How to Revive a Dying Plant

Tips to revive a dying plant.

Written by Kelsey W.

Is the plant you lovingly water each week showing signs of distress? Are you worried that some yellow leaves might signal that your plant is dying? Is your plant dropping its leaves and looking rather barren? It’s hard to see a plant fail to thrive, but it’s not always the end of the world.

If you act quickly, you might save the plant and return it to health before it takes a permanent dirt nap. Every plant won’t survive stress and other factors, but you do have some options to help turn things around. Let’s explore what causes plant death, how you can reverse it, and how you can prevent it in the future.

What Causes Plant Death?

Some plants are demanding and require very specific growing conditions. Others require nothing more than occasional watering and a spot near a window. Whether low-maintenance or not, a plant may start dying for all sorts of reasons. Here are the most common.

Underwatering. Your plant’s leaves may droop if you don’t water it as often as it likes, and it will begin to drop its leaves if you ignore its water needs. 

The leaves on some plants may start to become brown and may fall off after not getting enough water for an extended period. Eventually, the entire plant will turn brown, and you’ll find it very difficult to revive the plant once all its leaves drop or turn brown.

Overwatering. New plant owners often overwater their plants because they’re afraid they’ll die if they don’t get enough water. Unfortunately, overwatering a plant reduces the oxygen content of its soil and often leads to root rot. Overwatered plants commonly feature yellowed leaves. 

Some plants may look burned or scorched, and the leaves may start to drop as the roots decay. If you find it difficult to tell whether your plant is under or overwatered, stick a finger in the soil and see if there’s a wet layer.

Lighting. The light a plant receives dictates the speed of its photosynthesis, and having too much or too little may stress the plant. Plants that enjoy mostly shade will burn and dry out in the sun, and plants that like sunny windows may fare poorly in a dimly lit room.

It’s always helpful to research your plant before you scope out a place for it in your home, garden, or yard. The employees at your garden center are an excellent resource for answering this question, and plants are often labeled with their preferred sunlight levels and watering schedules.

Infestations. An endless supply of little bugs wants to live in and eat your plants. They’ll munch on the leaves until nothing green remains or create a home in the plant and slowly eat its nutrients until the leaves start to fall off and die.

It’s almost impossible to create a bug-free environment, so it’s essential to keep an eye on your plants, even if you live in a house usually sealed with closed doors and windows. Quarantine any plant on which you find bugs, to help prevent the bugs from spreading.

Food. Most plants enjoy occasional fertilizer, but you may need to feed them semi-regularly to keep them healthy and thriving. If your plant lives in difficult conditions (like in a dimly lit room), you may find the best way to keep them alive is by fertilizing it.

Like water and sunlight, you can also feed your plant too much or too little and cause it to start to die. Overfertilization can lead to rapid leaf growth and an undersized root system. Under-fertilization means the plant might not get the nutrients it needs and may experience slow growth.

Reviving a Dying or Dead Plant

If the leaves on your plant start to die, or you see it leaning over and wilting, don’t despair. It’s possible to return your plant to healthiness with just a few changes in placement, care, or other growing conditions. If you’re unsure why your plant is dying, the first step is diagnosing the problem.

In many cases, the problem is water. If you’re excited about your plants, you may unintentionally overwater them. You’re definitely watering the plant too often if you see brown or yellowed leaves wilting into moist soil.

Check for overwatering: Move the plant to a shady area and allow it to dry out before watering it again. You could even consider changing the pot and placing it in new soil. A quick Google search should help you refine your watering schedule. You might want to create a reminder on your phone to water your plants.

Check for underwatering: If the pot reaches a point where the soil is starting to crack and pull away from the edges of the pot, you probably have a severe underwatering problem. To revive the plant, you can soak it in water and then adopt a predictable watering schedule that uses the same amount of water each time.

Remove dead leaves: Improper care may cause most leaves on the plant to die, and it’s usually best to remove leaves that have become entirely brown. Use some plant shears to remove the leaves with no hope of survival. Don’t fear that you’ll kill the plant by removing several leaves. Removing them allows the plant to focus on recovery rather than keeping those dying leaves alive.

Cut back dead stems: When a plant dies, you may see the rot or browning start to impact the stems. You may need to cut the stems back to just a few inches above the soil line if they’re very brown. Keep as much healthy growth as possible with at least a few inches of stems reaching above the soil.

Change the plant’s lighting: If your problem isn’t watering, consider the sunlight the plant receives. You might find that the plant needs a little extra sunlight or that it might prefer a spot further away from the window. It doesn’t take long for plants to respond appropriately to good lighting conditions.

Change the plant’s location: One of the less apparent aspects of plant care is the humidity level it wants and enjoys. If Southern California experiences an extended round of Santa Ana winds or you live in the desert, your plant might need extra moisture. Moving it to the bathroom could help.

Start feeding the plant: Consider adopting a feeding schedule during the growing season. While most plants can survive without feedings, they may withstand inhospitable growing conditions more easily when you feed them. For example, if your plant likes a lot of sunlight and you don’t have a sunny window, you might keep it as happy as possible in low-light conditions with regular feeding.

Avoiding Plant Death

The best way to avoid having to bring back a dying plant is to keep a close eye on it and to act quickly whenever you see a leaf starting to look a little weird, or you see any visual changes. The best tools to keep an eye on your plant are your eyes and hands.

Always take a few extra seconds to inspect all the leaves when you water, feed, or trim your plants. Look for yellowing, cracking, and premature leaf loss. If you’re able, look under the leaves, too, for signs of infestation.

Bugs aren’t invisible, and it’s often possible to see them starting to build a colony on the plant. Bear in mind that the leaves of your plants may eventually and naturally fall off, so you don’t need to panic if a single leaf starts to look a little worse for wear and finally drops off the plant.

Your hands are another excellent tool for judging the health of your plants. If the leaves look a little yellow, or they’re wilting despite the plant receiving regular watering, you might have a poorly draining pot or a case of overwatering.

Don’t be afraid to stick a finger in the soil to judge the moistness underneath the top layer. The soil around the base of the plant might look dry, but you might have drenched earth below, leading to root rot and the death of your plant.

Don’t Toss the Plant Just Yet

When you have a plant that starts to die, don’t assume this is the end and toss it into the nearest bin. Try to change the plant’s growing conditions, and be patient. It might take up to a month for the plant to fully recover. However, if you end up with an entirely dead plant, consider composting it and feeding it to your other plants. The cycle of life will continue, and your future plants will benefit.

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