We all love our plants, and whether you have a green thumb or a purple one (!), the truth is there are always things you can learn to be a better custodian of your plants.
While some plants are sturdier and last much longer than other plants, you may have wondered at some point: can plants die of old age?
Plants can and do eventually die of old age, due to senescence, a process in which their cells deteriorate and stop dividing. However, “old age” is usually a secondary cause of their death. Unlike humans, whose bodies essentially give out due to their age, plants can stay alive for hundreds of years and it is usually something else besides old age that kills them in the end.
All plants die eventually, but they do not have the same lifespan or growth pattern that humans do, for two main reasons.
First of all, plants have “indeterminate growth,” which means there is no set age or size where plants are considered “old” or “fully grown”.
As long as plants are put in the right conditions, they can keep growing until they get too big, in which case water may not be able to travel all the way to their roots and provide the nutrition the plants need.
Plants can conceivably keep growing during the entire time they age.
The second reason plants’ lives are different from human lives is that most plants have cells that can change into other types of cells if they need to do so. Although they slow down eventually, their cells can also divide many more times, which means in a sense, plants stay almost all the time perpetually “young.”
This is completely unlike human cells, which do not have the ability to keep dividing and therefore stop the human body from growing or staying alive any longer.
Nevertheless, the laws of physics dictate that eventually, all plants will die.
Plants die naturally due to a sequence of events that allow for deterioration of cells over time. The replacement of cells and tissue slows down with age, decrements in quality and eventually stops, leading to the death of the plant.
This process is also called senescence and varies depending on the plant species.
It was mentioned earlier that plants usually do not die naturally of “old age,” but eventually, it is a secondary cause that kills them. This includes fire, drought, certain diseases (of which there are plenty), and even other plants using up all of the nutrients in the soil.
In other words, just because plants have the ability to divide cells for a very long time and keep growing, this never happens because at some point, something else besides “old age” will kill them.
Plants can, however, live for hundreds or even thousands of years without dying, so while they are all going to die at some point, they usually live much longer than most people realize.
How Do I Know If My Indoor Plant is Dying of Old Age?
As mentioned before, plants do not usually die of old age. Nevertheless, many factors come into play that can kill them, so you need to know what to look for so that you can catch the problem before it is too late.
For both indoor and outdoor plants, there are two main ways you can find out if the plants are starting to die: by checking the leaves, and by checking the roots of the plant.
Checking the Leaves
There are six different ways to check the leaves of the plant to determine what the problem is, and they are as follows:
- Are the leaves of the plant starting to dry out? If they are, check to see if it’s just the leaves at the bottom or all of the leaves. If it’s just the lower leaves that are dry, they likely just need some nitrogen, so just feed them a fertilizer and that should take care of the problem. If all of the leaves are dry, just give them a drink of water – they are thirsty!
- Are the leaves falling off of the plant? If so, it is usually due to (1) either too much or too little water, (2) the plant’s environment, meaning it may have outgrown the pot it’s in and needs a bigger one to accommodate the growing roots, or (3) the temperature, which means the plant is either too cold or too warm.
- Are the leaves somehow damaged? Usually, damaged leaves mean that either they are being scorched because they are getting too much sun, or they are being eaten by insects. It should be easy to tell the difference.
- Are the leaves starting to change color? Yellowing plant leaves likely need less or more water because they signal a moisture problem, but it could also mean the plant isn’t getting enough light. Brown leaves usually mean the plant is starting to die and likely needs either more humidity or to be moved into a greenhouse.
- Are the leaves starting to wilt? More often than not, wilting plant leaves signal overwatering. This is especially applicable if the stems are stiff and it’s only the leaves that are starting to droop.
- Are the plant leaves starting to get spots? Usually, spotted leaves are caused by either fungus or insects. Gray spots usually signal powdery mildew, which means the plant is getting too much moisture. If that’s your case, learn here how to get rid of powdery mildew on plants. Yellow spots usually point to aphids or other pests. For yellow spots, try sprinkling some ladybugs around the plants because ladybugs eat aphids!
Checking the Roots
If the leaves look alright but you suspect the roots of the plant might be the problem, here is what to look for:
- Are the roots mushy? If the roots of the plant are soft and they have a musky smell, they have been sitting in too much water. In this case, you may want to replant them in another container and use the right amount of water.
- Are the plant roots dried out? This usually means the plant is thirsty. Give it some water and monitor it so it can get healthy again.
- Are there mushrooms growing anywhere near the plant? While mushrooms are a sign that the plant is healthy, they usually signal too much moisture as well. Simply adjust the amount of water the plant is getting, and this should take care of the problem.
How Do I Revive a Dying Houseplant?
In addition to the situations mentioned above, other things can happen to your plants to cause them to start dying.
If you aren’t sure what to do first, here are a few things you can do that will increase the odds that your plants will come back to life!
- Keep the plant clean. This one may sound odd, but sometimes, you can get rid of invading insects and bugs simply by wiping down the leaves with a damp cloth or a mixture of mild soap and water.
- Keep the plant well-watered. Plants need water to survive, so never go too long without watering your plants.
- Move the plant to another location. If the problem is too much or too little sunlight, moving the plant to a better location will vitalize it.
- Re-pot the plant. Fresh new soil is good for plants and may be just what they need to start to grow again. Here is a guide on how to change soil in houseplants.
- Trim the plant. If you know the problem is in the roots, trim back the leaves of the plant. That way, the plant won’t be working as hard because it won’t have as much work to do supplying nutrients to the foliage. Refer to this article if you want to learn more about trimming.
- Use fertilizer. Plants need food in addition to water to survive, so regular fertilizing is necessary.
Most problems associated with plant care are simple to diagnose and remedy, so you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping your indoor plants alive from now on.
Although plants are very special organisms and can seemingly grow and be young forever, the truth is plants can die of old age, just like us. However though, they very rarely do so, mainly because there is something else that ends up killing them in the meantime, and there can be plenty of causes for that.
You can avoid such problems by checking your plant’s leaves and roots at the first sign of trouble and use the guide above to nurture it back to health, keeping it happy until it reaches its senior years.
If you’re still curious and want to know more about this topic, here is another interesting article.