Don’t beat yourself up too much about neglecting a houseplant. Maybe you went on vacation or never found an opportune time to water it. Maybe you’re working too hard.
Whatever the reason, most of us have forgotten to water a houseplant—maybe to the point of near death. Then all of a sudden you notice that the leaves have withered and browned—and it seems like the only thing left to do is throw the plant away.
But wait! Before you chuck your sickly plant into the trash bin, take heart: You can bring your ailing greenery back to life. With a few simple steps, that houseplant can be sprouting new signs of life in no time.
Check your lighting
“If your plant isn’t doing well, my first piece of advice is to look at where the plant is and see what light it’s working with,” says Maria Failla, the New York–based founder and host of “The Bloom and Grow Radio” podcast.
“Many people keep plants 5 to 10 feet from a window, and often that isn’t enough bright indirect light to keep the plant happy,” she explains.
If your plant isn’t located near a window, Failla recommends moving it closer while it recovers. Even if your home doesn’t get a ton of natural lighting, stylish grow lights are available to help give your leafy baby a boost.
Check your watering
Proper watering is also vital and will often play a part in your plant thriving or perishing. Watering too little is a problem, but watering too much is also a common issue—and maybe even more harmful.
“If it is just a matter of a few wilted leaves, add some water immediately” as long as the drip tray is dry, says Christian Figueroa, chief financial officer at the Wright Gardner, a plant design, sales, and leasing service in San Francisco.
Often, people assume a wilted plant immediately needs water. But plants can wilt from overwatering; therefore, adding more water is just going to make matters worse. So make sure you check the drip tray before assuming your wilted plant needs water.
“The plant’s drip tray should always be dry before adding water,” Figueroa says.
Also, roots that have rotted can no longer take up water, thus, the plant wilts as if it were dry, according to Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, author of “Houseplants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing, and Caring for Indoor Plants” and blogger at The Houseplant Guru.
If you suspect root rot, gently remove the plant from the pot and rinse soil from the roots.
“Happy roots are pinkish and semifirm to the touch; dead roots are black and mushy,” Failla says.
If you see these dreaded rotten roots, trim ’em back and repot the plant using a well-draining potting soil and a pot with draining holes.
Trim damaged foliage
Make sure you gently cut away any dead or dying leaves, stems, and blooms.
“This gives your plant more energy by not forcing it to expend energy on stalks that are dead,” Figueroa says.
You want to give your ailing plant a good cleanup, but keep a few of the healthier-looking leaves so the plant can bounce back.
Afraid of removing too much foliage? Check out these helpful tips on trimming from Erin Marino, director of brand marketing for The Sill, an online houseplant retailer with brick-and-mortar stores in New York City.
- If the plant is substantial in size and the stems are thick, check the color of the center of the stem with each trim. Even if the stem appears dead, if it’s green in the center, it could bounce back with a small trim, as opposed to removing it entirely.
- If the stem is brown in the center, and brittle or mushy, trim it back completely.
Feed your plant
When was the last time you repotted your plant? Just like humans, plants need proper nutrition to thrive. If it’s been more than a year, Marino suggests repotting your plant or lightly fertilizing it. But you don’t automatically have to move up to a larger container.
“Repotting does not necessarily have to mean giving your plant a new, larger pot,” Marino says. “If it hasn’t overgrown its current one, then simply change out the potting mix. New mix equals fresh new nutrients for your plant, which can help it perk right up.”
If you opt to fertilizer instead, dilute the fertilizer.
“You never want to overfertilize your plant, especially if it’s stressed-out already,” she says.
Give your plant some time
If your plant is in bad shape, don’t expect to see improvements overnight. Even when giving it the TLC it deserves, reviving it will take a while. The specific amount of time depends on the type of plant you have.
“It takes time to see noticeable changes in the health of your houseplant,” Marino says. “Patience is key.”
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