How to Rescue an Abandoned Plant

You just found an abandoned plant on the streets and don’t know how to treat it? Then this article is for you 😁

Today is all about plant rescue – how to treat properly a plant found near the garbage bin. I have a cactus as an example, but the info from this blog post can be applied to any plant you find.

If you’re into video content more, then this video might help:

in addition, this video is even more specific on the repotting section

So I found this cactus a few days ago, near a dumpster, it was very cold outside and I grabbed it and hurried to take it home. In my case, it was sure this plant was abandoned, so it was safe to take it.

However, it you find a plant near an apartment door or if you have any doubts that it can’t be taken, I’d suggest you ask first when you get the chance.

Reasons why a plant is abandoned:

  • A reason could be when people have a new pet and it’s not safe for them to keep a plant, I’ve seen more than a few plants with biting marks that were let go of;
  • Another reason could be simply because the plant doesn’t react well in a specific home or maybe it requires a bit more care and attention than you can give it at this point;
  • Sometimes people move out and can’t take all the plants with them, in that case you could really find some gems at the dumpster (some very pretty and well-cared plants);
  • There’s also a big chance that someone has a little too many plants to look after, and they look to cut down on some responsibilities;
  • But the number one reason in my experience, is when the plant is infested and people have a hard time in treating it or just don’t want to. Which leads me to the first tip:

Make sure to check the plant for pests before bringing it home. And ask yourself if it’s really worth the trouble?

If you decided to give it a chance and you know it’s an infested plant, you need to treat it immediately and isolated it from your other plants. If you’re not careful, you could bring upon yourself a large infestation that will affect your collection, and that’s why I insist you treat and isolate your new plant as soon as possible.

For this cactus, I spotted some spider webs and fire bugs (which are pretty harmless for the plant), and that’s why I just showered it very carefully.

fire bugs on the rescue cactus

However, if you can identify other types of pests (that are harmful for your plant), I suggest you treat them accordingly, for example use rubbing alcohol for mealy bugs, etc. And if you don’t have any pest repellent in your home, at least shower them persistently until you can buy it.

If your plant doesn’t show any signs of pests, get rid of the yellowing leaves (if it has any) and still shower it. You need to clean the dust and any debris from your plant.

Should I repot the plant?

I don’t usually advise to repot a plant right away because it could cause unnecessary stress, but this is an exception to the rule. If it’s a plant with a suspicious background, you need to check the roots to see if the plant is salvageable.

Fortunately this cactus was healthier than expected, with decent roots but terrible soil. So bad that it was soaking wet and very dense (exactly like the one from the back of your yard).

Pro tip: Welding gloves are amazing to handle repotting a cactus. So if you have a husband or boyfriend that’s into DIY welding, give him a kiss and borrow the gloves.

using the welding gloves to grab the cactus without accidents

Repot your plant in an appropriate substrate, for example, I used for this cactus a mix based on cacti soil, perlite and just a bit of sand. A great mix for most plants, is one that drains the water fast and lets the roots breath, so make sure your soil mix is lightweight.

Chose the right pot for your plant, and if it has root rot, clean the dead roots with a sterilized pair of scissors. Depending on the size of the roots, many times is not necessary to upgrade the pot.

If you reuse a pot, wash it before, especially if a plant has died in that pot. And this applies anytime you want to save a plant, use a clean pot to avoid spreading bacteria.

Of course, the situation depends from plant to plant, but usually, after you’ve done your repotting, you have to isolate the plant. Leave it alone for at least two weeks to see if it’s safe to place it along with your other plants. Additionally, if it’s a plant that you’ve never had before, do some research to help the plant while creating suitable conditions that meet the needs of your plant.

For example, for this cactus I need to be placing it in a bright spot, and even direct sun is acceptable. If it survives, I will probably water it again only in spring, since winter is almost here and this plant is not a big fan of it.

I chose a terracotta pot for this cactus, to help the excess water dry out faster, since this plant doesn’t need the extra moisture.

After repotting I showered it for the last time, to remove any dirt and other stuff I missed the first time. I placed it in an isolated place (without any plants around) and I will not water again until spring.

What if the roots are dead?

Root rot is expected for an abandoned plant. This happens 99% of the time because the plant was overwatered.

Depending on the situation, your plant might be salvageable or not. Root rot is not reversible, but you could try propagating your plant. It’s best to research the plant, or ask on plant groups to help you identify the plant.

Some plants can be propagated and saved by node cuttings, others by leaf cuttings. Search for the right method for your plant and try to help it like this.

For more info on how to propagate successfully your plant, this video might help:

Should I fertilize a dying plant?

Never. No need to fertilize your rescue plant, no matter if you repot it or not. For any dying plant, fertilizing should be the last thought on our mind. You can do it safely after a few months.

Think about the most important requirements first – the proper light, the proper watering, temperature, humidity and substrate. You need to mimic the natural environment of the plant, as best as possible.

terracotta pots are a solid choice for a cactus

How to prevent abandoning a plant?

If you have a plant and can’t figure out how to make it happy, think about the garbage bin as a last resort.

Ask your friends and family first if they would like that plant. If your plant is sick, it’s a good idea to give it to someone who is willing to save it and knows a thing or two about plants.

There are groups in a lot of cities where people donate and swap plants and you could post there and have your plant donated or exchanged.


How about you? Found a plant on the streets and want more advise on treating it? Write me here and I’ll be happy to help 💚

If this helped, share it with someone else! ❤️