How do you revive a dying house plant?

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Ok, so you’ve ascertained that house plant isn’t happy, but you’re pretty sure it’s not dead.

Yet.

I know it’s tempting to just keep watering and hoping for the best, but I promise you’ll probably just kill it faster. You need to properly tend to its every need – not just what you think it needs.

But don’t worry – I’ve compiled a step-by-step checklist of tasks to complete that will give your plant the best chance of survival. We can do this. It’s fine.

  • Assess the damage to the plant
  • chop off anything dead or rotten
  • Put the plant in water
  • Ensure constant humidity
  • Adjust the light
  • Be vigilant about pests.

This post is about how to save a plant that’s on its way out. If you keep killing plants and you’re not sure why try this article: why do my house plants keep dying?

1 – Assess the damage

This is a nice way of me saying…er…is the plant already dead? Check out this article if you’re not sure.

If you’re still unsure, then your plant is probably still alive.

2 – Chop of anything dead or rotten

If it’s dead or rotten, nothing can be done to safe it. At best it can’t help your plant, at worst, it can spread to healthy parts or spread bacterial or fungal diseases.

I know it feels wring to snip your plants roots, but if they’re brown or mushy, they’re no longer viable. Snip them so we can save the rest.

I also like to chop off any leaves that don’t look like they can be saved. Chop off any brown leaves, and any that are yellow or yellowing. Your plant doesn’t need to waste resources on them.

This part can be a bit of a judgement call – the plant needs some leaves to photosynthesise, so if they’re all yellowing, leave a couple of the healthiest looking leaves.

3- Put your dying plant in water

Remove as much soil as you can from the plant’s roots. Be as gentle as you can – wash them with lukewarm water if necessary.

Put your plant in water, like you would if you were propagating a cutting. Water is one of the best media for root rehabilitation and is probably the best chance your plant has at recovering.

Make sure you change the water every few days. Use filtered or rain water and make sure it’s at room temperature so your plant doesn’t go into shock

4 – Put your dying plant in a makeshift greenhouse

Increasing the humidity around the plant can help it recover more quickly, but it’s not necessarily the high humidity that helps, but the consistent humidity. In our houses humidity varies throughout the day.

All you need is something clear to enclose your plant. A cloche or terrarium is perfect for a small plant. If you have a big plant, you could fashion a terrarium from Cellophane, or even a massive plastic bag. If that isn’t an option, put your plant in a room that isn’t used much, and put on a humidifier if required.

A humidity level of 65% is perfect – too low and the plant will dry out, too high and the plant will start to rot.

5 – Don’t give your dying house plant too much light

It can be tempting to give your plant a tonne of light to help it grow, but it’s currently under stress. We don’t want to encourage growth – at least not leaf growth – we want to encourage it to heal.

In a perfect situation, your plant would be in a bright, sunny room, but away from the window and any direct light. However, north-facing windowsill would probably do as long as the plant didn’t get cold. If you have grow lights, put your plant near the lights, but not directly under them – at least a foot or so away from them.

6 – Check your dying plant for pests

Pests love a dying plant, so you have to be vigilant. It can take a matter of days for a compromised plant to get infested, so check every day.

I wouldn’t recommend getting your plant’s leaves wet if at all possible, so clean any nearby plants with neem oil to ensure they’re pest free, and that any pests are dealt with before they can make it to your patient.

How long can you keep a plant in water?

As long as you keep the water fresh, you can keep your plant in water for months. Some people keep their plants in water indefinitely.

Just be aware that your plant will need nutrients at some point. I believe hydroponic gardeners add a mineral nutrient solution to the water which is an option.

I’ve personally never tried them, but I would recommend either having a look or Amazon or lurking on the r/hydroponics subreddit to see what those guys use.

If you have a (freshwater) aquarium you can either take water from it or try to rehab your plants directly in the tank. I have a paludarium (half-filled with water, with a rocky landmass) that has successfully grown peace lilies and a peperomia.

It’s both toasty warm and super humid, so it’s a great place to rehab plants. I just need to devise a method to keep them upright!

When can you pot your plant up again?

I like to wait until I have a healthy root system and ideally some growth. Don’t be surprised if you lose a few leaves in the process – your plant has a lot going on.

When you do pot your plant up, you need to make sure to keep it moist for a couple of weeks, because it’s used to being in a wet environment.

If you’re potting into a terracotta pot, soak the pot before adding soil and then thoroughly water the soil and let it drain. Make sure you’re not recycling old soil, and if you’re using regular house plant potting mix, add perlite to improve drainage. I would mix equal parts soil to perlite.

Adding the plant to wet soil, rather than planting, then watering, reduces the chance that you’ll damage the roots.

Keep a close eye on your plant. If it goes downhill again, put it back in water. Once it starts putting out new growth, congratulations! You’ve successfully saved your plant!

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