Five steps to ‘save a dying plant’ before its too late

Houseplants: Experts explain why leaves might be falling off

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Houseplants during the winter months can suffer from a lack of sunlight and cooler temperatures. Author of The Plant Rescuer, Sarah Gerrard-Jones revealed her top tips on how to best care for your houseplants ahead of the warmer months, and what to do if your houseplants have yellow or brown leaves. 

Sarah said: “If the leaves are yellowing and the soil is damp, it could be root rot is to blame. 

“An ‘overwatered’ plant is often one that’s not being provided with enough light to be able to use the volume of water it’s given. 

“The result is that water remains in the soil for a prolonged period of time, starving the roots of oxygen and creating a build-up of bacteria which rot the roots.

“If your plant looks unhappy, try moving it closer to a window to see if that helps. 

“If it’s still deteriorating, take it out of the pot and look at the roots; if any are brown and mushy, snip them off with scissors,” she suggested. 

“Rinse the roots thoroughly before repotting into fresh soil. Don’t water immediately; leave it for at least two to three days before adding water. 

“Place the plant on a bright windowsill and hope for the best.”

If leaves are dropping it could be a “stress reaction” due to “low levels of light”. 

Sarah said: “In the shorter, darker, winter months, your plants are forced to try to adapt to the low levels of light, which can cause a stress reaction such as dropping leaves and losing vigour. 

“Therefore, giving your plants as much light as possible during winter is imperative.

“Move plants towards the brightest windows in your home – but make sure they aren’t sitting in a cold draft, above a radiator, or near a fire. 

“As the temperature and light levels drop, so does the amount of water the plant needs to survive. 

“If your plant has stopped producing new leaves, adjust how much and how frequently you water.

“As a general guide, if your plant has stopped growing, water 50 percent less regularly in winter than in summer. 

“Most Cacti and succulents won’t need any water from the end of October until spring, but if you notice the plant looking shrivelled, give it a drink.”

How to rescue a dying plant 

1. Identify the problem first, eg. lack of light/too much water
2. Try moving the plant to a brighter spot
3. Check the roots are firm and light in colour and not rotting – typically, these would look brown and feel mushy. Remove the rotten roots and repot in fresh soil
4. As a last resort, many plants can be cut back and regrown. Always research if you can do this with your plant before major surgery!
5. Propagate a cutting. Propagating can be a way to ‘save’ a dying plant; the plant itself may not survive, but a part of it lives on by propagating it.

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