Heptapleurum sparse and dropping leaves

kamakFebruary 3, 2012

Hi, my mom divided a heptapleurum about a year ago into two pots. They were growing well and had nice full umbrellas. My mom had kept them outdoors but said they'd be fine indoors. The branches were quite knobby and unruly-looking, but I thought it looked nice and they were mostly hidden by foliage.

I put one in each room (bedroom and living room). Both started dropping leaves, at different rates, and pretty soon had nothing left except a bunch of knobby branches, that were the gray bark color, not green. I sent the worse-off one to my upstairs neighbor whose sunroom was empty. That one grew back most of its leaves and started to look healthy. Meanwhile the one in my living room stayed sparse.

I then moved them both into my own sunroom, since my neighbor's had success, where teeny heads started to form again. They keep growing to the size of say a nickel to a quarter, and then leaves start falling. The plant always has a little foliage, but if I so much as brush past the plant, leaves fall. This has been going on for 5 months now.

The soil is probably questionable, it gets really hard when it's dry, like a solid cake. I don't know where it came from. Every room in my apartment is dry, and everything is near a radiator. I have ordered a humidifier so perhaps that will help. But the draft can't be avoided. The sun room is south facing, but on the first floor and naturally partly shaded by the trees outside. All of these conditions are pretty similar to upstairs, where it seemed to do ok.

When I water it, I usually wait for the pot to dry out, then water it again until saturated.

Any thoughts on what I can do to get some rich foliage back? I've posted a photo in the link here. Thank you for any insight you might have!

Here is a link that might be useful:

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It could be attributable to any one of a number of issues, but if there is one most likely w/o more information, it would be the combination of over-watering and an excessively water-retentive soil. Most often, scheffs shed foliage as a drought response or because of a sudden decrease in light levels. Strangely, too much water causes the same response as not enough. When you do water thoroughly, how long does it take for the soil to dry down to where you would guess it to be almost completely dry to the touch? Have you fertilized lately? with what, if yes, and at what strength? The plant tolerates dry indoor conditions quite well, because it's leaves are well-protected by an abundance of cuticular wax, but no plant really appreciates being quite close to a heat source. Any idea how warm the soil temperatures might be when the heat is cranking?


    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 7:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi, thanks for the reply! I don't have a sense for soil temperatures, but it is a strange room in that it gets a lot of light, but temperatures between hot (when the furnace turns on) and cold (since the room is all windows). I thought the light trumped the other factors, but I could consider moving it.

I am setting up a humidifier today that covers the whole apartment, so that should mitigate the drought factors.

I fertilize with Schultz 10-15-10 plant food plus - I use 7 drops per ~quart. The directions say "every time you water, everything you grow"... and as a total novice I have pretty much just followed that. Thoughts?

The soil is odd, it is very dense and resembles dry mud when it gets dry. I think it takes a few days for it to get dry again, but let me water today and keep an eye on it, then follow up on that.

If I were to re-pot it, is there a particular type of I should use? Is there a best time of year to do that?


    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 1:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

First advice, listen to Al ;-)

Second advice, ditch that plant food. As far as I know, there is never an appropriate reason
to use a fertilizer with a middle number (phosphorous) that high.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 4:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

As long as temperatures are above 55* and below 80*, you're fine. I asked in case you had it so close to the heat source that soil temps were getting REALLY warm.

Light can't 'trump' another limiting factor. That is to say, light can't make up for a nutritional deficiency or the effects of a poor soil. Our goal, as growers, is to eliminate the the greatest degree possible, the negative effects of ALL limiting factors. The better we are at it, the closer the plant will grow to its genetic potential. Our proficiency as growers is defined by our ability to eliminate or reduce the effects of limiting factors, and we have to consider them ALL, because all have the potential to be the single most limiting factor.

There are no plants that use more P than N, so it makes no sense to supply more P than N in a fertilizer. Since plants use on average about 6X more N than P, you can see that your 10-15-10 supplies FAR more P than your plants can use. The extra P makes it unnecessarily difficult for your plant to absorb water and the nutrients in the water, and it can make it difficult for the plant to take up several other nutrients, but mainly Fe and Mn. The same is true of 1:1:1 ratio fertilizers, like 20-20-20, because they too supply more P and K than necessary, based on the amount of N supplied. A better choice would be a soluble fertilizer in a 3:1:2 RATIO. Common examples of 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers are 24-8-16, 12-4-8, and 9-3-6. I prefer Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 because it supplies all the essential elements in a favorable ratio. It even supplies Ca and Mg, two elements missing in most soluble fertilizers like Miracle Gro, Peter's, Jack's, ......

Your choice of soil is very likely to be the most important decision you'll make, insofar as how it impacts your success. Taking the time to understand what makes a soil 'good', and how to make a good soil may very well represent the best investment of time/effort you can make as a budding container gardener.

Here is something I left on another thread for another member not long ago. Hopefully, you'll find it interesting enough to want to learn more:


Not long ago, on another forum, I wrote the following because someone had asked if a particular soil was a 'good' choice. Rather than simply give him a 'yes or no' answer, I decided to go into enough detail that it would allow HIM to decide, instead of me, or others. It also offers something unique in that it illustrates there are two ways to look at soil choice. It meshes very nicely with the theme of this thread, so hopefully you will find it of interest.

Is Soil X a 'Good' Soil?size>color>

I think any discussion on this topic must largely center around the word "GOOD", and we can broaden the term 'good' so it also includes 'quality' or 'suitable', as in "Is soil X a quality or suitable soil?"

How do we determine if soil A or soil B is a good soil? and before we do that, we'd better decide if we are going to look at it from the plant's perspective or from the grower's perspective, because often there is a considerable amount of conflict to be found in the overlap - so much so that one can often be mutually exclusive of the other.

We can imagine that grower A might not be happy or satisfied unless knows he is squeezing every bit of potential from his plants, and grower Z might not be happy or content unless he can water his plants before leaving on a 2-week jaunt, and still have a weeks worth of not having to water when he returns. Everyone else is somewhere between A and Z; with B, D, F, H, J, L, N, P, R, T, V, X, and Y either unaware of how much difference soil choice can make, or they understand but don't care.

I said all that to illustrate the large measure of futility in trying to establish any sort of standard as to what makes a good soil from the individual grower's perspective; but let's change our focus from the pointless to the possible.

We're only interested in the comparative degrees of 'good' and 'better' here. It would be presumptive to label any soil "best". 'Best I've found' or 'best I've used' CAN sometimes be useful for comparative purposes, but that's a very subjective judgment. Let's tackle 'good', then move on to 'better', and finally see what we can do about qualifying these descriptors so they can apply to all growers.

I would like to think that everyone would prefer to use a soil that can be described as 'good' from the plant's perspective. How do we determine what a plant wants? Surprisingly, we can use %s established by truly scientific studies that are widely accepted in the greenhouse and nursery trades to determine if a soil is good or not good - from the plant's perspective, that is. Rather than use confusing numbers that mean nothing to the hobby grower, I can suggest that our standard for a good soil should be, at a minimum, that you can water that soil properly. That means, that at any time during the growth cycle, you can water your plantings to beyond the point of saturation (so excess water is draining from the pot) without the fear of root rot or compromised root function or metabolism due to (take your pick) too much water or too little air in the root zone.

I think it's very reasonable to withhold the comparative basic descriptor, 'GOOD', from soils that can't be watered properly without compromising root function, or worse, suffering one of the fungaluglies that cause root rot. I also think anyone wishing to make the case from the plant's perspective that a soil that can't be watered to beyond saturation w/o compromising root health can be called 'good', is fighting on the UP side logic hill.

So I contend that 'good' soils are soils we can water correctly; that is, we can flush the soil when we water without concern for compromising root health/function/metabolism. If you ask yourself, "Can I water correctly if I use this soil?" and the answer is 'NO' ... it's not a good soil ... for the reasons stated above.

Can you water correctly using most of the bagged soils readily available? 'NO', I don't think I need to point to a conclusion.

What about 'BETTER'? Can we determine what might make a better soil? Yes, we can. If we start with a soil that meets the minimum standard of 'good', and improve either the physical and/or chemical properties of that soil, or make it last longer, then we have 'better'. Even if we cannot agree on how low we wish to set the bar for what constitutes 'good', we should be able to agree that any soil that reduces excess water retention, increases aeration, ensures increased potential for optimal root health, and lasts longer than soils that only meet some one's individual and arbitrary standard of 'good', is a 'better' soil.

All the plants we grow, unless grown from seed, have the genetic potential to be beautiful specimens. It's easy to say, and easy to see the absolute truth in the idea that if you give a plant everything it wants it will flourish and grow; after all, plants are programmed to grow just that way. Our growing skills are defined by our ability to give plants what they want. The better we are at it, the better our plants will grow. But we all know it's not that easy. Lifetimes are spent in careful study, trying to determine just exactly what it is that plants want and need to make them grow best.

Since this is a soil discussion, let's see what the plant wants from its soil. The plant wants a soil in which we have endeavored to provide in available form, all the essential nutrients, in the ratio in at which the plant uses them, and at a concentration high enough to prevent deficiencies yet low enough to make it easy to take up water (and the nutrients dissolved in the water). First and foremost, though, the plant wants a container soil that is evenly damp, never wet or soggy. Giving a plant what it wants, to flourish and grow, doesn't include a soil that is half saturated for a week before aeration returns to the entire soil mass, even if you only water in small sips. Plants might do 'ok' in some soils, but to actually flourish, like they are genetically programmed to do, they would need to be unencumbered by wet, soggy soils.

We become better growers by improving our ability to reduce the effects of limiting factors, or by eliminating those limiting factors entirely; in other words, by clearing out those influences that stand in the way of the plant reaching its genetic potential. Even if we are able to make every other factor that influences plant growth/vitality absolutely perfect, it could not make up for a substandard soil. For a plant to grow to its genetic potential, every factor has to be perfect, including the soil. Of course, we'll never manage to get to that point, but the good news is that as we get closer and closer, our plants get better and better; and hopefully, we'll get more from our growing experience.

In my travels, I've discovered it almost always ends up being that one little factor that we willingly or unwittingly overlooked that limits us in our abilities, and our plants in their potential.
Food for thought:

A 2-bit plant in a $10 soil has a future full of potential, where a $10 plant in a 2-bit soil has only a future filled with limitations. ~ Al


Remember that you can't effectively amend a heavy, water-retentive soil by adding bark, perlite, or other larger particles. You have to START with large particles (like pine bark and perlite). You can then ADD some fine particles (like peat or potting soil) to the larger particles until you get a favorable amount of water retention. If you're interested, I'll give an example that illustrates why this is true.

You can pot up at any time with little in the way of ill effects, other than the threat of over-potting if you're using a heavy, water-retentive soil; but summer is still best because roots colonize the new soil mass faster when the plant is growing robustly, reducing the potential for root issues due to over-potting. A full repot, which includes bare-rooting and root pruning, should be done when the plant is growing well and its energy reserve tank is 'topped off'. This means that repotting is best done after the plant has recovered from the steady energy drain that occurs over winter and early spring. Your plants will recover fastest from extensive work like repotting or hard pruning if you do the work between Father's Day and July 4th. More reserve energy means quicker recovery, so the plant will be less susceptible to insect predation and diseases during the recovery period, and for a shorter period.

I hope that covered all your questions?


Here is a link that might be useful: More info on soils if you click me

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 4:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wow, this is really helpful! Thank you for for all the info - and for not making me feel silly for not knowing much in my initial days of trying to grow things.

I will certainly swap out my fertilizer ASAP. I've moved the plants a few feet further from the heat source, and I think the temperature will be within range. I've marked my calendar to re-pot after Fathers' Day with new soil. I'm not going to think about pruning for now, that makes me nervous.

I'm excited! Hopefully someday I have something useful to share with someone else about this. Meanwhile, I have just picked up a handful of new plants that my friend says are hard to kill, and am also trying to grow from some cuttings she gave me. Wish me luck!

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 3:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

K - It's not always easy to make people feel comfortable asking questions, even though I always try especially hard to offer encouragement, and NOT make you feel silly because there might be pieces of the puzzle you lack. I'm really happy too, to say there are a number of people @ GW sharing and carrying the message that a soil with good aeration and drainage is essential to your plants for best health and your best success. Some of those growers have recognized the importance for a long time, and a larger number have only recently become aware. Some understand the importance of those properties, but don't fully understand the mechanics of how to achieve them. I'll suggest that between now & repot time, that you spend some time learning more about the importance of soil choice. It will serve you very well, always, in any of your container growing endeavors. Most of those that speak freely about how their growing experience has been changed because of how they now look at soils, were not long ago in exactly the same position you're in, so it's not at all unlikely that before long you also, will be able to contribute to the success of your friends & acquaintances & enjoy the rewarding feeling that brings.

One of a newbie's biggest assets is his enthusiasm, so it seems like you're well equipped to move forward. I hope you're always able to hang onto your excitement!

Best luck!


    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 4:25PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
How to make this fiddle leaf branch out.
This is a fiddle leaf that I wanted to buy on Craigslist....
Zebra cactus update - still not looking great?
Ok, so I first posted at the end of January about my...
A lighter gritty mix and a 5-1-1 question
Hey, So I love gritty mix and only have a few plants...
Ficus - fiddle leaf fig help
I have had my eye on this plant at a local greenhouse...
Spencer DT
Fiddle Leaf Fig & Baby Jade help...
I've had this fiddle leaf fig for about a year. Why...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™