13 Ways to Handle Houseplant Problems

Most houseplants are tough and trouble-free, but problems can pop up. Find solutions to keep your potted beauties healthy and happy.

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July 03, 2018

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Costa Farms

Photo By: Winston J. Goretsky/African Violet Society of America

Photo By: Costa Farms

Philodendron 'Brasil'

Problem: White spots that look like powder or flour on your houseplants. Solution: This is probably a fungal disease, powdery mildew. Increase the air circulation in the room, and avoid overwatering. Saturated soils and poor ventilation are breeding grounds for this problem. Remove badly infected leaves, and if the problem persists, look for an organic fungicide labeled safe for indoor use. Follow all label directions. Shown here: a vining Philodendron, 'Brasil'

Red Anthurium

Problem: Swarms or clouds of tiny white creatures fly into the air when you move your plants. Solution: You’ve got whiteflies, insects related to aphids that suck plant juices. They make a sticky substance called honeydew that can attract fungal diseases. Spray the plant with an insecticidal soap, following label directions. You’ll probably need to re-treat. Some gardeners use a homemade spray of 2 parts rubbing alcohol, 5 parts water and one tablespoon of mild liquid soap. The good news is that some houseplants, like this red Anthurium, are seldom troubled by these pests.

Zamioculcas (ZZ Plant)

Problem: Lower leaves turn yellow and drop. Solution: Several issues can cause foliage to turn yellow and fall off. First, be sure you’re not overwatering or underwatering. To check for signs of overwatering, gently ease the plant out of its pot and look for rotting or blackened roots. Leaf drop can also result from insufficient light, so try moving your plant to a brighter spot. Finally, make sure you’re using the right fertilizer for your plant, and feed as directed on the label. This Zamioculcas, or ZZ plant, seldom has these kinds of problems. It's tough enough to tolerate low light and little water.

Orchids in Bright Light

Problem: Few or no blooms. Solution: Your flowering plant may need more light. Try giving it brighter light, such as an eastern exposure, or put it in a spot that gets more hours of light each day. Be careful not to give it direct sun, however; windows can intensify sunlight and cause leaves to burn. Orchids with few blooms may take a little more diagnosis. While they might need more light, they may also require a drop of about 10 degrees F. between day and night temperatures. Some need a rest period between bloom cycles, when you cut back on watering and stop fertilizing. Check with a local orchid grower or nursery for more advice.

Sanservia 'Black Robusta'

Problem: Mushy or blackened stems. Solution: Cut back on watering. Houseplants usually need just enough to keep the soil moist, not wet. Be sure to empty the saucers under your plants after you water, too, so their roots don’t stand in water and start to rot. This Sanservia, 'Black Robusta', needs very little water and even thrives on neglect.

Aglaonema 'Cecilia'

Problem: White, cottony spots or masses show up on foliage. Solution: Mealybugs are sucking the sap from your houseplants. Try knocking them off with a gentle spray of water from the kitchen sink (or shower, if you have big potted plants). If they return, apply an insecticidal soap or neem oil. Always follow the product directions.

Alstroemeria, Diffenbachia and Palms

Problem: Bumps on plant leaves and stems. Solution: Scale, insects with hard shells, often infest houseplants; a sooty, black mold can signal their presence. Try scraping them off with your fingernail or the edge of a butter knife. If your plant is badly infested, or the problem persists, try "spot-treating" by touching the scale with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol. If that doesn’t work, step up to a product labeled for scale.

Dracanea 'Song of India'

Problem: You see webs on your houseplants. The leaves look discolored and/or curl and drop off. Hard-to-see spider mites, which are actually spiders, are the likely cause. Solution: Knock the mites off with a gentle spray of water from the kitchen sink, or put big plants in the shower. If the pests keep coming back, use an insecticidal soap or neem oil. Shown here: Dracenea 'Song of India'

Porch Houseplants

Problem: Buds drop off. Solution: If the buds fall off a new plant you’ve just brought home, it may be stressed or shocked by the sudden change in its growing conditions. It should recover in time. Be sure your plant isn't sitting in a draft or in a spot that’s too hot or cold. You might also want to increase the surrounding humidity.

Diffenbachia 'Camille'

Problem: Yellowing veins, especially on new leaves, or yellow leaves in general. Solution: Yellow veins may mean your plant needs more iron or magnesium. Give it a trace element fertilizer. If you’re not sure which one to use, take a few sample leaves to your garden center or nursery and ask for help. Leaves that become completely yellow can also mean the plant needs fertilizer. But be aware that other things can cause this, including insufficient light, not enough water or insect pests. Mature leaves at the bottom of plants may also turn yellow and drop naturally.


Problem: Tiny, pale green, pear-shaped insects have infested your plants. Solution: Aphids are sucking your plant's juices. While they seldom kill houseplants, aphids, like whiteflies, can produce a sticky honeydew that encourages sooty mold and attracts ants. Spray your plants with a stream of water to dislodge these pests, or dunk them in a bucket of water. Remove and discard any badly infested plant parts. You may need to treat for aphids several times.

African Violet Optimara 'Rose Quartz' (Kathy Lahti)

Problem: There's a crusty, white build-up on the soil of your houseplant or on its pot. Solution: This is a build-up of salts from the minerals in the fertilizer you're using. Excess salts can damage and burn houseplants like this African violet. Scrape the crust off the pot and flush out the soil build-up by repeatedly watering until water drains out the bottom (be sure not to let the plant sit in the water).

Healthy Orchids

Problem: Small, winged insects are feeding on your houseplants. Solution: Thrips are at work, leaving black speckles and distorting plant parts. You may also see stippled leaves or flowers that die before opening. Control thrips with an insecticidal soap or neem oil and follow package directions.

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