Don’t Toss Out Dying Plants Until You Read These Tips

published May 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

My boss recently took one look at the Majesty Palm plant in our office and told me to throw it out.

True, it was looking a little sad, but it had looked sad before and bounced back—so I had faith it could do it again and tasked myself with saving the plant. Is that because I wanted the challenge or because a Majesty Palm is a large plant and throwing it out would be very… involved? Who’s to say!

Saving the plant seemed like the best option on all accounts.

Sure enough, with a little help from the internet and a little TLC, the Majesty Palm was back to her regular royal self in no time. But then I got to thinking: Have I thrown out plants before their time was up? How do you know when it’s time to give up?

Roy Paar and Milana Naumenko, founders of Water & Light, a plant center in Ridgewood, New York, explain that the answer to that question depends on the person.

“Every plant is different, and every person is different. One person might not have patience for a plant that doesn’t look good, while some people are more nurturing and refuse to give up on a plant because it’s a living thing,” says Paar.

Suzanna Cameron, founder of Stems Brooklyn, a plant shop and floral design studio in—you guessed it—Brooklyn, says it’s simple: “Plants need consistency. Can you provide this? If you can’t, throw it out.”

If your plant is feeling (and looking) sub-par, there are some steps you can take to help it heal. Unfortunately, there are no real “hacks” or “save-all-cures.” It really comes down to a few basic things.

Water it less

How often are you watering the plant?

Naumenko cautions against overwatering. When they’re worried about their plant, “Everyone’s first reaction is to give it another drink,” she says. Instead, “Read up on your plant, figure out what it needs, and adjust accordingly.”

Provide enough light

Are you providing the correct amount of light for your plant?

“Generally speaking, bright indirect light is a go-to condition for most house plants. Bright indirect light means no sun rays are coming in that area, but you see reflections on your beautiful green leaves,” explains Cameron.

Give it a trim

“Brown, dried-out leaves are a hindrance to plant energy source!” says Cameron.  She suggests trimming away all brown or dried out areas.

Adjust the soil

When is the last time you changed the soil or added fertilizer?

Again, Naumenko warns not to overdo it with the fertilizer. “Some plants need to be fertilized every week during spring and summer,” she says. “Some plants need to be fertilized once a year in the spring. Some could be fine without it.”

Fix the temperature and humidity

Keep it consistent!

“We regulate the temperature as much as we can,” says Paar. “In the winter, we heat it up to keep it between 65 and 75 degrees, but because we heat it up, it dries it out the plants, so we have to use a humidifier or spray them with misters.”

Check for pests

Checking for pests might seem obvious, but it’s worth stating, so check!

Examine the roots

If you’ve tried everything else and your plant isn’t healing, it’s possible that your plant could be having some root issues. “If it’s rootbound, you can try cutting the rotted part,” explains Naumenko. (Rootbound means all the roots are a tight, tangled mess that mimics the shape of the pot it was in.) “Then put it in a new pot—maybe one inch bigger. If it’s too big, there will be too much water for the roots.”

Give it some attention

It’s a real thing!

“We can provide our plants with the ideal environment, and they’ll do okay, but when we go in the shop and work with the plants, they can strangely tell we’re there,” says Paar. “We’ll do a little pruning and move them around, and they react to that.”

So when should you give up a plant? Whenever you want!

There’s no steadfast answer, and the steps to reviving a dying plant may not be sexy, but they are doable if you have the patience and time.

Cameron said it best. “At the end of the day, plants are meant to bring us happiness, and my number one rule is this: If your plant isn’t bringing you some joy and creates stress, it is time to part ways. If you enjoy reviving plants and doing your research, then I say keep striving on. And ask your local nursery for advice!”