Is my butterfly bush dead?

My Butterfly Bush Looks Dead – How To Revive A Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bushes are great assets in the garden. They bring vibrant color and all kinds of pollinators. They are perennials, and they should be able to survive the winter in USDA zones 5 through 10. Sometimes they have a harder time coming back from the cold, however. Keep reading to learn what to do if your butterfly bush is not coming back in the spring, and how to revive a butterfly bush.

My Butterfly Bush Looks Dead

Butterfly plants not leafing out in the spring is a common complaint, and not necessarily a sign of doom. Just because they can survive the winter does not mean they will come bouncing back from it, especially if the weather has been particularly bad. Usually, all you need is a little patience.

Even if the other plants in your garden are beginning to produce new growth and your butterfly bush is not coming back, give it some more time. It may be long after the last frost before it begins to put out new leaves. While your butterfly bush dying may be your biggest worry, it should be able to take care of itself.

How to Revive a Butterfly Bush

If your butterfly bush is not coming back and you feel like it should be, there are some tests you can do to see if it’s still alive.

  • Try the scratch test. Gently scrape a fingernail or sharp knife against a stem – if this reveals green underneath, then that stem is still alive.
  • Try gently twisting a stem around your finger – if it snaps off, it’s probably dead, but if it bends, it’s probably alive.
  • If it’s late in the spring and you discover dead growth on your butterfly bush, prune it away. New growth can only come from living stems, and this should encourage it to start growing. Don’t do it too early, though. A bad frost after this kind of pruning can kill back all that healthy living wood you’ve just exposed.

So, what’s up with your butterfly bush? I wish I could tell you that it’s playing possum, and if it were a Daphne, that might just be true. But this is probably a case of, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a chance your Buddleia is just very starved for water. If that’s the case, it will look about as ratty as last Thursday’s leftovers, but will revive once it gets hydrated again. Which you should do pronto, with a good heavy soaking and then maybe a soaker hose to keep it going until this ungodly hot weather finally passes.

You see, we tell folks that this or that plant is highly drought-tolerant, and they are, meaning they don’t up and die the first time they get a little dry. But that’s not to say they LIKE it. And a young plant that’s been in your garden less than a year or two can’t take much stress like that at all. The root system just isn’t developed enough yet. If you can think of “drought-tolerant” as meaning “survival at any price,” you’ve got the hang of it.

Now, Buddleia’s an interesting beast when it comes to survival. I’ll never forget my older brother Marshall coming home after WWII and talking about the butterfly bushes growing out of bombed-out buildings in England. Seems they were the first species to take hold again, and I bet those long lavender flower stalks were like flags of hope after all the destruction. They MUST have been something, for Marshall to notice them. He said the Brits called them “Flowers of the Ruins.”

Which makes it sound like they’ll grow anywhere, and that’s not far from the truth, at least here in the South. Buddleia is native to the Far East, of course, but like so many immigrants, it finds life a lot more comfortable in its new land. They definitely can become invasive, which makes it all the more frustrating that yours appears to have up and died on you. Let’s see what else might be killing it.

If not enough water isn’t the culprit, too much water probably is. Poor drainage will kill a Buddleia, as it will so many other garden plants. You can till the soil, amend it within an inch of its life, and water religiously, but if the soil doesn’t drain fast enough, the roots will rot right out. That’s why whenever we get a hold of a plant like Louisiana Iris or Porcupine Grass, we start bragging about it “liking wet feet.” Fixing the soil to make it drain better isn’t the easiest thing you’ll ever do, and choosing a plant that doesn’t mind bogginess is often the simplest solution.

Now, it’s possible for Buddleias to come under attack from pests like Japanese Beetles and the like, but usually this shrub attracts so many good bugs that the bad ones get gobbled up. Either that or they go to “better” plants to do their damage. Just plant a Buddleia near a Rose if you want to see this principle in action! So I’d be surprised if pests or disease got your butterfly bush.

If its misery is still a mystery, take comfort in something I learned long ago, working at a retail nursery in Santa Barbara County. The Mediterranean climate out there is ideal for so many plants, and I came across hundreds of serious, skilled home gardeners who could grow amazing things. But get to talking to them, and every one of them had some “simple” plant that wouldn’t grow for them, no matter what they tried. One lady who started Pelargoniums from seed, took cuttings, eventually began propagating them herself couldn’t get a patch of Zinnias to make it past the seedling stage to save her life. Another fellow, an Orchid grower by profession, had never harvested more than a few poor squash from his huge, perfectly-prepared vegetable bed. So if your Buddleia won’t grow, try another one somewhere else in the garden, or better yet, tackle a really difficult plant in that same spot. Chances are it will grow like Topsy for you.

How to Care for a Dying Butterfly Bush

butterfly gathering nectar image by Robert Ford from Fotolia.com

A lush butterfly bush can brighten any garden area with hardy leaves and large, bottlebrush-like flowers from blue, to purple to pink. The flowers are what gives the plant its namesake as they attract a variety of insects, most notably butterflies. While the butterfly bush is a delight for most gardeners, it can be a sore point if the bush appears to be dying. To care for a dying butterfly bush, often all that is needed is to make sure the branches are fresh, the soil is rich, and the right amount of water is being given.

Trim off any brown, dead flowers by cutting with pruners just behind the flower where it meets the stem. If you are in the growing season, be sure not to clip the next bud or stem in line for flowering.

Cut back the plant to within a few inches of the ground if your region is currently in winter, anytime between the first frost of winter and early spring.

Loosen the upper 2 inches of soil with a cultivator, careful to not disturb the roots of the butterfly bush, and add 2 inches of nutrient-rich compost. Mix the ground soil with the compost, using the cultivator.

Pull away any weeds from around the bush to help cut out competition for water. Add 3 inches of mulch around the base of the plant to block new weeds from growing.

Water the butterfly bush only about once a week after checking to make sure the soil beneath the mulch is dry. As an evergreen, the butterfly bush doesn’t tolerate sitting in standing water and can withstand going dry between watering.

Consider moving the bush to a new location if practicing the above steps doesn’t improve the productivity of your butterfly bush over the course of the next growing season. Be sure the new spot is in full sun, well-draining soil, and you’ll want to continue to deadhead over the summer and cut back the plant in the winter.

So as gardeners, we are always on the hunt for the perfect plant. You know, the one that is drought tolerant, blooms it’s head off, grows fast, and loves poor soil? Well, we think we can solve those little issues for you. And if you are gardening on a budget, this plant is perfect for that too, because it grows quickly to fill empty garden space. Butterfly Bush, (Buddleia) is one of our favorite all purpose plants for the garden, and it’s easy to grow. (Like “perfect kind of plant” easy!) So let’s learn about Butterfly Bush care, pruning, and the best varieties to choose from.

About Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

  • Butterfly Bush is one of the easiest shrubs to grow. It is low maintenance, requiring little in the way of fertilizer, and is resistant to pests and disease. So you spend less on upkeep. Say that about a rose bush! The gray green leaves are the perfect backdrop for any garden, and they have a fine texture and arching shape that many gardens lack.
  • It grows fast. And we mean FAST.
  • Butterfly Bush will fill a corner, create a hedge or become the background of a large planting bed in one season. It grows 5-10 feet high and as wide, so it can make fast impact on your yard for little cash. Don’t bother with the $40 ten gallon size from the nursery. Buy them in four inch pots for $3, wait one season and have full size bushes!
  • It attracts, of all things, butterflies!
  • And occasionally hummingbirds, and the finches love to hang out there too. Forget a butterfly feeder, plant this shrub.
  • It has beautiful flowers perfect for cutting, and lots of them all summer long.
  • Butterfly Bush produces panicles of pretty flowers that range from a few inches to over a foot long depending on variety. The most common colors are pink and purple, but there are also blue, white and a yellow variety. The yellow happens to be fragrant as well, although the flower panicles are smaller. These all make great cut flowers on long stems, and bloom from June to September.
  • Drought Resistant means it saves water (and money!) too!

Butterfly Bush Care

  • Butterfly Bush will grow in poor soil, although prefers a mid range loam. Do not fertilize much as that will produce too much green growth, and make it lanky with few flowers.
  • Give them room…ten feet across is not uncommon.
  • Water well the first year to develop a good root system, and they are moderately drought resistant after that.
  • Butterfly Bush pruning is easy. Cut back to 12-18 inches from the ground in early spring. That may sound severe, but this will create a more dense uniform plant with larger flowers. Trust us, it will rebound to its large size by June. This is the secret to attractive shrubs that make your garden look like a prize winning spot!
  • Don’t be in a hurry in the spring to see new growth, as Butterfly Bush is a late sleeper. It will put out new leaves a little later than a lot of other shrubs, so be patient, it catches up fast.
  • They do well down to Zone 5, and can be semi evergreen in areas that do not freeze. They are deciduous in colder areas, but since you cut it back to the ground in early spring anyway, it doesn’t matter.
  • Be aware, some varieties can be invasive. If you have that problem in your area, look for “sterile” varieties that do not self seed. We are aware there is a controversy in some states about damage the species can do to wild wetlands. Do your homework and plant responsibly for your area. We do list several Butterfly Bush varieties that are non invasive below.

Our Favorite Butterfly Bush Varieties!

Tried and True, “Pink Delight” is still the industry standard and most common Butterfly Bush variety, with uniform growth and large, deep pink flowers. Another pink variety we love is called “Miss Molly”. Deep pink/ magenta, growing to 5 feet tall and wide, and hardy down to zone 5, this selection hummingbirds especially love. It is also a non invasive variety. Find this variety at ‘Bluestone Perennials‘. (One of our favorite online nurseries as well!)

If you love fragrance, try “Honeycomb”. Yellow flowers and a delicious scent.

A dwarf Butterfly Bush variety that is suitable for large containers is “Blue Chip” This is also a sterile variety that will not self seed. Grows 2 to 21/2 feet tall and wide. Find this Butterfly Bush also at ‘Bluestone Perennials‘ or ask at your local nursery.

“Purple Emperor” is a fantastic deep purple with long panicles of flowers, and for a sparkling white variety, try “White Ball” or “White Profusion”

There are dozens of varieties from local and online nurseries, even selections with variegated foliage. Butterfly Bush is a proven winner that will quickly establish an attractive, full garden for little money, and basic upkeep. We think you will also love our posts on 10 No Fail Perennials for Low Water Gardens and How to Grow Lavender Like the French!

Image Credits: Bluestone Perennials, Bluestone Perennials


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Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii – often spelled Buddleia) is a favorite shrub of many gardeners because of its colorful flowers and ability to attract a variety of beneficial insects. As the name implies, the shrub is particularly attractive to butterflies. Native to China, it is adapted to all regions of South Carolina; however, it may be killed to the ground during harsh winters. In some areas of the US, it is considered weedy, and its planting is discouraged. This does not seem to be as much of an issue in the southeast with the exception of B. Lindleyana which suckers prolifically. Weedy seedlings should be dug-out where unwanted.

Typical arching butterfly bush form in mid-summer.
Photo by Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Mature Height/Spread

This deciduous to semi-evergreen shrub typically grows from 6 to 10 feet tall by 4 to 10 feet wide with a rather open, arching form. Their stems are square in cross-section, and young shoots are covered by dense, white hairs. Leaves are opposite, 3 to 5 inches long by 1 to 3 inches wide, varying from deep green to gray-green to silvery-gray. The leaves of some cultivars are densely hairy underneath. Size, form and leaf color can vary widely by cultivar and should be considered when purchasing plants.

Growth Rate

Butterfly bushes grow very fast and can reach mature size in 1 to 2 growing seasons.

Landscape Use

Butterfly bushes form the foundation for numerous butterfly gardens and are prized for their long, summer bloom period. Many cultivars will flower from June through October (if deadheaded) with peak bloom in July and August. They produce 5- to 12-inch-long panicles (i.e. long, slender flower clusters) in white, blue, lavender, pink, purple, yellow and many intermediate shades. The flowers are a nearly irresistible nectar source for butterflies, bees, lady beetles, and other pollinating insects as well as the occasional hummingbird. Additionally, their flowers have a pleasant fragrance. The shrubs are essentially round in outline and form an excellent backdrop for perennial borders. Removing old flowers will encourage new blooms.

Cultivation

Lavender flowers and gray leaves of ‘Lochinch’ Buddleja.
Photo by Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Butterfly bushes are amazingly tough plants and grow well under a variety of conditions. The one critical requirement is well-drained soil as their roots will quickly rot when waterlogged. Full sun is needed to ensure adequate flowering, and they prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Like most shrubs, they benefit from a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch. Once established they are fairly drought tolerant and only require moderate fertilization.

These shrubs are very cold-hardy (USDA Zones 5 – 9), but as mentioned earlier, they may be killed to the ground by very low temperatures. This is not a problem since they will re-sprout vigorously from the crown (i.e. where the stems meet the roots). In fact, pruning butterfly bushes to within one foot of the ground annually enhances the flower display. This should be done before new growth begins in the spring since they flower on new growth. Avoid fall or winter pruning which increases the risk of cold damage.

Seeds form after flowering and the dark seed heads are generally considered unattractive. Deadheading the spent panicles before they go to seed provides a neater look to the plant, lengthens the bloom period, and prevents unwanted seedlings in the garden.

Problems

‘White Profusion’ butterfly bush flower head.
Photo by Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Butterfly bushes are relatively trouble free when the proper conditions are provided. However, spider mites can be a problem when the plants are drought stressed. Nematodes are also a problem, particularly in the sandy soils of the coastal plain. Downy mildew, caused by the fungus Peronospora hariotii, may occur during cooler temperatures with extended leaf wetness on Buddleja x Weyeriana cultivars. Pesticide use on these shrubs is discouraged, particularly when in bloom, because of the wide variety of beneficial insects present at that time. Some people with sensitive skin may be irritated by the foliage.

Cultivars

There are an overwhelming number of cultivars available and also a number of related species and hybrids. The list below contains some of the most commonly available cultivars. It is advisable to buy from reputable nurseries as plants of his species are often mislabeled.

Large Cultivars (greater than 6 feet tall):

Soft, felted leaves of sageleaf butterfly bush.
Photo by Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

  • ‘Attraction’ has magenta, nearly red flowers with attractive foliage.
  • ‘Bicolor’ (B. x Weyeriana) has lavender flower buds that open to a peachy-pink with a yellow cast as they age.
  • ‘Black Night’ is the most commonly available cultivar, and has dark purple flowers. The darkest butterfly bush flowers available.
  • ‘Dartmoor’ has mauve-to lilac-colored flowers borne on large, branched flower heads.
  • ‘Guinevere’ has vibrant purple-black, fragrant flowers and dark blue-green foliage.
  • ‘Honeycomb’ (B. x Weyeriana) has fragrant, golden yellow flowers with attractive green foliage.
  • ‘Lochinch’ has sweet scented, light lavender-violet flowers and felted foliage with a silvery cast. ‘Lochinch’ is a hybrid between B. davidii and B. fallowiana.
  • ‘Pink Delight’ flowers are a true pink on large panicles. The foliage has a silvery cast.
  • ‘Royal Red’ has long reddish-purple flowers and is extremely attractive to butterflies.
  • ‘White Profusion’ is the most common white flowered cultivar and is very hardy.

Compact Cultivars (less than 6 feet tall):

  • ‘Ellen’s Blue’ is a dwarf form (4 feet) with blue-violet flowers.
  • ‘Nanho Blue’ has mauve to indigo blue flowers.
  • ‘Summer Beauty’ has deep, rose-pink flowers on a compact plant (to 4 feet) with silvery foliage.
  • ‘White Ball’ is considered the most dwarf butterfly bush, maxing-out at about 3 feet tall. White flowers cover plant all summer.

Related Species

Buddleja fallowiana: This is one of the best butterfly bushes for foliage interest. The leaves are 2 to 4 inches long and heavily felted, giving a decidedly silver-gray overall appearance. Plants can reach 10 to 15 feet tall, but can easily be maintained lower. Flower heads are white to lavender and 6 to 8 inches long. ‘Alba’, the most commonly seen cultivar, is more compact than the species, with white flowers.

Sageleaf Butterfly Bush (Buddleja salviifolia): This species is grown primarily for its foliage. It has highly textured leaves that are coppery-green. Flowers are a pale lavender and not especially showy. It is a large shrub (15 to 20 feet tall) from South Africa. It flowers on the previous year’s wood and should be pruned after flowering. It is very hardy and may remain evergreen in Zones 7-9.

Alternate-leaf Butterfly Bush (Buddleja alternifolia): This species is a deciduous shrub with alternate leaves unlike other Buddlejas. It is a very hardy, rapid growing, tall plant (13 to 15 feet) with a weeping habit. This butterfly bush produces purple flowers early in the season on the previous year’s wood and should be pruned after flowering.

Lindley’s Butterfly Bush (Buddleja Lindleyana): This butterfly bush has small dark green leaves and lavender-purple flowers. It is a smaller shrub (4-5 feet) with gracefully arching branches and fragrant panicles. This species will spread by suckers to colonize large areas.

Reviving Old Shrubs

If they are not properly maintained, old shrubs can become a huge contributing factor to making your home an embarrassing eyesore. In addition, old and dying shrubs can also end up becoming a danger to you and your family by becoming a perfect location for pests and rodents to live. However, if you are interested in salvaging any old shrubs that you may have, then you are in luck. Reviving old shrubs isn’t particularly difficult, though it will require a bit of time and dedication on your part.

  • Inspect the shrub. Never just plunge into an old shrub and begin making changes. The main reason for this is that there could literally be anything hiding in that shrub, and you don’t know exactly what is required to make sure that you get the shrub going again. Look carefully at your shrub, from top to bottom, making note of any and all problems that the shrub may have. Don’t just look at the shrub, but also the soil that it planted in (if you can see it that is). If at all possible test the soil to see if it has the right pH balance for the shrub to continue growing there.
  • Prune as needed. If the shrub has become overgrown, or you have spots that are diseased or dying, then you will need to do a bit of pruning. Ideally, you will be doing this pruning in the appropriate season for the particular plant you are dealing with. However, if you are not, be very gentle. This means that you may need to do a little bit of pruning each day, over a long period of time to ensure that you don’t stress out and shock the plant too much. A good rule of thumb as to when to prune a shrub is to do that particular work about a season before it begins to bloom. For example, if you have a shrub that blooms in the spring time, then you will want to do the pruning in the late winter, or very early spring time.
  • Adjust the soil. If you haven’t done it already, this would be the perfect time to test the soil around your shrub. You will want to make sure that it is the proper condition for growing the particular shrub you are dealing with. If it is not, you will need to either remove the shrub or adjust the soil to help it begin to thrive once again. This can generally be done by applying a bit of organic mulch, or some fertilizer to the area and mixing it (the fertilizer) into the soil. Be careful that you do not damage the roots when you are doing this.
  • Adjust watering. Adjust your watering habits so that it is appropriate for the particular shrub that you are dealing with. Surprisingly, many people forget to even include their shrubs into the watering plans for their landscape. Ideally, you will want to use a drip or seep system for watering your shrubs as it is more efficient.
  • Remove any dead shrubs. In the event that the shrub was dead, or it has died despite your best efforts, you will need to remove it. Do not leave anything behind when you do this, since a stump left in the ground can easily become a home for dangerous pests such as hornets and wasps. Replace the dead shrub with a new one, or refill the hole in the ground with some topsoil, and grass seed.

Why Are My Shrubs Turning Brown And Dying?

Pale pink hydrangeas, grassy green boxwoods, rosy red azaleas. There’s a perfect shrub to match any landscape color scheme.

Brown shrubs, though? They don’t quite have the same charm. More importantly, a once healthy shrub that’s now dull, dry and brown is likely in trouble, and it needs a little TLC to get back to its old self.

If your shrubs switched up on you, keep reading to find out how to step in and save them.

Reasons your shrubs are turning brown and dying and what you can do

When shrubs go brown, harsh temperatures and too much or too little care could be to blame.

What causes shrubs to turn brown?

All brown shrubs don’t have the same back story. Your shrubs could’ve turned brown for a number of reasons, including:

  • Extreme temperature: Frigid weather can shock shrubs into a brown cast, and extreme heat can turn shrub leaves dry and dull, too.
  • Drastic weather changes: Warm weather in winter prompts shrubs to start growing, but if there’s a sudden temperature drop, that growth stops in its tracks. If the ground is still frozen, the shrubs can’t soak up enough water from the soil to keep new growth green, so it turns brown instead.
  • Pests or disease: Insects like borers or a disease like boxwood blight can cause shrubs to change color.
  • Water problems: Both too much and too little water can stress a shrub out and cause it to turn brown.
  • Fertilizer overload: Pouring too much fertilizer into plant beds can essentially burn your shrubs by increasing salt levels in the soil.

Do brown needles or leaves mean shrubs are dying?

Not necessarily. A browning shrub that still has live buds and branches can rebound with your help. But first, here’s how you can tell for sure that your shrub’s alive and kicking:

  1. Look for plump, green buds. Found some? That’s a good sign!
  2. Scratch a branch with your fingernail. It should be green and moist underneath the bark.
  3. Scratch a few more branches. If they’re all green and moist under the bark, your shrub’s in good shape. On the other hand, branches that are brown and dry below the surface are dead, and lots of dead branches likely mean the shrub won’t survive.

What to do about shrub leaves turning brown

The solution for your shrub depends on how it turned brown, to begin with. Give it an inspection—or have a professional arborist inspect it—to figure out the best course of action. Here’s what to look for:

  • If your shrubs turned brown in the midst of hot summer or bitter winter temps, slowly water the roots in summer and protect your shrubs before winter with anti-desiccant spray.
  • Suspect insects or diseases are the problem? Inspect your shrub for other symptoms. You might notice leaf drop or webbing, or you may see pests actually crawling around the plant. If that’s the case, have an arborist come out to give your shrubs a look.
  • If fluctuating winter temperatures dulled your shrubs, wait to see if there’s any new growth in spring. Water your shrub thoroughly to help with the growth process, and then prune out any lingering dead stems that didn’t sprout new leaves.
  • Saturated soil surrounding your brown shrubs is a sign of overwatering. Let up on the hydration until the soil dries out.
  • Shrubs that turn brown after they’re fertilized probably got burned from over-fertilization. Use a steady flow of hose water to flush out the soil.

And, if your brown shrub just has you scratching your head, have an arborist come take a look.

You might not think you have a green thumb, but I promise you: Anyone can be a good plant parent. Yes, even if you have a long, storied track record of killing houseplants. The truth is, our plants actually communicate with us, so caring for them isn’t always as tricky as it might seem. All you have to do is pay attention to your plants’ foliage and soil to make sure your plant is thriving—or to revive it if it’s not doing so hot—and what you see will inform your next steps. I spoke with Joyce Mast, Bloomscape’s resident Plant Mom (yes, that’s her *real* title—in addition to being a plant expert, she also happens to be the founder’s mother), to find out what warning signs you should look for, and how to bring your dying houseplants back to life.

Its leaves are yellowing.

Yellow leaves can be a sign of a few things, but most commonly, Mast tells House Beautiful that this indicates an issue with overwatering, so you should check to make sure there isn’t leftover water in the pot or the saucer underneath. “The roots of an indoor plant should not remain constantly wet or sit in standing water—this will cause the roots to drown and the plant to die.”

Yellow leaves won’t turn green again, Mast notes, so trim any damaged foliage with sharp scissors or pruning shears, wiping the blades with rubbing alcohol between each snip. If just the tips of the leaves are yellow, you can remove just the yellow part instead of the full leaf. Then, cut back on the watering.

Its leaves are turning brown.

Brown leaves, on the other hand, usually mean your plant is thirsty and too dry. “It’s usually a lack of humidity or water quality,” Mast says. Like yellow leaves, you should trim the brown ones, too. If just the tips are brown, snip those using the same steps, and if the whole leaf is brown, cut it off near the base. Then, get a plant mister and start spritzing it a little every day.

If you’re worried it might be the water quality (chlorine, fluoride, and salts can impact your plants), not the quantity, Mast has some tips. “I suggest filling a pitcher with water and allowing it to stand uncovered overnight so the minerals can evaporate, or just use distilled water or rainwater instead of tap water,” she explains.

Its foliage looks a little dull.

Bleached out or dull leaves might actually mean that your plants are getting too much light. Just like people, plants can—and do—get sunburned. “If your plants receive too much light, it will display with dull, lackluster foliage and even bleached-out looking leaves,” Mast says. Light brown edges and spots can also be an indication of this.

If you’re worried your plant isn’t getting enough light, Mast suggests moving it a little at a time—don’t go directly for the sunniest spot in the house. “Expose the plant to higher light gradually to acclimate to a better location,” Mast says.

Courtesy of Bloomscape

Its roots are sticking out.

If you see the roots of your plant creeping along the top of the pot or through the drainage holes, it’s time to replant it. “This is a sign that your plant is root-bound and needs more space, meaning it’s time to repot it in a larger pot!” Mast says.

Another thing that will indicate your plant has outgrown its planter? Pay attention when you water it—if the water rushes right through the pot and out the drainage holes, you’ll know the roots are taking up too much room in the current pot, and there’s not enough soil to root ratio for your plant to thrive.

You see spots on its leaves.

“If you see small brown spots trimmed in yellow, your plant might have a Leaf Spot Disease,” Mast says. “The attacking fungus or bacteria causes small brown spots trimmed in yellow to appear where it’s feeding on the leaves.” The spots can vary in size, shape, and color.

So, how do you treat it? “First, immediately remove the affected leaves and isolate the plant from your other plants for the time being,” Mast advises, sharing a homemade remedy for treating the issue: “Put a tablespoon or two of baking soda, and a teaspoon of mineral oil, in a spray bottle of water. Shake it well, then spray all areas of the plant that are infected with spots.” Mast says it may take a few applications until the bacteria is gone.

Don’t worry, these plants will forgive you…

If you’re new to houseplants but want to infuse your home with a little green, Mast recommends these four varieties because they’re particularly vocal about their care needs, and even more forgiving when you fix the problem.

Golden Pothos Live Plant Costa Farms amazon.com $25.99

“Although pretty subtle, Pothos will let you know that it’s thirsty by drooping its leaves a bit,” Mast says. “They may also curl inwards, and feel limp to the touch. Water it thoroughly, and it will be back to normal in a few hours with no lasting issues.”

Fittonia Silver Nerve Plant JM Bamboo amazon.com $11.00

“Fittonia will literally flop over when it’s thirsty, announcing that it needs water,” Mast explains. “When this happens, water thoroughly and it will perk right back in up a few hours. Just don’t let it sit flopped over for too long, or brown edges might form.”

Hoya Carnosa Live Plant landofalicestudio etsy.com $19.00

“Hoyas like to dry out completely between waterings, and they will tell you when they need water, making them a great option if you tend to forget to water,” Mast notes. “Their usually waxy, firm leaves will get wrinkled and limp when they need it.”

Angel Croton Live Plants Costa Farms amazon.com $34.99

“Croton leaves with begin to sag and wilt down when they need water, but as soon as it’s watered and misted, you can practically watch the leaves begin to stand upright,” Mast says. It’ll be back to displaying its “gorgeous colored foliage” in no time.

Courtesy of Bloomscape

Now, if your plant is healthy…

If your plant doesn’t exhibit any of the signs above, but you’re still concerned that you’re not quite getting this whole plant parent thing right, don’t fret. Here are a few major signs that your plant is thriving—you know, to calm your nerves.

  • Your plant is growing. Growth is basically the best sign you can ask for! Mast does have a hot tip for you, though: Turn your plants once a week. “It prevents uneven, lopsided growth, since plants grow toward light,” she explains. Oh, and if your plant isn’t growing much at all during the winter, don’t think anything of it, it’s totally normal and it’s just your plant entering its dormant phase.
  • Its roots are hardy. When you look at your plants roots, they should be light in color or almost white, Mast says, and they should be sturdy. These signs mean your plant’s roots are healthy!
  • There aren’t any pests in sight. On a healthy houseplant, Mast says, “there won’t be any little critters hanging out on the top or the underside of the plant’s leaves.”

At the end of the day, Mast says you should pick out a plant that speaks to your home’s personality. “But also, make sure you’re choosing a plant that will thrive in the environment you provide,” she adds.

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Brittney Morgan Associate Market Editor, House Beautiful Brittney Morgan is House Beautiful’s Associate Market Editor, a noted land mermaid, and a Virgo with a penchant for crafts, red lipstick, and buying way too many throw pillows.

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