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6 Common Houseplant Illnesses and How to Cure Them

by Mijan Karim on August 09, 2020

Here are some of the most common houseplant problems faced by indoor potted plant owners in Singapore. Most of these problems are caused by overwatering or underwatering, which is also the #1 mistake beginner plant owners make. Since plants lack the ability to talk, the symptoms listed below are ways for the plant to communicate with you to let you know what it needs.

(Image credits: Gardening Know How)

  1. Brown leaf tips
brown leaf tip

Symptom: Leaf tips turn brown. The brown parts could either feel dry or limp/soggy.

Cause: If the brown tips are dry to the touch, it means that the plant is not getting enough water. If the brown tips are limp and soggy to the touch, it means that the plant is getting too much water.

Cure: The brown leaf tips are feedback that your plant is giving you to adjust the amount of water it should receive. Depending on whether the tip is dry or limp, increase or reduce your watering frequency accordingly. Unfortunately, brown leaf tips cannot turn green again, as they are caused by dead leaf cells that cannot be revived. Cut off unsightly brown tips and new leaves will grow in their place.  


  1. Root Rot

root rot in plant

Symptom: The infected plant wilts from the root upwards. The first noticeable sign of root rot is a blackening stem, starting from the base up. The plant will be very easy to be pulled up from the soil.

Cause: Serious overwatering and poorly draining soil, leading to constantly wet and clogged soil. Roots are not able to get the oxygen they need, due to being drowned in water. As a result, roots will start to decay.

Cure: If the stem has already wilted, it means root rot is already in its fatal stage and will kill the whole plant, as a plant cannot grow back once its base stem is wilted. If you have a few stems in the same pot and some have not started showing root rot yet, save the remaining plants by unpotting the plant and cutting off any blackened roots. Repot the plant back with some fresh soil.  

  1. White Mold on Soil

white mold on soil

Symptom: Some white, fuzzy growth appears on top of the soil of your potted plants.

Cause: This is likely to be saprophytic fungus, which is generally harmless to houseplants. However, it is best to remove it, as the mould may be competing for nutrition with your plant. Saprophytic fungus may grow if your plant is not getting enough air circulation or sunlight, or if the soil is too moist and humid.

Cure:  Gently scrape off the top soil layer where there is visible mould and discard it. Let the soil dry for a few days, and place the plant in an area with sunlight and good air circulation. When watering the plant, use a cup or a watering can (instead of a spray) to water on only one spot of the soil. This allows water to reach the bottom of the soil, while minimising getting the whole top layer of soil wet.


  1. Leaf Sunburn

leaf sunburn

Symptom: Brown edges around leaves; bleached leaves that lose their colour, turning lighter and pale.

Cause: Bleached and burnt leaves could be a sign of sunburn if your plant has been placed in a spot where it is under strong sunlight.

Cure: Move the plant away from direct sunlight. Burnt ends may not turn green again as the leaf cells have died. Cut the badly damaged leaves away and new ones should grow in its place.


  1. Yellowing Leaves

yellowing leaves

(Image credits: Pintrest)

Symptom: Whole leaves turning yellow / light brown.

Cause: Yellow leaves could be a sign of overwatering or inadequate sunlight. Ask yourself if your houseplant is placed in a well-sunlit spot, or if you have been watering too much such that the soil is constantly wet.

Cure: Move the plant to a brighter spot, or water your plant less frequently, depending on the source of the problem.


  1. Slanted Plants
slanted plant

Symptom: The plant tilts towards the sunlight, bending at an angle; slanted stems

Causes: The plant is growing towards the light source. This is the natural growth of plants for it to capture as much light as possible. However, if left untreated, the plant could slant so much that it collapses one day.

Cure: Rotate your plants regularly such that all sides of the plant gets equal access to sunlight. Also consider moving your plant closer to the light source.