Tips On How To Diagnose Houseplant Problems


Diagnosing houseplant problems can be a tricky process. Many of the most common plant problems result in the same symptoms.

This post lists helpful tips you can use to help you determine what you are doing wrong with your plant.

The most common ailment is lack of sunlight which causes a plant to have small leaves and stems that are weak. Read on for more…

Diagnosing Indoor Plant Problems

Each and every week we receive questions on house plant diseases and “disorders”.

Some are just acts of nature – like a flowering Dracaena fragrans – an unusual event for many, others are problems that happen when we just change the environment.

Indoor plants are subject to a wide variety of ailments and abuses.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen house plants hanging out the back of the trunk.

The foliage is flapping around at 40-50 miles per hour and the people wonder why the leaves fall off. It is sort of like having a bad hair day.

It is difficult to diagnose a particular indoor plant disease or problem or its cause without an accurate record of the environmental conditions and changes, fertilizer history, pesticide applications, etc.

Adding to this is the fact that various disorders may produce almost the same visual symptoms.


When presented with questions on houseplant diseases – I usually ask the following questions:

  • How long have you had the plant?
  • How often do you water?
  • Is the soil wet?
  • Have you moved the plant from one area to another?
  • Did lighting change?
  • Did you have a party? – Yes plants and alcohol don’t mix.

All that being said, here are some quick symptoms and some possible quick remedies. We’ll look at some of these in more depth in the future.

Tall Plants, Weak Growth:

Plants which are stretched, weak and spindly, or have abnormally small leaves are often suffering from insufficient light. Try moving the plant to a brighter area.

Plants Fail To Flower Or Flower Infrequently:

Reduced flowering is most often due to inadequate light. As a rule, flowering house plants require higher light intensities than those grown solely for their foliage. Move the plant to a brighter area.


There are two types of defoliation Gradual and Rapid.


The gradual loss of leaves, usually from the bottom upward, may indicate inadequate light. Newly developing leaves sometimes reduce the amount of light reaching lower leaves.

Gradual foliage loss can also result from deficiencies in nutrients and damage to root systems.

Many indoor plants need time to acclimate properly and will lose their inner leaves indoors. Move the pot to a brighter area. If the condition persists, examine the root system for possible injury.


Rapid defoliation is generally a shock response, the plants’ protection mechanism.

This can be caused by dramatic temperature changes, water stress, problems with roots, or rapid changes in lighting (many of us have seen a ficus).

From the above examples, we can see that the plants are reacting to environmental changes the key is patience. Many plants will produce new leaves and resume growth.


Wilting is a natural response to water stress. It may also occur under other conditions. Check the soil moisture. If it is dry, add water. Plants should recover in a few hours. If the soil is already wet, stop watering it.

Examine the soil and root system for indications of plant diseases, soluble salt accumulation, or poor draining characteristics.


Leaf Tip Burn:

Where do we start? The causes of tip burn are so difficult because of the many factors that can cause it. Moisture stress (usually too much), high soluble salts, fertilizer deficiencies or toxicities, and fluoride toxicity (as with dracaenas) are the most common causes.

Certain varieties of plants are much more subject to tip burn than others. Start by looking the watering practices, too much or too little. If you fertilize, back off the fertilizing and leach the plant out with water.

Take a look at Dracaenas floruride issues.

Water Droplets On Tip Of Leaf Or Floor:

Water sometimes is forced out of the leaves of plants, usually ending up at the tip. This is called guttation which is natural and causes no injury to the plant.

Dying-Back Of Stems And Leaves:

Die-back can be caused by nutrient disorders or diseases. It can affect branches and limbs or possibly the entire plant. Die-back affecting an isolated stem is more likely due to disease.

This is why plants should be pruned correctly and not sheared, leaving small stems that cannot transport nutrients and just rot off. Remove affected stems.

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