7 Common Reasons Indoor Herbs Die


Nothing will spice up a meal more than herbs, and fresh ones are always better. The only downside to fresh herbs is how expensive they can be, that is unless you grow them yourself. Herbs can be a good starter plant, especially for those with limited space, but not everyone has a green thumb. Sometimes things just go wrong, and it can be hard to figure out why. 

What are some of the common reasons that indoor herbs die? Herbs are not particularly resilient plants, and there are a number of reasons one could die, including:

  • Overcrowding
  • Under or overwatering
  • Too light or too much light
  • Too much plant food
  • It is an annual, not a perennial. 

Growing your own herbs can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely frustrating. If you weren’t taught growing up how to grow plants on your own, especially indoors, then it may feel like trial and error most of the way, but it doesn’t have to be. I can help you to avoid the most common reasons that your indoor plants could die. 

Overcrowding

Plant life begins as a tiny seed, but once you awaken that seed, with the proper care it will not stay tiny for very long. While buying a packet of seed will allow you to grow 25 or more plants at a time, this does not mean that you should. If you have a particular herb that you want to use often, such as basil or mint, then trying to grow four or five seeds at one time would be fine. 

You need to keep in mind that each seed that does grow would need its own pot though. While it is possible to grow multiple plants in a single planter, they would need about six inches of space to themselves, about three inches on each side. This gives room for the roots and you may find that you have to remove one or more of them if they grow too large in a shared planter. 

Starting with small individual pots or their own sections in a shared container is better than just leaving them to grow in a pot or planter together. You may find one or two are late growers and then end up with an overcrowding issue. By starting a few at a time you may find that one or two of the plants are vigorous growers and will give you all the herbs you could use. 

Watering

Under or over watering can be a huge issue with just about any indoor plant because of how dependant plants become on humans to fulfill their needs. Either situation can be dangerous to a plant and will show in the leaves, but knowing what the problem is can tell you how to solve the issue. By paying attention to the leaves, you will know as soon as an issue arises. 

Underwatering

When your herbs don’t get enough water, they can dehydrate and die. There are usually signs that will tell you that your plants are underwatered and you can then take the steps needed to rectify this. Even though some signs may look similar to over watering, by paying close attention, you can tell the difference so as not to make the issue worse. 

Listed below are some of the signs of underwatering:

  • Yellow dry leaves
  • Dried out soil
  • Wilted look of the plant

Underwatering can usually be solved pretty easily. Just give a bit of water, rainwater is best if possible. Rainwater is perfectly balanced to give everything the plant needs without overdoing it. If the situation isn’t too advanced, you should see your plant begin to perk up within the hour as it gets the life giving water that it was craving. 

You can help to prevent this issue by mixing a bit of mulch in with the soil to help hold the water a bit more. Also, check your plants every day to see if the soil is starting to dry out. The soil should feel a little moist and if pinched should hold together just a bit. If it is dry and doesn’t hold when pinched, it is too dry, and your plants need to be watered. 

Tap water should be set out for at least 24 hours to prevent chemicals from harming the plant, such as chlorine or fluoride. If you use well water, it should be filtered before giving it to your plant to ensure that you remove as many extra minerals as possible. Especially if your water has been softened using sodium. Rainwater is softened by nature and does not have this issue. 

Over Watered

On the opposite end of the scale is a plant that has been over watered. The signs of overwatering can look similar to underwatering, but if you look closely for the following, you can tell the difference:

  • Leaves are yellow but not dry and brittle
  • Soil is wet, sticks to your fingers and may be able to squeeze out water from it
  • Leaves may begin to wilt
  • In a severe over watering situation, the roots may begin to root

The solution to over watering may be a bit more of a project but will be well worth it in the end. Starting with an empty pot, put some stones at the bottom of the pot to help with drainage. This will help to give the roots a little more space instead of sitting right in water soaked soil. By ensuring proper drainage, you will help to ensure the longevity of your indoor herbs. 

If overwatering is a big issue with many of your plants. you can mix some sand into the soil to help with better drainage. Sand does not hold water the same way potting soil does, so this will enable you to be able to limit the amount of water that you plant is sitting in. Until you get more comfortable with how much water the sandy soil holds, you will need to check daily for a while. 

Check the soil before watering as well to ensure that they actually need water before you give it. It is actually safer to underwater a bit rather than over water. Checking your plants in the morning as part of your routine will help to make sure you don’t over water them. If the soil is still moist, then they can skip a day of watering. 

If you have issues remembering if you have watered your plants like I do, then keeping a calendar on your fridge to tell you when you watered your plants may be a good idea. Every day after I check my plants to see if they need watering, I put a checkmark on my calendar, so I don’t try to water them again. Sometimes I just get too busy with life and forget if I checked on them. 

Amount of Light

When dealing with indoor plants, you also need to provide the light that they would normally get from the sun. If you are lucky, you have a place that they can get natural sun, but most people do not have that luxury. If you are like me and many others who want to grow indoor herbs but don’t have a sunny window, you may have to use grow lights. I use LED due to their efficiency. 

Your plants will tell you if they are getting too much light or not enough if you know what to look for. I always kind of looked at it like being able to speak their language. As long as I could read what they were telling me, I could ensure that my plants got exactly what they needed to thrive. This helps to ensure that my plants get exactly what they need when they need it. 

Too Little Light

If a plant is getting too little light, it will show in the plant, but if you pay close attention, you will see the plant really is trying to tell you with how it grows. Paying close attention to the stem will help you to understand what a plant needs to thrive. Some of the signs of a plant that is getting too little light is as follows:

  • Yellow leaves
  • Tall stem
  • Scattered foliage
  • Stunted leaf growth

One of the things you will notice with plants that are not getting enough light is they will reach towards the light. They will grow longer stems, but it will be either limited in leaves, the leaves will look stunted, or it will be completely devoid of leaves entirely. This is because your indoor plants will be reaching for the light source. This causes longer stems with fewer leaves. 

This is usually caused by the plant not getting enough light in a day. You can easily solve this by increasing the amount of light they get each day. Do some research into what the optimal amount of light they should be getting is, and if they are getting that amount, maybe the light you are using is not sufficient. You can’t just use a normal cheap bulb for plants; they need more. 

Plants thrive best with a balance of red and blue light, which is more prevalent in lights specially designed for growing. If you want to use the light for lighting your home too, then getting a full spectrum light may be a better solution for your situation. If your plants are kind of tucked away, then getting a light that concentrates more on the red/blue light spectrum may be better. 

Using an LED light isn’t just efficient when it comes to your electric bill, but it is also efficient when it comes to your plants too. LED grow lights can be both full spectrum or more concentrated, but can also provide a stronger light source than a fluorescent of the same strength. This in turn can give your plants more light for less money and less wattage. 

Too Much Light

Now on the other end of the scale is when a plant is getting too much light. Again, paying attention to plant body language can tell you a lot. By plant body language, I mean that you need to pay attention to how the plant is growing. This is how it tries to communicate its needs, and if you pay attention, then you can help your indoor herbs grow to their full potential. 

Your plant will try to tell you by how it grows if it is getting too much light. Just as with the sun, plants can get a type of light burn, and they will react to it. Here are some of the signs to look for if you think your plant might be getting too much light:

  • The stem is growing away from the light source
  • The leaves are yellow
  • Leaves can look singed
  • Leaves may turn brown
  • Leaves will start dropping off 
  • Leaves may look wilted without being dry like with underwatering

The leaves get affected more quickly than anything else when it comes to too much light. Now usually this is from the heat from the lights, but even lights that give off almost no heat can still cause the issue. By using LED lights, you can limit this issue, but not entirely. Plants can get the equivalent of a sunburn even from LEDs; it is just less likely. 

You can help to reduce the risk of this by giving your plants a break from the lights every night. If you are already using LED lights, then either move the lights away from your plants a bit or by reducing the amount of time they are under the lights every day. Sometimes it is just a little adjustment that is needed, not extraordinary measures. 

Too Much Food

Overfeeding your indoor herbs are kind of like overfeeding your dog. It’s just not healthy for them, and it will show. Below you will find just a few examples of signs to look for if you are feeding your plants too much plant food:

  • Bottom leaves will wilt and turn yellow
  • Tips of the leaves will turn brown
  • Plant growth will slow or stop
  • Will begin dropping its leaves
  • Fertilizer will settle on the top of the soil

Just about anytime something goes wrong with your plant, it will show on the leaves first. From wilting to turning yellow or dropping off, the leaves will show the issue before the stem. By paying attention to the leaves on a plant, you will be able to see if your plant is not feeling well and can begin to correct the issue. 

One of the ways to help with a plant that has been overfed is to stop feeding it. Give it a rest from plant food for a while. Until the plant recovers, try to only give it rainwater or melted snow. This will help rinse any extra fertilizer out of the soil in addition to any unnecessary chemicals. 

Rainwater, however, has an added bonus of being a good treatment for almost anything that ails a plant. Usually, the issues with too much fertilizer with plants is nitrogen burn, but the nitrogen that is in rainwater is completely absorbable by a plant, made by nature specifically for this purpose. If you still feel the need to use fertilizer, limit its use to once a month or less. 

Annual Vs Perennial

Knowing the difference between an annual and a perennial can help to solve a very frustrating question about why a plant that seemed to be doing fine just drops dead one day. 

Some plants can live for years producing flowers and seeds, fruits, and beautiful foliage year after year. Other plants seem to grow beautifully, produce beautiful flowers, and then one day they are just dead. No real warning that there is anything wrong. 

This is the difference between the two kinds of plants that exist in nature and that we can grow in our homes. 

Annuals

Annuals exist for a single growing season. No matter what we do, some plants just will not live more than a growing season. Some of these herbs are:

  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Summer Savory


These types of plants are designed, by nature, to grow, produce seeds and die. No matter how perfectly the conditions are, you will only get a single season out of these types of plants. 

Perennials

Perennials are plants that can last more than a single growing season. These will come back year after year and will continue to provide you will beautiful herbs year after year. An example of perennial herbs are:

  • Chicory
  • Chives
  • Fennel
  • Horseradish
  • Ginger
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint
  • Oregano

This is not by any means a complete list, but it should give you an idea of the kinds of plants that are a one time investment for the seeds or plants and you can continue to enjoy for years to come. Many of your bulb type of plants are actually perennials, where the plants that we enjoy the leaves from could be either. 

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