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How to stop your houseplants losing their colours

image by paul gilbey

I don’t know about you, but I love the colour green. Some people get into plants because they’re caring souls, others enjoy building a jungle in their living room, but for me, it was the colour. That rich, deep emerald tone of a rubber plant, or the hazy mix of lights and darks on a fern - even as a child I couldn’t get enough of them, and it’s continued into my adult life (though maybe now it’s more influenced by the fact my landlord won’t let me paint my magnolia-coloured walls).

But sometimes, disaster strikes, and those vivid greens turn yellow, despite our best efforts. The condition is known as chlorosis, and it occurs when something within the plant interferes with its natural chlorophyll - which is the pigment process that turns the plant green. The discolouring isn’t all bad though, as in a way, it’s your plant’s way of letting you know that it needs help - a bit like a ship’s computer flashing an amber warning, as opposed to full red alert.

There are several ways to check for inconsistencies to help determine what the issue is, and remedy those yellow leaves and hopefully prevent the issue from happening again.

Over/under watering and Insufficient drainage

When giving advice on why a plant isn’t performing the way you want it to, the ‘go to’ first tip tends to always revolve around water. It’s an obvious suggestion, but just being told that you’re doing something wrong doesn’t explain how to do it right. Water issues and whether you’re doing it too much or too little are a leading factor as to why those little leaves are losing their colour.

Plants need water, but overly wet soil means the roots struggle to breathe, and over time they can suffocate and close, which stops them taking in, and delivering, the nutrients that the rest of the plant needs. Conversely, not giving them enough water results in pretty much a similar result - if you water too little, plants once again won’t get the nutrients they need. If you’re worried about overwatering, then try and prevent the issue by switching to a well-draining soil and change your pot to one with good drainage holes (and keep those saucers in place to catch the excess water that filters through).

A good way to know when to water is to get used to the ‘finger test’. Insert your finger into the soil of the plant and feel of moisture. When the soil feels dry and light, water thoroughly and deeply - if it’s still wet after the previously watering, then wait a day or two before watering again.  

Get to the root of the issue

Root damage is the hidden killer when it comes to house plants. A bit like a duck swimming, plants are all ‘calm on the surface, and chaos underneath’. Root rot and other diseases can happen for several reasons, but the main two are over-watering, and roots being too compact in the containers they sit in. These problems lead to damage overtime and means the roots struggle to deliver the nutrients to the rest of the plant.

For many, having to save your plants from this problem can be scary, as it means removing your plant from its home and getting up-close and personal with the roots. But don’t fret, as all it takes is some sensitive, gentle hands to successfully remove you plant from its pot.

Slide it out slowly, making sure not to snap the roots when doing so. Healthy looking plant roots are off-white to yellow, whereas rotting roots are darkish and smell like stale, rotting water. If the plants roots are rotting, it’s a case of moving onto a new plant unfortunately. Though there’s good news if the roots are compact, as that means you can carefully prune away the unhealthy ones, and lightly loosen the tangled ones, repotting it after in a bigger container with well-draining soil.


Soil pH negative influence

Soil PH? What’s that then? Well, the soil Ph determines how the plant accesses it’s nutrients. Depending on where the soil sits on the pH scale regulates the changes in the nutrient availability. By moving up or down the scale, the soil can hit the plants optimal range, and the result means your house plant finds it easier to flourish, though if your plant isn’t receiving the right pH the results can mean that your plant loses colour, because even though the nutrients are present, the soil restricts them from taking them in.

It’s rare for this to be an issue with most houseplants, and is more to do with landscaping plants, but some more exotic houseplants may need a different soil to the regular kind to keep them happy and green.


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Image by Paul Gilbey

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