It’s the end of the growing season and some or all of your potted plants seem to be dead. Now what are you supposed to do with them? Should you throw them out?
You should use the dead plants in pots to make compost or mulch for your next batch of plants. You should also check if the potted plants are dead or can be revived. The only reason to throw away the dead plants is if they had pest or disease problems.
I’ll show you steps to figure out whether your plants are actually dead or not. And what you can do with the dead plants in your garden.
1. Check if the plant is dead or not
The first thing to check is if the plant is actually dead or has become dormant. This could happen either because the plant is suffering from a problem or it is overwintering.
The plant could face underwatering, overwatering, lack of sunlight, lack of nutrients, poor soil, lack of growing space, or attack by pests or diseases.
Or it could be that the growing season has ended and the plant being a perennial has decided to go dormant until next spring.
Here are tips that will help you figure out whether the plant is still alive or not.
Check the foliage
Check if all of the foliage has turned yellow or brown and withered. That may be a sign that the plant is dead. If some of the leaves are still showing some green, it could be that the plant is still alive.
Check the stems
It may seem that the stems have turned brown and the plant is dead. But use your fingernails or a knife to scrape the outer layer of the stem.
If you see that the inside of the stem is still green, it means that the plant is alive and you can try to revive it.
Check the roots
The last thing to check is the roots of the potted plant. You’ll need to remove the plant out of the pot to do this.
If the plant’s roots are brown and healthy in appearance it means the plant is still alive. If the roots are black and soggy or dried out it means the plant is dead.
2. Revive the plant if it’s still alive
If the plant is showing signs that it is alive, you can try to recover the plant. You will need to find out what is the cause of the problem before you can revive it.
The most common problem you face with potted plants is giving them too much or too little water. We also know this as underwatering or overwatering.
Both of these situations can cause your potted plants to dehydrate and even die. So that’s the first thing to check when you suspect your potted plants are dead.
If the leaves have turned yellow and are dry to the touch it could be a sign of underwatering. If the leaves have turned yellow but are droopy and wet it could be a sign of overwatering.
You can lift the roots out of the pot and check. If they are brown and healthy but dry it is underwatering. If they are black, soggy, and smell it is a problem of overwatering.
You can fix overwatering by giving the plant the water it needs. Give a deep watering to the potting soil and there’s a good chance that the plant will recover.
Overwatering is a more serious problem because it can damage the roots due to fungal issues like root rot. The roots will turn black and soggy.
If all the roots are bad you can’t recover the plant. If some roots are still healthy you need to trim the bad roots and transfer the plant to another pot.
The lack of sunlight will cause your plants to stop growing. They don’t have the sunlight required to produce their food and this can cause them even to die.
Make sure that the plant is receiving the sunlight it needs. You can check online to find out the sunlight requirements. This could be full sunlight (at least 6-8 hours), partial sunlight (4-6 hours), or shade.
You can move the potted plant to a location that is getting the required sunlight. Keep it there for a few days and check if it recovers.
If there is no recovery even after some days then it may be time to dispose of the plant as it won’t grow.
Lack of nutrients
Some of your plants may need more nutrients than others. These could be edible plants that may need the nutrients to grow good foliage, flowers, and fruits.
If the plants don’t get the required nutrients when growing they may have stunted growth and even die.
If the plant has grown weak due to lack of nutrients you can try adding some to the plant and see if it responds in a few days. If not then you’ll need to dispose of that plant.
The best solution is to prevent this problem from happening when you start growing the plant.
You should check the type of nutrients that the plant you’re growing needs. I recommend adding compost to the potting soil when preparing it. This keeps a decent source of nutrients in the potting soil available for the plant.
You can also add a slow-release fertilizer to the potting soil when preparing it so the nutrients as available to the plant with each watering.
Once the plant has germinated and grown well, you can add the organic slow-release or liquid fertilizer every 2-3 weeks to the potting soil.
You do need to be careful that you don’t over-fertilize the potting soil. This is hard to do with organic fertilizer but you can overdose it. So only use the recommended amount as mentioned by the manufacturer.
Poor potting soil
If the potting soil you used for the plant is poor, it will stunt the plant’s growth and even kill it. This may happen because the soil contains a lot of clay or sand.
If there is a lot of clay, the soil can’t drain water well, leading to overwatering issues. If the soil contains a lot of sand, the water will drain fast and cause underwatering.
If the plant is already suffering, you can try to plant it in good potting soil. Hold the plant at the base with one hand and gently tap on the pot to take it out.
You can remove the poor soil and add good potting soil to the pot. Then put the plant back into the pot with the good soil. Water the potting soil well after you have done this.
Check on the plant after a few days to see if it’s recovering. Otherwise, you can’t do much and need to dispose of the plant.
Lack of growing space
The plants that you grow in a pot have limited space and if it’s too small will stunt the plant growth.
The roots cannot get the required space to grow and the plant becomes root-bound. The roots circle inside the pot. They are unable to get the required nutrients and moisture from the potting soil.
You need to make sure that the pot is 1-2 sizes larger than the plant growing in it. If the plant has outgrown the pot, you need to transplant it to a larger pot.
If the plant is still alive and has poor growth, the transplant should help the plant recover and grow again.
Pests and diseases
Pests and diseases can cause harm to the plant foliage or roots which reduces the nutrients they get. This makes the plant grow slower and they may even appear dead.
Getting rid of pests as soon as you find them on the plant will help the plant recover back to health. The method you use depends on the type of pest.
You may be able to handpick some from the plant but for others you may need to use some organic methods like applying neem oil, diatomaceous earth, or garlic spray.
The plant can recover from disease depending on the type of disease that has impacted it. You can get rid of fungal issues in the plant by cutting off the affected parts and treating it with a fungicide.
If the plant is facing a bacterial or viral disease there might not be much you can do about it. The plant will live its remaining life and then you need to dispose of it.
After treating the plant for particular pests or diseases, check on the plant after a few days to see if it’s recovering. If the plant health continues to remain poor, you need to dispose of it.
3. Dispose the plant if it’s dead
If you find that the plant is dead because its foliage, stem, and roots are dead then it’s time to dispose of it.
The best thing to do is to make use of the dead organic material for growing other plants. You can chop the material into small pieces and add it to your compost pile.
If you are not making your own compost, you could use the material as mulch for the potted plants. Add a 2-4 inch layer of this material on the potting soil as mulch.
If there is still some material left, you could give it to your family or friends who grow plants or make their own compost.
The only reason to dispose of the plant is if there was some pest or disease problem that caused it to die. You don’t want to risk transferring those problems to your other plants, so you need to throw it away.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.