How To Tell If a Plant is Dead – Can It Be Revived

Potted plant that looks like it's dying

Do you have a plant that looks thin, droopy, or even on the brink of death? Did it look great when you bought it last year, but this year it’s failing to thrive? Here’s how to tell if a plant is dead and when it needs a little extra TLC for revival?

The following are the signs of a healthy plant that is going through a regular life cycle. There are reasons why your planted friend may be going brown and ways to help revitalize your plant.

Look for Basic Signs of Life

Withering Potted Plant

When trying to figure out how to tell if a plant is dead, the first thing to do is look carefully for any signs of life. A plant that is alive will almost always have pliable stems. A pliable stem will have some degree of flex when gently bent and will not easily snap or crumble.

If you do break the stem, was it a clean break or did it shred?

Clean breaks on a plant mean a dead limb; shredded breaks point towards water retention and life. After breaking the stem, look for hints of green in the newly exposed areas. Green indicates the plant is still alive, while no green means at least that part of the stem is dead.

If you’ve found green, you know your plant is going to make it. If you don’t see green, try gently scratching further down the stem. Use your fingernail or small knife to search for signs of green and moisture. If there is no green anywhere in the stems, roots can still be checked.

Carefully dig the plant from the soil and look for roots that are light, supple, and have little to no scent. Dead roots will either be mushy and smelly or dry and brittle. If your plant is still alive, consider the following reasons for its current condition.

Going Dormant

Plant that is dormant

Many perennials are deciduous plants. This means they may have periods of dormancy. During this time, they lose their leaves and even turn brown. For healthy plants, this happens during the colder seasons.

Once temperatures increase and sunlight returns most plants will begin to bloom. Plants may also go dormant during stressful events like times of drought.

If you have any forbs in your yard, it’s very common for them to lose their stems in stressful weather. If they do, don’t fret! When the nice weather returns, they’ll begin to bud at the crown, where the plant sits on the surface of the soil.

Depending on the plant species in your yard, you may need to have some patience. Certain plants will grow back very quickly in the spring while others may take months to regrow. One of the best ways to create a vibrant, easy-to-care-for landscape is by using native NJ plants and trees. 

A dormant plant that is preparing for regrowth will likely have little buds growing on the stem or crown. When the buds do start to appear it’s important you don’t touch it. Instead, sit back and let nature take its course.

Illness or Poor Conditions

Plant with a bug infestation

A plant that is sick may have an infestation. Look closely for signs of tiny insects, fungi, or other pests that might be killing your plant.

You should also smell the soil around the crown for any distinct, odd odor. This odor typically signifies that your plant has mildew or mold. If detected, seek out treatment methods specific to the pest and your plant may recover.

If there aren’t any signs of infestation, growing conditions may be too severe for your plant. If this is the case you should adjust for light, temperature, water, and nutrients. It will help to do a little research about your plant’s species to determine what variables to adjust.

When your plant begins to wilt, trim away dead leaves and stems. Preserve as much of the live plant as possible. You may also need to remove your weak plant from the intense sunlight. If that’s the case think about transplanting and applying shade.

When to Quit

Woman working in garden removing dead plants

If you’ve attempted to help your plant and see very little sign of recovery, chances are it’s beyond help. Consider saving some time and energy and replace it with a healthier specimen.

For more information about plantings in your landscape, contact Landscape Solutions. Our team is ready to help you achieve the landscape design your property needs.