The Graveyard of Houseplants

Most of us have been trying to bring some vitality into our homes by adding a nice plant here and there. It should make the room seem more alive. Until weeks pass and then you suddenly notice that the leaves are no longer green but have adapted a brownish colour. But I just watered them, right? Well, probably not well enough. The plant becomes just another addition to the graveyard of houseplants.

by Polykum Redaktion

Cause of death
There are three main causes of houseplant death. First, overwatering. What a surprise! Yes, we all love the effort of watering our plants regularly, but too much can be too much. The best prevention is to let the soil dry out a bit. Do the finger test and if there is not much moisture left, water your plant then and only then.

The second most common cause of death is a co-morbidity of overwatering: lack of drainage. When strolling through the pot aisle, the prettiest one might not be the best. Pots with no holes will keep all the water in. This not only increases the risk of your plant drowning, but can also lead to root rot. A certain death sentence for a plant.

Lastly, there is the well-known not enough light. Light is their food. No light, no food, no life. Most plants like sunny rooms. Now, if you are realising that you are hiding your plant in a corner of the room, do not suddenly move it into light. Make the transition gradually. Remember: when you wake up in the morning, the sun helps us to feel a bit more alive, but most of us probably do not like to wake up with the strongest light shining directly in our face.

Death prevention

Apart from knowing what might be the causes of deaths, it is also important to be able to read the signs. The most common is probably the yellowing of the leaves. This can literally mean anything. In that case, it is important to look for other signs. If the rest of the plant looks perfectly healthy, the leaf may just be old. Another change of colour that one of your plants might show is that its edges are turning black. This is a sign of low humidity or a fungus that eating away at the leaves. If the leaves start getting wrinkled or drooping of, you may not have watered your plant enough. Another reason could be that your plant is not receiving enough light. So basically, there are not enough nutrients available to the plant and it starts getting rid of its leaves. With all this in mind, I hope we can all keep our plants healthy and alive this semester. Fingers crossed.

Check out the anecdotes from other students, some have been more successful than others. Can you do better?

A matter of perspective
A few months ago, I saw this very cute macramé plant hanger in a shop. Immediately, I thought: this would fit perfectly next to the window in my bedroom. I ended up buying it without having a plant to hang in yet. Over the last few years, I developed a love for potted plants. However, I realised that I am not very talented at keeping them alive. Nevertheless, I have never stopped trying. When I bought the macramé hanger, my room was already decorated with a few plants: A baby monstera with two sprouting leaves, an ivy which was not growing but also not drying out, and an orchid where two of the four flower-carrying parts were actually in blossom.
Some time passed since I bought the macramé hanger, when my boyfriend gifted me a very cute plant to hang in it. The plan was that the plant would grow and get long branches that would hand down. And for a few months it did! I happily watered my new plant and proudly observing its growth. However, having the plant hung up and not being able to see into the pot turned out to be disastrous for it. I ended up watering the poor plant too much, thereby causing its end. Until now, I could not bring myself up to throw it away. I secretly still hope that it somehow recovers. So, the dead little plant is still hanging in the macramé next to my bedroom window. – Rossella Sala

Trial, error and success

I had a plant in my room in Living Science. For people who don’t live there: The air is very dry in winter. I did not do much and – what a surprise – the plant lost all its leaves after they turned from yellow to grey. In the end I had to give up and throw the plant away. Project one: complete failure.

For my birthday, I got another plant. I have to add this time it was not an easy one. After being absent for a week and a half and not having adjusted to being a plant owner again, I came home to find my second plant dying. All the leaves, which had been flourishing before, had dried out. My heart was broken. But I did not stop believing and kept watering the plant. I also placed it in the common area of our six-person flat and told my flatmates to water it as well. This led to the plant swimming in water, so I had to drain it from time to time to prevent mould. But believe it or not, after a week or two, new leaves started to grow! Since then, it has been three weeks and I am still a proud plant mum. – Helena Golling

Heating pipe of doom

I had a beautiful papyrus in a pot. It had countless thin green stems, dense almost like human hair. It was inside all summer because I do not have a balcony. The best place with most sunlight was by the window. Then fall came and the pipe of the heating, which was also next to the window, suddenly became very hot. My poor papyrus lost most of its stems. They got burnt so quickly. First, I thought the plant would not make it, but a few stems (maybe 4 out of 40) at the edge of the pot survived. By now, the plant has recovered and grown many new small stems. But I am really looking forward to my new flat with a balcony. – RG


Nicole Pfenninger, 20,
studies Health Sciences and Techonoly. The lemon verbena that she planted last week is already looking a bit sad, let’s see what can be done about it…

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