Uh-oh. Is your plant looking a little sad? Don’t panic — appearances can be deceiving. In other words, even if a plant appears to be dead, it might still be salvageable.
In this article, we’ll uncover the top culprits behind the untimely death of houseplants and our step-by-step guide to save yours from the Grim Reaper. If you’ve got a dying plant on your hands — keep reading.
Why Are Your Plants Dying?
Truth be told, there are many reasons why your plants might be dying.
Improper watering is usually the culprit behind the sudden death of plants. If you forgot to water for a few days or even for a couple of weeks, the roots likely dried up.
However, the opposite is also possible, as too much water is often to blame for dying container plants. Overwatering can contribute to root rot, and without roots, the plant won’t be able to feed itself.
Other common factors that can contribute to the early demise of your plant include:
- Pests. Some of the most common damaging insects for houseplants include spider mites, gnats, aphids, and whiteflies.
- Chemicals. Toxic substances like herbicide spray and even standard household cleaners (think bleach) can harm your plant if they come into contact with it.
- Too much (or too little) sunlight. Plants that get too much light will change color or turn brown, whereas too little light could cause a plant to produce very small, pale leaves.
- Fungal diseases and bacteria. Many species of fungi (like the Botrytis, Pythium, and Rhizoctonia that can cause root and stem rot) can wreak havoc on a houseplant’s health.
- Over-fertilizing. Just like how overwatering can kill a plant, so can over-fertilizing.
- Lack of humidity. Houseplants can suffer from stress if humidity levels are outside 40 to 60 percent.
- Wrong temperature condition. Some plants need a specific temperature range, especially if they are native to a tropical environment.
- Re-potting at the wrong time. If a plant is about to bloom, or if you’re re-potting too often, you’re causing additional stress to the root system and to the plant as a whole.
What Can You Do To Save Your Plants?
You might not think you have a green thumb, but with a little guidance (and perhaps a lot of patience), anyone can be a good plant parent.
With this in mind, here are the steps to revive a plant:
1. Make Sure It’s Worth Saving
Before you go through the steps to breathe life back into your plant, the first thing you need to do is make sure it’s worth saving. We know it may sound cruel, but if it’s shriveled up without any signs of vitality (think: green on the stem and roots), not even the most knowledgeable gardener could bring it back. Not to mention, sometimes trying to save diseased plants creates a risk of spreading that disease to other plants next to it.
On the flip side, if there’s any green left on the plant, you might still be in business. It’s also important to check stems and roots for signs of life. They should be strong and flexible, as opposed to soft and brittle, which are usually indicative of a dead plant.
2. Clean It Up
Dying plants will likely have dead leaves — and you’ll need to get rid of them. It might be tough, but be ruthless: If leaves are completely brown or shriveled, they’re not coming back no matter how hard you try, and they need to get clipped so they don’t suck the nutrients or moisture out of the parts of the plant that still have a chance.
Focus on new growth instead. To clean up your plant, gently snip the dead leaves with a pair of scissors or plant shears.
If you’re repotting due to pests or fungus, make sure you thoroughly clean the plant’s roots. While you may have heard to leave the roots be, this piece of advice only applies to healthy plants. It’s important to clean the roots because pests and fungus can live in the soil — without a good root wash to remove all soil, you’ll likely be facing the same problem in a few weeks.
3. Check the Water
To determine the moisture level, take a handful of dirt from your plant’s pot and squeeze it in your hand. If the soil clumps together or if there is visible salt on the soil surface, you’re likely overwatering.
Of course, plants need water to survive and thrive, but as touched on a little earlier, it’s possible to give a plant too much water.
How can you tell? In short, overwatered plants tend to have soft wilted leaves that are brown or yellow in color, as well as moist soil. This will affect the roots, which can start to rot. And if you’ve ever dealt with root rot, you know firsthand how tricky it can be to reverse.
If your plant’s soil is bone dry, on the other hand, then you may be under-watering. You may also notice that many of the leaves are wilting and starting to fall off the plant.
4. Consider the Lighting
All plants respond differently to light. Some leafy babies thrive in full sun, while others can’t handle the stress of direct sunlight.
If you see brown or black splotches on one particular side of your plant, it likely has a serious sunburn and is getting scorched. Check to see if it’s getting harsh midday sun from a nearby window and move it to a more suitable area in your home.
Is your plant not really growing and looking frail? Chances are too much sun isn’t the problem, but not enough sun may be to blame. Move your houseplant to a sunny location and wipe the dust off the leaves. Clean your windows and consider adding light-colored gravel to your plant’s pot to reflect light.
Pro Tip: Don’t have a lot of light in your home? Opt for a low-light houseplant — like Calathea, Hoya, or Sago palm — that thrives in near darkness. Grow lights are also a handy companion!
5. Add Fertilizer
When was the last time you fed your plant? Just like humans, plants require proper nutrition to stay healthy. In fact, a lack of nutrients can throw a wrench in a plant’s ability to thrive since it has nothing to fuel and support its growth.
So, to revive a plant that’s on its way out, you’ll need some fertilizer or plant food. Simply repotting your dying plant can also help because soil can become depleted of nutrients over time.
Note: It’s important to only fertilize healthy plants. If your houseplant is dying from overwatering, let the roots heal and recover before adding fertilizer — over-fertilization can lead to negative effects on your plant’s growth.
6. Take Notes
As you work to revive your plant, be sure to take plenty of notes to keep tabs on how often you give it water. This will prevent you from over-watering or under-watering.
It’s also a good idea to jot down notes on the health and appearance of your plant each week to ensure it’s headed in the right direction.
If a month goes by without seeing any improvement, you may need to do some additional troubleshooting to figure out the exact problem so you can get your plant back on track.
7. Compost It
If your indoor plant is in pretty bad shape, don’t expect to see improvement overnight. Even when giving a plant the TLC it deserves, rehabilitating it back to its former glory can take a while. So be patient, cheer it on, and keep a close eye on your plant’s progress during this time.
If you’ve tried everything in the book and your plant still can’t be revived, it might be time to say goodbye. But instead of tossing your deceased plant in the waste bucket, place it in a compost bin.
When you compost your plants (even the dead ones), the remains can be transformed into nutrient-rich soil that can benefit your other houseplants. That means your dead plant can, in a way, have a new life, and contribute to the health of your future plants while also helping the environment.
The Bottom Line
You could have the greenest of thumbs yet still experience the sudden death of a plant. Don’t worry — it happens to the best of us! And if your plant is still hanging on by a thread, there are fortunately some steps you can take to try and revive it. Just be sure to practice patience, as it can take a while to nurse a plant back to health.
At Neoplants, we believe that nature is the most powerful piece of technology in the world and that a greener future is necessary for a healthier tomorrow. With Neo P1, we’ve created the ultimate houseplant experience with the first generation of bioengineered plants that can actually fight air pollution — Neo P1.
Through plant engineering and directed evolution of the Golden Pothos plant, Neo P1 was born. And, it’s up to 30 times better than top NASA plants thanks to its ability to recycle VOCs, not just store them.
The feature that makes this powerful plant so easy to care for is its intentionally designed shell. The shell allows for maximum air flow and intake, bringing polluted air into contact with the microbiome-rich soil, which increases root growth and supports the health of the plant.
The shell is also designed with a built-in water reservoir so even plant novices can take advantage of its powerful air cleansing abilities — you only have to water Neo P1 once every three weeks in colder weather, and once every two weeks in warmer weather.
Looking to learn more about Neo P1 and how it works? Explore Neo P1 here, where you can also join the waiting list to be one of the first ones to get Neo P1’s.
Overwatered Indoor Plants | University of Maryland Extension
Humidity Guide For Indoor Plants | Fox Run Environmental Education Center
Estimating Soil Moisture by Feel and Appearance | USDA NRCS