How to Revive a Dying Cordyline and what to look out for

How to Revive a Dying Cordyline and what to look out for

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Two of the most common questions I often get asked in regards to growing a Cordyline are “Why is my Cordyline dying?” and more importantly, “What can I do in an attempt to save it?”

Whilst there is no guarantee that reviving the plant will actually work, there is no harm in trying it. So, what can you do to revive a Cordyline that is dying?

The most common reason your Cordyline might be looking like it’s dying is usually linked to how much water it is getting. Whether it is either not giving it enough water, especially when they are being grown in pots and containers, or too much water, also known as killing your plants with kindness.

If you have been watering your Cordyline without giving it too little or too much water, then another common reason could be that it has sustained winter damage from a bad winter. More often than not, these issues can be overcome and the plant can be saved, even when they look incredibly unhealthy (dead).

Firstly, you need to take a look at the plant to indentify what the issue might be

Cordyline planted in the garden that is small enough to protect in winter with fleece and tie the leaves up to protect the crown
A Cordyline that has been planted in the garden. This is small enough to protect during the winter with fleece and by tying up the leaves to protect the crown

Before you begin any steps to reviving your Cordyline, the first, and probably the most important step, is to check whether the plant is actually still alive. This unfortunately is sometimes easier said than done, especially if all the leaves are brown and drooping. But whilst the discoloured leaves and the dry stems can indicate that there is no life left in the plant, the roots might, however, still be alive.

If you notice any signs of life or green colour, there is hope for revival. More often than not, even if your Cordyline is established and has a long brown trunk, they will often shoot from the base of the trunk and in a few years would be fairly established again and looking good.

In fact, a large single trunk Cordyline will grow into a large, established Cordyline with multiple stems that will look amazing.

You should also check for signs of diseases or pests to rule out any infections that could be killing off the plant. If pests and diseases are behind the damage, this can often be treated with a general pesticide.

You can learn more about pests and diseases that affect Cordylines and how to treat them here

Have you over-watered or underwatered it?

Have you given it enough water?

Check whether you have been giving your plant enough water. This is even more important for Cordylines that are being grown in pots, they need regular watering, especially over summer. A telltale sign of a plant not receiving enough water is browning on the edge of the leaves. If the compost is bone dry, give the Cordyline a good watering and monitor for a couple of days for any signs of improvement. Ideally, you want to let the surface of the soil to be dry before watering it again, but at the same time, you still want the compost underneath the surface to remain moist.

For established Cordylines being grown in the ground, they should not really need watering except for during long periods of drought. Newly planted Cordylines will need watering regularly for the first 12 months until they have begun to establish themselves.

Have you given it too much water?

Another reason that could account for the demise of your Cordyline is that it has received too much water. This problem usually happens more frequently with Cordylines grown in containers. Plants that are sitting in too much water tend to discolour, turning yellow and drooping before turning brown. This gives a true indication that it is dying.

My advice here is to immediately stop watering your Cordyline. This will allow the soil to dry out a little and then once you commence watering again, allow the surface of the soil to dry out between watering. You could also repot the plant into fresh compost.

Want to learn more about how to grow cordylines? Read my beginner Cordyline growing guide here

Has your Cordyline been damaged by cold weather?

It is common for established Cordylines, even ones that have been growing well for 15-20 years to be damaged by frost to a point where it kills the top of the plant, leaving just a stem. In this situation, clear away the dead leaves and see if the crown (at the top) starts to shoot again. If it doesn’t by summer, feel down the trunk to a part that is hard and firm and cut it off at this point.

For your plants in containers, you can do the same but often you will notice it shoots from the base again.

Healthy cordyline in pots
A healthy Cordyline in a pot

You can do your bit to help protect them over winter if you have them in pots or have a manageably-sized Cordyline that isn’t too large in the garden. You should tie the leaves together with string for winter, this will help protect the crown during the cold months. You can also cover smaller Cordylines with garden fleece or move them into a cold greenhouse for winter.

Learn more about how to protect Cordylines over the winter in this guide here

You can also learn which Cordylines flower in my guide here, Do cordylines flower?

Below are a few more ways you can help to revive a dying Cordyline

Discard the dead sections

Whilst it may seem harsh to pluck the leaves away from a dying plant. It is necessary as there is no need for the plant to carry dead weight. Not only does removing the dead sections help the plant look better, but it also makes way for new growth. Use your hands to remove the dead leaves with sharp secateurs or a knife depending on the thickness of the stem or leaves.

Prune dead or diseased stems

Pruning Cordyline stems is necessary to encourage new and abundant growth. Even in its weakened state, the plant will still recover and produce new growth. Any dead or diseased stems need removing with sharp sanitised secateurs to prevent infections. You can cut the stem back severely, but leave it several inches from the ground because you don’t want the new growth to be vulnerable to pest and disease attacks as it sits next to the soil.

Learn more about how to prune cordylines in my guide here

Give your Cordyline a good feed to encourage new growth

Your Cordyline might be dying from a lack of nutrients. This is especially so in regards to potted plants as they can quickly use up all the nutrients and fertiliser that are in the compost. As the spring and summer months approach, add some general-purpose fertilizer to the Cordylines to help them maintain their new growth. The fertilizer should be organic to avoid saturating a weak plant with unnecessary chemicals.

Monitor your plant

Reviving a dying Cordyline will not happen overnight. In fact, depending on the level of damage it may take months. However, be patient, keep nourishing and monitor the plant to mitigate any issues that may arise in time.

Place the plant in an area where it can get plenty of sun whilst being on the lookout for pest and disease attacks and treat this problem at the first indication.

Please do not be in a rush to fix the problem because this is where most people fail. You need to diagnose what is causing the plant to die before deciding on your method of action. Give every solution adequate time to see if it works before jumping to the next treatment. Most of the time, the reasons behind an unhealthy Cordyline are from winter damage or from incorrect watering, so these are always the two things I would look into first.

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