All of my plants going downhill at once...

iammadeofdreamsFebruary 3, 2013

In the course of a day or two nearly all of my plants have taken a swift turn for the worse. They have been developing yellow leaves, some with brown spots on the yellow. It wouldn't worry me so much except for it's happening really fast. One of the large leaves on my peace lily was only affected on the tip when I left for work one day and it was nearly completely yellow with spots on it by the time I got home.

I've examined the leaves pretty well and not found and signs of pests, and some of them are in completely different rooms so it seems unlikely that pests would be the problem for all of them anyways. However, I am wondering if the problems are related to the weird chemical smell that has been showing up in my apartment when my heat comes on. The smell started about a week and a half ago, and my plants started looking sad a couple days after it started.

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Can you take any pictures?
Do you keep your apartment cold thses days?

As a side thought:

I would be more concerned about my health..I hope you find the source.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 1:05PM
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This is what the bad leaves on the peace lily look like. Both of my PL are doing this and they are not near each other, so they aren't planning it or anything. And it isn't just big leaves, it seems to be pretty random to me. Though I am quite new at plants.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 1:26PM
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This one is sitting right next to the peace lily. I'm not sure how well it shows up in the picture, but the leaves start out turning yellow from the tip then they get brown spots in the yellow part.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 1:29PM
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This one looks the worst, I'm afraid I may have lost this one. The leaves turned yellow or brown and dropped, there were a couple I pinched off because they were brown and crunchy and I figured they were doing more harm than good.

As far as the temperature in my apartment goes, I keep it about 71 degrees. One night my thermostat got messed up and it got down to 62, but that was for 12 hours max.

Also, I am worrying about my own health as well. But until I can actually get something done about the weird smell I figured I may as well do something productive and hopefully save my plants.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 1:38PM
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My first thought was too much Iron or too much fertilizer, or something added to your water.

Did you happen to feed them up some sort of fertilizer, iron, or something like that?
Have you sprayed the leaves with something?
Do you mist a lot?

Is there something going on with your water?
Are you keeping your apartment very cool these days?

It is hard to say a definite, but I would delete one possibility at a time until you hit it.

Could it also be too much flouride in your water of all of a sudden?
Possible salt toxitity?
Temps too cool?

What kind of mix do you use? Can you take a pic of your mix too?
Is it staying damp for long periods of time?

The plants you did post are very sensitive to chemicals in water, salt toxitity and fertilizer burn.
They also have a tendency to look like that in much cooler temps than they prefer.

I would most certainly look to your water source, watering habits, fertilizers, and or temps before thinking it's the air.

I can tell you that you are not alone. I remember one year I had lost all my plants at once because they all decided to get root rot at once. It was just about this time of the year when it all happened. I am not saying this happned to you, but it's possible.

Let's see what others have to say. I wish you much luck!


This post was edited by meyermike_1micha on Sun, Feb 3, 13 at 14:04

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 1:49PM
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I use reverse osmosis water exclusively because I get it free where I work. I could try buying some distilled and seeing if that makes a difference.

The mix is the 5:1:1 mix, sort of... It was my first time making it and when I got to the store I for some reason remembered the ingredients as bark, perlite and vermiculite rather than turface. By the time I found out that I had remembered it wrong I had already mixed it up and potted everything. Everything seemed alright though, and now I know for next time. Just have to figure out what to do with the bag of vermiculite.

As far as temps go, I keep an average indoor temp of 71 F. I can't imagine the plants would be unhappy with that. They may not be big fans of the strength of the air gusts (enough to rattle a small wind chime) coming out of the heat vents, but I haven't been able to find anywhere that has good lighting and no wind.

I think the mix dries out pretty fast, but the only past experience I have with bark mixes is from growing orchids and that was a lot easier. I have been trying to judge if they need watered by the weight, but I haven't completely gotten the hang of that so I end up sticking my finger in the pot too.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 2:57PM
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Do you think it's possible you might have under watering at one point?
How about over watering?

I think the more we get these details from you, the more someone might have insight.
It does stump me though at this point but I am proud of you for taking the time to come back and answer these questions.

Have you been able to determine knowing full well that you are only watering after the root ball has dried out a bit?

Something tells me you are not getting enough light while at the same time the roots to your plants in the root ball zone are staying wet too long without the use of perlite.
I use the 5.1.1 mix with perlite and at this time of the year with good light and temps as warm as yours, I can go quite a while without watering.

Do you think you might have under watered at one point and now the fine roots have died back?
You did say you have been trying to judge when to water still.

Did you lime your mix?

I think you 'think' your mix is drying out too fast. I would use a wooden dowel of some sort until you get the watering right.

Something is a mess with the roots, for that we can almost be certain. Very dry air while your roots are not taking up water correctly combined with a lck of good light can cause that on those sensitive plants.

Have you ever thought of having the quality of that water checked?
What about the pH of it?
Do you fertilize and with what?
How often?

I would scrub the air pollution idea. If it were the air doing that to your plants, then you probably would not be around to write back.:=-)

This fine group of people here will figure it out or possibly you before they do:-)


This post was edited by meyermike_1micha on Sun, Feb 3, 13 at 15:31

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 3:25PM
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I am fairly new to growing things for the most part, so it's hard to say if I have been over or under watering. I had an assortment of orchids that did great a few years back, but I lost them in a house fire. And I never really learned how to take care of anything other than orchids.

Maybe I worded it wrong, but I do have perlite, I just used vermiculite rather than turface. Though, one of the plants is still in the mix it came from the florist in; it's something dark and squishy that very quickly gets so dry it cracks on the top.

Low light may be an issue. The best windows (light-wise) in my apartment happen to be fairly drafty so I moved the plants back a bit so they didn't get a chill. It has been about 15 F outside and windy here so right up by the window is not a cozy place. I could try a different room or set up my daylight lamps.

I forgot to buy the lime, so my grandma gave me some. Not sure if it expires or not, but knowing my grandma what she gave me is probably 30 years old. I wasn't sure how much to use so I only used a very small amount figuring there had to be some way to add more later if needed.

I will get some dowels when I go shopping on Tuesday. Do the bamboo skewers used for shush-ke-bobs work? I may have some of those.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 4:34PM
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Hey, bamboo skewers are perfect!

Imagine that..They have been with you all this time and you never thought to use them:-)

Yes, you can always add lime. Scratch it into the surface when using the 5.1.1 mix. I use about 1 Tbsp per every gallon.
You know, those I think you are getting somewhere with what's going on!

I think you just might get it! see how long it is before your mix is drying out by pushing your skewers into the root zone way towards the bottom and just make sure you feel for moisture.

You'll get it:-)


    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 6:49PM
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AsarumGreenPanda(z6 MA)

Iammadeofdreams, I'm sorry that's happening to your plants. I want to thank you and Mike, so much, for all of the detailed information. I hope it helps your plants and I'm sure it will help others too. Please keep posting as you figure it out. Mike, the details and questions are really helpful.

I've also had one or two times when all of the houseplants went downhill, suddenly, at once. But then, sometimes, they all recover.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 9:37PM
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This post caught my eye. As a former elected official I would receive many calls. Four such calls were similar to the above posted description. In all cases I urged that apartment managers/owners be notified of the situation at once. It is the mention of a 'strange odor' which is the tip off and in all four situations intervention by repair persons was necessary. Play it safe. Report to the necessary party today, please.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 7:11AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

This is so sad to read, so sorry!! It's probably a trick of the camera or flash, but it looks like all of your plants are soaking, dripping wet. Am I just seeing things that aren't there? In the one pic, even the clay pot looks really wet, and it looks like a pool of water in the saucer in the last pic.

But aside from that, I would definitely call somebody about a weird smell.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 9:40AM
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teengardener1888(NY Albany 5a)

Plants are sensitive to certain gases such as natural gas. i know im only a teen but please call your landlord. it can be harmful to you and your plants

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 10:04AM
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There definitely isn't any water sitting in the saucer around them. It may look like it because I used one of those tiny plates with ridges that goes with teacups, the ridges may have given the illusion of a puddle. And that pot is balanced on some little stones that may have caused more shadows. The stones are there because one day I realised it needed water just minutes before I had to leave for work and I had the stones there so I put them under it to give it room to drain while I was gone.

The other ones aren't nearly as wet in real life as they look in the picture. For some reason, no matter what I change in the camera settings everything comes out darker than it really is.

I have called about the smell, but the maintenance people here are pretty lax about getting things done.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 10:42AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

I was thinking they looked very wet too. How long have they been in the mix. Unfortunately, vermiculite is bad news. :-( It will turn to mush.
You have mentioned turface, the 5-1-1 is usually made with pine bark , perlite, and peat.

The plant you mentioned, from the florist, sounds like it may be in a heavy peat mix that has dried out.

As Mike said~ knowing the moisture at the root zone is important.

Do the plants dry out much before you water again? If it has vermiculite, I would think they are staying too wet and roots are rotting. :-(


    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 11:23AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Yes, I haven't had any vermiculite around in too long to talk about, but there are no plants still alive here that had that in their pots... Not that it will kill your plants, but like said, it gave me a false impression about the moisture in the pots. If memory serves, it acts a lot like peat but isn't so hard to get wet again once it dries.

I feel your frustration about taking the pics. And I so often take a pic while I have a plant separated from the herd, getting a drink, then people say, "it's too wet." Glad this was just an optical illusion. It really looks like the rocks in the pots are swimming in water, puddle in the saucer of the Dief. The moisture on the clay pot looks real though, concerning if it's not looking much more dry very soon.

You should be able to adjust the exposure after you put your pics on your computer. Sometimes that's not enough, but helps a lot of my pics look as bright as the scene is in reality. A lot of plants I just have to move to get a good shot of them though. Don't tell DH but I sit a lot of them on the bed for a minute to do it. Hey, that's something. If your plant isn't dry enough to sit on your bed, it's too wet.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 12:06PM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Instead of telling the maintenance folk you have a bad smell, suggest that it smells like gas.

Beyond that, the gale force wind directly from the heating vents is a serious problem.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 12:35AM
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I don't think it's anything to do with water or potting medium or whatever. It has to be something that changed suddenly, and affected all the plants. Calling the landlord and saying it smells like it might be gas (or heating oil, whatever your building burns, or whatever it actually does smell like) sounds to me like the way to go.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 9:52AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

I just saw something on the national news about a town that had some additive that was accidentally added to their water supply. They could actually light a match to the water and see it ignite...

As others have said, I would call your local water local and I would also contact your city or county managers....

It sounds like the problem is in the water, not the mix or light. To many plants reacting to a major problem at the same time. Just my opinion...

Take care,


    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 12:03PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Hoping "no news is good news" applies to iammadeofdreams. Did you figure this out?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 9:57AM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

These plants were next to a window and it got down to 15* outside?

Hello...cold damage....wouldn't necessarily show up immediately...

Some kind of toxic gas is possible too given the funky smell.

If furnace is blowing right on them that could do it too.

For all to be affected at once and rapidly it would not be something like bugs or over watering...

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 9:33PM
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