Killer Education

Top ways people kill plants…

Working with plants for a living has given me the pleasure of cataloging the top ways plants are destroyed by people. Here is a short list of the top ways I’ve seen plants pass on.

Note: Don’t actually do the thought experiments. Just think about them.

1 – Over Watering

This is by far the most common problem and I’ve seen it over and over again. I call it “loving a plant to death” but it isn’t a good way to show a plant you care.. Despite being underground, plant roots still need oxygen and filling all the air gaps with water suffocates your poor little friends. You may ask “what about plants living in the swamp?” Well, even plants living in and around the water have ways to get oxygen to the below water parts so unless you are growing a cypress they shouldn’t need water every day.

*Thought experiment:

Imagine that every time someone walked past your desk at work they dumped a glass of water on you no matter how thirsty you are at any given time. OR Imagine being strapped to in a chair for a long period of time while water slowly drips onto your forehead and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.


If your plant is wilting and the soil is moist, you should probably put down the watering can and hang out with the kids instead. They need you more than Mr. Leafy.

2 – Improper Drainage

While related to the previous cause of death, this one deserves its own description. As I said before, plants like to have water in the soil environment but it needs to be able to drain away from the root zone. If you choose a pot without a hole or plant your petunias in a boggy area, the roots of your buddy will be sitting in old, stale, oxygen depleted water. Unless you are growing a bog plant, keep it from bog-like conditions.

*Thought Experiment:

Imagine filling waterproof boots with water, peat moss, pine bark and rotted plant debris. Wear these boots all day, every day. How will this make you feel?


If it’s in the ground, move it to a drier location. If it’s in a pot you should either make a hole in the current container so the water can run out or re-pot the plant into a container with a preexisting hole.

3 – Salty Water

When your plant starts to yellow and the tips brown back from the outside to the center of the plant you are probably using water that is to “hard” or softened with salt. If it is salty enough and you’ve had the plant for a long enough time you will notice a white build-up on the pot or on the edges of the plant leaves. This could, in time, kill your plant.

*Thought Experiment:

Remember the old saying, “water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink”? Imagine drinking sea water and sea water only. Not good.


If you think you have been salting your plant to death take your plant to the bathtub or sink and water your plant with distilled water until it runs through the pot. Do this a few times before returning it to it’s home.

4 – Too Much Fertilizer

Plants don’t require a ton of fertilizer to look good and fertilizing should not occur every time you water. Really. Fertilizers act a lot like salt and draw water out of the plant or burn the leaf tips or in very large amounts the plant just shrivels up and dies. This isn’t good.

*Thought experiment:

Imagine taking way too many vitamins. Too much of a good thing can be bad for people too. Please don’t try this.


Same solution as dealing with too much salt.

5 – Too Much Sun

You might notice that if a plant that isn’t meant for the sun gets way too much light the leaves have a bleached or scalded appearance. This is what happens when the pigments break down and the cells rupture because the plant isn’t equipped with the right mechanisms to deal with the high light conditions. Here is something you may not know: Some plants like lots of light, some don’t. When you buy a plant labeled “plant for shade” or “houseplant” you should keep it in the house where it doesn’t get light or out of the sun. That’s why it’s labeled that way.

*Thought Experiment:

Imagine how you would feel after falling asleep while on a nude beach in Cancun on the summer solstice with no sunscreen. Your plant feels your pain.


First, move it out of the sun then read the labels that came with your plant. If you can’t find the label or didn’t come with one you should ask the friendly professionals at your local garden center.

*For God’s sake, DO NOT ACTUALLY TRY THE THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS! Just think about them.