Can You Recover a Dead Houseplant?

By Heather Rhoades
Published: December 1, 2014 | Last updated: April 23, 2021
Key Takeaways

Plants do not have vital signs like a heartbeat or breathing in and out—which would make it easy to tell if it is truly dead or alive. Instead, you have to rely on more subtle clues.

How do you tell if a plant is dead? While this might seem like an easy question to answer, the truth is that telling if a plant is truly dead can often be a difficult task. If your plant has lost all of its leaves or the leaves have all gone brown, don’t panic. If you suspect your plant is dead, but you are not sure, the fastest way to tell if it is dead is to check the stems. The stems of the plant should be pliable and firm and will have a green cast on the inside if they are still alive.


If the stem is mushy or brittle, check the roots for the same conditions. The roots too should be pliable but firm. If both the stems and roots are brittle or mushy, the plant is dead and you will simply need to start over.


Is the plant really worth saving?

If your plant is not dead, the next step is to decide if you really want to make the effort of nursing the plant back to health. Keep in mind that a plant might still die despite your best efforts. Also, the plant will look utterly pathetic for weeks, month or even years.

Is it worth spending the time to recover what might be a lost cause, or could you get a comparable but healthy plant at the local nursery or store for a reasonable price?

If this is a plant that has sentimental value or is hard to find, then it is certainly worth saving; otherwise, you should just start over again.


What to do when only the roots are still alive

If the roots are still good, but the stems are dead, you will be hoping that the plant re-grows from the roots. Cut away the stems a third at a time. You might find that as you get closer to the roots, parts of the stem might be alive. If you do find living stem, try to leave as much as possible. If you find no living stem, leave 2 in. of the stem intact above the soil.


Place the plant in conditions where it will get roughly half the amount of sun that is normally recommended for that plant. Water only when the soil is dry to the touch. If the plant is able to, you will see new stems sprout from around the remaining stem in a month or two. If you do not, recheck the roots to see if the plant has died.

What to do when the stems are still alive

Trim away as much dead stem as you can find on the plant. Place the plant in indirect light or in conditions where it will get roughly half the amount of sun that is normally recommended for that plant. Water only when the soil is dry to the touch, but do not let the soil dry out completely.

In three to four weeks, maybe less, you will hopefully start to see new stems or leaves being produced where the old leaves were. As the leaves and stem become more fully developed, cut away any parts of the stems that are not producing leaves or stems.

If you do not see any new leaves or stems after a few weeks, recheck the stems on the plant and prune away the dead wood as the stem dies.

Remember, even with all the love and attention in the world, it is sometimes not possible to save a badly damaged plant. Sometimes you just have to start over and try not to let what happened before happen again.


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Written by Heather Rhoades

Profile Picture of Heather Rhoades

Heather Rhoades is the founder of Gardening Know How, where she continues to write articles and answer questions relating to gardening.

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