Hypoestes phyllostachya (Polka Dot Plant?) help

SarahofLaytonSeptember 10, 2012

I have an adorable little polka dot plant but I don't think it's doing well at all. Which is, quite frankly, devastating.

After purchasing I repotted it in a pot just about an inch larger in diameter and it had at least 10 leaves turn brown and shed. I pinched them all off and then decided to take some clippings and try rooting them in water as I had read that it shouldn't be too hard. I have had no success whatsoever with that. So I stuck another clipping in a terrarium without rooting it in water. It looks awful. I'm trying to be optimistic but the other day I pulled at it to see if maybe the roots were starting to stick in and it came right up with nothing attached. Is it even possible to propagate this thing without seeds? Any advise is greatly appreciated. I'll add pictures when I get home.

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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Not sure where you are, or if that matters, but these plants are so busy trying to make flowers here that it's a hard time to try propagating. Earlier in the summer, they were much easier, just like Coleus. Did you buy yours in the house plant section?

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 6:54AM
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Oh man I think I forgot to hit submit on my pictures I uploaded last night :P lame. I'm in Utah. I guess I didn't buy them in the 'houseplant' section but my nursery doesn't really have a house plant section. heh. I'm sort of new to houseplants, this will be my first winter with plants and I don't want to lose any, so I was hoping to take clippings from this one in case the parent plant dies. My fittonia rooted really well and it's flowering right now.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:37AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

That's an admirable goal, especially in these tough times, something I do a lot of also. Cheers for your Fittonia! And just realized you're new here, welcome to Gardenweb.

I think you knew why I was asking which section of the store the plant was in. Not all plants are as easy as others to keep happy while inside for winter. Polka dot plants are famous for not thriving and sometimes not surviving, for a lot of reasons. So you're kind of jumping right into an advanced level, so to speak. That being said, I'm sure someone with successful experience wintering one of both of these plants will chime in soon, but just wanted you to go in with that understanding so you don't beat yourself up unnecessarily if it doesn't work out.

About the pics, once you click preview button, the location of your image is no longer in the browse box (and so is no longer attached to your message when you click preview again.) If you see something you need to edit, click back instead of doing it on the "preview."

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 12:50PM
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Thanks for the pleasant welcome, I am very new to houseplants but am...extremely obsessed all of a sudden. I've been reading plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com voraciously and Mr.Subjunctive seems to recommend Garden Web very highly and since all I ever think about is my plants I thought it might be a good idea to find a community where I might fit in.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 2:28PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Yes, that describes the people here, come on in, the water's fine. Agree, Mr. S's blog is quite entertaining, I've read almost all of the plants by now, even those that are ugly in my eyes, just because I enjoy the writing. I've been keeping house plants for decades and some of the plants on that list I'd never heard of. There are a LOT of plants that can be grown in a house.

No idea what state you're in, but it sounds like you want more plants ASAP. You may be able to find some wax Begonias still this year, I was recently seduced by one with a flower color I didn't already have. That really does make an easy winter plant (and with flowers.) They look best if you have lots of light, and a few minutes once or twice per week to remove the faded flowers so they don't stick to the leaves.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 4:03PM
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Oooh I'll look around for one of those, though I don't think my husband will approve of my purchasing anymore plants for a while. Here is a list of some that I already own:

Hedera Helix (or so I think, it's a type of smaller leafed english ivy anyhow)
Spider Plant Chlorophytum comosum
a pretty little African violet
aforementioned Polka Dot Plant
Monstera Deliciosa (my favorite so far)
Selaginella krausiana (another favorite that I'm worried for winter weather)
syngonium podophyllum
Philodendron hederaceum (just a guess, it was a clipping given to me by my MIL)
Fittonia (another favorite that's been easily rooted)
Epipremnum aureum (a guess again on a different clipping from MIL)
and an array of succulents that I'm slowly murdering.

I also water the plants at work now. I know very little about them and will someday soon, ask for some help IDing them so I can better care for them and maybe propagate a few for home.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 4:34PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Sounds like a pretty group! If one needs to come inside, they probably all do. May I ask why the over-winter concern seems to focus on 2 plants? Light?

Slowly murdering plants is likely from too much water staying too long (and too little air) in an inappropriate soil mix, the #1 most common thing, followed by insufficient light. Is your polka's soil soggy?

House plants are almost all cuttings, so propagating the "work plants" is probably do-able. More fun than opening up your wallet anyway!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 5:24PM
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They are all inside, but the two are supposed to need humidity (at least that was what my research came up with) and winters are really dry here in Utah. I'm concerned about a lot of my plants because the window that has the best light also gets super cold in the winter. I was hoping to get the shrubs that are in front of the window well trimmed before it snows so that more light would come in and I could move the plants away from the window. Perhaps I should just resign to losing a bunch of them.

The polka is moist...I hope not soggy.

The succulents, are a whole other, dramatic and sad story. I have a problem with overwatering, apparently, and now I don't know when to water and might be under watering.

Here is a link that might be useful: Polka Dot Plant

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 9:58PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Ok, I get it now. And your plant looks better than I imagined from what you said, although it looks like it is growing in soil that is mostly peat. You may have taken your pic at night but it looks like a pretty dark place for this plant.

A bunch of plants sitting together raise the humidity in that area a bit. Try not to put plants where heat registers are blowing right on them. Are there any windows in your bathroom? The kitchen is the next-best thing. When I used to live in OH and use central heat, I got a kit for my clothes dryer that ran the exhaust air through a water filter instead of letting that heat and humidity go outside. You may like something like that.

Potting soils right out of the bag are rarely actually good stuff for plants to grow well in, so the overwatering thing is not entirely about you putting water on the plants too often. More likely, the soil has too many fine particles that hold water too long, and fill all of the tiny spaces where air should be. These conditions can cause roots to rot, which causes the plant to be unable to support itself with enough moisture and nutrients. Excess water should be able to drain from the pot. Another common problem is a pot too full of crowded roots. Instead of trying to explain more here, you may get some benefit from reading Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners from another member here who is a "soil guru."

No matter what "soil" is in your pots, the weight of them is almost always an accurate indicator of how wet or dry they are. Except, of course, those that might be too big to pick up. Feel a pot when you know it is well moistened, I mean pick it up. When it feels much lighter, it's ready for more water. The best time to water is "right before wilting occurs." If you notice a lack in firmness, or drooping, that's waiting slightly too long. Once you get to know each plant more intimately, you'll be able to know at 50 yards if it's thirsty or not. Succulents that don't wilt can be a little more tricky, finding that point where more water is needed but they are not yet bone dry. If you start waiting until there is significant "weight loss" before watering again, your plants will be a lot less likely to die, and you'll get the hang of it as you go along. Changing to a different type of "soil" such as described in the link can alleviate most of the risks associated from getting enjoyment out of putting water on our plants often because the water doesn't stay in the soil in such high amounts that roots easily rot.

Not something everyone can run out and just do immediately, understandable. In the meantime, make sure all of your pots have a hole in the bottom. Be especially vigilant about not adding extra water until it is really needed. It's OK for the top inch or so to dry out if the pot still feels kinda heavy. When water is needed, take plants to sink or shower and water gently but thoroughly, until plenty of water drips...

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 2:37PM
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The Ficus Wrangler

Hi. I'm pretty new to the Gardenweb myself, but I've been taking care of plants commercially for 30 years, and I thought I might give you some tips on watering. (If you want to repot into "gritty" mixes later, great, but that won't help much with the plants at your work.) Before you water you should always feel the soil. Lifting plants to determine weight is too inaccurate to be of much use, especially when you're new to houseplant care. Also, you need to investigate the moisture in the bottom of the pot, where the roots are (or should be). You can reach down with a long spoon and pull up some soil to squeeze between your fingers, or probe the soil with a long dowel or bamboo shish-kebob skewer. If you squeeze the soil, and water comes out of it, that is what you would call "soggy." Don't add more water until the soil feels slightly cool and soft, and barely sticks together when you squeeze, and falls apart right away. If you're using a probe, there should be only a few bits of soil clinging, and when you run it between your fingers, it should feel dry, or almost dry. As for the succulents, their soil needs to feel almost completely dry, just the barest trace of moisture; the probe would feel dry.

Regarding the wintering thing, you have a lot of plants that are common interior landscape plants, the reason being that they're easy and undemanding; they won't care about your dry house or cool window, as long as the temp doesn't go below 40 degrees. However, the selaginella, fittonia, polka-dot, and African Violet are not used commercially because they are much more fussy. The ivy used to be a popular commercial plant but they've fallen out of favor because they are susceptible to mites, and tend to die if they dry. All of these plants will benefit from extra light, and maybe a pebble tray filled with water to increase humidity. You can find lots of instructions on-line for inexpensive light set ups you can build yourself. Maybe your husband will enjoy getting involved, if he's handy.

Finally, with all due respect to everyone else, you don't really need to schlepp your plants all over the house to water them. (Hoping they're all in pots with drainage,)just water gently till you get a runoff in the saucers. You don't need to pour it away, either. The plants will use it or it will evaporate. The important thing is to make sure the soil has aerated properly before you add more water.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 6:16PM
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Okay! Thank you purpleinopp for the great advise and the link. I followed that link to some very long, very serious and very scientific discussions about soil. My brain is feeling a little water logged from all of the new soil knowledge and now I understand that all of my plants probably are too. (water logged from their intimate knowledge of their own soil, that is, heh)

I'm considering amending all of my container soils but I think it might be better to wait until spring yes? Especially considering that all of my plants are new to me and have really just been repotted(or just potted up because I didn't really know what I was doing at the time) within the past couple of months. That does give me the whole winter to look for Tapla's elusive ingredients. Though most of my more recently potted plants have been cut with perlite enough that I think they'll do fine for now.

The plants at work are mostly HUGE and in gigantic heavy pots, I have always taken to the "stick a finger in" method but several of the plants seem to either be topped with a thick layer of lava rock or are actually growing in lava rock. Which hey, isn't totally unheard of but I'm surprised their still standing since nobody I know is fertilizing these big beauties. I'll see what I can find by way of some sort of bamboo probe or...maybe a giant slushie spoon?
Upon your advice and some of the research, I think I might move the fittonia, polka dot and saliginella to above the kitchen sink, where the african violet seems to be pretty happy.

My English Ivy is a personal plant that I took to work because I read that Ivy liked slightly cooler weather and my house is ridiculously warm in the summer months. Anyhow, after a horrifying battle with spider mites, she's doing really well sprouting 2 or 3 new leaves almost daily and just making me so stinkin' proud.

Thanks for looking out for my convenience Ficuswrangler, I don't think I would carry ALL of my plants to the sink on a regular basis maybe just as a special treat, heh. I also have really cute and awesome little trays that do a good job of wicking the water away from the bottom of the pot so I'm not too worried about that. Sorry for the long winded-ness. Finally a polka dot clipping sprouted roots!

um, that picture is huge...all the better to see my little roots with. haha, sorry.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 2:21AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Sarah - don't worry about 'fitting in'. Everyone is always anxious to help a fellow grower who's in need. A couple of things I noticed, one of which isn't too important, but the other is, is that lifting your pots can be an extremely effective way to gauge the moisture content of the soil. The soils I use are so porous that it's very difficult to over-water, yet I have at least a dozen plants I check regularly by lifting them to see how heavy the planting is, which instantly tells me if they need water. That technique works best for smaller plants in light pots.

The second issue that I think warrants additional discussion is whether or not the effluent (water that has exited the drain hole) needs to be removed from the collection saucer. You can decide, but I left this, which directly addresses that issue, on another thread yesterday:

The reason we are wisely instructed to flush the soil when we water so a significant fraction of the total volume of water applied when we irrigate exits the drain hole are two. One is to help ensure the entire soil volume is moistened, but equally or even more important is the fact that this practice purges the soil of accumulating solubles (salts) that make water/nutrient absorption increasingly difficult as the TDS/EC levels (salt levels) become more concentrated. At best, too high concentrations of solubles in the soil solution spoil the appearance of foliage, usually first becoming manifest in burned root tips and leaf tips/margins, at worst in the collapse of the plant. We need to note though, that the soil the plant is in needs to be able to support this type of watering w/o the grower having to be concerned about extended periods of impaired root function due to soggy conditions, or worse, root rot getting a hold because of the same concern.

Isotonicity is the process by which the level of dissolved solids in the effluent in a collection saucer will quickly balance or equalize itself to/with the level of dissolved solids in the soil solution. When there is a 'connection' between the effluent in the collection saucer and the water in the soil that results from a wick dangling in the effluent or the fact that a part of the soil is in contact with the effluent, all the solubles in the collection saucer will find their way back into the soil solution until the level of solubles in the effluent is equal to the level of solubles in the soil solution.

If you take a new sponge that is saturated with fresh water and stand it on end in 1/2" of salted water or fertilizer solution, using an inexpensive moisture meter you can measure the increase in electrical conductivity at the top of the sponge within a very short time - seconds - a clear indication of isotonicity at work, of the fact that salts in the effluent will quickly reach a balance with the salts in the soil solution.

So, not removing the water from the collection saucer ensures all the salts flushed from the soil can make their way back into the soil unless the connection between the soil and the effluent is broken. Best would be to water over a sink if plants are small enough & return the plant to the collection saucer after the pot has stopped draining, or for larger plants to set the pot up on 'feet' or blocks that are inside the saucer, the object of which is to effectively lift the soil above the effluent in the saucer, high enough to ensure the connection between the effluent and soil or any wick you might be using is broken.

I hope that was helpful. Welcome to the forum - have fun!


    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 11:46AM
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Hello Sarah.

Out of the list of plants you have, those that are difficult as house plants are Hypoestes, Selaginella and possibly Ivy.

Hypoestes are grown here as outdoor annuals. It does well outside, but difficult when grown as a house plant.
Inside, they can become spindly. It's a good idea pinching the top two leaves every so often. Pinching keeps Hypoestes compact.
They do well in bright, indirect light. Cool temps, never hot, otherwise Mites attack.
Soil should be well-draining, but not too light. Unless you don't mind daily watering.

Selaginella does best in a terrarium. It requires high humidity.
Although it's a lovely creeper, it's not easy growing.

During winter months, keep your Ivy in a cool, brightly lit location. Ivy is another plant that attracts Spider Mites, especially when air is dry. I find daily misting/showering helps.

Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 1:43PM
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The Ficus Wrangler

Hi Sarah,

So you've got some really big plants to take care of. You'll need a big probe for those - you can make one from a dowel around 1/2" thick, a couple of feet long. Cut a point on the end, and 3 notches at 2", 4", and 8". (About. You don't have to be exact.) And that lava rock stuff; some growers have started using it for big plants that can't stand wet roots. You can't get a probe into it; best tip is when it feels completely dry as far down as you can feel - which isn't very far, believe me - it's ready to water again, and water enough to get a run off, at least 1". Don't get the wrong idea about fertilizing. As you can see from the "beauty" of your tree (I'm guessing its a raphis [sic] palm), which as you pointed out you have no idea when it was last fertilized, it really doesn't need all that much fertilizing. Mostly you would need to fertilize 2 or 3 times a year, unless it's in super high light, like by a great big window with no trees around to block the light; in that case maybe once a month, or every other month.

This brings up a couple of differences between Al and me: he would have you avoid overwatering problems by using coarse, fast-draining potting mixtures; I would recommend you avoid overwatering by not watering too much. This is also why you need to feel the soil rather than simply lift the pot - the information you need to make informed watering decisions can't be obtained by just judging pot weight. Of course, after you're familiar with your plants, lifting them will tell you what you need to know. Unless they're too big.

And here's the thing about fertilizing. If you're not interested in having your plants grow as big as possible, (as is the case with commercial interior landscapes,) you aren't going to fertilize them very much, and so the problem of constantly building up soluble salts in the soil is less of an issue. This is why we can allow water to collect in the liner, and we expect the plant to use that water as part of the moisture necessary to carry it for a couple of weeks.

Good horticultural practices indicate that plants should be leached at least once a year. Leaching, and reworking the plant (similar to Al's repotting practice,but less extreme), watering properly (allowing the plants to aerate to each one's optimum level between waterings), and fertilizing gently according to the light, will keep potted plants gorgeous for many many years.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 5:49PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Glad you could join in the fun, ficuswrangler. Welcome!

I was a little confused reading your last addition. In one sentence you say not to add too much water, then you say to let water sit in the drip trays, contradictory.

Fertilizer is not a necessary component of damage from too much water, something I learned long before the internet was invented. Keeping a plant so wet that water is sitting in the drip tray is also an invitation to every fungus gnat in the area. Some plants will tolerate being treated like this, but eventually there will be problems for most, rooting roots and/or yellow tips/dead leaves. Although plants may survive this, it's not an ideal situation to advise. A good "soil," no matter its' specific composition or components, should have air (pockets) in it all of the time, not just after all of the moisture has been used or evaporated.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 9:48AM
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The Ficus Wrangler

And thank you purple. I've been to some other forums, but no one ever wants to discuss anything, or ask questions or respond in any way -- this site is much more fun. To address the points you bring up: "...not to add too much water...let water sit in drip tray...contradictory". In an earlier post (sorry, I don't know how to put in the link to it) I tried to explain to Sarah how she could ascertain the amount of moisture in the bottom of the pot, and how the soil should feel when it's aerated enough for re-watering. That's why she needs a long probe - she needs to be able to investigate the moisture in the bottom of the pot.

When I say "leave the water in the drip-tray," or liner, as we call them, that doesn't mean it stays there. Between evaporation and the absorption of the water by the soil/roots, it's gone from the liner within a day. So you see, emptying all the liners is just needless work.

"Damage from too much water," as you rightly point out, absolutely means damage to the roots; when you see fungus gnats, that's usually a good indication that the soil is too wet. It's perfectly possible, you know, though, to drastically overwater a plant, even though you always empty the "drip tray", or water the plant in the sink then let it sit till it stops dripping, at least if it's in soil. That's why we test the soil moisture before adding water. And that's why Al recommends the use of fast-draining, porous mixes. But if you have plants in soil, you absolutely MUST FEEL THE SOIL.

"Good soil should have air pockets in it all the time, not just after moisture..." Absolutely true, and so it will unless the plant is left to sit in massive amounts of water for an extended time. One of the attributes of good potting medium (which is generally known as soilless mix, by the way) is that it moves water evenly throughout the volume enclosed by the pot So any water left in the liner, saucer, or whatever you want to call it is quickly moved to where the plant can use it, and as long as you don't water before the medium is sufficiently aerated, you're not going to have overwatering problems.

The reason I mentioned fertilization is that Sarah was concerned that the big plants in her office had not been fertilized recently, and I was hoping to reassure her that the plants didn't need to be fertilized more than a couple times a year. When you fertilize that way, the dissolved minerals that are in the water that has been washed from the plant, and is reabsorbed when the water is left in the liner, do not quickly reach toxic levels, and can be controlled by annual leaching.

Hope this clears up some confusion.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 4:22PM
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