How to diagnose and save a dying plant

As someone that has murdered many plants, I shall impart my accidental wisdom. May you learn from my failures, my internet friends and foes. Or don’t, if you relish in being a serial plant murderer. I don’t know your life.

Like any potential murder, let’s start with an ~ investigation ~

EXAMINE THE SOIL

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Just go ahead and stick your finger in there—at least 2 or 3 inches into the soil. Feel if the soil is dry or wet. As someone that gets fancy manicures and grew up in an azn household, plz trust me when I say I freaking hate getting dirt under my fingernails but you just have to do it, ok? You want that $60 monstera you carried all the way back from Chinatown on the train and lugged up 4 flights of stairs to die? Just stick your finger in that soil.

OR top lazy tip—get a soil meter. If you truly hate gauging the moisture level with your fingers (lol hai it me), this nifty thing comes in handy. Also, it measures light and pH levels—without even requiring batteries. WOW IZ SCIENCE.

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In terms of soil moisture, consider the humidity in your space. If the plant is near a heater that runs most of winter, of course the soil is going to dry out. Try to avoid placing the plant near the heater/ac but if you must, keep the humidity in mind.

Are there tiny mites in your soil or plant leaves? O NOES you have an infestation (likely spider mites). This is why I recommend always keeping new plants away from old ones for a while in quarantine to make sure that any potential bugs don’t spread. There are a whole slew of sprays available—neem oil is a great organic solution. For a particularly bad infestation, I’d recommend getting rid of the dirt completely, washing the plant, roots, and pot in a water and soap solution and repotting with new soil.

Wtf, why is there a mushroom growing in the soil? There’s your cue to stop watering so gawd damn much. Fungus grows from moisture. You’re doing it wrong.

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EXAMINE THE ROOTS
O NOES IS THE SOIL SUPER WET even though you didn’t water it recently? I am very sorry to break it to you but more often than not, your plant has root rot.

What is root rot? Basically, it means you loved your plant too much and overwatered it to the point where the roots are mushy and can no longer absorb nutrients properly. Imagine what happens to your skin after sitting in the bath tub for a long time—not a good look, right? Or, another possible cause is that the pot that you have the plant in has poor drainage and the roots are sitting in water. Always get a pot with a hole on the bottom or make sure you have rocks on the bottom of a pot that doesn’t have drainage so that the water can seep through. You can find out definitively if you have root rot by taking the plant out of its pot to examine the roots. There’s not a lot you can do to recover from this but in the past, I’ve been able to save some plants by cutting the roots off completely and starting over again with propagation (more on that in a future post cos I am lazy, sarz). I would say that most of my plant fails have been due to overwatering/root rot.

Another possibility is that the roots have wrapped around the pot—it’s time to repot it in a bigger container.

EXAMINE THE LEAVES

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Are there dry, crispy, brown spots on the leaves? Are the leaves curling inward? Chances are you’re not watering the plant enough. I find that most plants need a good watering once a week and you’re set. Another cause is the light level—double check the recommended light exposure for your plant. It may be crisping because it’s not supposed to be in such strong, direct sunlight.

However, if your leaves are yellow, dude chill out. Now, the leaves can be yellow from either underwatering or overwatering but in my experience, it’s usually from overwatering. Again, repeat the first step of the investigation and check the soil.

Droopy leaves? You’re likely underwatering but this also may be related to the temperature or lack of light. I’ve noticed that my tropical plants (monstera) tend to get a bit droopy in the cold winters next to a window but once the weather gets warmer, it perks right up again.

Is there anything I’ve missed? Is your plant still dying? Sorry I have failed you with this post based on my personal failures. :’)

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