The leaves of your Fittonia verschaffeltii are brown and brittle and aren’t growing back.
What’s going on?
“Some plants thrive in humidity,” explains Hank Jenkins, owner of The Plant Provocateur in Los Angeles. “If you don’t give them moisture, their leaves will dry out. If you want new foliage and growth, you need to mist them.”
Many houseplants come from subtropical and tropical regions and need a “relative humidity of at least 40 percent,” according to “Reader’s Digest Success With House Plants.”
So if a humidity-loving Philodendron is placed in air that is too dry — or next to a heating or air conditioning vent — its leaves may shrivel and turn brown.
“A lot of people don’t understand the importance of misting,” Jenkins says. “Misting is one of the top things that you can do for your houseplants. I advise my clients to mist their houseplants one to two times per week.”
Generally speaking, thinner leaves are an indication that a plant will need extra humidity. But be careful not to mist popular succulents such as Zamioculcas zamiifolia, affectionately known as the ZZ plant, as they are quick to rot from excess moisture.
Because Los Angeles tap water includes high levels of calcium carbonate, Rhiannon Cramm of Mickey Hargitay Plants advises misting houseplants with filtered water. “Misting is a great, economical way of increasing humidity,” Cramm says. “We recommend using filtered water to help prevent calcium deposits from forming as the droplets collect on the leaves.” (The levels of calcium carbonate in the Seattle area are much lower than than of L.A. — 28 milligrams per liter as opposed to 72–274 — making filtered water unnecessary here.)
Along with misting, Cramm suggests placing plants on pebble trays for added moisture. Simply fill a tray or saucer with pebbles and add water to the tray. When you place your plant on top of the pebbles, it will sit above the water, creating a humid environment.
Humidifiers are common in plant shops and can be used to stimulate plants at home. “Humidifiers are fun and beneficial because they create a cloudlike plume that can set the mood for your tropical planty friends,” Cramm says. “There are a range of humidifiers to fit your needs and budget. More advanced models can set a humidity percentage and automatically turn on and off when your desired setting is reached.”
But you don’t have to purchase a machine to add moisture to the air. “Another way of providing humidity to plants without spending money or putting in effort is to simply group plants together,” says Mickey Hargitay Jr., of Mickey Hargitay Plants. “It’s through their transpiration — water loss through the pores in the surface of the leaves — that humidity is created naturally. Therefore, humidity-loving plants do better together.”
Moving a distressed plant to a more humid location, like the bathroom or near the kitchen sink, also can help. When I moved my dying nerve plant from my sun-filled living room to the bathroom, it bounced back. When I placed it on top of a pebble tray and started misting it regularly, it thrived.
“Misting is basically the secret weapon to having perfect plants,” Jenkins says. “It’s no effort. And you can fertilize your plants that way.”