ArticlesWhat to do with dead plants in pots at the end of...

What to do with dead plants in pots at the end of the season?

Practicing a good sanitation is essential, so removing any dead plants is must-do if you want no pests or diseases to come and damage the healthy parts of your garden.

However, sometimes appearances can be deceiving, and your greens might not be dead but just dormant.

So, what are the best practices for dealing with your plants at the end of the season?

Read on to find out!

Check if the plant is alive or dormant

Growing your own potted plants is an excellent way to either beautify your home or help you grow your own food and live more sustainably.

However, sometimes, your plant might look dead, but it is just dormant.

And to determine which of the two it is, simply try the following tests.

The scratch test

Use your fingernail to scrape away a tiny portion of the plant’s outer layer of skin.

If the plant is easy to scratch and is green and damp underneath, then it is still alive and most probably just dormant.

However, if the plant’s outer layer of skin is hard to scrape off and brown on the inside, that usually means the plant is dead or dying. If that happens, try checking the low on the main stem.

If you notice that it’s still green and easy to scratch, the plant can still be salvaged. You just need to cut it a few inches above the sign of life.

The snap test

Try bending a stem near the tip of the plant. If it’s flexible and bends easily or cracks after you use more force, only to reveal green or white tissue underneath, it’s most likely still alive, just dormant.

However, if the stem snaps off without any push back, that part of the plant is dead.

And same with the scratch test. It’s up to you to see if the plant is alive further down. This time, instead of using the snapping test, change to scratch.

Check the plant’s roots

If the scratch and snap tests return nothing but bad news all the way down to the bottom of the plant, there’s still some hope that the plant’s roots might still be alive. So remove the plant from the pot and check its roots.

Healthy roots are light-coloured, supple and full of moisture. Dead roots smell bad, are squishy, shriveled and rotting. 

However, even if some of the roots are rotten, there’s still a chance that there are healthy ones.

You see, dormant plants sometimes let outer roots die to conserve energy, leaving the primary roots alive at the centre.

If this is the case with your plant, cut off the rooting sections of the roots with sanitized clippers and bury the healthy ones in fresh, barely damp soil.

Trying to revive the potted plant 

To revive a potted plant, you must find out what’s wrong with it.

Here are the most common causes of plant death and how to revive your plant if it falls victim to these:

  • Lack of water – If your plant is dehydrated, you only need to water it more often. Go online and read a bit on how often your particular plant needs to be watered and with how much water.
  • Too much sun – If you notice that your plant has brown or black splotches on its leaves on the side facing the window, chances are it has serious sunburn. Trim the burned leaves with a disinfected clipper and remove the plant from direct sunlight. Remember that some plants just prefer shadier areas.
  • Lack of sunshine – If your plant loves sunshine but doesn’t get it, it can start dying on you. If this happens, you must move it to a spot with indirect light.
  • Insect infestation is another culprit that seriously damage your flowers.
  • Potbound – When a plant’s roots are too crowded, it can begin to choke. What you need to do in such cases is remove the plant from the pot, remove the dirt gently and then separate the roots. Once that’s done, repot the plant into fresh soil and a more spacious pot.
  • Overwatering – Remove rotted or rotting roots and replace your muddy soil with new dry soil. Remember that even if you do all this, there’s a high chance the plant will still die.

Remember, a gardener can only be successful through patience, time, and working on their craft. However, if you are a beginner, it’s much easier to just go for plants that survive on their own.

Reuse the potting soil

Although potting soil can be reused once the previously buried plant has died, you still need to take a few steps before you plant a new plant in it.

Before you do anything else, start off by sanitizing the old soil. This is done in case the soil has bad bacteria or a bug infestation.

If you’re doing this during summer, you can simply place the solid in a dark container where it gets full sun for a few days. The sun’s rays will kill anything harmful located in the soil.

However, if you’re trying to sanitize your soil in winter, you must take another approach.

Start by laying the soil on roasting pans three to four inches thick. Spray the soil with water so that it becomes damp but not muddy. Then cover the pans with aluminum foil, poked with a few holes for ventilation. Once done, place the pans in the oven for two hours at 200 °C.

When the soil is done cooking, take the pans out of the oven and let them cool off for a few hours.

Once the sanitization has been completed, it’s time to amend the soil.

When reusing soil, there’s a high chance that the old plant has used up most of its beneficial nutrients. These will need to be replenished using compost.

Go with a 1:1 ratio of old soil and compost. The best part about this amendment is that you will have enough soil for two pots instead of one.

Fall is also the best time to clean and prepare your garden for the next season. Ensure you rake any fallen leaves and remove weeds so everything is much easier come Spring. And if you want to save time and effort, you can hire a professional to do that for you.

You can also compost dead plants, provided they have no diseases. However, if that happens to be the case, it’s best to either burn them or trash them.


So, now that you know how to discern whether your plants are dead or just dormant, you can make better choices about what to do with them.

Remember, properly caring for your garden is the most important thing you can do to ensure you’re ready for a fantastic season next year.

Heather Jones
Heather Jones
Hello! I'm Heather Jones, a dedicated writer and expert in the fields of DIY projects, home improvement, and emergency preparedness. With over 15 years of hands-on experience, I'm committed to sharing practical tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your home and life.

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