Advice on this plant?

dsilver88January 26, 2014

OK so I don't know much about plants, but I bought this one 4 or 5 years ago at a supermarket. It was very small at the time, and since then I have re-potted it 3 times. As you can see some of the stalks have grown so large that I need to use thin metal brackets to prop them up. I have moved a few times since getting the plant, but do live in East Coast climates where it gets cold at winter.

I just recently moved again and bought a table for the plant so it can be up higher and get more sunlight. I also bought a moisture meter and some miracle gro.

It often seems to be growing out of control, which as long as it is healthy I don't mind. I do really love this plant, it's my only one and I try to take good care of it. Any guidance is welcomed since I really know nothing about plants!

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It wants more light. The long stems could be cut back hard - to where they cross the edge of the pot - they'll back-bud & make your plant much tidier looking. Does your pot have a drain hole? You should repot this plant, instead of just potting up. That means that come Jun, you should remove all the old soil from the roots and repot it into a soil you're sure can be watered correctly (so you flush accumulating salts from the soil when you water) w/o having to worry about rotting the roots or impairing root function due to a soil too soggy for too long.

Check for insects. Spider mites are the most likely to be affecting this plant - especially in winter. Look closely with a loupe or magnifying glass, or hold a clean sheet of white paper under the leaf as you tap it. Mites will be about the size of fine pepper particles and will be moving. A yellowish residue on a clean paper towel wiped over the underside of leaves is also an indication of mites.

What formulation of MG are you using? ARE you flushing the soil when you water? The link I'm leaving below should help you avoid all of the most common pitfalls that plague people just getting interested in growing. The more you learn, the more satisfying your growing experience can be, and the more frustration you can avoid.

In most cases, making sure you have the basics covered will transform your growing experience. If you use a soil that is capable of providing a healthy home for roots (very important because fulfilling other requirements depends on you providing a good soil), get the light, temp, and nutritional supplementation right, there really isn't much else that can go wrong.

Most growers run into problems because they provide cultural conditions that force the plant to grow at/near the limits of what they are programmed to tolerate, when they should be working toward making sure everything is in that 'sweet spot' that allows plants to grow with a minimal amount of limitations.


Here is a link that might be useful: An outline for you .....

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 1:15PM
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Thanks a ton for your excellent response, and I did go and look through the link you provided a bit. Bear with me as a lot of this is new for me.

In terms of light, I just moved into my new place and have the plant now on a table somewhat close to two windows. I attached a photo. Should I move it out closer to the windows? The person at the garden center I went said it shouldn’t be directly next to the windows because it can get burned.

In terms of the pot, it is a Novelty Napa Pot that has a reservoir at the bottom so it does not currently drain out the bottom at all. It was advertised as a pot you didn’t need to drain since it has a reservoir at the bottom. However there is a rubber plug I can take out if I want. Should I do that and put it on a plate?

I have only potted up as you say, most recently 1-2 years ago. I have not “repotted” it, as when I took it out of previous pots I am always scared to do anything too much to the roots for fear of killing the plant. I’ve basically just put it ��" pre-existing dirt and roots ��" into a bigger pot. I will do as you say in June and repot it, I assume should go in the same or a similar sized pot?

I did the insect check and could not find anything. I checked with white paper and also looking for yellow residue on paper towels.

I bought Miracle Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food that they say to put some in with the water when you water it. I have not used it yet.

The lady at the gardening center said the plant was saturated with water at the bottom so I should wait a week or so before watering it again. I bought a moisture tester to help me figure out when to water again.
I don’t know what you mean by flushing the soil when I water so I am probably not doing that.

In terms of soil, I don’t remember what kind I used, it was one of the more expensive ones at the gardening center, but I don’t have any left so can’t say exactly what it was. Do you have a recommendation?

Thank you very much for your help.


    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 5:00PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'd probably move the plant to near the window on the left, if that doesn't have a baseboard heater on that wall. If it does, I'd move it next to a south exposure (first choice) or west exposure (second choice). Houseplants rarely if ever get burned by light if you put them in front of a sunny window, unless you don't acclimate them. Plants CAN suffer from heat build-up in the leaves though, which is quite different from sunburn (photo-oxidation). Heat build-up can be trumped by running a fan in the room with your plants, which disrupts what's called the boundary layer (a layer of air that surrounds leaves and traps heat within the leaf). Move your plant closer to the window a few feet every 3-4 days & you'll be fine. Or, you could simply move it into the bright light & see what happens. At worst, you'll get some sunburn, which you can later remove. Your choice. If I was my plant, I'd do the direct move thing & be done with it.

Take out the plug and put it over a collection saucer. The next time the plant needs water, flush the soil thoroughly to rid it of the dissolved solids (salts) that have been accumulating in the soil. Then the next time it needs water, fertilize with something appropriate - like Miracle-Gro 12-4-8 or Foliage-Pro 9-3-3. The Foliage-Pro would be the better choice, but you'll prolly have to send for it. It's all I use.

If you're serious about wanting to improve your hand with houseplants, you can learn a LOT in the months before repot time. I think the best thing you can do for yourself, is to learn about soils and their impact on how much you'll be able to take from the growing experience. You excel by eliminating limitations. Start by learning how to eliminate a poor soil as probably the most serious and common limitation you'll be forced to deal with. It will make EVERYTHING easier.

What are the NPK %s of the fertilizer you bought?

To flush the soil:

Thoroughly saturate the entire soil mass with room temp water and allow it to sit for a half hour. This allows some of the accumulating salts to go dissolve into solution. Then, pour a volume of water at least equal to the volume of the container the plant is in through the soil. Do this several times (5-10) at 10 minute intervals. This should flush almost of the salts from the soil. If you think the soil will remain too soggy and may cause root issues, you can push a cloth wick up into the soil and allow it to hang below the container until water stops dripping from the wick. This, after the last flushing. This will drain additional perched water from the container. Alternately, tilting the container at a 45* angle or depotting the entire root mass after it stops draining and setting it on a newspaper over night will also remove the perched water. After the pot has stopped draining, fertilize with any 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer. (examples: MG or Peter's 24-8-16 granular, MG 12-4-8 liquid, Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 [best, but sometimes more difficult to find]). You CAN use a 1:1:1 ratio fertilizer, but these fertilizers supply more P and K than the plant can use in relationship to N, which unnecessarily raises the level of salts in the soil, which is the reason for this whole exercise. Also, do not use fertilizers labeled for houseplants if the middle number (P) is higher than either the first or third (N or K) numbers. The extra P also contributes considerably to soil salt levels and can cause several other adverse issues with nutrient uptake and soil pH.

Skip the moisture meter, use a wood dowel (best) of bamboo skewer instead. Stick it deep in the pot - if it comes out dirty or damp - don't water.

I suggest you make your own soil, or buy one that is based on pine bark as the highest fraction of the soil. You can't start with a peat-based soil and amend it because it takes more than an equal fraction of coarse material (pine bark) to amend it. At that point, since the pine bark fraction is larger than the peat fraction, the soil is a pine bark based soil. You'll want at least 75% of your soil to be coarse material if you want to take advantage of the greater air space coarse material offers. That soggy layer of soil at the bottom of the container is very limiting. Here's how to deal with it.


Here is a link that might be useful: Read more about soils here .....

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 9:12PM
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Thanks again, you have given me much to consider. There are heating fixtures beneath each window so I moved the plant to within a few feet of the South facing window (the one straight ahead in the photo).

I am going to plan on getting the saucer dish next weekend (I work all week and won't be able to get to gardening center). The flushing of the soil makes me nervous. I want to have some real time to dedicate to that, and am worried I will completely kill the plant.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 11:07PM
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This is the kind of planter I am using

Here is a link that might be useful: Planter

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 11:15PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The only way flushing a plant would kill it is if after the flushing, the soil remained wet so long that it caused a case of root rot that turned lethal. That won't happen if you go into things with an understanding of how to deal with that excess water. The alternative isn't pretty - if you DON'T flush the soil at some point, the plant will continue circling the drain until it's a goner. Accumulating salts and over-watering kill millions of houseplants every winter, and it's entirely unnecessary.

Remove the plug from the planter. That set-up, w/o a drain hole, ensures a steady decline in anything planted in it.


    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 3:32PM
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