How to Revive a Dying Plant: Diagnosing and Solving Common Issues with Your Plants




Each growing season, gardeners and homeowners dedicate time and resources to establish a thriving array of plants, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Lush landscapes, hearty houseplants, and ripe results are the ultimate outcomes. However, there are a number of challenges and obstacles that can prevent plants from peak performance. Plant life is fragile and dependent upon natural elements combined with a touch of personal care and maintenance. It’s important to identify potential issues that could hinder plant growth or deter development indoors or in the garden. 


Healthy plants endure natural life cycles impacted by Mother Nature and human treatment tactics. How can one determine that a plant is dead or struggling to survive? There are several warning signs that can indicate a plant’s health may be in jeopardy. While plants typically don’t move, breathe, have a pulse, or feel pain, some telling signs that a plant is in trouble lie in the stem, roots, and overall appeal of the potentially problematic plant. In other cases, a plant may seem perfectly healthy upon observation, but in reality it might be in dire distress. 


Sick or struggling plant life may be caused by too little or too much watering, bacterial disease, or tiny pests penetrating the plant. Any sign of foul smell near the soil around the plant’s base may indicate mildew or mold. There may be specific pesticides or replenishing oils to try to save the situation. Environmental conditions can also make plants susceptible so it’s important to closely monitor levels of light, water, nutrients, and heat. As plants deteriorate, remove wilting leaves and stems and consider transplanting them to a new growth area away from too much direct sunlight. 


Signs that plant life may be plummeting

What to look for in your dying plant.
What to look for and how to identify the issue of a dying plant.

At the outset, take a thorough look at the plant and try to identify what might be leading to a plant’s dismay. Compared to healthy plants, those suffering may be discolored, dried out, wilted, or contain holes and tears in the leaves. Oftentimes, too much watering will rot the roots and prevent the soil from draining enough moisture. Forgetting to water for a couple days does not suggest pouring on excessively to compensate. While a plant might look in decent shape, its root system below the soil might be in disarray.




First and foremost, find any part of the plant showing signs of life. Start with the stem and carefully remove any dead leaves. If the stem easily bends or seems firm and flexible, this means the plant is alive and may be dormant. In contrast, if the stem is brittle and snaps, it could mean the end for this botanical blend. 


Cut the stem down in sections and poke the stem with something sharp to see if its interior is damp and still shows signs of green. Stems that shred apart and still maintain some green can continue to retain water and have functioning cells. Stems will recover and reorganize from the area that was snipped. If the stem snaps or crumbles with no signs of fleshy green, this portion of the plant is probably dead; however, it’s worth checking the roots for a comprehensive consensus. As the stem gets lower to the roots, keep searching for some green glimpse of life and preserve as much of the stem above the ground as possible.

Trim back those unhealthy stems in search of signs of life.
Unhealthy stems be trimmed back in hopes to find some sign of life.



Don’t be mistaken if a plant is dormant but not deceased. This is the case for most deciduous plants that lose their leaves and turn brown due to colder temperatures or extended droughts. As the seasons progress, plants will bloom with warmer weather and more sunlight. 


While shedding leaves is part of many plants’ growth cycle (especially perennial species), some leaf loss could indicate underlying issues. Examine which leaves have fallen off and how many have released over time. The oldest leaves may be turning brown and dying near the bottom of the plant. This could result from inconsistent watering or gradually drying out, although this does not necessarily mean the entire plant has run its course. While brown leaves usually result from lack of water, they could also be drying out from excessive exposure to the sun. When damaged, brown leaves are removed, replenish the soil and spray with a reviving oil to combat any pest damage or fungal infection that may exist. On the other hand, leaves that develop a yellow hue typically result from too much water. 

Try to distinguish what is normal for your plant's life cycle and when it's time to be concerned.
While shedding, dry, and discolored leaves may be part of a plant’s cycle, all may also have their own underlying issues.



If the stems and leaves raise concern, a final, careful check of the root system below the surface can make or break the plant’s perseverance. Delicately dig out the plant from the soil and analyze whether the roots seem pale, plump and pliable or mushy, dry, and exuding an odor. If roots are white or yellow, thread-like, and flexible, they may be replanted in fresh soil and watered for rejuvenated results. However, overwatering can waterlog the soil and lead to plants rotting and decaying over time. Try cutting out brown, mushy roots in effort to find the white, firm parts that could be salvaged. In many cases the plant’s root system can rebuild and replenish leaf growth and essentially revamp the plant’s visual aesthetic and overall well being.

Carefully check roots to avoid further damage.
Be sure to carefully check your roots to avoid further damage.

Steps and tips to revive plants in distress:


Plants may require different levels of light, water, humidity, and nutrients to survive. Research what you’re working with. Since no plant is created equal and there are almost 400,000 species on the planet, get a grasp of your garden, hone in on your houseplants, and explore all salvageable options. 


When plant owners notice signs of disease and decay, a common initial reaction is to water; however, that assumption can backfire if the issue lies elsewhere. Plants that lack water will often droop and suffer atop dry, firm soil and when exposed to too much sun. If plants are overwatered, the soil will be moist, and wilted, yellow or brown leaves will arise. Roots need time and take patience to heal. Oftentimes, plants can be saved when replanted in fresh soil. Otherwise, light watering and frequent shade aid the healing process. In time, the soil will become less moist and leaves and foliage will flourish again. 


The powerful sun can play a role in a plant’s performance and many species should be refrained from too much heat and light. Extremely dry leaves with scattered dark spots might have succumbed to too much sun. Snip the leaves, water regularly, and relocate to a shaded, somewhat humid area. If plants lack sunlight, red flags include flimsy stems, tiny leaves, and halted growth. 


Do not attempt to fertilize plants that may seem malnourished because the chemicals can further complicate any hopes of health. When the plant recovers, it will be able to handle fertilizers and boosts of nutrients added to the soil. On the other hand, applying neem oil or a mild soap can be beneficial to fend off mites and bugs and alleviate disease and destruction.


Pests and insects make a mess out of plants. Whether in the garden or an interior houseplant, signals of infestation include leaves with holes, rips and tears, cotton-like spots, and discoloration. Any growths or abnormal bumps on leaves are usually triggered by insects that penetrated through the plant and may have even laid eggs. Consult a local nursery or garden store for an effective insect-repellent to combat spider mites, aphids, worms, slugs, and beetles. Some rodents and deer could also be culprits. Remove the plant’s damaged portions and monitor closely. It’s possible the pests have left the premises and the plant can still prosper. 


Like any living thing, plants can weaken without the right mix of nutrients, vitamins, and food to fuel growth. Plants that grow slowly and don’t display stable stems and green leaves may hunger for help. Plant food is accessible and often helpful to replenish. In other cases, a full-fledged effort to save these plants may be required. This entails some effort to save the stable parts or repotting a dying plant with good quality soil so the roots have room to regenerate.

Your plant may need TLC but don't lose hope.
Your plant may need some TLC but all hope is not lost.

Repot to Repurpose


Indoor plants can be mood-setting soothers that enrich home decor and add natural elements to one’s living space. If plants seem to be damaged beyond minor repair, repotting is a viable option to keep the peace and revive the plant. Be wary it is a delicate endeavor but can be well worth it if proper procedures are in place.


If roots have been dug up and still seem intact, repot the root system in a slightly larger pot so the root ball is repositioned and has room to thrive. Drop the plant down into a fresh indoor potting mix and only as deep as the original plant was positioned. Trim back any dead, dried out leaves so the roots can revitalize most efficiently. Keep the re-potted plant primarily in the shade until new sprouts arise. Water gently and ensure the soil does not dry or harden. Be sure to use a sizable pot with a drainage hole to prevent soaking the soil. Soil should be moist but not too damp and keep in mind plants need even less water in colder temperatures. 


Sometimes, plant life is destined to demise and makes starting over with new seeds or nursery-bought plants the only options. If many methods have failed and minor surgery did not revive, the plant may be past the point of no return. Rather than burying the plant six feet under, composting is an eco-friendly initiative that reuses plant parts for additional resources. This process helps make a difference when saying good-bye to plants because they continue to serve purpose and help sustain the environment.


Depending how dire the plant’s health, full recovery can take two weeks to several months. To maintain health upon a plant’s revival, closely monitor its nutrition, soil, water, and light levels. If some parts of a plant still show signs of life, saving them can be a rewarding experience. It can bolster plant life in and around the home while alleviating the time, cost, and energy required to replace and grow new seeds or plants. In conclusion, don’t always assume a droopy, dried out plant is a done deal. Many struggling plants can be rescued and endure a prolonged life with a bit of horticultural TLC.

Read More

Related Articles

How to Remove (and Prevent) Mold Growth in Houseplants

Plants need water and nutrients to grow, but there are other things that might also use that "food" in the right conditions. Due to...

Plant Lighting 101: Where to Place Houseplants to Get the Perfect Amount of Light

Plants thrive in the right kind of lighting. Too little light may stunt the growth of a plant and its leaves, while too much...

Soil Conservation: Common Strategies and How to Get Involved

People may think the soil that they live and build upon is static. In fact, the soil moves. In many ways, it can be...

Pinching Plants: Why (and How) do Gardeners Pinch Plants?

Pruning plants is at least an occasional task for gardeners. During the growing season, plants are more likely to expand and become more beautiful...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here