from dying.

Tip: Do your houseplants die quickly after buying them from the store? It might be because the plant already had health issues when you bought it. Remember the above health check steps for your next visit in-store to make sure you buy a healthy plant.

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