wikiHow to Nurse a Potted Plant Back to Health

Oh dear! What happened to that lovely plant with the flowers you bought at the grocery store? Or maybe someone gave you a cute plant for your birthday and you forgot it until it's almost dead. Can you save it? Maybe; read on to find out how to nurse it back to health.


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    Find out what kind of plant it is. Miniature roses are very different from cacti or succulents. A little palm tree is not the same as African Violets. Some plants are very picky about where and how they live. Check a garden book or take the plant to a local nursery if you want to positively identify it. Then you know what conditions it needs.
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    Check the sun or shade you need. Most indoor plants want lots of (indirect) sunlight, though a few burn in direct sun. See where your plant is living. It's likely too dark. Move it near a window but don't let it sit for hours in direct sun unless it's a cactus or succulent. If the plant looks thin, scraggly, with pale leaves, it probably needs more sun. Outdoors, move the pots around to a shadier or sunnier spot.
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    Check the water you need, according to the type of plant. Your plant could be dry or drowning in its pot. Cactus need very little water, but ferns need a lot.
    • Feel the soil. If it's hard and dry, it needs more water. Move it out of the direct or all-day sun and water it daily until the soil feels damp whenever you touch it.
    • However, many pots don't have enough drainage (a small hole at the bottom to let out extra water) and they may be drowning as you water them and they can't dry out a little. Feel the soil; if it's muddy, it's too wet. Tip the pot over and punch a hole in the clay or plastic. Place it in a window or breezeway to dry it out.
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    Check the leaves for insect pests. Turn over the leaf. Can you see tiny moving insects? or little white or black spots? For indoor plants, take the whole plant and wash it in a sink or tub gently with warm water. Be sure to drain the soil well afterwards (hole in the bottom, in sun or breeze). For outdoor plants, wash it gently in a light hose spray , spray can, or watering can.
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    Check if the pot is big enough for the plant. Plants grow up and they need more room, like the kids! If you see roots growing out of the bottom drainage hole, it needs more room. If the plant covers the entire surface of the soil, and spills over the edge, it might also need more room. A few plants like to be "root bound" and squeezed in, but most want space.
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    Perform plant surgery in serious cases. Indoor plants may need to be transplanted to get rid of dry or wet soil, or give the plant more room.
    • Get a new clay or other pot and wash it. Make sure there's a hole in the bottom.
    • Add some good potting or other garden soil, and scoop out a hole in the middle for your plant. Make sure there's enough room around and under it, so it won't touch the pot.
    • Pull the plant out of the old pot, or break the pot if necessary. Try to get the roots without tearing or breaking them. Use your fingers and gently dis-entangle them.
    • Move the plant and roots that you can get into the new pot's soil, and cover the roots with fresh dirt. Pack the dirt around and push down gently to secure the plant firmly in the new soil.
    • Water the transplanted plant thoroughly until water comes out the bottom and then let it rest for several days before touching it again. Let the soil dry out a little.
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    Groom plants by cutting or pulling off damaged parts. Take a scissors or clippers and snip off old flowers, dead leaves, rotten stalks until you have healthy stems showing. This may feel radical but your plant is in trouble. Get rid of anything dead, shriveled, yellow, mushy, or diseased. Hopefully you have intact roots, and a major stem or two to begin growing again. It may take months for the plant to return.
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    Pay attention to the plant.
    • Watch the amount of light it gets throughout the day. Does it get burned in the late afternoon sun? Does it never get any sun at all? Check your house and patio for optimal places.
    • Check the watering schedule. For automatic drip systems, check the minutes per day per plant. Adjust as needed. If watering by hand, maybe measure the amount of water carefully and add or decrease as needed.
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    Keep animals away from the plants. Cats, dogs, rabbits, deer, can all destroy your plants. Plants can also be poisonous to some animals.
    • Keep indoor pets away by placing plants out of reach or otherwise erecting barriers.
    • Keep outdoor animals or pets away with fences, wire mesh covers or mulch around the soil. Deer and rabbits can destroy a plant in one night. Move the plant to a safe location and begin emergency care to encourage re-growth. Push roots back down, give some fertilizer, cut away damaged foliage, and wait for the roots to take hold again.


  • Soil may need to be completely changed. Remove the entire plant and gently shake or wash the old soil off the root system. Get a pot large enough for the plant and start with fresh soil.
  • The plant may need to be severely cut back. It won't look the same for a long time if ever (it may grow back in a different shape) but you must remove damaged parts.
  • Small potted trees can quickly outgrow their pots. Decide if you will put them into the ground, or grow a dwarfed form (due to being pot-bound). You may need very large pots; they are then hard to move and manage.
  • Damaged plants need special care. They may take months to come back, if ever. Pay special attention to light and soil. It may take weeks to figure out the right place to put it based on the light required.
  • Don't be afraid to handle the plants or soil. Cut out what must go. Breaking a leaf or two isn't any worse than what you may already have. Push your small finger into the soil. Is it mushy (too wet)?
  • Some plants are hothouse grown and will never bloom the way you first saw them. This is often true for miniature roses, orchids, poinsettias, and African violets.
  • Cactus need almost no water. They easily drown. Water outdoor potted cactus only several times a year, or let the rain do it a little. Protect from heavy rains.
  • If you have a succulent or cactus, leave it in the sun for the whole day, and water it once a week. Plants like ferns should be watered twice a week, and be left in the sun for a few hours each day.

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Categories: Indoor and Patio Plants