Sick Spider Plant

BronwynHJuly 21, 2013

I need some advice:

Earlier this month I purchased a variegated spider plant from Home Depot. Before I bought it I checked that it had healthy foliage and no sign of pests. It was full, no brown or damaged leaves and had lots of babies. It didn't appear root bound and the pot had a good drainage hole at the bottom so I didn't repot it (I wanted to let it get used to the shock of moving first).

When I got it home to my apartment I hung it up opposite my west facing balcony doors. It gets lots of light, but as it is about 18-20 feet from the window and fairly high above the ground the only time it gets direct sunlight is the hour or two before sunset. I know spider plants don't like direct light, but I figured it could handle the short time periods of direct light. (Years ago I kept a spider plant in a similar position in a different apartment where it only got direct sunlight for an hour or two after sunrise and it thrived).

I've kept spider plants since I was 8 years old. That first plant actually lived for 16 years until, when I was newly married, my husband's cat decided to eat it. The only other spider's I've lost were given too much love (i.e. water) by friends tasked with caring for them when I was away. So I thought I was pretty good at keeping spider plants, but I'm at a loss.

About a week and a half after I got the plant the whites of the leaves at the front of the plant started turning brown and crispy (almost overnight) on the side of the plant facing the window. Similarly, the stalk with baby plants on that side also started turning brown. My first thought was too much direct light. So I started closing the drapes just as the sun dropped below the level of the balcony above us and started streaming into our apartment. No more direct light.

Things got worse. I had now had the plant two weeks. I had watered it once (same water I use on a pre-existing non-variegated plant, which is doing fine and is on my balcony, in the shadow of a larger pot growing tomatoes). It was getting close to being due for another watering. Since the leaves were brown and dry, rather than brown and droopy I thought I might be leaving it too long between waterings and watered it a day or two before I otherwise would have. That was about a week ago and the last time I watered the plant.

Within a couple of days I realized things were not improving. I moved the plant to the exterior wall beside the window. Now all direct light is blocked by the curtains and the only light it gets is ambient room light. I had also been hesitant about trimming the leaves since only the whites were affected (the green parts of the leaves, including the tips were fine), but I bit the bullet and trimmed them leaving about 1/4" of brown to prevent it spreading.

A week later the deterioration has slowed. The damage seems limited to the exterior ring of leaves (especially on the side that had faced the window) and the stalks with the babies. The interior of the plant is still growing new, healthy leaves but the damaged leaves are now becoming wilty instead of crispy. And while I would have expected the soil to drain at least somewhat since I watered it a week ago, it's still really soggy.

I'm thinking I should maybe be concerned about root rot, so I'm going to repot it later today as soon as I can go buy a new pot.

Even so I'm concerned about the initial symptoms: brown, dry crispy leaves that only seem damaged in the whites. I don't think that's root rot. Could I be having two different problems here?

Any advice or ideas would be great. I don't want to kill it by over-reacting and changing everything I'm doing, but I don't want to do too little either. Thanks.

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i wouldn't worry about giving too much light indoors. it sounds like it could benefit from more

if you are using tap water maybe you could switch to distilled

i wonder if what ever %$#@ it came planted in is compacted around the roots. it will likely benefit from your planned repot as well

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 4:32PM
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Sorry it is sick! It is possible the roots are compacted like sradleye said. Spiders are usually pretty resilient to repotting. Can we get a pic?

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 5:55PM
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Ok, so I've now repotted the spider plant.

The pot I bought didn't have the greatest drainage, but the bottom was flat with drainage at the lowest point. In order to rectify the situation I used a hammer and chisel to punch in a larger hole and covered it with some plastic mesh I had so that water would still drain well, but I shouldn't loose any soil.

I was quite surprised to find no root rot, but the lower 2/3 of the pot were quite root bound with the roots at the bottom of the pot wrapping around each other leaving very little room for soil. I only found fine root structures in the top 2/3 of the pot.

I gently shook out as much loose soil as would release by itself and then gently 'tickled' the roots to loosen the rest of the soil without damaging too many roots (I did loose one large root and a small amount of fine root structures). Finally, since the very interior ball of soil was quite hard I rinsed it out in the tub. (I really didn't want to leave any of the unknown soil with the plant as I didn't know if that was causing some of my problems). I then repotted the plant using some generic potting soil which I used the last time I repotted my older spider plant (which is thriving).

Even though I tried to be as gentle as possible I did loose some leaves and one of the shoots with baby plants did break at the end.

As per your request, a1pha_fema1e, I am going to try and attach some photos. Even though it doesn't live there I took the plant out to the balcony just to make sure I had good light for the photos. Also, while you will see some brown spots on the leaves, I have cut most of it away already.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 7:57PM
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probably prune off the yellow stalks and whatever else you feel like, give more energy to the good bits and new growth. will come back in no time. and will be root bound again in about five minutes. with those big chunky roots

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 8:22PM
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Ah yes no doubt the rootboundness was the issue. If the babies on the stalks are too far gone to save or if any are ready for planting I would do that and cut off the stalks so the mama can focus on recovering. Or if there are some good stalks just cut off the bad ones. Shouldn't take long for it to be happy again and shoot more babies out :)

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 9:45PM
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Firstly, thank you all for your help! I can't believe how quickly you rushed to my aid! I (and probably my plant) am really grateful.

Ok, so I've pruned off the yellow stalks, but I have one last question:

sradleye, you mentioned not to worry about it getting too much light. Should I hang it back up across from the window? Or maybe even put it out on the balcony with the other spider plant? Or should I leave it where it is for a while until it has a chance to recover from being repotted and pruned?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2013 at 2:12PM
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I said don't worry about too much light if it is indoors. especially since you said something about 20 feet away from a window. I have yet to have a single instance of a plant getting too much light while inside my apartment. outside I would be much less certain, but sounds like you have an existing spider out there, doing well, so should be fine.

the brightest spot in your house is still darker than a shady spot outdoors. its taken me like three years to understand this. no substitute for being outside in the sun.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2013 at 2:39PM
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I dont know if this is already said but this plant loves to summer outdoors

    Bookmark   July 22, 2013 at 2:39PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Removing the attached drain saucer (I think I see that) should help a lot.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 9:19AM
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The attached drain saucer is on the new pot. The old pot had a larger drain hole in the bottom without a saucer. I plan on watering the plant in the sink and removing the drain saucer until all excess water has drained through. I've had to do this once before with another plant. It's a little extra work, but it seemed to work (the other plant was a dracaena and and eventually was repotted into a larger pot but was later killed by my dh's cat).

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 2:38PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Sorry about your Drac! If it's the kind that snaps on/off, (and pot isn't hanging,) it's usually possible to leave it off and just sit the pot on it. Sorry if it sounded like I was saying you should try to have a plant with no saucer to sit on. Most furniture can't handle that (if the dripping wasn't truly finished.)

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 3:01PM
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So I may still be doing something wrong. Since re-potting the plant and moving it outside it has continued to decline. While I did moisten the soil when I re-potted it I have left it alone ever since. I have checked the moisture of the soil daily (it is not drying as fast as I would expect) and checked that it stays partially shaded even mid-day (like my other spider it's behind some larger pots), but otherwise nothing.

I am concerned by it's level of decline. I will attach some pictures to show the extent of decline, but basically it's getting increasingly brown and all but one or two of the leaves are completely flaccid and 'wilty'.

Any suggestions? Do I just have to be patient?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 6:26PM
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Another angle.

Oh, and if anyone's wondering what the grey fur is encroaching on both photos: it's my bouvierX enjoying the sun.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 6:29PM
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Pull black ends off and maybe fertilize I would bring it inside because it looks like it has been burnt by the sun.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 2:26PM
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The spider was only in the sun for the photo. But thanks for your suggestion. As it turns out it was a soil problem. The plant has since all but died and is recovering. It is now inside as our temperatures have been too cold at night ever since Labour Day.

I created an update post here:

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 3:12PM
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