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Growing plants indoors can be a real joy. From the beauty they give us visually to the health benefits of cleaner air, houseplants can make a home feel better and more welcoming. Some people are born green thumbs and have great luck with whatever they try to grow. On the other end of the spectrum are those who seem to kill every plant in their charge sooner or later. But, the majority of people probably fall somewhere in the middle. If you’re a competent plant parent but want to give your plants the best shot at success, read on to learn about some of the telltale signs that your plants are actually not doing too well.

healthy houseplants
Via: Unsplash

Red Splotches

Red sections on the leaves of fiddle leaf fig trees can be a sign that your watering patterns are inconsistent. This can happen if you over-water or under-water. The redness can appear as splotches on new leaves, but on older leaves will look more like tonal changes. This redness won’t go away as the plant matures, but is a sign you need to be more regular with water. Try not to give it too much moisture when the plant is young so that you don’t end up with a bunch of reddish or brownish leaves on your mature plant.

fiddle leaf fig with red spots
Via: Forest and Kim Starr/Flickr

Dropped Leaves

When a plant begins to shed its leaves it can be from over watering or under watering. Many plants will lose leaves naturally even with the best care, so it’s important to look at how the leaves look before they fall. One dry leaf isn’t a cause for alarm, but several dry leaves that then fall off may mean the plant is being watered incorrectly.

unhealthy leaves on a plant
Via: Maile and Justin McCarthy/Flickr


Most species of dracena, a very commonly sold houseplant, cannot handle full sun and will get sunspots if exposed to direct sunlight. These can show up as scorched spots and crispy leaves on a previously-healthy-looking plant. Sometimes these spots can be orange or yellow in color depending on the type of plant it is.

dracena plant
Via: NC State Extension Gardener /Flickr

Fickle Orchids

It’s no secret that these delicate plants can be very hard to care for. They have a lot of telltale signs of distress, but losing their flowers isn’t always one of them. Orchids have natural rhythms of growth and don’t have the energy to flower all the time. While you shouldn’t be worried about dropped flowers, orchids won’t flower for long periods if they are in distress. Look at the roots of your orchid to find out how it’s doing. This is the reason most potted orchids come in clear plastic tubs so that you can check their roots often.

Shriveled, dry, brown, broken, or rotten roots mean that the plant has not been watered correctly. When watered too much the roots begin to rot and when watered too little the roots become dry and crusty. Try to water once a week for best results and check the roots often. Make sure the plants don’t get too hot as this can evaporate what moisture they do have and result in dry roots as well.

orchid roots
Via: Maja Dumat/Flickr

Leaves Don’t Always Turn Brown

Croton leaves change color to yellow when they’re unhappy, though some species have a lot of yellow in their leaves to begin with. If your croton suddenly has one or more leaves turn yellow, but not brown or crispy, it means there’s still time to sort out what ails the plant.

The ideal conditions for crotons are warm (above 50˚F), with bright indirect sunlight, and moderate watering. Do this and the plant’s leaves should return to a fairly uniform variegated color.

croton with healthy leaves
Via: Elena Sergeeva/Wiki Commons

Succulents Not Looking So Succulent

Succulents will often shrivel or shrink and lose leaves when overwatered and the leaves can become squishy or rotten. This does not mean they don’t need regular waterings, but a sort of loving neglect is needed to care for them. Some succulents (like pepperomia species) can withstand a higher level of watering, so it depends on the type of succulent you have.

Many succulents will also put out air roots when they’re unhappy. This means they’re searching for anywhere to live besides the soil they’re in. Try a potting soil made for succulents which has a bit of a sandier texture for better drainage.

air roots on succulent

Hopefully you can spot some of the signs before a plant is too far gone to help. With patience and some observation you can head off some of the worst of these issues in future for lush indoor plants that look healthy and happy.

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