spider plants don't thrive

demoiselleApril 9, 2012


I'm frustrated by the fact that my spider plants are not thriving--and they're supposed to be some of the easiest houseplants to grow. Do you have any suggestions for me?

I purchased a medium sized spider plant about two years ago, which I pretty quickly browned up by watering it with municipal water (I researched and figured out the reason why the leaves were browning, and have since switched to bottled water for the spider plants). Unfortunately, the plant never recovered, and my kitty took to munching on it, further preventing its recovery.

We recently moved, and I replaced the dead spider plant with two, smaller ones, which I repotted and have only watered with bottled water. The cat cannot get to these plants, and is perfectly content with his own cat grass now (so no nibbling is going on). Nevertheless, the tips of both spider plants have turned brown and wilty.

I don't understand what is killing them. I also don't know what to do in order to help nurse them back to health. Should I prune the browned leaves so the plants don't waste resources trying to support them? Or should I leave the plants be as much as possible? Should I try giving them a boost with a bit of liquid fertilizer? Is this normal (die-off due to roots reestablishing because I repotted the plants)?

I've had luck with mother-in-law's tongue, jade trees, aloe, and devil's ivy, and the new dracaena plants I have seem to be doing fine. But this "impossible to kill" plant seems to be awfully delicate, and I don't understand what I need to do to rescue them.

Thanks for any advice.


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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Any chance of posting pictures?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 3:19PM
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I have two spider plants, and both seem to want different things! One is on my bathroom sill so it gets plenty of humidity and reflected light (it's a NE facing sill). It's pushing out plenty of new leaves. The other is on a west facing sill in full afternoon sun. That one rarely gets the brown tips, and it's in a fairly cool room.

How much do you water it? Is it mixed with fertilizer?

I personally prune back the leaves that are dying back brown. They will just keep dying back and I figure I might as well cut it off so the plant can focus on something else.

Repotting shouldn't hurt these guys. I did a FULL repot on the one in the bathroom - took off all the dirt, pruned back the roots, gave it all new soil - and the new growth is green and plentiful. YMMV.

All of the other plants you have are fairly easy to grow. Jades don't want to be overwatered or they will rot in a second, aloe goes by those same rules, and pothos will tolerate basically anything for a good amount of time.

Can you provide a picture? That can help us help you.

(I also hear cats don't like lemon.)

I'm no expert, just giving my 2 cents. :)


    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 3:23PM
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Dem, I used to have the same problem with 'Cannot-Kill' Pothos.

When you first got your Spiders, did you repot the same day or wait? Just curious.

If you repotted, did you pot in a smaller, larger or same size container it was in when purchased? Spider Plant roots are big, therefore, when it's repotted, pot size should be 1-2 sizes larger...unless roots are tiny to start with.. A healthy Spider should have thick, white roots.

If roots are too tight, soil dries fast..result, the start of brown tips until entire leaf browns.
To prevent this you'd need to water daily.
Remember, only if roots are filling pot..
Then there's a possibility you're under-watering.

We have to put the blame on your kitty-cat for Spider #1. lol. Poor kitty.

What's root temp? Spiders don't like too much heat.
How much sun are new Spiders getting? Any direct south or west?

What type of soil are you using?


    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 3:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

D - the primary (and even secondary) cause of 90% of the problems growers come here looking to resolve can be found within the interrelated triangle of soil choice, watering habits, and the level of solubles (salts) in the soil. All are so closely related that to discuss one w/o discussing the others limits the ability to see the big picture. Compounding the issue is the fact that some plants, like your spider plants, are particularly sensitive to high levels of salts in the soil, and that sensitivity is greatly compounded by anything that reduces root function; that, because reduced root function adds to the plant's inability to to move water to distal parts - leaf tips and margins. When you have both a high level of salts in the soil, plus poor root function due to soggy soil conditions, spoiled foliage is virtually assured.

The key to keeping spider plants looking good lies primarily in using a soil that allows you to water properly without your having to worry about the soil remaining soggy for so long that root rot becomes a potential issue. This allows you to flush accumulating salts from the soil regularly. It also allows you to fertilize frequently at low doses, so water uptake is never impaired by high salt levels in the soil. Finally, a well-aerated soil that doesn't support a significant soggy layer at the bottom after watering ensures that your roots will at least have the opportunity to be at their healthiest.

Most growers discount or ignore the importance of soil quality to root health, and thus to o/a plant health, but I've found that with proper soil choice the likelihood of issues due to impaired root function resultant of over-watering, and a high level of soluble salts in the soil are virtually non issues.

Spider plants are sensitive to compounds containing fluorine and chloride, but these compounds are not found in tap water at concentrations high enough to cause spoiled foliage unless there are other issues also in play, which brings us full circle to impaired root function and/or a high level of salts in the soil. Additionally, and especially in winter when central heating is being used, low humidity levels can be a secondary contributor to the primary issues of high salt levels and compromised root function. Still, the most significant remedial step involves correcting the issues associated with the soil choice, watering habits, salt levels triangle mentioned in the opening paragraph.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 4:53PM
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Most likely, I suppose it is the soil I used, then, which was simply general purpose potting soil straight out of the bag. The book in which I looked up the soil needs for spider plants merely said "soil-based mixture" which I took to mean what I used was fine.

I repotted them as soon as I got them home, into pots that were the same size as the ones that they came in. Normally, I would have gone for one size larger, but the plants were really quite small. They did not appear to need a larger pot size.

They are near a west-facing window.

Is there any way to rescue them? I only got them a week and a half ago, and they are fading fast.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 5:38PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

They're probably too wet for too long. I'd buy a bag of perlite & mix 50 % perlite into what you're currently using. Then when you water, water till lots runs out the bottom into a saucer. Then let it almost dry out, before watering more.

Likely the problem is the mix, do not fertilize now either (it doesn't work like medicine to help ailing plants).

If that doesn't work, I'd return them to the vendor, since they're not even 2 wks old.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 5:53PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Is there a hole in the bottom of the pots? Spider plants usually take a lot longer than 2 weeks to kill. It's hard to imagine what is going on. Do you recall if the potting mix had fertilizer in it? Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but if it did, maybe it's releasing too much if it's wet all the time.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 6:10PM
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Yes, there are holes in the bottom of the pots.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 6:11PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Well there goes that theory... If you would be interested in putting a picture or two on a photo-sharing website so we can see your plants, that would be optimal for folks to see what is going on. There are several free ones that are commonly used for that here, imageshack, photobucket, flickr, to name a few.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 9:45AM
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Demo, I agree, a picture would be helpful.

Are brown leaf tips spreading?

If/when you clip off brown tips, leave about 1/8" of brown on each leaf, otherwise if you cut in the green, the brown will continus spreading.

I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but it's best not to repot a new plant. Wait about 3 days. Place plant in medium, 'no direct' light. Plant needs to adapt to your home.

What material is its new pot? Clay, plastic, ceramic?

A new clay pot should be soaked about an hour prior to potting. Soil dries much faster in Clay pots.

West light is harsh. Some high light plants in my west windows got sunburned the last month. Even though they'd been in the same spot all winter long.

How many feet is your Spider from west window, and is anything obstructing direct sun? Buildings, trees? Toni

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 2:52PM
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Here is an image. I had them farther from the window, but moved them closer when they started to turn brown for fear that they were not getting enough light.

I suppose I will have to learn everything I thought I knew about plants again. My mother used to tell me you should repot newly purchased plants immediately. However, she didn't exactly keep houseplants.

I suppose I need a good beginner's guide for growing houseplants. I have a 1979 Reader's Digest Success With House Plants book, but it doesn't seem to actually contain the information I need (creating appropriate soil mixtures, not to repot right away, etc).

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 12:22PM
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Hi demoiselle,

I had similar experience w/spider plants and could not understand why everybody say its easy. i think I found the solution.

I bought a soil "Black Gold" Cactus Mix in my local nursery, mix it with 1/3 perlite and 1/3 pine bark from Petco( for reptiles). This particular "Black Gold " doesn't contain peat which makes mix water retentive.

Mix it well. Trim all rotted roots, sprinkle w/cinnamon. pot it in a pot according to root ball size. don't water for couple days, then water should come out immediately.

Don't place it in direct sun, they need some time to acclimate. You will see they will perk up.

I see you are in NY. i can give you nursery address if you interested. Good Luck

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 2:31PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

D - Most beginner's guides make a lot of assumptions, then instruct you how to proceed based on their assumptions, many of which aren't actually in the best interest of the plant. The end result is, you end up part of a large group of growers trying to follow vague instructions and ending up with problems to solve as a result. Problems are usually related to the growers inability to provide favorable cultural conditions, which means the plant is forced to operate under stress - at or near the limits it is genetically programmed to tolerate.

It makes much better sense to get it right from the beginning, so you avoid problems than to try to fix problems as they occur. If you can provide the right light and a good soil that isn't inherently limiting, you're already most of the way there. Inna is on the right track with her soil suggestion, for sure. I might have a little different approach that I feel offers improvement on what she said, but I agree with her completely in principle, as do a lot of other growers that have discovered that soggy soils just don't cut it, for a number of reasons.

Let me suggest that you read over some basic information - I'll leave a link below. Growing houseplants is really quite easy. Almost all plants, except perhaps cacti, pretty much want the same thing - the right light, a good soil, and the right amount of moisture and nutrition in the soil (both of which are easy to do IF the soil you choose is ABLE to do its part).

Anyway - the link's below. Let me know what you think, and ask all the questions you want.


Here is a link that might be useful: A beginner's overview .......

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 3:08PM
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I read all your posts like a Bible. I completely agree w/the concept of gritty mix and 5:1:1 mix. Since D lives in a building I just thought to give her quick remedy. Its such a pain to find Turface, and Grit especially in NY. I agree the best is to read the link you provided to have an idea about soil mixes

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 4:01PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I agree with you completely. Believe me - we're not that far apart on the soil thing. I'd be tickled if D followed your advice - it would be a big improvement and (I think) significantly enhance prospects for an improved effort:reward quotient.

(I figured you'd been influenced by 'the better drainage/aeration' idea somewhere along the way.)


    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 6:14PM
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Thank you. I forgot to mention in my post that I'm using your gritty mix for all my succulents. I order turface thru eBay. But I have a lot of plants ;)

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 9:24PM
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Thank you for all the advice. I will read it over carefully, especially before I repot anything else!

I checked on Google Maps, and it seems that most of my windows actually face mostly northwest, not west, despite the rather misleading geographical names in my neighborhood. So, that would explain why my sense is that the windows aren't getting that much strong sunlight.

It's really difficult to be a beginner at anything. The learning curve is always steep, and the hardest part is in realizing that you don't really know what you think you do!

Thank you for all the advice, once again.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 9:35AM
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I'd appreciate the information about the nursery. I live in Forest Hills.

If I do try to "fix" the soil mix I'm using, should I start all the plants I potted in straight potting soil in a new, quicker draining mix? Or will changing their soil now just add to their stress levels? If a correct soil mix is so vital (and I believe you 100%) then is it better the stress the plants a bit more now (by changing out the soil) in the hopes that they will thrive better in the long term?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 10:17AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

In some cases, if you realize you're over-watering and take steps to correct that issue by changing your watering habits, you'll see improvement. How well the plant responds depends on whether not there are fungal issues causing root rot, and whether the plant is strong enough to resist the problem. I think it's better to lift the plant and examine the roots than to trust chance and a change in habits to be all that's required. Also, changing your watering habits, in most cases, probably isn't going far enough because there are usually other issues, like aeration and an accumulation of salts that are inherent problems with soils that don't allow you to water copiously and fairly frequently.

I'm a very strong proponent of the idea that you can pay now or pay later. IOW, you can make an added effort to get things right from the outset, so you don't have to deal with the over-watering, poor aeration, the soil compaction, and salt accumulation down the road, or you can try to fix the problems as they arise, which is much more difficult. THAT's the part that disheartens everyone - lots of effort spent trying to fix things with little to show - spinning their wheels.

The advice that Inna and I offer (and many other experienced growers as well), is the ounce of prevention that keeps you from having to provide a pound of cure later - like the situation you're in now. The difference is, when the effort is front loaded, you get great plants with less effort. When it's back-end loaded, you get sick plants you have to fix. There's some effort either way, but the term preventative maintenance has a pretty good track record.

The thing is, the learning curve isn't that steep when it comes to the basics ..... and in many cases, experience is WAY over-rated, so don't be too concerned about that part. Your lack of experience has very little to do with your potential, and it's probably going to be an asset, even if you can't see it. EG - I'm a concealed weapons instructor, and certified to teach several additional firearms disciplines. The easiest to teach, and those who very often finish the course as safer licensees and better shots, are those with the least experience. The reason is, they don't have the attitude that they already know it all to overcome, and they don't have a bunch of bad habits to unlearn. Growing is much the same.

I don't take you for a person that wants to do things w/o knowing the 'whys & wherefores', but if you WERE that type of person, and all you wanted to do was follow simple directions, you could STILL markedly advance your abilities in a big hurry. It's that easy. I have 2 sisters, a sis-in-law, and a (10 YO) granddaughter that have pretty great looking plants, yet they're completely oblivious to any of the 'nuances' associated with houseplant care. The reason is, their plants are potted in a very good soil, are in the right light, and they follow simple directions fairly religiously ..... prolly because it's easier than having me on their case. ;-)


    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 2:32PM
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I'm in Brooklyn. It's tamillo nursery 3025 avenue u. You would still need to amend this mix with perlite and pine barks. I did 1/3 of each. Maybe you have some nursery near by in queens. Just don't waste your time in lowes or home depot. They never have those ingredients. Best of luck

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 7:37PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I am not sure what's wrong with your Spider plant, but it looks like it could be over-watered.

I have a large variegated Spider plant. It was given to my son in elementary school as a little start (9 years ago), potted up a couple times, and it grew into a monster. It is in a sunny window, but I leave the blinds on that window down, half-closed, for privacy from my tenant, so it gets filtered light. Last summer I divided it and gave half to a friend as a gift (in a beautiful ceramic pot). The remaining half is now taking off.

I've read many of Tapla's post about soil in containers and how the drainage works and learned a tremendous amount. However, the ingredients for the gritty mix are not readily available so I have continued to pot my plants in Pro-mix, or whatever high-quality nursery mix was available, and add perlite for certain plants when drainage is an issue (aloe and jade). I understand that the peat will still eventually clog the drainage.

The houseplants have all more or less thrived over the years despite using conventional potting mixes. However I pot them in appropriate sized containers and for years have used one of those moisture-testers that you poke in the soil to prevent over-watering. Especially now knowing that the peat-based mixes will contribute to that problem.

I recently found a local source for gritty mix and bark fines and plan to get some!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 8:02AM
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