Dying vs. Dormant – How to Know if Your Plant Is Unhappy or Just Sleeping?

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You have several houseplants. You want to be a good plant parent and give your babies the tender loving care they need. Still, one morning you awake to see one or two of your plants looking wilted and even dropping leaves.

You have heard that some plants go into dormancy during winter while it is only nearing the end of fall. So you wonder if my plant is dying or if it is a dormant plant. Today, Plantly will help you solve this magical question and give you some tests you can do to determine if your plant is dead.

What is a Dormant Plant?

dormant plant

As with outdoor plants, your indoor plants can also go into dormancy. When winter arrives, your houseplants cease meristem motion. When the growing season arrives, it comes alive.

So, some plants can start by dropping leaves like some fruit trees. It is not actively growing as it can survive less during cold temperatures.

So, when in natural dormancy, your plant loses leaves, needs dark space, and almost no water. This happens to plants outdoors. Still, with indoor plants, a real dormancy is not similar to outside. All that happens in the plant converses energy to protect what they have.

Why Do Indoor Plants Slow Down or Go Into a Dormant State

indoor plants

You may have tropical plants in the home as they grow in these favorable conditions. They enjoy the sunlight, lots of water, humidity, and warmth growing year round. The only time your equatorial plants go dormant is to protect themselves in times of stress during drought or heat.

Still, when houseplants thrive in temperate regions, you find they encounter shorter days or lower light during the winter months. As a result, the humidity is lower, or the temperatures are uneven. So, their growth slows down to accommodate these conditions.

Hence, photosynthesis does not take place much, and they do not need water.

Now, you get other plants like corms, tubers, rhizomes, and bulbs that go dormant during winter. You even find some of these plants dormant in summer, like your Cyclamen. The plant needs time to rest in dark environments.

But how can you help your plant make it through winter?

Treat Them Differently to Outdoor Plants

indoor plants

Winter is a bleak time of the year; your plants look sad, dropping leaves and not growing. So, the important thing is to keep them healthy at this time by doing the following:

  1. Do not overwater your plant in winter as in the growing period. Instead, leave the soil to dry completely between watering. Still, keep an eye on the heat in the home that can dry out the air.

  2. In heated homes, it removes moisture from the air that plants need. Hence, it helps to provide humidity around your plants, grouping them or placing them on a pebble tray.

  3. Do not fertilize at this time as they are not growing and need nutrients.

  4. While your plant rests, provide enough light and clean the leaves with a damp cloth to remove the dust.

  5. Keep an eye on pests as it can stress them out and make them pest-free.

  6. Most importantly, keep your plants away from cold drafts or heat vents.

  7. If you notice your plant is dormant after using the tests below, move them to a dark area as needed.

Testing to See If Your Tropical Plants Are Dormant or Dying

indoor plants

Now that you know what your plant’s dormant state is. How do you know if your plant is dormant or dying? When it comes to deciduous plants, shed leaves in fall as the winter arrives, but not all plants tend to do this like the tropical plant.

But you can do a few tests to determine if your plant is dying or going into a dormant state.

Do a Scratch Snap Scratch Test

Oklahoma State University recommends doing a snap-scratch test to determine if a plant is starting to conserve energy or is dead.

  1. Start selecting a tip of a twig the size of a pencil.

  2. Then grasp the twig and bend it back on itself.

  3. If the limb is alive, it bends easily and splits, showing moisture in the wood.

  4. But if the limbs are dead, they will snap without much pressure and be dry.

The scratch method is to take a knife or your fingernail to scratch the bark of a young twig. An alive plant will have green tissue with moisture when touched. At the same time, a dead one is brown and difficult to scrape.

Even if you see brown underneath, the bark works your way down the twig to double-check. So, if you see life closer to the roots, cut the dead stems about two inches above the growth.

The Root Test

While the plant looks dead above the soil line, your dormant plants have healthy roots. You can remove your plant from the soil if the above method fails. Many plants can look dead but are dormant.

With rotted roots, it will have a foul smell and look mushy. Yet, if the roots are supple and light, it is alive. You may find some roots healthy and others dead. Hence, it helps to trim the dead roots to come back to life when warmer.

How to Care For Dormant Plants

dormant plant

We touched on caring for dormant plants earlier. But during the dormant period, your plant does not need much attention as in the growing season. So, you will water less and provide no fertilizer.

Using fertilizer will confuse your dormant plants to trigger new growth too early. Hence, it results in leggy or weak growth. You may find some plants need feed over winter, but it helps reduce the amount.

During winter and the above tests fail, and you still find that your plant needs more sun. It helps to invest in grow lights to supplement natural light.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to plants and needing to find out if your plant is dead or dormant, the above tests can help you determine this. The tests will help tell if your plant is dormant or dead. As you can see, taking care of dormant plants is different compared to other times of the year.

We hope the information helps to keep your plants happy.

Whether you want to buy, sell or simply reach out to other plant enthusiasts, Plantly is the right place to be!

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