Ideas & Inspiration
How to Revive a Dying Houseplant
Houseplants add beauty to our homes and workspaces, but they can struggle if they don’t get the right amounts of light, water and humidity. Wilting leaves or brown leaf tips are a few signs that your plant is in trouble. Fortunately, a little TLC can turn things around.
Use this guide to learn how to revive a dying houseplant.
It’s easier to prevent problems than fix them, so keep your houseplants healthy by giving them the basics they need. Your plant’s tag or label will usually indicate whether it needs low, medium or bright light. Some houseplants need indirect light, or light that comes from a bulb or through a curtained window. If you’re growing houseplants that like a lot of light, consider supplementing your available light with grow lights.
Many houseplants are actually tropicals that grow best in temperatures ranging from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the same temperatures found in most homes. Some can tolerate temperatures as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but only for short periods of time.
Most houseplants also need an environment with at least 40 percent humidity, a bit higher than in the average home. You can provide more humidity by misting the leaves with water from a spray bottle, running a humidifier or grouping your plants together, so they create a humid microclimate when water moves out of their roots and through their foliage. You can also put pebbles in shallow saucers or trays filled with a little water. Place the pots on top of the pebbles, but don’t let their roots touch the water, to prevent root rot. As the water evaporates, it will increase the surrounding humidity.
Proper watering is key. As a rule of thumb, water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch, or as often as indicated on the plant’s tag. Some plants, such as cacti, need to dry completely before being watered again, while others like soil that stays moist. After you water, dump out any excess that collects in the saucer under your plant.
Research the kind of plants you’re growing to know what kind of fertilizer to give them, how much to use and how often to apply it.
Tip: Wipe down plant foliage with a soft cloth to remove dust and keep your plants looking fresh.
Unhealthy houseplants will often give you clues about what’s going on, so you can take steps to help them. Here are some signs to help you diagnose common problems.
Are the leaves yellow? You may be overwatering. Make sure your container has adequate drainage and cut back on watering. Use pruning snips to trim away dying foliage. Yellow leaves can also mean the plant is rootbound and needs to be moved to a bigger pot with drainage holes.
Do the leaves look burned or scorched? The plant may be getting too much direct sunlight, so move it to another spot or to a window with a curtain to filter the sun. Overfertilizing can also burn foliage.
Are the leaf tips brown and dry? The humidity may be too low or the soil may be too dry.
Are the leaves wilting? Wilting can signal overwatering or underwatering. If possible, take the plant out of the pot and check the roots for signs of rot, slime or excessive dryness.
If you think your ailing houseplant has insect pests, try to identify them so you’ll know how to control them.
Curling leaves, which are sometimes caused by too much light, can also be caused by mealybugs. Mealybugs look like fuzzy, white masses on your plants that damage or kill them by sucking plant juices. Try knocking them off with a stream of water from your kitchen sink or shower or put alcohol on a cotton ball, dab them with it and rinse the plant under lukewarm water. Again, a natural pest management product like neem oil or an insecticidal soap can help if they persist. If you have a big infestation, you may need to discard your plant and buy a new one.
Scale insects are hard-shelled pests that look like tiny bumps. Sometimes you’ll see a black, sooty mold where they’ve fed. If there are just a few insects, scrape them off with a wet paper towel. Otherwise, wipe off the bugs with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol and then rinse the plant thoroughly with lukewarm water. If they persist, use insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Spider mites can be too small to see, and they hide under leaves. However, tiny webs on your plants are telltale signs that they’re present, and these pests can make your plants look wilted or deformed. Knock them off with a stream of water from your shower or kitchen sink. If the spider mites persist, spray with insecticidal soap or use neem oil.
If you have a large infestation of any kind of houseplant pests, you may need to discard your plant and buy a new one. If you try to save it, quarantine it from healthy plants until you get the infestation under control.
Before you give up on an unhealthy plant, check the stems and roots. If there’s any green in the stem, or if the roots are pliable and firm, your plant may recover. Sometimes a plant just needs a fresh start to return to health.
For a plant that isn’t too far gone, or a plant that has outgrown its pot until its roots are coming out of the bottom, shake the soil off the roots, trim off any that are dead or slimy looking and repot the plant with fresh potting soil. Use a clean container two inches larger than the one it’s in. If the container doesn’t have drainage holes, make a few in the bottom.
Water the plant and keep it out of direct sun for about a week. When it starts to improve, move it into an area with the recommended amount of light.
If you still can’t figure out why your plant is unhealthy, check the temperature in the room. Is it too high or too low for the kind of plant you’re growing? Is hot or cold air from a vent, window or door blowing directly on it? If so, try moving the plant and see if it recovers.
You may be tempted to fertilize a houseplant that isn’t thriving, but resist that urge. Fertilizing a plant that’s sick or stressed will cause additional stress and may kill it. Wait until new growth appears and the signs of distress disappear before you start feeding the plant again.
Recap: It's often possible to revive a dying houseplant. Remember to read the plant's tag to be sure you're giving the plant the right balance of water, light and humidity.
Look for signs of pests or diseases and treat for them as soon as you see them, before the infestation gets out of control. Wait until your plant returns to good health and shows signs of new growth before you fertilize, so it's not overstressed. With a little patience and TLC, your houseplants will thrive and grow.
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