Peace lily--underwatered or rotting?

Raquel_EJanuary 6, 2012


I bought a peace lily about a month and a half ago, and everything was fine until a few days ago, when I noticed a number of yellow and brown leaves at the base. I hadn't watered it in a long time, maybe a couple weeks--I'd read that I should wait for the leaves to droop, and they never did. I thought maybe it needed water, so I watered it. Then I read that yellow leaves at the base could mean root rot. It's possible that when I first got it I overwatered it. I have a tendency to do that.

Is there anything I should do at this point? I may have just made the problem worse.

I should note that it's unlikely it's getting too much light. My apartment faces onto a courtyard surrounded by other tall buildings, so it's pretty dim in my apartment. Any light it does get is indirect. I keep the plant about five feet from the window.


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Raquel E, the plant may have reacted to its new location by "throwing" some yellow leaves; this is a common thing. Here is a link to what may look like.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 5:15AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

There is a significant clue in what you offered in the background information, that being the two week interval between water applications, but still there was no indication of drought stress. While we can't be sure of what's wrong, the odds strongly favor the cause would lie within the triangle formed by watering habits, a soil that is overly water-retentive, or an accumulation of salts in the soil. Reduced exposure to light intensity could also be at work too, but the entire leaf would likely be affected if light was the culprit.

Since we can probably rule out under-watering because the plant didn't wilt, we're left with the probability that over-watering (perhaps due in part to a overly water-retentive soil) or a high level of salts in the soil are culpable.

Did you fertilize the plant after you brought it home? How large is the plant? By that, I mean is it easy to carry about, or unwieldy? Would you guess the light level is lower where it is sited now than it was before you acquired it?

Your goal should be to develop a plan whereby you can water without over-watering, but at the same time prevent salts from accumulating in the soil. This is a very common issue with houseplants and is always more severe in winter when growth is slow and humidity low. If you answer the questions I'm sure we can help you do better.


    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 10:34AM
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Thanks for your responses! All help is appreciated since I know very little about growing plants. I looked at the photo, and my plan looks a little different. The leaves seemed to turn all yellow, or mostly all yellow, before they got brown. There were just a few and I didn't see them right away because they were at the bottom, but when I cut them, most were all yellow and not yet brown, although there was one or two brown ones. I've already cut them, but I don't remember any of them being yellow and/or brown just at the tips.

To answer the questions, I didn't fertilize it, and it's small enough to move very easily. When I bought it, it was inside the florist shop, so I'm not sure how to compare the light levels.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 11:13AM
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Hello Raquel...Welcome

There are two rumors floating around about Peace Lily's.

One, water when leaves wilt.

The only advantage is one would know it's time to water. But, if leaves wilt too much, and often, eventually wilting may harm a Peace Lily.

Two, Peace Lily's thrive in low light.

False. PL's prefer medium light and higher. Since you're up east, low light is more of a concern, especially now that it's winter.

An unobstructed east will be fine, but during prolonged gray days a south or west window is even better.
Summer direct sun, west and possibly south could burn leaves, but we're a ways off from summer.

You mentioned the leaves never wilted, which indicates the soil was still moist/wet...below soil surface.

To test soil, 'if potted in a small pot, 4" or less,' insert your finger deep within. For larger containers use a stick/probe, whatever you have handy.

If finger/stick comes out clean, 'not muddy' the soil is dry, if muddy, don't water. If you ever baked a cake, using a toothpick for doneness, same concept.

You also said you have a tendency to overwater. Hide your watering can, lol.

Do you happen to have a photo? Toni

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 1:20PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ok - nothing definitive on the light or fertilizer issue then ..... so we probably need to at least address the probability that over-watering is the problem.

The best thing to do would be to lift the plant from the pot and inspect the roots and crown for rot. You'll be looking for dark, slimy, or sour-smelling roots or crown that indicate(s) a fungal root rot infection. If you find crown rot, the plant's fate is likely irreversible. If you find root rot, you should bare root and prune all compromised root tissue back to healthy tissue.

If you decide not to go that far, then you should make sure the soil is NOT wet. If it IS wet, unpot the plant and allow it to rest on a section of newspaper or several layers of paper bags. This will pull the excess water from the soil, after which you can return the plant to the pot until it's time to water next.

There is little effort involved in flushing the soil to ensure that a too high level of salts is not a problem. Simply flush the soil thoroughly and repeatedly by pouring a volume of water equal to the volume of the container through the soil several (5-10) times - the more the better. After this treatment, you should fertilize with a half strength dose of a soluble fertilizer. If you decide to follow my directions, we can talk about fertilizers. The right fertilizer choice can make a significant difference in your ability to keep soluble salts at their lowest levels - a very important consideration to keep foliage nice & roots happy.

To help you keep excess water in the soil to a minimum, I recommend these two things. First, insert a wick through one of the drain holes. A wick will 'fool' the excess water in the soil into 'thinking' the pot is deeper than it really is. The water will flow down the wick, 'looking' for what it 'thinks' is the bottom of the pot, and will be pushed off the bottom of the wick by the water flowing down from above. Second - when you water - water thoroughly, so you flush the soil each time you water. Then, after the pot stops draining, hold it over the sink at eye level. Move it down toward the sink, then abruptly reverse directions and quickly raise the pot. When the pot is moving downward, inertia of motion will cause the water in the pot to 'want' to continue to move downward. The quick upward movement forces the downward moving water from the drain hole. You should be able to remove all the perched water from the soil via this operation; which should make a SIGNIFICANT increase in the prospects for your plant to grow to it's potential. It's still much better to use a soil that eliminates the need for the measures I described, one that has none of the inherent issues associated with heavy, water-retentive soils, but I'll wait to see how you respond to my offering and if you'd like to learn more about the influence soil choice has on o/a vitality and your margin for error.

When it comes to the choice of the lesser of two evils, it's better to habitually subject your plant to the (drought) stress associated with the beginning stages of wilt, than it is to habitually allow soil to remain soggy for extended periods. It's much easier, and easier on the plant as well, to correct mild drought stress than it is to reverse the effects of compromised root function or root rot - though neither condition can be considered desirable.

I hope you found that helpful, Raquel.


    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 2:56PM
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