Can Houseplants Die of Old Age? The Facts Explained

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.

Key Takeaways

  • Aging in Houseplants: Houseplants can die of old age, a process known as senescence, where cell production slows, leading to deterioration. However, death from other factors like improper care is more common.
  • Lifespan Expectations: Most indoor plants live for about 2-5 years, but this varies greatly depending on the plant type and care. Some houseplants can be passed down through generations.
  • Signs of Aging: Look for stunted growth, lack of flowering, dying leaves, and discoloration as signs of old age in your plant.
  • Prolonging Plant Life: Regular care, appropriate soil, adequate sunlight, and proper temperature and humidity are crucial for extending the life of houseplants. Research your plant’s specific needs for the best results.
  • Common Stress Factors: Over or underwatering, extreme temperatures, incorrect light exposure, and poor soil mix can stress plants and shorten their lifespan.
  • Propagation: To perpetuate your favorite plants, consider propagation, a method to clone the original plant.

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. 

The Lifespan of Indoor Plants

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 for 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 houseplants you keep will significantly impact their lifespans. 

Annuals 

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:

  • Herbs
  • Begonias
  • Impatiens

Annuals generally do well indoors, provided their lighting and nutrient needs are met. 

Perennials 

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
  • Ferns
  • Pothos
  • Succulents

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.

Plant Senescence

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
  • Insufficient or excess 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 
  • Discoloration 

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. 

Each of the steps below 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

Here are a few measures you can take to help your houseplant live longer:

Do Your Research

Each plant variety has a different lifespan and requires 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. 

Lifespan of Common Houseplants

  • Sword fern: hundreds of years
  • English ivy: 100 years or so
  • Jade plant: 50-100 years
  • African violet: 30-50 years
  • Monstera: 20-50 years
  • Spider plant: 20-50 years
  • ZZ plant: 10-30 years
  • Snake plant: 10-25 years
  • Aloe vera: 12 years
  • Pothos: 5-10 years
  • Peace lily: 3-5 years
  • Anthurium: 3-5 years

Select Quality Soil

The soil your houseplants live in is essential. Good soil is how your plant will get its nutrients to grow and thrive for years to come. 

Moisture-loving plants prefer a potting mix rich in peat or compost, whereas drought-tolerant plants love loose mixes rich in perlite or pumice. The key is to provide your plant with well-draining soil because root rot is one of the primary reasons houseplants die.

In addition, it’s important to repot your houseplant every 1-3 years in fresh soil, depending on its growth rate. Fast-growing plants like monstera will need more frequent repotting than slow-growing plants like cacti.

Find a Location With Plenty of Sunlight

Some plants enjoy less sun than others, so it’s crucial to understand your plant’s light needs to ensure it maximizes its lifespan. Too little or too much light can cause your plants to go through premature senescence, dying sooner than their expected lifespan.

Here are the various light needs and recommended indoor locations:

Low Light

Only a few houseplants can tolerate or thrive in low light, including the following:

  • Neon pothos
  • Peperomia
  • ZZ plants

These plants will do well in a spot next to an unobstructed northern window or a shady spot in your home that receives reflected light.

Note that although these plants are fine with staying in low-light conditions, they likely won’t be able to maximize their lifespan and die sooner due to health conditions rather than old age.

Medium or Moderate Light

Most houseplants will thrive with moderate light, which is often referred to as bright, indirect light. The best spot for these plants is about 4-8 feet (1.2-2.4 m) from a bright eastern window or a curtained southern window.

They can tolerate direct morning light during cool seasons but not during summer. They will become leggy if there’s too little light or have scorched leaves in intense light conditions.

Bright, Direct Light

Many flowering houseplants like sunflowers and amaryllis prefer 6-8 hours of direct sunlight from an eastern or western window or a full day of sun from a south-facing window.

Jade plants and indoor palm trees also prefer to be next to a bright window but will benefit from sheer curtains during hot and dry summers.

Maintain Proper Temperature and Humidity

You’ll also want to 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. 

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can also promote premature senescence in plants as it affects the plant’s biochemical and physiological processes.

Plants also need water in the air around them for optimum cell health. However, keeping good humidity indoors can be tricky. Luckily, you can accomplish this by using a humidifier or a pebble tray with water. Alternatively, you can even create a terrarium for plants that thrive in higher humidity levels (over 70%). 

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 deterrents to your pots. 

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. It’s also formulated to kill insects across all stages of your plant’s life. 

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:

  • Sunlight
  • Water
  • 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.

Basic Houseplant Care Tips

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 by 90-180° 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.

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 1 inch (2.5 cm) per year and stands over 13 feet (4 m) tall. The fantastic plant also weighs more than 2,000 pounds (907 kg), 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 to propagate 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

Final Thoughts

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
  • Disease
  • Pests
  • 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 about keeping your houseplants healthy, you could check out my other article here: How to Care for Houseplants (The Ultimate Guide)

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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