Plant Resuscitation: 7 Tricks To Bring Dead Plants Back To Life

By Teo Spengler | January 18, 2020
Image by Pattanawit
by Teo Spengler
January 18, 2020

If a plant is really, truly a goner, you’ll need a magic wand to help. But many plants that look dead can be resuscitated with prompt, effective action. Here’s a short list of 7 things you can try to revive a dying plant.

  • Take a close look at the damage. Most ailing plants are suffering from improper cultural care. Your best chance of helping the plant is to figure out what’s going on, so look carefully at the damage. Drooping, yellowing leaves can indicate too much water. Brown, dry leaves and stems may mean too little water. Scorched or transparent leaves? Too much or too little sun. Deformed or nibbled leaves signal pests.
  • Prune away dead foliage. You won’t be able to assess the chance of reviving your plant if it is choked with dead leaves. Clip off all dead leaves and branches from plants that look dead and remove all fallen foliage. If you aren’t sure whether a branch is dead, try the scratch test – use a fingernail to scrape off some of the outer layer of skin. If you see green inside, it’s alive and should not be removed. Keep the faith! Any green, flexible stems make it likely you can revive your plant.
  • Water a thirsty plant. A plant’s home is its container or garden bed, so dig around in the soil for evidence. If the soil is hard, compacted, cracked and dry, inadequate water is probably the issue. This kind of damage can be corrected quickly if you catch it in time. It’s easy to rehydrate dry plants. Pour water into the plant pot until it runs freely from the drainage holes in the bottom. After that, hose or spray down all remaining stems and foliage. Plants intake water through their leaves as well as their roots.
  • Let soggy soil dry out. If the container soil is wet to the touch even though you haven’t watered in a while, the plant’s is suffering from excess water caused by overwatering or poor drainage. Stop watering immediately and let the soil dry out. Check the pot’s drain holes. A small plant container needs a drain hole of at least ½ inch (1.2 cm.) diameter, while a larger plant container needs holes twice that size. If your pot’s drainage is inadequate, it’s time to transplant.
  • Adjust the sun exposure. Some plants need direct sun, some indirect sun and some shade. If you aren’t sure what this particular plant prefers, find out online or at the garden store. Then move the plant into an appropriate location.
  • Provide humidity. For some plants, getting enough water is not sufficient. Plants like ferns require humidity to thrive, humidity that the average living room might not offer. This can be solved quickly. Place a shallow pan filled with small rocks beneath the plant and add a little water. The water will evaporate and humidify the air near the plant.
  • Consider repotting. Over time, most plants outgrow their pots. The roots may even wind around the inside of the container, making it difficult for them to uptake water and nutrients. Gently remove the plant from its container. If you see more roots than soil, or roots coiling round the inside of the pot, it is time for a bigger container. Sometimes, all it takes to revive a dying plant is a little repotting.

Plant resuscitation isn’t always successful, especially if it’s too far gone. However, it doesn’t mean plants that look dead cannot be given new life. It never hurts to at least try – who knows, you may just have what it takes to bring dead plants back to life before it’s too late.

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  • George Koulomzin
    Comment added January 15, 2022Reply

    If you are not sure exactly how much sun your plant will get in your desired location, you might want to get an Android app called "Sun And Shade Analyzer". It will accurately compute the average hours of direct sunlight a plant will receive during any part of the year. The app is predictive: it knows the sun's daily and seasonal movements, and uses your device's camera to "see" all obstructions (trees, buildings, etc.) which would throw shade on your plant. It can even simulate foliage if necessary, to compensate for fallen leaves.

  • Rose
    Comment added June 14, 2021Reply

    Good evening
    A few days ago I transfersd a pothos planet to another pot but I accidentally cut most of its roots but I didn’t remove the torn roots from the new pot
    Will it be rotten and kill the plant ??

  • Sophia Wood
    Comment added August 29, 2020Reply

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  • Lena
    Comment added January 26, 2020Reply

    Thank you for the tips. I’m not sure if my ficus liatra is receiving too much water or not enough. I’ve tried both methods of soaking and also watering once a week. Neither have improved the browning leaves dropping off. While the new leaves are small and curled and even having holes in them. Have fertilized and sprayed sea sol on the leaves. As it’s doing poorly I’m not sure if it could stand the shock of being repotted again. It is mostly inside and has regular outdoor time in the cooler afternoons. Has been repotted 2 months ago when I noticed it not doing well. The pot has an in built water well. Any suggestions please.

  • Murphy
    Comment added January 19, 2020Reply

    I think this article gives people hope to not give up on plants with just little common sense bringing a plant back to life can spark other spirits.

  • Philip Lambert
    Comment added January 19, 2020Reply

    Garden tradescantia grown in a pot comes to a full stop when the plant gets root-bound. Take the plant out of the pot and cut off any roots that grow round and round horizontally. You should be able to see both earth and roots afterwards. Replant in a larger pot that contains at least half as much compost more than the original pot.
    Any straggly, damaged or discoloured shoots should be trimmed. It helps to stand the pot in a container of water plus plant feed for an hour or two whenever the plant looks to be flagging.

    • Rafikul Islam
      Comment added January 22, 2020Reply

      This is very good.

  • Dave
    Comment added January 19, 2020Reply

    Great advice. Thanks

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