Six Ways to Revive A Dying House Plant Before It’s Too Late

Posted on Oct 4, 2018
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Keep your indoor plants tidy and clean up any dropped leaves or other debris.

House plants are enjoying a new surge in popularity. We could not be happier about this at Good Earth Plant Company. It’s been our mission for more than 40 years to encourage people to incorporate nature into the places they work, live, and play through the addition of plants due to their many benefits to your wellbeing.

It’s fun to choose a fresh new plant and find a place for it in your home. But after a few days, or weeks, or months, you notice it isn’t so green and fresh anymore. Maybe the leaves are turning yellow, or falling off. Or it’s just plain limp. What can you do? Is it possible to revive a dying plant? Should you try?

Yes, you should give it your best attempt. All plants have an inherent desire to survive. Reviving a plant you think it on its last legs — or roots — is really satisfying. If it doesn’t make it, you’ll know you tried and you might learn something for the next time.

Our horticultural technicians care for thousands of plants for our clients. When they see a plant isn’t doing so well, first they need to perform the diagnosis and figure out what is wrong so they know what kind of fix is needed. Here are our tips for you if you’re the amateur horticultural technician at work or at home.

  1. Diagnosis: Overwatering. Cure: Stop watering so much.

A classic case of overwatering. NOT a plant under Good Earth Plant Company care here!

This is the number one reason house plants die off. People kill their plants with kindness, which means watering. If a plant has been overwatered so the roots are rotting, “watering it regularly” only makes things worse. Many times rotted roots allow a pathogen into the plant and it’s a goner. Remove any obviously rotted roots and replace soil that has turned to mud. Allow the soil to dry until it is slightly damp to bone dry.  Even then you might not be able to save it.

  1. Diagnosis: Underwatering. Cure: Hydrate the plant.

You might think your plant is asking for water, but don’t overdo it – even in the summer. Be sure to check frequently. Photo: Tookapic – Creative Commons License

If the plant is withering due to lack of water, hydrate the soil by putting the entire pot into a sink or bucket full of water for 15 to 30 minutes. If you water from the top, it will likely run down around the sides because the soil has become a hardened dry brick. Let it drain thoroughly and don’t let your plant sit in water. Then set a calendar reminder to water – or get a plant that needs the bare minimum of watering like a succulent.

  1. Diagnosis: Potbound. Cure: Replant into fresh soil.

Try to avoid buying a rootbound plant in the first place. When it getst to this point, gently separate and trim, and repot in a slightly larger pot.

If the plant is getting choked off because its roots are too crowded, you need to remove the plant from the pot, gently loosen up and separate the roots, and repot into fresh soil. Choose a pot only slightly bigger than the one you are removing it from. Going too big too fast can create problems.

  1. Diagnosis: Too much sun. Cure: Move into less harsh light.

Don't let your indoor plants get sunburned by strong sunlight through windows in the summer. Move them to a protected spot. Photo: Yanoch Kandreeva/Creative Commons License

Don’t let your indoor plants get sunburned by strong sunlight through windows in the summer. Move them to a protected spot. Photo: Yanoch Kandreeva/Creative Commons License

If you see brown or black splotches on the leaves on one particular side of the plant, notice if it’s getting harsh midday sun from a nearby window. Your plant has serious sunburn and it’s scorched. Trim the leaves and move the plant out of the direct sun.

  1. Diagnosis: Too little sun. Cure: Give it more indirect light.

Sometimes it’s best to use replica plants in low light interiors where it would be difficult for a live plant to flourish.

If your plant’s leaves are slowly turning yellow or pale, or dropping off, it may not be getting enough sunlight. Most hardy house plants can tolerate a little abuse, but they need a minimum amount of sunlight to thrive. Bright indirect sun is the best place to start with your plants. Trying to grow a plant without adequate light is a sure fire way to fail.

  1. Diagnosis: Failure to thrive. Cure: Check the growing conditions.

Be careful not to stress your plant in the summer by over trimming. Never trim more than 25 percent of your indoor plants. Photo: Creative Commons License

When there isn’t an obvious cause such as overwatering, be sure you know what conditions your particular plant prefers, and make sure its location provides these conditions. Then check whether the temperature is too high or too low in your office or home for the plant. Check also if the plant gets left in an office unattended all weekend whether the building’s air conditioning is off, and the plant is getting cooked while you’re gone. Sitting a plant under a vent getting blasted with cold air can also cause problems.

Whatever is wrong, one thing you should NOT do is fertilize a struggling plant. Fertilizer isn’t chicken soup and it’s not antibiotics. What you can do is cut back any dying leaves or stems. Leave at least a few leaves to absorb and process sunlight.  Be sure the plant has good drainage out of the bottom of its container.  When it springs back to life and you see new growth, then consider a general water-soluble fertilizer to help it along.

If you’re someone who can’t keep up with your plants, or seem to have a brown or black thumb, consider replica plants. We wrote about them last week – and there are so many good ones out there. We won’t judge you.

Another option: call on the professionals! Do you hire people to change your oil or groom your dog? Call on Good Earth Plant Company and we will be happy to keep your plants healthy and thriving. You can take all the credit.