‘Overwatering and root death’: Reasons why houseplant leaves turn yellow – how to prevent

Houseplants: RHS advises on watering techniques

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Properties up and down the country are now home to houseplants, after the plants saw a huge surge in popularity during lockdown. But houseplants can be tricky to care for, despite their popularity. Brown spots, yellowing leaves, root rot and pests are just a few of the problems, houseplants can run into.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), the UK’s leading gardening charity, have shared how to prevent a common problem in houseplants – yellow leaves.

The RHS advisory team responded to more than 100,000 gardening inquiries in 2021, according to The Sunday Times.

As well as answering a plethora of common gardening questions, the RHS have explained why houseplant leaves sometimes turn yellow and what to do to prevent it.

The experts said “overwatering kills more plants than any other cause”.

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However, yellow leaves could be down more complicated problems such as cold or draught conditions or a lack of nutrients such as nitrogen and iron, or magnesium.

The experts said “poor root function” can sometimes stop plants being able to absorb nutrients.

One of the reasons for poor root function is usually related to “overwatering and subsequent root death”.

In order to see whether a houseplant has problems with its roots, owners need to get the plant out of its pot and investigate.

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Pale, congested or dark roots could all be signs that the houseplant needs extra care.

The RHS experts said: “If the roots are pale and firm, repot and feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser.

“If the roots are in good health but congested, repot into a larger pot with fresh potting compost or replace in the same pot after removing a quarter of the potting compost and replacing with fresh material.

“If the roots are dark, brittle and rotted, and the potting media excessively damp and perhaps with a sour smells, overwatering is to blame.

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“Again, repot with fresh potting compost.”

The experts recommended using foliar feeds to help a plant grow new roots.

Foliar feeding is when plant feed or liquid fertiliser is applied directly to the leaves.

This allows the plant to absorb essential nutrients through their leaves.

Those living in hard water areas may face an added problem when it comes to watering their plants.

Hard water regions have alkaline water which can lead to excess calcium in the “root zone”.

This can stop the plant absorbing essential nutrients such as iron.

Instead, the experts advised gardeners to use rainwater or de-ionised water.

However, where this is not possible, houseplant owners should treat plants with “chelated iron fertiliser.”

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