The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is a charming addition to your indoor garden until the grips of death take hold. If you’re not sure why your spider plant is dying or what to do about it, this guide will help you determine your spider plants current health and how to revive a dying spider plant.
To revive a dying spider plant, you must modify its care routine as soon as you determine the cause. Water less frequently, don’t leave the plant in the dark, use a nutrient-rich fertilizer (but not too often), and prevent temperature extremes. These measures could possibly save your plant!
In this in-depth guide to spider plant care, I’ll first elaborate on why your Chlorophytum comosum might be going the way of the dodo and then tell you what you can do to save your indoor plant just in the nick of time.
How to Tell If a Spider Plant Is Dying
Although your spider plant lacks verbal communication, its nonverbal communication skills are top-notch.
The plant will readily inform you that something’s wrong and growing more wrong by the day.
Here are some indicators that your spider plant might be on death’s door.
Spider plants don’t have stick-straight leaves, but those curling, hanging blade-like leaves should possess some rigidity.
If your plant sags, droops, or hangs, there’s a reason to be concerned.
Your spider plant is currently too weak to hold itself up. It’s likely that the plant’s roots and base have become mushy from overwatering.
Root rot could have even taken hold, an often-deadly fungal disease that can affect any indoor plant.
A limp and pale spider plant, especially one that feels brittle and dry to the touch, could also be starving of water.
Spider plants are moderately drought-tolerant thanks to their rhizomes (which are horizontal underground stems) that can hold onto water for quite a while, but they do need to be watered eventually.
Leaves or Fronds Dropping off the Plant
It’s a heartbreaking affair to find a long leaf or two detached from the Chlorophytum comosum.
Then you see another, and another.
If your plant keeps going like this, there aren’t going to be any leaves left, so what’s going on?
Once again, an overwatered spider plant is the likeliest culprit.
The rhizomes, roots, and leaves are overfull of water. This can, as mentioned above, create a mushy base that’s not conducive to retaining leaves.
The leaves bend and come right out, over and over again. Foliar shedding or leaf drop can occur in a variety of plants but with similar causes.
If it’s leaf drop, or in this case, “frond drop” you’re noticing I recommend reading this related article for more information to help you.
If your spider plant’s soil is soaked enough, then you needn’t even put your fingers in it to confirm. All it will take is one look.
You’ll be able to tell that the soil is darker in color, that it looks compact and mushy, and that it’s glistening in the natural light.
Perhaps the soil is also white, as the surface has been graced with the presence of mold. More mold may linger under the surface if you dig around.
All these signs are indicative of a very, very overwatered spider plant.
More than likely, the soaking wet soil will not be the only sign of impending plant death but will be accompanied by pretty much every other sign in this section so far.
For more information on signs you’re overwatering your spider plant I recommend reading my article:
Strange Smell Emanating from the Soil
Oh, and let’s not forget to talk about how the soil smells, because trust me, it will smell.
So what is this horrible nose-pinching odor emanating from your spider plant? Is it the smell of plant death?
Sort of, yes!
Root rot, being a disease, is not an altogether smell-free one. Deep within the spider plant’s soil, its roots are dying left and right.
When this happens to a large enough degree, you’re going to smell it, and it’s not going to smell anything close to pleasant.
If you see mold growth on the surface of the spider plant’s soil, then it could be mold that’s making you want to wretch.
Mold, when there’s enough of it, has an earthy, putrid scent that’s been likened by some to stinky gym socks.
You might even be smelling the despicable combination of both dying roots and mold, which will make your olfactory receptors want to run for the hills.
Lack of Growth
The spider plant is considered a fast-growing plant. It experiences enough growth that every year, you should strongly think about repotting yours.
If the growth of your spider plant has completely stagnated or slowed considerably, that’s worth looking into.
A plant that’s on the verge of death can’t grow. It’s using all its energy to sustain what little life it has left, so it’s impossible to develop more leaves or support those spiderettes.
All sorts of issues can stop a spider plant’s growth in its tracks.
If you’re not fertilizing the plant often enough or giving the spider plant the correct mix of nutrients, then it’s like a malnourished person or animal. The plant is too weak to do anything but just be.
Temperature extremes can prohibit growth, as can severe instances of overwatering or underwatering the plant.
Take a look at the spider plant’s foliage. Do you see colors that shouldn’t be there such as brown, yellow, or even black? These colors too are signs of trouble.
Brown leaves indicate that your spider plant isn’t receiving enough water or that the plant is being overexposed to sunlight. High temperatures can also cause leaf browning.
In all three instances, the plant is drying out to a greater degree than it’s supposed to. The extreme dehydration, if not ameliorated, can kill the spider plant.
If you see some yellowing or chlorosis, that’s not always a sign of imposing doom on its own but typically means something is wrong. A lack of sunlight can cause yellow leaves, for instance.
White spots on the leaves are sunburned areas that will later become brown or black. If your spider plant continues to spend time in the sun, it can fry.
Blackened spots are the most damning of all. These indicate serious disease (root rot included) or extreme temperature exposure that has led to the death of the plant cell walls.
How to Revive a Dying Spider Plant
Through the pointers above, you’ve determined that your spider plant is dying and not just in a stagnant growth period. You want to do what you can to save it, but you aren’t quite sure where to start.
Here are the plant care tips per the intro that, when implemented early enough, can bring your spider plant back from the brink of death.
Water When the Soil Dries Out Two Inches Deep
The spider plant is considered a rather low-maintenance plant, so there’s really no need to water it as often as you think.
A frequent watering habit will induce root rot, which I mentioned before is a significant indoor plant killer.
How do you get the spider plant’s watering levels just right? Insert a clean finger or two into the soil and feel two inches down.
When the soil is completely dry to the touch, then it’s time to water the spider plant.
Some indoor gardeners allow the soil to dry out about midway down the pot. You can do that if you wish but do be sure to look out for signs that your spider plant is becoming too dried out.
You should recall that those symptoms are a dry texture, yellowing or browning of the foliage, and dry soil.
The drought-tolerant spider plant is much more suited to underwatering than overwatering but should ideally be exposed to neither.
The fingertip test will act as your best gauge for when to water the spider plant across the seasons.
After all, if you get brutally hot summers, then the plant will need more water than it does during a cooler autumn or spring.
In the winter, the spider plant falls into a state of dormancy and won’t need much if any water at all.
Provide Bright, Indirect Light
The spider plant is rather tolerant of different lighting conditions, but some are more conducive to healthy growth and maintained variegation (if your spider plant is variegated to begin with, that is).
Bright, indirect light is your best bet for growing a healthy, happy spider plant.
The light that passes through your curtained window will bathe the plant in just enough light to sustain growth but not so much that it’s crispy and dried out.
Keep your spider plant by an easterly or northerly-facing window, which gets more gentle sunlight compared to the harsh afternoon sun let in by a southerly or westerly-facing window.
Is some shade okay for the spider plant? I would say it’s just that, okay.
Your spider plant won’t grow as fast as it will when it drinks in enough bright, indirect light. Variegation can begin to fade as well.
Remember, not all the light the spider plant receives has to come from the sun. Artificial lighting such as grow lights suffices during cloudy weather and dark winters.
Avoid Cold and Hot Temperature Extremes
The spider plant is surprisingly tolerant of both high and low temperatures.
On the upper end, its temp preferences are between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and on the lower end, down to 35 degrees.
While there is no conceivable reason the plant should be exposed to hotter or colder temperatures than those, it can happen, but you need to try to limit it as much as you can.
It’s nice to let indoor plants spend some time outside during the summer, but not in the middle of a stretch of miserable heat.
Wait for some moderate summer days, such as those that hit 80, maybe 85 as the high. The spider plant will be in its element.
There’s no need to ever leave a spider plant outdoors during cold snaps. The plant might not make it.
Temperature extremes can occur inside as well. For instance, if you have leaky doors or windows, your spider plant is placed atop your fridge, or it’s by a radiator or return vent, then the plant will be exposed to gusty air all the time.
These air sources can create cold or hot enough conditions to stress out your plant, leading to yellowing, leaf shedding, wilting, and possibly more severe symptoms if the conditions persist.
Use All-Purpose Fertilizer Monthly During the Growing Season
The spider plant is sensitive to being overfertilized, but that doesn’t mean the complete absence of fertilizer is a good idea either.
Once the active growing season begins for this plant, which is in the spring, fertilize it at least once a month using a balanced all-purpose plant fertilizer.
I’ve seen some estimates say you can fertilize twice a month, but with a spider plant, I wouldn’t.
Salts can accumulate in the plant’s soil if you overfertilize, leading to fertilizer burn.
The symptoms of fertilizer burn are not that different from an underwatered or fried spider plant: foliar yellowing or browning, dehydration, a crispy texture, and dead leaves.
Keep an eye out for these symptoms and scale back your fertilizer use accordingly.
If your plant is suffering from fertilizer burn, the best thing you can do for the spider plant is replace its soil or flush out the existing soil.
Even if you stop fertilizing as often, the lingering salts in the old soil can continue to cause symptoms of fertilizer burn.
Regardless of the type of fertilizer you gave your spider plant, if you feel you’ve over fertilized your spider plant, this is an article I wrote that will give you even more information on how to reverse this issue.
Identify and Treat Pests
Spider plants, like almost every indoor plant species, are prone to at least some pests. It’s good to get to know which ones so you can eradicate them immediately.
Spider mites, appropriately enough, are one such pest species. These are very small insects that can weave mold-like white webs across the foliage of the Chlorophytum comosum.
Whiteflies are another perpetrator. Usually found underneath a plant’s leaves, whiteflies are indeed flying insects and can often be white in color as well.
Mealybugs are a type of scale insect that is unarmored. They can grow in large clusters, sucking up the spider plant’s juices until there’s nothing left. The bugs will leave a sap-like residue known as honeydew.
Aphids are also attracted to spider plants. These unwanted insects can be wooly or small and streamlined, and they come in all sorts of colors. They too will thirstily drink up plant juices.
If your spider plant has pests, it’s likely because the plant has been weakened in some way. Therefore, a plant that’s on the verge of death is going to have a lot more pests lingering around.
Removing many of these pests isn’t difficult. Rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball or cotton swab does the trick.
Without getting to the root cause of what’s leading to the pests, they will come back.
Identify and Treat Diseases
The spider plant, compared to many indoor plant species, doesn’t fall prey to many diseases.
The ones that can affect this plant are fungal in nature and include root rot and fungal leaf root.
Both diseases are harbored by overwatering, which saturates the plant beyond its normal levels and causes the roots or the leaves to begin dying.
To save a fungal disease-ridden spider plant, remove the offending foliage. Take the plant out of its pot, find the root ball, and prune any dead roots.
You can tell those apart from the healthy roots since they’ll be slick, black, and smelly.
Replace the spider plant’s soil too, as its current soil must be too oversaturated with water to be useful moving forward.
Provide proper care for the spider plant and it might just turn around from its dying state and live another day.