Water it lightly
Some plants can look completely dead when all they need is some water. The peace lily, for example, looks lifeless when it’s dry, but once given a drink it will spring back to its usual perky self within a couple of hours.
It’s a natural instinct to think that a very dry plant will be helped by watering it heavily, to make up for drinks it’s missed. What this will most likely do is drown it. If your plant’s soil is parched, water very lightly. Just give it a little sprinkle and then check it over the next few days to see if the soil is drying again. If it is, give it another light drink. Little and often is better than flooding the soil.
Remove any dead growth
If there are brown or very yellow leaves on your plant, remove them. On some plants you may be able to just pinch them off if they’re very dry. If they don’t come off easily, cut them off with clean scissors (see our guide to pruning if you're nervous about this). Removing dead or sick growth means your plant will be able to put all its energy into maintaining healthy growth.
Even if your plant only has a couple of healthy leaves left, it might still recover. You may have to cut it right back, but if the roots are still strong it can often make a full recovery.
Check the bark
This only really applies to outdoor plants, but if you have a plant with a woody trunk or stalks, lightly scratch a very small part of the bark of the main stem with your thumbnail. If you see light green underneath the brown bark, the plant still has some life in it. If it’s dry and brown, sadly it has likely passed on.
Don’t feed it
Giving a stressed plant fertiliser won’t help it. It needs gentle care and a blast of nutrients will overwhelm it. Leave the feeding until your plant has recovered.
Give it time
A neglected plant probably won’t spring back to life immediately. This is especially true in the winter months, when your plant may be dormant and not doing much growing. So give it lots of time and just keep an eye on it. You may not see any regrowth until spring, but there are few things more rewarding than seeing a presumed-dead plant burst back to life.
If you'd like to try some plants that will survive almost anything, check out our Unkillables range.