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Top Ten Ways to Kill Your Plants Print Email

--Inspired by and corrupted from an article from a recent newsletter written by Rosebud of Lacrosse Floral, Lacrosse, WI. I think we got her permission. Yup, we did.

Learning how to successfully kill your plants is valuable education. Some of the most advanced plant experts can boast about the plants they have escorted to the compost heap. Killing a plant sticks in your memory. You might feel bad, but once you learn what a particular plant does not like, you remember it. That makes future "living successes" with the same variety so much better.

To help you along your journey toward becoming a plant expert (expert plant killer, ah-hem...), we have developed a list of tips you can use to either kill your plants or to avoid their demise. Remember, these are general tips. Most plants have their own special requirements that you can abuse to commit plant-icide.

1. Drown them or Crisp Them.

OVERWATERING:  Roots need air as well as water. Keeping the soil soaked at all times means certain death for most plants. Waterlogging kills by preventing vital air getting to the roots and by encouraging root rotting diseases. More plants die through overwatering than any other single cause. Often this starts with an overly dry plant that looks like it needs a drink. Success at killing a plant is achieved when it is watered, then watered again and again.

To avoid death, a loving caretaker will water well once, removing the excess runoff after an hour or so. S(he) will then give the plant ample time to recover on its own.

UNDERWATERING: Conversely, not watering at all will also kill a plant just as well. Walk by the plant and totally ignore any signs of wilt or lackluster appearance. If you are lucky, you will lower the plants natural resistance enough to allow insects to infest it which will hasten the effect. See Step 6 below.

If you are serious about learning how to keep plants alive, you will water according to the plant's needs. This might mean you will do a bit of research. If you do, you will find out that many plants like to be kept on the dry side and some like to be quite wet. But most plants want to be kept Evenly Moist. This means, you water when the soils approaches dryness, but not bone dry. If you put yoru finger into the soil an inch down or so you will have a pretty good idea how moist the soil is. Follow the directions for your plant and go from there.

2. Grow them to death. Beginners are usually surprised to learn that nearly all plants need a rest in winter. This means less water, less food and less heat than in the active growing season. To kill a plant, keep it in a cold, drafty location, and feed it more than it needs. Feeding too much builds up excess salts in the soil that can act as a toxin to the suffering plant. This has the added advantage of stunting its growth before it slowly dies. You can speed up the process by cutting back on the light.

To keep your tired plant alive over winter, water it slightly less and decrease or suspend feedings until the weather warms, natural light increases and the active growth period begins. Also make certain there are no drafts as this can be fatal. If plants are close to a door, choose a new winter location away from chilly temperatures. Also, avoid placing plants near a hot air vent as this can overly dry out the plant.

3. Toss out "temporary" plants. This one is easy. Some popular gift plants are just that, temporary. Some die down in a matter of weeks on their own. You can't take credit for that. There are some, though, that will come back and bloom again. Tossing those goes to your credit.

An avid gardener will salvage these plants and rejuvenate them during the summer and get them to rebloom again. If you are unsure whether the plant can regrow, ask the source. 

4. Reduce humidity in the winter. This is a fairly safe bet. While not very aesthetically pleasing, crispy leaves signal an untimely death especially if combined with one or more other tips. The atmosphere in a centrally heated home in winter is as dry as desert air. You can speed things along by putting your plant near a hot air vent, especially if you don't have a central humidification system.

The astute plant keeper will increase air humidity by using a humidifier, grouping plants on humidity trays or placing them in a humid area such as the kitchen or bathroom. Giving them a tepid shower early in the day on a weekly basis also helps.

5. Keep 'em in the dark. There are a few plants that will survive a dark corner. For a list, click here. This method is slow. It often takes several months to really kill a plant by withholding light. Unfortunately, you will have to look at unsightly legginess or stunted growth and abnormal color to the leaves. You won't see much in the way of blooms, either. Skip this method and use one that is more effective.

6. Ignore signs of trouble. If you can't handle killing a plant, you can let the bugs do it for you. One or two scale insects or mealy bugs can be easily picked off or treated. An infestation can be incurable. Stressing a plant by neglect, poor care or poor environment will definately help the bugs get a grip. Stress diminishes the plant's natural resistance to pests. Check out this article for specific pests to ignore. The observant plant caretaker will be on the alert for common plant pests and treat them when they first appear.

7. Repot BIG. If after a year or two your plant is looking sickly, you can help it along by getting the biggest pot you can find and some heavy, dense potting mix, even garden dirt, and plant it up in that. This step will finish off what you started in Tip #1 (overwatering) above. The roots will become starved for air and the dense mix will hold more water than the plant can possibly use thereby keeping the roots from drying out at all. This way, you can actually water less and achieve the same results.

To bring your plant back to health, choose a pot that is the same size or slightly larger than the root ball. Repot in the spring of the year when the plant is beginning its growth cycle. Use the proper mix for your type of plant. Avoid using unsterilized garden soil. Allow for drainage by using a container with a drainage hole or a layer of drainage material in the bottom.

8. Choose unwisely. If you acquire plants that are not suited for your conditions, you can rest assured that they will probably not make it. Bingo, you get kill points.

The smart hobbyist will learn about the plant before choosing it and will bring home only the plants that are right for his or her conditions. Ask your florist or Garden Center plant expert for help in selecting the plants that are right for you.

9. Kill it by the book. There are a lot of good books out there that will thwart your best kill efforts. Our favorite is "The House Plant Expert Book." This book has lots of wonderful information on care and colorful illustrations in case you are not sure what you are trying to kill.

Once you graduate from killing to growing plants, you will be delighted at the number of exotic and unique plants that will grow nicely in interior conditions. This book also features an excellent troubleshooting section as well as ideas for placement, containers, and interior lighting for plants. If you are a true plant killer, this is a perfect guide for what NOT to do to kill. Think of it as an instruction guide in the reverse!

10. Throw before you know. If you are closet plant killer, this saves you the embarassmant of asking for help. The downside of this method is you often never learn exactly what you did that did your plant in.

Plant newbies and experts alike can learn a lot by asking the source. Go back to the place where you got the plant and find out from them what's ailing it. If that fails, go to Tip #9. Another good source for care information is this website. Click on Plant Profiles for info on specific plants and here for general plant care info.

These are the best ways we know to kill your plants. If you know of other effective avenues for plant death, please be sure to send them to us. We would love to include them in this article.