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How to Rescue Dying Houseplants – Everything You Need to Know

Amanda Roberts pictured in room with housplants
HGTV Canada

In my (admittedly biased) opinion, houseplants are amazingly versatile – they make for great decor, can be fun to collect, and caring for them comes with a wide variety of mental health benefits. But the journey that is plant parenthood isn’t always a smooth one. It isn’t always as simple as bringing a plant home and watching it thrive (although I really wish it were!) unless you’re a fan of no-care artificial potted plants.

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When you bring lots of live leafy friends into your life, it’s totally normal to encounter a few issues. From wilty yellowing leaves, leaf loss and crispy tips to lack of growth and pests, here’s how to figure out what’s going on with your plants and what you can do about it. And, if all else fails, I’ll share a few signs it may be time to give up on your plant.

How to Rescue Plants From Common Ailments

A closeup of a houseplant with yellowing leaves

If you have an unhappy houseplant on your hands, the first step is triage: figuring out why your plant is dying. This is by far the most challenging part of plant care, because many of the symptoms that a struggling or dying plant may exhibit can be attributed to a variety of causes.

For example, wilting can be caused by overwatering or underwatering, which are actually opposite conditions (too much water and too little water respectively). It can be hard to pinpoint what’s going on and what to do about it, so when in doubt, turn to your favourite search engine, type in your plant and the symptoms it’s exhibiting (for example, “monstera leaves yellowing”) and peruse the results to help figure it out.

Related: These Indoor Plants Will Boost Your Mood for the Winter Months

Ailment: Wilting Plants

If your plant’s leaves are wilting, as mentioned earlier, it could be a sign of  either overwatering or underwatering. To help you figure out which, feel and look at the plant’s soil. If the soil feels damp or looks moldy, it may be overwatering. Let your plant dry out thoroughly before watering again. If the soil feels dry or appears to be pulling away from the sides of your pot, that’s a sign of underwatering. Give your plant a thorough drink and see if it perks up.

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Another tip to help wilting plants is to add some support, either with a stick or rock, to help encourage their growth. This will help the plant’s upright growth as it grows stronger.

Ailment: Plants With Yellowing Leaves or Leaf Loss

If your plant has leaves that are yellowing and falling off, don’t panic! It’s totally normal for plants to lose old leaves as it puts out new ones. However, if your plant’s leaves are yellowing and dropping in alarming quantities, it may be a sign that it need nutrients. Try adding a fresh layer of soil to the top of your plant’s pot, or giving your plant some diluted fertilizer next time you water.

Related: The Most Invasive Plants in Canada to Remove From Your Garden

A closeup of hands cradling a houseplants leaves to check for ailments

Ailment: Lack of Growth

Maybe you’ve had your plant home for a while and notice that it hasn’t been putting out new growth. It’s totally normal for plants to go through an adjustment period when they first get home. Most plants also tend to go dormant during the winter (though there are some plants that thrive in the winter), meaning they put out less new growth and instead focus on sustaining the leaves they already have. However, unless your potted plant is artificial, you want to encourage new growth. If necessary, it may be appropriate to add more nutrients to the plant’s soil through a fertilizer.

Related: The Easiest Ways to Care for Your Plants When On Vacation

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Ailment: Edema

Edema is little brown or red spots on a leaf, usually on a new leaf. The good news is that, on its own, it won’t kill your plant. Edema usually occurs due to irregular watering. When new leaves are forming, sometimes the plant’s roots can suck up more water than the plant can use, causing cells to burst in the leaves. This in turn causes those little brownish red spots. Edema isn’t fatal, and often the spots will go away as the leaf matures. However, it can be a sign of irregular watering, so consider implementing a regular watering schedule.

See More: How to Pick the Perfect Houseplant for All Skill Levels

Two lush houseplants being sprayed with a water bottle

Ailment: Overwatering or Underwatering

Overwatering and underwatering are some of the most common plant issues. Crispy-edged leaves are often signs of underwatering, whereas rotten-looking, dark brown patches tend to be indicate overwatering.

If you suspect underwatering, water your plant thoroughly and regularly, allowing it to dry out slightly between waterings. Overwatering can be a bit more challenging to recover from, as it can easily lead to root rot. Soggy, overwatered soil that accompanies it can be a breeding ground for anaerobic bacteria, which in turn can cause the roots of your plant to rot. If you suspect root rot, check the roots – if they’re brown and mushy, trim the rotten roots, let the plant dry out, and repot the plant in sterile soil.

Ailment: Brown Crispy Leaves

If your plant has brown crispy leaves – sometimes brown crispy-tipped leaves – but you’re pretty confident it’s not underwatered, this could be a sign of low humidity.

There are two ways to boost humidity. The first is misting the plant with water frequently; the other is to add a humidifier to your space! Your humidity-loving tropical plants will thank you!

Hands inspecting the leaves of a healthy pothos plant

Ailment: Pests

Pests are a common issue for plant parents with many plants. Identifying and treating pests could be a blog post on its own! If you see signs of pests (splotchy yellow leaves, small brown spots, cobwebs, white fuzzy spots) use your preferred search engine to try to identify what the pest is and how best to treat it.

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In general, when it comes to pests, neem oil is your new best friend. Mix one or two tablespoons of neem oil into a spray bottle of warm water. Shake it up and spray it onto the plants. Even if you don’t have pests, neem oil is a great preventative measure as well!

Insecticidal soap is your other best friend. It smothers and kills many pests and their eggs. Follow the instructions on the packaging, and apply regularly.

When to Call it Quits With a Dying Plant

Losing a plant is such a disappointing feeling, and deciding whether to give up can be a difficult and emotional call to make.

Some signs that there may be no recovery left for your plant: if the pest population is out of control, if your plant has no healthy leaves left, or if your plant problems are negatively impacting your mental health. Don’t let it discourage you from your journey to plant parenthood, though you can always consider a stylish artificial potted plant, too.

For more tips from Amanda on how to revive a dying plant, check out the video below:



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