Advice for my little pink polka dot plant?

RoseWolfie(9b central florida)November 2, 2012

I rescued this a few months back from a Lowes Clearance rack for 29 cents. It was almost completely dead. I watered it and leaves came back and grew. Now that it is no longer on the verge of death, what should I do with it?

I know it is a little leggy, this was before I rescued it. There are 2 pics.

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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

Repot into better less soggy soil and put in a bright spot. I would trim those long stems by half and use the snips as cuttings.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 5:37AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The plant has been severely over-watered and has been desperately wanting more light, but unfortunately, while a repot to a better soil is certainly something that should be a priority on your 'to do' list, the added stress of a repot at this time would almost certainly seal the plant's fate. It's better to bypass the repot idea if at all possible, until the plant recovers enough to be able to tolerate it.

Also, please DO NOT prune the plant. The only source of food your plant has is its leaves, and there are precious few of them on the plant. Reducing the long stems by half would eliminate more than 75% of the plant's ability to provide the energy/food it needs to recover. WAIT to prune it until it can tolerate the pruning.

If you want to try to save the plant, the recovery will revolve around good watering practices and (for one thing) making sure the plant is not sitting in a pool of water in the collection saucer after you water.

The logical place to start is with a root inspection to see what we're ACTUALLY dealing with below the soil line, which is the MAJOR part of your problem, the lack of light being most of the rest. If you feel like you'd like to try saving the plant, I'll help with a plan, but to be honest, it's pretty far gone.


    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 7:13AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but the plant I see pictured is still on the verge of death. Don't like disagreeing with Al, but I would also trim the 2 longest pieces off and stick them in the soil next to mama. This plant has a tough time going from tall, flowering mode to new basal growth, which is what is attractive. Trimming off the tall parts seems to be the only thing which really encourages the new growth (along with enough light.) Otherwise, the tall parts just get taller, more floppy, more naked stem length. The cuttings would give you a measure of insurance also because the pieces propagate so easily, more readily than rotted roots can heal.

It really needs a few hours of direct sun every day, preferably morning or evening, not mid-day. Is there somewhere outside to put your plant? Where you are, it should be ok outside for most of the winter, bringing it in on the colder nights if you think it might frost. Or you could put it in the ground, where the roots should recover much more easily as long as there's some dirt where you are and not just sand, hardy to 9a.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 10:10AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

T - I weighed that option and quickly decided it wouldn't be prudent. Here's my reasoning: The likelihood of a cutting striking (rooting) is largely determined by the health and vitality level of the plant from which the cutting is taken. A cutting from this plant has an extremely low probability of rooting - probably less than 5%. Additionally, in order for a bare stem to back-bud, it takes a reserve of energy that has to come from SOMEWHERE. Obviously, this plant is circling the drain and depending on current photosynthate for its day to day existence. The question I asked myself is: Is it prudent to cut the plant back when there is little hope of the cutting surviving and knowing you would be reducing the plant's ability to make food and fuel new growth by at least 75%? The answer I came up with was an unequivocal 'NO'.

I think the immediate focus should be on utilizing everything the plant has to offer in order to save it. Trying to manipulate it into back-budding by removing most of it's foliage when it's dying, in my estimation, significantly increases the likelihood of the plant's demise.

If I was really intent on saving this plant, it would go into a 10 gallon aquarium partially covered by glass or Plexiglas, with a 24" 2-bulb fluorescent light almost touching the glass. That would be after I inspected the roots, flushed the soil, set the root/soil mass on newspaper to dry down and returned it to its pot.

'Over-working' a plant takes many forms, but basically it involves doing things to a plant it's energy level can't support. Budding bonsai artists often trim their plant to death by reducing their foliage mass so much/often the plant hasn't the energy to keep its systems orderly. This plant is already well beyond the point where little more than a wayward glance might be all that's required to send it to that big compost pile in the sky, which is why repotting and any pruning should be avoided if at all possible - at least until the plant regains some vitality and a little extra energy it can fall back on. If I did anything at all in the way of pruning, the only thing I would consider doing is pinching the very end of the two long stems, removing as little photosynthesizing mass as possible.


    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 11:31AM
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Thats an awful lot of sick plant sitting in, what appears to be, a lot of soil in a pot too big for it which then holds an awful lot of water--which the small plant is forced to drink from, and suffers because of it.

I don't like the idea of waiting for its death knell to repot--better to fix the problem, then try for the cure.

A smaller pot that drains well and is watered only when the plant can use it--and it will use a lot less now that the winter solstace is almost upon us. If you can get it back on its feet and hang on til the sun returns in February, it might do better in spring.
The wilting leaves should be looked at...trimmed or removed...they give the first sign of overwatering.
Don't try to fertilize the plant into health--that's a quick way to killing it---wait til the plant can use the food --when its growing.
It looks like it could use a much better sun exposure--as the days grow shorter--it can be placed closer to the window. To aid in that--raise the plant up--put it on a table or pedestal or shelf near your best west/south facing window.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 12:35PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think the fact that this plant barely clings to life precludes even imagining that it might survive a repot. It just ain't gonna happen. There is no one that wants to see the plant in an appropriate soil that drains lightning fast more than me - but I wouldn't want a soil change for the plant now.

The problem is low light and over-watering (possibly over-fertilizing). Improving low light speaks for itself, and the over-watering/fertilizing can be fixed temporarily, WITHOUT having to put the plant through the stress of a repot that's almost certain to kill it. I agree with the goals, but disagree strongly with the timing.

Also, nothing green should be removed from this plant. Plants harvest mobile nutrients and various biocompounds from leaves before they shed them, so some of that could be ongoing, and anything green still has the potential to make food. This plant is starving because the roots cannot move water and nutrients to the foliage so the plant can make its food. Removing anything with the potential to carry on photosynthesis at this time is something the plant simply can't afford.

Emergency out-of-season repots should be reserved for plants that are still in good enough health to recover. Those plants that exhibit little chance of surviving the repot should be spared the additional stress, lest that added burden be the straw that broke the camel's back. If the plant has no significant value to the grower, then go ahead & toss the dice; but the odds are overwhelmingly against the plant surviving a repot. If the goal is to ENSURE the plant's viability, a less reckless approach is the better choice - especially in light of the fact it's someone else's plant.


    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 3:11PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

That makes prefect sense, Al, but it just doesn't mesh with my experience, which is that plants that look this bad rarely recover while cuttings are usually a successful way to save at least part of it and start over when dealing with a plant that roots as readily as this one.

Above I said "in the soil next to mama" out of habit, but that soil looks toxic, I would put them in another pot.

These stems look like they're rotting near the soil line. Can air/sunlight heal that? (Honestly asking what you think, not snark.)

Nobody disagrees about this plant needing more light.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 8:37AM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

I'm with purple-trim and plant the trimmings. Ive had this plant, its pretty tough. But as it is it looks to be on the way out and you may lose it either way.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 10:48AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I don't think there is too much that separates us. I look at the o/a picture with viability of the entire organism as my focus, contending that the plant is circling the drain, and any 'green' that is removed from it increases the chances it will exit by way of the maelstrom; therefore, if you want to save the plant, it's better to not reduce the odds of that happening by eliminating a large % of its food-making ability by separating the cuttings that have most of the plant's foliage.

If the grower is willing to accept the increased risk of losing the plant as a consequence of separating the cuttings, we're good. I think it's difficult to object to my thinking that even a little added adversity is something the plant can't be expected to tolerate, since we agree "that plants that look this bad rarely recover". If you want the plant to survive, it needs to have its best shot.

Both vigor and vitality play a part in a propagule's likelihood of striking. The species roots easily because it is genetically vigorous. Propagules of this particular plant are extremely unlikely to root, because they lack vitality almost entirely. I can say that because we both agree the plant's on the verge of converting to compost, and vitality of the parent material is one of, if not THE most essential elements in determining whether attempt at rooting of the propagule ends in success or failure.

"These stems look like they're rotting near the soil line. Can air/sunlight heal that?" Yes and no - it depends on what you mean by "heal". Technically, healing is a restorative process, during which damaged or infected cells would be repaired or replaced in their same spatial positions, but all plants are incapable of that type of 'healing' because they are generating organisms, not regenerating organisms, like animals. In this case, it's not even important if I think the plant can or can't be turned around via improved cultural conditions, because if you want to save the plant, you put your eggs in the 'plant basket'. If you want to save the genetic material (cutting) and aren't attached to the parent material, you're just transferring eggs from one basket to another, and the fewer eggs there are in any one basket, the less likely is success.

Too, if in fact the stems ARE rotting at the soil line, it additionally and significantly decreases any cutting's chances of striking because it would mean the plumbing (vasculature) of the cutting would already be compromised. It's an interesting discussion.


    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 11:31AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Well, you do seem to know what I'm trying to say because you said it better than I did. I will concede that the cuttings I've taken were from really ugly, scraggly plants, but they didn't have any rot, AFAIK.

Speaking about the tallest part to the left in the top pic. The color is good, leaves don't look abnormal. I would have almost total confidence of that piece taking root if given some sun, not allowed to swim or dry out, cutting 2 nodes below the lowest leaf, remove lowest really small leaf, bury to include that node (3 nodes total submerged.)

Rose, you definitely can say you've made an informed decision whatever you choose, a bulk of info here and support either way from everyone. Smiles!

Get better, Steve! (My honey says all house plants are named Steve.)

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 8:33AM
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RoseWolfie(9b central florida)

Well to clear some things up. No there was no standing water in the plate, I just keep it in that bowl cause it has a lot of drainage holes and keeps it from making a mess. I watered it daily, not much. It was bone dry originally, all leaves drooping, and completely root bound. I replanted it in that pot, watered it lightly, and brought it back from death. It always had no leaves at the bottom. But it has been quite a while and only had one flower and a few new leaves.

Now when I took these pics it was after a recent watering, which was only a few spoonfuls. So it appears wetter then it is. So far many seem to want me to dry it out, so I am, less waterings now. I cut 2 of the stems for trimmings, both died the next day despite trying to do my best with them. The main plant still lives.

I am planning to put it out for more sun, just its been getting a little cold at night and I worry.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 2:32AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You should flush the soil thoroughly, in case the plant is reacting poorly to a high level of soluble salts in the soil. There's no point in putting the plant outdoors when temps are lower than about 55*, and if you DO move the plant outdoors when temps are favorable, be sure it's in the shade.

If you want directions on how to flush the soil and avoid having the soil stay soggy for an extended period, let me know. I've helped a lot of people bring plants like yours back from the brink on the forum, so there's a pretty standardized procedure that works well. Plus, once I have your ear, I'm pretty sure I can offer some reading, some of which you can use as a guide, and some of which is a critical key to being able to get as much as possible out of your plants.

Best luck.


    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 8:32AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Rose, so sorry to hear the pieces you cut didn't do well.
Still sending good vibes to the mama plant!

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 9:25AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

It's time to give that plant a proper send-off!

Here is a link that might be useful: New Orleans style

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 1:19PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)


(I'm back in the office, I joke that I just came in for the light & the heat.)

That's too funny, sorry to the OP, but I too think that plant is a goner. Also, I hate to see people struggling so, w/ a plant that's pretty well at death's door.

Normally, I'd say pls,. just toss it & get another one, but I'd add a caution that it's very difficult to give this particular plant enough light indoors for it to do well. Almost every single attempt I've seen has failed, sorry.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 4:02PM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

If you put that polka dot plant in a sunny window, water it as needed, in other words, don't water it until it is dry, and fertilize it about once a month, it will grow back for you. When its a little fuller with more leaves, cut back the straggly parts. It won't look real good until the days start getting longer, it will try to bloom and generally get pretty straggly looking until the days start getting longer again, that's just what they do. After it goes through its short day,blooming, stage, that is the time to cut it back. They are very tough plants and are hard to kill unless you put them in the dark and overwater them. If you rescued it from lowes and you haven't over fertilized it yourself, then chances are its pretty starved out because they don't fertilize them at all there. Use miracle grow type or whatever you use at half strength.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 4:43PM
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