6 Common Mistakes When Caring for Houseplants and Tips to Avoid

  • 9 min read

Common mistakes when caring for houseplants, houseplant common mistakes

Houseplants have become an essential part of our modern lifestyle, breathing vitality into our indoor spaces and bringing us closer to nature. Houseplants are also an important element of our interior and landscape design. They effortlessly blend with our decor, complementing our style and enhancing the aesthetic appeal of any room. They also create a lively atmosphere, clean our indoor air, and improve our overall well-being. With so many benefits, houseplants have also become popular gifts for any occasion. They are affordable and readily available everywhere, and that's why we usually take houseplants home without knowing how to properly care for them.

In fact, learning how to care for houseplants is not an easy-peasy task. Each type of plant has its unique needs that must be considered. Treating all plants the same and not considering their specific needs can lead to care mistakes. Moreover, houseplants may require adjustments in care based on changing seasons or their growth stages. Failing to adapt care practices accordingly can lead to mistakes and hinder the plant's health. However, it is normal to make mistakes along the way, especially if you are a newbie indoor gardener. Let’s take a look at the most common mistakes when caring for houseplants and learn how to avoid these pitfalls. 

1. Overwatering

One of the most common mistakes when caring for houseplants is overwatering. All plants need well-draining soil, including moisture-lovers like tropical greenery. For potted indoor plants, it is very easy to overwater and make the soil become waterlogged at the bottom of the pot. Indoor houseplants are confined in their small containers and they lack the natural elements that outdoor plants benefit from, such as wind, airflow, and ample sunlight. These factors play a crucial role in drying up the soil and preventing waterlogged conditions. Without adequate air circulation and sunlight indoors, the moisture in the soil takes longer to evaporate. As a result, it's easier to overwater indoor plants, leading to waterlogged soil and potential issues with root health.

Overwatering can lead to root rot, suffocating the plant's roots and depriving them of oxygen. Signs of overwatering include yellowing leaves, wilting, and persistent dampness in the soil. Signs of root rot are a foul smell, mushy roots, and stems. Overwatering and root rot is the number one silent houseplant killer. 

overwatered houseplants, common mistakes when caring for houseplants
Yellow and wilting leaves are signs of overwatering houseplants

Moreover, overwatering also leads to fungal diseases and pest infestation. Fungal gnats, in particular, are a common problem associated with overwatering.

Fungal gnats, also known as fungus gnats or soil gnats, are small flying insects that are often found buzzing around indoor plants. They are attracted to moist soil, making overwatered plants a prime target. These gnats lay their eggs in the damp soil, and the larvae feed on organic matter and plant roots. This can lead to root damage and hinder the overall health of the plant.


  • The most important thing is to improve drainage with well-draining soil suitable for your plant and choose a porous pot with drainage holes
  • Consider adding a layer of gravel or stones at the bottom of the pot to promote drainage. 
  • Regularly check the moisture level of the soil using the finger test or a moisture meter.
  • Only water when the top inch of soil feels dry. 
  • Avoid a fixed watering schedule and adjust based on the specific needs of each plant. 
  • Place your indoor plants in areas with good air circulation, such as near open windows or using a fan to create gentle air movement. This helps facilitate moisture evaporation and prevents excessive moisture buildup.
  • Reduce watering during the dormancy time.

2. Underwatering

Water is crucial for plants as it serves as a medium for absorbing and transporting vital nutrients from the soil. When plants do not receive enough water, a phenomenon known as underwatering, their growth and development can be significantly hindered. Underwatering deprives plants of the moisture they need to uptake essential nutrients from the soil. This can result in nutrient deficiencies, leading to poor growth and overall plant health.

Some signs of underwatering include stunted growth, leaf wilting, crispy and dry leaves, and leaf discoloration. The most significant sign of underwatering usually is shown in the foliage. The leaves of underwatered plants may appear dry and brittle. They can become crispy to the touch and may even develop a papery texture. They may also turn yellow or brown. As insufficient water supply restricts the plant's ability to grow at a normal rate, you may also notice slower growth, smaller leaves, or a general lack of vigor in the plant.

underwatered houseplant, common mistakes when caring houseplants
Underwatering houseplants
Photo by Anastasiya Smalianka

It's important to recognize that each type of plant has unique watering requirements, even those that originate from arid regions like succulents. Underestimating the watering needs of desert plants is a common mistake made by many plant enthusiasts. While succulents are known for their ability to tolerate drought and store water in their leaves, they still require adequate hydration to survive and thrive


  • Research and learn about the watering requirements of each plant species you have. 
  • Check the moisture level of the soil by inserting your finger about an inch into the soil. If it feels completely dry, it's time to water.
  • Water deeply but infrequently: When watering, ensure that you provide enough water to thoroughly saturate the soil. This encourages deep-root growth.
  • Adjust watering based on environmental factors: season, temperature, and humidity levels. Plants need more water during the hot, dry days.
  • Monitor your plants for early signs of underwatering. 
  • Repot when your plant has outgrown its pot, as rootbound plants may not get enough water. 

3. Improper Lighting

Proper lighting is crucial for the health and growth of houseplants. Placing plants in areas with inadequate or excessive light can have detrimental effects, such as stunted growth, leaf damage, and even plant death. Understanding the light preferences of your plants and positioning them accordingly is key to ensuring their well-being. Different plants have varying requirements when it comes to light intensity, duration, and quality. 

Placing a light-loving plant in an area with insufficient light can result in poor growth, weak stems, and elongated, leggy foliage. The plant may appear stretched or leaning towards the light source in an attempt to receive more light. Without enough light, the plant may struggle to produce energy through photosynthesis and may eventually decline. On the other hand, subjecting plants that prefer lower light levels to excessive or intense light can lead to sunburn and leaf damage. The leaves may develop brown or yellow spots, become scorched, or wilt. Some plants may even experience bleaching or fading of their foliage when exposed to too much direct sunlight. Moreover, some tropical houseplants used to grow under the shade of the forest and cannot withstand direct sunlight. Even some types of succulents need to be protected from the harsh afternoon sun. Therefore, it is very important to provide your plants with the correct lighting condition. By placing your plants in suitable areas of your home that meet their specific lighting needs, you can create an environment where they can thrive.

common mistakes when caring for houseplants, light requirements for houseplants
Sufficient light is very important for houseplants to thrive.
Photo by Liudmila Chernetska


  • Take the time to research and learn about the lighting preferences of each plant species you have.
  • Assess the intensity of light in different areas of your home to give each plant a suitable spot. Do not place plants with different lighting needs together. 
  • Rotate the pots so the foliage can receive equal lighting.
  • If natural light is limited in your home, or if you have a dark winter, you should consider investing in some grow lamps. 
  • Always acclimate your plants when you move them to direct sunlight or during the transition between winter and spring-summer. 
  • Regularly assess and monitor your plants' response to their lighting conditions. If you notice signs of light-related issues, such as pale leaves or elongated growth, adjust the placement of your plants accordingly.

4. Incorrect Soil and Pot

Using incorrect soil is another common mistake when caring for houseplants. The type of soil you use greatly influences the plant's ability to receive nutrients, retain moisture, and establish healthy root systems. Each plant has its own requirement and preferences for soil. While all plants benefit from well-draining soil, the composition of the soil mix can vary depending on the specific needs of different plant species. Here are some examples of soil composition variations for various types of plants:

If you plant your green friend in an unsuitable soil mix, it may develop health problems like root rot, nutrient deficiency, wilting foliage, and stunted growth. Therefore, it is important to understand your plant’s soil requirements, observe your plants' response to the soil mix, and adjust as needed. 

Using the incorrect pot size is another common mistake when caring for houseplants. The size of the pot directly affects the plant's root development, water retention, and overall growth. If the pot is too small, the roots become densely packed and start circling around the bottom of the pot. This condition is known as being rootbound which leads to stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and reduced vigor. The tightly wound roots can also hinder nutrient absorption and water uptake, leading to nutrient deficiencies and water stress. On the other hand, using a pot that is too large for the plant can result in excess soil volume. When the plant's root system is not well-developed enough to utilize all the moisture in the soil, it can lead to waterlogged conditions. The excess moisture can cause root rot and fungal diseases. 


ficus burgundy rubber plant, common mistakes when caring for houseplants
Choosing the right pot size will help the plants grow well.

5. Incorrect Fertilization

Inadequate fertilization is another common mistake when caring for houseplants. While plants require nutrients to thrive, both over-fertilizing and under-fertilizing can have negative effects on their health. First off, each plant has different feeding needs. For example:

  • Succulents and cacti are slow-growing desert plants that thrive in poor, sandy soil and basically do not need regular fertilization if at all. 
  • Tropical plants are usually fast-growing plants that need frequent fertilization during their growing season with a diluted balanced fertilization for houseplants. They can also benefit from organic compost. 
  • Orchids have specific fertilizer requirements. Orchid fertilizers are usually formulated to provide balanced nutrition with lower nitrogen levels and increased phosphorus and potassium to support healthy root and flower development.

If you under-fertilize, your plant may show signs of poor growth, pale or yellowing leaves, and reduced overall vigor. Nutrient deficiencies can weaken the plant's immune system, making it more susceptible to pests and diseases. Over-fertilizing, on the other hand, can lead to fertilizer burn. Fertilizer burn occurs when plants receive an excess amount of fertilizer, causing a salt buildup in the soil. This can result in leaf scorch, brown or yellow leaf edges, and overall plant damage. It's important to follow the recommended dosage and frequency of fertilizer application to avoid over-fertilization.


  • It's essential to understand the fertilizer needs of your specific houseplants.
  • Read the instructions provided with the fertilizer and follow the recommended dosage and application frequency.
  • Observe your plants for signs of nutrient deficiencies or excesses and adjust the fertilization regimen accordingly.
  • Remember that less is often more when it comes to fertilizing houseplants, and a balanced approach will help ensure their health and vitality.

6. Improper Care Routine

No matter how easy your plants are, you still need to provide them a proper care rountine. When you don't have a proper care routine in place, you may not be as attentive to your plants' needs. This can result in missing the initial signs of problems such as nutrient deficiencies, disease, or environmental stress. Early detection of these issues is crucial for prompt intervention and effective treatment. Without regular observation and care, these problems can escalate and potentially harm your plants.

Of all those things, pests are a common concern for houseplants, and an improper care routine can make it easier for pests to go unnoticed. When you don't regularly inspect your plants or provide appropriate care, you may not realize that your plants are being attacked by pests until the infestation becomes severe. Pests like aphids, mealybugs, or spider mites can quickly multiply and cause significant damage to your plants if not addressed promptly.

common mistakes when caring houseplants, houseplant common mistakes
Remain proper care routine for your houseplants.

Moreover, a lack of a consistent watering schedule or improper watering techniques can lead to water-related issues such as overwatering or underwatering. Overwatering can cause root rot and fungal diseases while underwatering can result in wilting, stunted growth, and nutrient deficiencies. Without a proper care routine, you may unintentionally subject your plants to these watering problems.

Another important thing is regular maintenance tasks like pruning, foliage cleaning, and repotting, which are essential for the overall health and appearance of your plants. Without a proper care routine, you may forget or overlook these maintenance activities, which can impact your plants' growth and vitality.


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