How to Revive a Dying Houseplant - Backyard Boss
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How to Revive a Dying Houseplant

Houseplants allow you to easily stay in touch with nature when you are indoors. They add beauty and companionship and even help to improve our overall health and well-being. So, watching a beloved houseplant wither and die can be extremely stressful for a plant parent.

Common symptoms of a houseplant dying include a lack of growth, yellowing leaves and stems, brown patches on leaves, a lack of flowering, mushy roots, and wilting. Discover five key reasons why your plant might be dying and how best to revive it.

Review Your Watering Schedule

Watering houseplants indoors
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Watering — either giving too much or too little — is the number one reason why houseplants suffer. In most cases, it’s overwatering that makes the critical difference.

When roots are waterlogged, they suffocate and die. Rotting roots also attract fungi and pests that further damage the plant. But when plants do not get enough water, their roots dry up and are unable to access essential nutrients. So, they stop growing and eventually die off.

For each houseplant, learn as much as you can about its watering needs. You can also invest in a moisture meter to help avoid overwatering your houseplants.

If you are prone to forgetting to water your green friends, consider using watering spikes or globes. Once filled with water, these gardening tools slowly release their contents into the soil as needed. Or use an app such as WaterMe or Florish to remind you when it’s time to feed your plants.

Check Lighting

Indoor Garden in Brooklyn, NY
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Light is vital to the growth and survival of plants — indoors or outdoors. They use it for photosynthesis, a process during which plants convert water, oxygen, and light into carbohydrates or energy.

However, each houseplant has different lighting needs. Some — such as begonia, ivy, palms, and spider plants — prefer bright, indirect light. While snake plant, peace lily, pothos, and Chinese evergreen can thrive in low-light conditions.

If a plant receives too little light, it cannot undergo photosynthesis and will suffer and eventually die if conditions worsen. But, there’s also such thing as too much of a good thing. When a plant gets too much sunlight it produces more energy than it can’t cope with, eventually suffering heat damage and withering away. Also, excessive amounts of light can dry out the soil, dehydrating the plant. Look for signs such as brown, crispy leaf edges or patches, yellowing, wilting, and curling or dropping leaves.

When considering your houseplant’s lighting needs, pay attention to both brightness (intensity) and duration. For instance, some plants might need bright light for just a few hours each day while others might need it for longer. Move the plant to an area that is more suited to its lighting requirements or, in the case of too little light, consider using grow lights to revive a dying houseplant.

Improve Drainage

Terracotta-colored plastic hanging planter with drainage holes.
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Overwatering can also occur as a result of heavy soil or insufficient drainage holes in the plant’s container. It’s not always because you are watering too much, it could be cause to incorrect drainage. Without proper drainage, the roots will become waterlogged and vulnerable to rotting.

Make sure your houseplant has the right type of soil. In most cases, a potting mix for houseplants will work well. But plants that need extra drainage — such as orchids, cacti, succulents, and palms — do better in soil that includes sphagnum, peat moss, compost, sand, twigs, and pebbles.

You can easily add more drainage holes to plastic pots using tools you have on hand such as a screwdriver or nail and a hammer. For softer plastic pots, you can also use a knife. Some plastic pots even have little circles on the bottom to indicate where you can punch out holes. When it comes to ceramic or terracotta, you will need to drill holes. Be aware that terracotta pots are severely porous and are great options for plants that need extra drainage.

However, not all houseplants need drainage. These include succulents in terrariums, birds of paradise, and golden pothos. If it’s one of these that is dying, chances are drainage is not the main cause or concern.

Stop Fertilizing

Woman gives fertilizer to the flowers of the orchids. Houseplant care concept. Prevention of indoor plants
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Fertilizing can be one of the sneakiest causes of a houseplant dying. It’s easy to assume that giving the plant extra nutrients is a good thing, but it’s a little more complicated.

It’s true that over time, the soil in pots or containers can be depleted of nutrients. Plants gobble up available nutrients in the soil, and with each watering, more nutrients are lost as well. However, too much fertilizer can stunt a plant and trigger its death.

Fertilizing can become more complicated when a plant is dying. For instance, a plant that is waterlogged should not be fertilized as the roots should have time to heal. If it’s dying because it is underwatered it is more prone to root burn once it is fertilized. The fertilizer absorbs moisture from the soil, dehydrating and damaging the roots and the entire plant.

Signs such as yellowing or wilting lower leaves, browning leaf tips and edges, leaf loss, stunted growth, or encrusted fertilizer on the top of the soil all indicate too much fertilizing. So, step back and put the fertilizer down.

One key fertilizing rule to live by is to fertilize a plant only when it is actively growing. This means leaving your plant alone in the winter and when it’s dormant. Also, learn as much as you can about your houseplant’s specific needs, including the type of fertilizer, the best times to fertilize, and how often — every plant is different!

Repot the Plant

In the process of repotting Eucalyptus. Roots close up. Growing tropical plants indoor concept.
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A houseplant’s first home is its container or pot. Like any home, it must be conducive to its overall health. Indoor plants can suffer when their containers are either too big or too small.

If the container is larger than needed, the plant will be more prone to overwatering and becoming waterlogged. It will also have less access to nutrients. Remove the plant from its container and gently shake off excess soil. Rehouse it in a container that is just slightly bigger than the root ball.

On the other hand, if the container is too small, the plant will become root bound. Its roots will circle around the root ball desperate for nutrients and even try to escape over the top of the pot and through drainage holes. Repot the plant in a container one size larger, or about 2 to 4 inches bigger in diameter.

Diligence Before Dying

It’s best to prevent your houseplant from reaching the stage where it is dying. Learn all you can about its care and maintenance, including watering, fertilizing, lighting, soil, container, and temperature. Also, keep a close watch for the signs listed here so you can take early steps to keep your plant pal alive.

Have a few more insights on how to revive a dying houseplant? Add them in the comments below and be sure to share this article with your gardening circle.