URBANA, Ill. – When people walked out of their workplaces last March, most did not think it would be months or even a year before they would come back.  

As employees continue to return to in-person work, they might find themselves facing wilted and neglected office plants. 

“Last summer, I went back to my office after six months of being away to find some dead plants and several succulents covered with mealy bugs,” says Kelly Allsup, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. “I had to toss them and start over.”

The two main issues with neglected plants are the lack of water or inconsistent watering or insect infestations. 

To determine if the plant is still alive, scrape the stem. If there is green underneath, there is still a chance of saving it.

“Once a plant goes crispy, very little will bring it back to life,” Allsup says.

Cut back all the dead foliage then, fully emerge the potted plant in a sink or container filled with water until the soil is moist. When container soil gets too dry, it pulls away from the side of the pot, so water pours through without absorbing. 

The stress of inconsistent watering can escalate insect outbreaks of mealy bugs or spider mites.

“If you see insects have taken over, sometimes it is just best to start over and treat yourself to a new plant,” Allsup says.

Small infestations of mealybugs can be wiped away with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol while aphids can be treated with water or insecticidal soap. Find more information on common houseplant insects online at go.illinois.edu/TroubleshootingHouseplants.

If the plant cannot be rescued, considered taking a few cuttings of it to try propagating a new plant from the original.

“Don’t quit on office plants if they didn’t make it,” Allsup says. “Having plants in your workspace is scientifically proven to reduce stress, boost work productivity, and improve the quality of the air.”

Use it as an opportunity to invest in some new office plants. Palms, rubber plants and dracaenas are the most effective in removing contaminants. 

Give surviving plants fertilizer this spring to help as they start actively growing and soon the lack of care during the pandemic will be a distant memory once new leaves and stems begin to appear.  

For more help with houseplants, contact your local Illinois Extension office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.

SOURCEKelly Allsup, Horticulture Educator, Illinois Extension
WRITEREmily Steele, Communications Coordinator, Illinois Extension
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