Welcome to Ask A Plant Queen, where with the help of Tula founder and bona fide plant expert Christan Summers, we'll answer every question you've ever had about the care, keeping, and presentation of houseplants. No need for you — or your pretty green pals — to thank us.
I’ll cut to the chase here: How does one revive a houseplant that is seriously, like, one day away from certain death? Lest you think me wholly ill-equipped for plant parenthood, I’d like to point out that I have about six others who are doing just fine. But this guy is just… well, not making it. Is it time to give up and move on to greener pastures (literally) or is there some magical, 11th-hour solution beyond the normal sunlight-water-crossed-fingers routine that I’m missing out on?
Oh, how I loathe throwing plants away. And in a perfect, greenhouse world there should always an 11th-hour solution to reviving any green babe. But until we can all finally live in greenhouses, here are a few tried and true secrets that have worked for me:
Your success in plant revival will always depend on the plant, your environment, and the actual problem. So first, you’ve got to play detective and diagnose the issue. Has the plant been over watered? Is there a pest infestation? Are you not giving the plant enough light? Perhaps the plant was repotted in the wrong type of soil and the roots are suffocating? These are all common cases of plant demise so you’ve got to start by identifying which problem to attack.
Once you ID the problem, then it’s time to assess whether or not you have the environment, patience, or ability to remedy. Each problem serves up a different set of solutions, I’ll cover a few below:
For tropical plants, if you’ve over watered and there is a ton of leaf drop and/or yellowing leaves, there is a good chance you can revive by simply letting it dry out and giving it as much sunlight as possible.
For a cactus or succulent, the sign that you’ve over watered is that the base has turned mushy and brown. Now if the top is healthy and hard, well, it can be saved! In a case like this you would, quite literally, decapitate the cactus by cutting the healthy part of the cactus from the rotting, unhealthy part. You’ll need a very sharp knife and a pair of very thick gloves and then you cut until you don’t see any brown colouration inside the core of the cactus. Once you’ve cut the healthy section from the unhealthy core, you’d discard of the unhealthy part and wash your planter thoroughly with soapy water. You won’t repot the healthy top section anytime soon. It needs time to callous over so you must place it in a cool but dry area of your home for at least 7-10 days before reintroducing it into soil. When the fleshy part of the healthy cut has calloused, only then can you replant it into VERY gritty soil.
This same process can be applied to certain succulents that have been overwatered, as well as tropical vining plants. Vining plants are easy to salvage if you’ve rotted the core of their roots, as you can just clip off a few vines and put them into water until new roots grow and voila! You have a new plant.
If you have pest problem you first need to identify which pest is sucking the life out of your green friend — mealy bugs, spider mites, scale or aphids (aphids are the WORST). Treatment for pests starts with taking the plant far away from other healthy plants so the pests don’t spread. Then you must clean and clean persistently. Use a spray bottle and dilute Neem oil and go to town. Get to all the crevices and leaf folds, and be sure to open your windows and wear gloves. For those who haven't heard of it, Neem oil is made from crushing the Neem plant seed, and is considered a safe and organic pesticide and fungicide for your indoor and outdoor garden. It's even used in skin care remedies, though it's always best to dilute Neem oil with water and protect your plant foliage from direct sun after application.
If your problem is simply environmental and you just don’t have the right sort of environment to keep a specific plant alive, then perhaps the best remedy is to gift your plant to a friend who has the right environment and watch it thrive as a surrogate plant parent.
In conclusion, best to start by identifying the problem and although there is no miracle potion for reviving plants, a lot of love and the right environmental conditions can work absolute wonders. Oh, and time — time and patience. Good luck plant lovers!
Want more Plant Queen? Check out these live plant care workshops, going on all this month at Tula in Brooklyn.