10 Easy Hacks to Save Your Houseplants That Gardeners Swear By
Whether your plant is dry, overwatered, or just plain drab, these pro tips will liven them right up.
According to a recent HomeAdvisor survey, the average U.S. household has six houseplants. And of the 2,200 participants, 25 percent prefer plants to pets, and 83 percent said plants can "improve feelings of overall well-being." Suffice it to say, we have a bit of a houseplant obsession. But despite how many "plantfluencers" you may follow, there's a lot more to a happy, healthy indoor garden than just buying cute pots and trendy monsteras. That's why we spoke to gardeners and plant experts to find out their easy hacks to save your houseplants that might be looking a little sad. Whether your issue is dry soil, root rot, or lifeless leaves, we've got you covered.
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Use a hydrogen peroxide spray if you have root rot.
Root rot is a condition that happens when your plants have been overwatered and the roots then are attacked by fungus or bacteria. Perhaps you thought the soil was dry from touching the top layer, or maybe your pot doesn't have drainage holes. Whatever the case, once root rot sets in, it can cause yellow or brown leaves and even kill the plant entirely.
If you think your plant is struggling with root rot, Erinn Witz, a garden expert and co-founder of Seeds and Spades, recommends giving it a dose of diluted hydrogen peroxide.
"Mix one tablespoon of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide with one cup of filtered water, and use the mixture to water your plant. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down in the soil, adding a boost of oxygen that can help kill off the harmful microbes that are attacking your plant's roots," she explains.
Witz says this hack can also be used on healthy plants to give them some extra oxygen. "In this case, use one teaspoon of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to one cup of filtered water and use it to water your plant like a normal watering."
While this won't reverse the damage that's already been done, it will prevent root rot from spreading. In addition to this hack, you'll want to re-pot the plant with fresh soil and avoid overwatering it moving forward.
Add coffee grounds or perlite to your potting soil.
"Most potting mixes that we buy in stores retain too much water. As a result, the plants stay wet for too long, leading to root rot," explains Vladan Nikolic, founder of the houseplant care blog Mr. Houseplant.
As a simple solution, Nikolic recommends mixing store-bought soil with perlite (an inexpensive mineral rock that can be found in bags at most gardening centers or even online from Amazon). The mix should be two parts soil, one part perlite. "It will not retain as much water and will contain more oxygen, which is crucial in reducing the chances of root rot," he notes.
For a simple nutrient boost, Jen Stark, founder of the blog Happy DIY Home, suggests mixing coffee grounds with your soil. "Coffee grounds contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential nutrients for plants. Mix the grounds into your soil or sprinkle them around the plant's base."
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"Bottom water" your plants.
If you're not sure how thirsty your plant is, you might want to "bottom water" it. Plant influencer @growwithjessie shared a video on TikTok about how she employs this hack with her planters that have drainage holes on the bottom.
Jessie simply filled a plastic Tupperware with water and sat her pots in it so the roots could soak up the liquid. "You know that there's moisture reaching the bottom of your plants roots & this way, the roots in your potted plants can get stronger because they grow directly down towards the moisture," she says.
She then used a spray bottle to spritz the top of the soil and the leaves so they got some moisture, too.
Get a moisture meter.
If you just can't seem to get a handle on the whole watering thing, an inexpensive moisture meter can make things pretty fool-proof, according to Lauren Caputo, founder and chief creative officer of PLNTD in Jersey City.
"While the top of your plant's soil could look dry on top, and sure, sticking your finger in an inch or two might also feel dry, what about the rest of the soil you can't reach?" says Caputo. This is where a moisture meter comes in: Simply place it in the soil, and it will immediately read whether the soil is dry, moist, or wet.
Rebecca Sears, the CMO and resident green thumb at Ferry-Morse, the longest-operating seed company in the U.S., also suggests a self-watering planter. These have built-in water meters to show you how much water your plant currently has. "Once the water meter is filled, all you need to do is check in on it and refill when needed," Sears says.
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Save your hard-boiled egg water.
Making hard-boiled eggs for breakfast? Hang on to the water that's left over in your pot and use it to water your plants.
"When you boil eggs, the calcium within the eggshells leaks into the water," DIY Garden blogger Emma Loker previously explained to Best Life. "Eggshells are a rich source of calcium, a mineral that helps keep the soil pH between 6 and 6.5, the optimal conditions for plants to extract essential nutrients."
Calcium strengthens plants' cell walls, which helps them grow and stay healthy. You can also make an eggshell fertilizer by crushing or grinding the shells, according to Master Class. However, they note that "it can cause disease in geraniums, violets, azaleas, and other acid-loving plants."
Sprinkle cinnamon on seedlings.
Another plant killer is "damping off," a disease common in seedlings that occurs when fungus or mold begins to grow. As the University of Minnesota Extension explains, plants with mature leaves and root systems can usually fight off the fungus, but "young leaves, roots and stems of newly emerged seedlings are highly susceptible to infection."
A pathogen can enter your planter through potting soil, your garden tools, insects, or even your own hands. Since it's so hard to detect, a simple way the pros prevent damping off is by sprinkling cinnamon on top of the plant's soil.
Lindsey Hall, horticulturist and co-founder of Positive Bloom, previously told Best Life that the spice works by "killing the fungus and ensuring the healthy growth of seedlings." As it turns out, cinnamon has anti-fungal properties. And bonus: Many common insects and pests are repelled by its scent.
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Dust your plants.
It's a no-brainer that plants need sunlight, but according to Sears, dust on your plants can impact how much light they're soaking up and, as a result, stunt their growth.
Therefore, Sears recommends giving your plant babies a weekly cleaning: "For plants with smooth leaves … you can give them a quick wash with room-temperature water or gently wipe away the dust with a cloth. If your plant has hairy leaves, grab a soft paintbrush to easily brush dust and other debris off."
Use a humidifier.
Many popular houseplants are actually native to tropical climates and prefer a humid environment. This includes philodendrons, monsteras, and pothos plants, according to Jennifer Green, a botanist and writer at Positive Bloom. "Therefore, you should find a way to increase humidity levels," she says, adding that a humidifier is an easy way to do this.
Alfred Palomares, vice president of merchandising at 1-800-Flowers.com, suggests a self-timed humidifier. "This will also help hydrate your plants on a set schedule, especially once you know how often they need to be watered," he notes.
Palomares adds that humidifiers are especially helpful in the winter, when "heating systems are pulling moisture out of the air." For this reason, Green also says to "keep your plant away from cold drafts, vents, and air conditioners, but also from heat sources such as radiators or fireplaces. Most plants don't like sudden temperature changes, and can't tolerate lower temperatures."
You can also make a DIY humidity tray, as Stark explains. "Fill a shallow tray with pebbles, and then put your plant's pot on top of the tray. Then fill the tray with water until it just touches the bottom of the pot—this will increase humidity around the plant. Refill it when needed to keep your plants happy!"
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Get a bigger or smaller pot.
This might sound simple, but sometimes all you need to do to revive a houseplant is re-pot it.
It's common for plants to outgrow their pot, causing their roots to become cramped and tangled together—which makes it difficult for them to absorb the nutrients and the water that they need, explains Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love. "Repotting the plant into a larger pot will give the roots more room, and it will also help you see if there is any root rot," he says.
Conversely, sometimes the pot can be too large, according to Pat May, CEO and founder of the app Prōpa, which helps people share houseplant cuttings. "When a pot is too big, the plant is going to spend more of its energy growing roots instead of foliage," May shares. "While your plant might be healthy, it won't seem to grow … Furthermore, some species prefer to root-bound. Finally, having a pot that's too big can affect how water and fertilizer are distributed."
Propagate a dying plant.
"If you feel that you've been doing everything right and your plant is still looking sad, it might be worth it to propagate the healthy parts of your plant and try to grow it again," suggests Caputo.
"Depending on the type of plant, a stem cutting or a cut near a visible node is all you need," she explains. "Once you have your cuttings, get them into fresh filtered water and place them in a bright space. Change the water about once a week. In a few weeks (if it was a healthy-enough plant), you will start to see roots developing! Wait until the roots are at least three inches before repotting in soil and trying again!"