Perhaps, you haven’t given much thought to that old plant in your living room as of late, especially if it’s been with your family for years. But you now notice that it doesn’t appear to be doing so well. This sudden decline in your old plant’s health begs the question, can houseplants die of old age?
Houseplants can die of old age. As plants age, their cell production gradually deteriorates, weakening the plant and eventually leading to death, a process known as senescence. More often, plants die from factors other than age which can be avoided with proper care.
This article will discuss what happens to houseplants as they age, explain how long you should expect them to live, describe signs of old age, and suggest how you can prolong the life of your plants. If you’d like to learn more, read on.
What Happens to Houseplants As They Age?
Plants are unique and don’t age like animals and people do. Some varieties of plants can live indefinitely with proper nutrients and care, but most houseplants die from several factors before succumbing to old age. So what exactly happens to indoor plants as they age?
As houseplants age, their cell production slows down, and their ability to fulfill essential life-sustaining tasks deteriorates. The deterioration leads to less growth, poor leaves, and a weaker root system. Over time, these changes will likely kill the plant.
However, your houseplant’s lifespan also heavily depends on the type of plant and the care it receives. For example, if your indoor plant is an annual, it’s biologically created to die after just one growing season, and a new one will need to be planted in its place the following year.
How Long Can Indoor Plants Live?
Purchasing plants for your home can be expensive, especially if you like to keep larger houseplants. With all that money spent, it’s essential to understand your new plant’s lifespan. So how long should you expect your indoor plants to live?
Indoor plants can live about 2-5 years. However, some types of houseplants can live much longer. Various indoor plants live long enough to be passed down the generations. Ultimately, how long your plant lives depends on the type and level of care it receives.
While 2-5 years is a typical lifespan for most houseplants, you should be aware of the different types of plants before starting your houseplant collection, as the kinds of house plants you keep will significantly impact their lifespans.
Annuals are plants that die after just one growing season. Many annual varieties grow outdoors. However, some people enjoy keeping them indoors, as flowering annuals make a lovely addition to any home.
Examples of indoor annuals include:
Annuals generally do well indoors, provided their lighting and nutrient needs are met.
Perennials are the most common type of houseplant. Generally, they can grow indefinitely with proper care. They may still go dormant during the cold months but usually return to health when the weather improves unless they die of old age or other external factors.
Examples of common indoor perennials include:
- Spider plants
- Aloe vera
Perennials are the most popular houseplants since they live longer and don’t need to be replanted yearly. They are also easier to grow to larger sizes since you get more time to work with them.
The Lifecycle of a Houseplant
There’s no set age for a plant to die, as many contributors during the plant’s life cycle play a part in how long the plant survives. Plants can stay youthful without noticeable signs of aging until their cells begin to deteriorate and become unable to distribute new growth throughout the plant.
As with all living things, plants undergo a degenerative process as they age, even with their ability to regenerate new cell growth.
All plants go through senescence, and it differs for each plant. Plant senescence is the aging and deterioration process of plants, which is promoted by plant hormones signaling the process. And, for some plants, the aging process can take hundreds or thousands of years.
There are other types of senescence processes in plants, but these are the two you may be most familiar with:
- Overall senescence: The whole plant deteriorates, which is the process you see in annuals.
- Top senescence: Once conditions are no longer favorable for growth and production, the plant parts exposed above the soil surface deteriorate and die, such as in perennials and crops.
Eventually, the cells will deteriorate from surrounding conditions or lack of resources, which accelerates plant senescence, or from the natural degenerative process of old age. But once the end stage of plant senescence begins, the plant will be at the end of its lifecycle.
Stress Can Shorten the Life of Your Plant
Stress is a common cause of early deterioration of plant cells, which will shorten the lifespan of your houseplants. Here are some examples of factors that cause stress in your houseplants:
- Over or underwatering
- Cold drafts
- Not enough or too much sunlight
- Not enough or too much of nutrients
- Wrong soil mix
- Insufficient drainage
Signs Your Houseplants Are Dying of Old Age
Like all organic things, houseplants will eventually die of old age. However, it’s far more likely that your plant passes away from external causes like illness or a pest infestation. Still, understanding the signs of old age in your houseplants can help you keep them healthy for longer.
Signs your houseplant is dying due to old age include:
- Stunted growth
- Lack of flowering
- Dying leaves
Each of these signs can alert you to the fact your plant may be dying of old age. However, these symptoms can also occur for several other reasons. So it’s important to thoroughly inspect your plant for signs of possible illness or disease.
A lack of growth is usually the first sign that your house plant is dying of old age. In this case, your plant will likely not recover its health despite being well fertilized and getting enough water.
Ways To Help Houseplants Live Longer
Of course, the variety of a plant will also limit how long it lives, and the death of all plants is inevitable. But there are several ways to help your plants live longer, healthier lives.
Here are a few measures you can take to help your houseplant live longer:
- Do your research. Each plant variety will be vastly different and require different nutrients and amounts of light each day. Good research will help you better understand your plant, adequately meet its needs, and know when something is wrong.
- Select quality soil. The soil your houseplants live in is essential. Good soil is how your plant will get its nutrients to grow.
- Place your plants somewhere with plenty of sunlight. Some plants enjoy less sun than others, so always do your research. However, if you have a houseplant that prefers a lot of sun, south-facing windows work best.
- Ensure your indoor plant doesn’t get too hot or cold. Keeping an ideal temperature for each houseplant is essential, as too much heat or cold can quickly kill them.
- Repot your indoor plants as they grow. Houseplants that have outgrown their current pot can eventually die if not moved to something roomier. Typically houseplants need to be repotted every 12-18 months.
- Maintain proper humidity. Plants need water in the air around them to thrive. However, keeping good humidity indoors can be tricky. Luckily you can accomplish this by regularly misting your plants or even creating a terrarium for them.
- Prevent pests. Unfortunately, pests are a recurring problem for indoor and outdoor plants. Taking steps to ensure pests aren’t taking up residence on your plants is essential and can easily be done by adding some pest deterrent to your pots.
Each of these steps can significantly increase your houseplant’s lifespan, ensuring they stick around much longer. Houseplants should regularly be monitored and inspected for possible problems. Staying on top of illnesses or pests is the best way to keep your plants healthy.
If you need a good pest preventive for your houseplants, I recommend Bonide Ready to Use Neem Oil (available on Amazon). This pesticide is organic and gentle on your indoor plants. Its also formulated to kill insects across all stages of your plant’s life.
If you want to learn more about caring for indoor plants and prolonging their lives, I recommend watching Rachel Austs’ video on how to make indoor plants thrive. She does a great job walking you through how to care for your plants and provides some excellent visuals.
Provide the Ideal Environment
Each plant is different, and to understand what keeps them going, you should know your houseplant’s native environment.
Depending on the plant’s habitat, several of its needs might change:
- Soil mixture
- Humidity or dryness
You won’t always be able to give your plants their favored environment, such as very high humidity. It’s not healthy for your home to have humidity above 50%, so you’ll have to get creative to accommodate these moisture-loving plants.
You’ll see them flourish in your home if you provide them with conditions similar to, or as close to, what they would have in their native environment.
Happy plants are healthy plants, and healthy plants live longer.
Give Your Plants Routine Care
You should care for your plants and meet their needs throughout the year. As the seasons change, so will their needs, including temperature, humidity, and sunlight shifts. It’s essential to maintain routine care and ensure your houseplants are healthy.
As mentioned earlier, here is some of the care you should be providing to your houseplants:
- Watering: Water your houseplants only when needed. A great way to achieve this is by poking your finger in the soil up to the second knuckle, and if it feels dry, you need to water it. A great method for watering is bottom watering most of the time, and top watering about once a month to flush the mineral build-up in the soil.
- Rotating: Rotate your plants with each watering, or as needed, to ensure all sides of your houseplants are enjoying the energy of the sunlight to promote healthy, full growth.
- Repotting: Providing nutrients is essential for houseplants because they’re confined to limited soil in their potted environment. Plants grow and absorb nutrients differently, and some may need their soil refreshed more than others. Refreshing the soil once or twice a year, depending on the plant, will keep them thriving indoors.
- Fertilizing: Fertilizing your plants will give them a boost of nutrients if they’re running low or you need to re-energize the soil between repotting. Always wait about six weeks after repotting to add any type of fertilizer, including aquarium water, to your soil. The roots of your plants can burn if there are excess nutrients in the soil that haven’t been flushed out.
- Pruning: When you prune and reshape your houseplants, it allows room for new growth in all the right places. You’ll want to do this every spring. At that time, your houseplants are coming out of dormancy and will begin new growth from the increasing available sunlight. Your houseplants will be fuller and happier.
Drainage: Having proper drainage implemented for your houseplants is critical for survival. Issues can arise when a plant’s root system is bogged down by anaerobic soil. Drainage prevents severe problems, such as root rot and mineral build-up.
Houseplant Varieties That Live the Longest
Some house plants live longer than others, and some varieties live for longer than most people do. If you are specifically in search of houseplants with the most extended lifespans, consider growing:
- Spider plants
- Snake plants
- Air plants
- English Ivy
- Christmas cactus
All these plants can significantly exceed most houseplants’ 2-5 year lifespan if given adequate care. Cycas specifically are known for being able to live to be over a hundred years old.
The Oldest Living Houseplant Recorded
The oldest living houseplant is known as an Eastern Cape giant cycad. The houseplant was planted in 1775, making the plant over 240 years old.
Cycads are ancient plants. They originated over 250 million years ago during the prehistoric eras and are referred to as living fossils for this reason.
The oldest potted plant originated in South Africa and was brought to the UK for replanting by a botanist named Francis Masson. The plant came to the Palm House, where it still resides. It is displayed at the Royal Botanical Gardens to this day.
Though this plant started small, it has grown enormous over the years and must now rely on props to hold it up. The cycad grows about 2.5 cm (1 inch) per year and stands over 13 ft (4 m) tall. The fantastic plant also weighs more than 2000 lbs (907kg), making it quite large for a potted plant!
Propagate Your Plants To Live Forever
It may sound odd, but it can be done. All plants go through their life cycle, deteriorate, and eventually die. However, through propagation, you can clone your original plant and keep it alive after the parent plant has passed.
Many plants can be easily propagated, and there are different ways you can achieve this, depending on the plant. For example, many succulents can be easily propagated by placing leaves and stem cuttings on moist soil to encourage root growth.
If you want to attempt propagating your favorite plant, check first to see if and how they can be propagated.
Learn more about the slightly complex but interesting science that governs how long plants live in my other article. I’ll also provide insights on how to use this information to ensure your houseplants stay healthier and live longer: Could a Houseplant Live Forever? What You Need To Know
Like other lifeforms, houseplants can certainly die of old age. However, death from old age is less likely than a plant perishing due to factors such as:
- Under/over watering
- Lack of nutrients
- Poor sunlight
A properly cared for house plant can easily live five plus years. However, it’s important to note that each type of plant will have a different lifespan, and some will last longer than others.
To learn more on keeping your houseplants healthy, you could check out my other article here: How to Care for Houseplants (The Ultimate Guide)