Plant is dying!

AnnemieKNovember 21, 2012

Hi everyone!

We bought this wonderful plant (not sure of the name) about 2 months ago. It has grown in the beginning, but the leaves turned brown all of a sudden and it seems to be dying! I have watered it once a week, it is in a sunny place next to the window, but not in direct sunlight, and I have fertilized it as well.

Can somebody please help saving it? I have no idea what is going on!

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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Likely excess water.

How moist is the spotting mix when you feel it?
Does the container have a drain hole?
Is the growing pot in standing water that's trapped inside the decorative pot?

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 9:28PM
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It actually feels quite dry. The pot has an excess hole and some water collected in the pot saucer...

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 11:02PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I agree with Jean, that the likely issue is related to your watering habits and soil choice. The soil should be allowed to become quite, but not completely dry deep in the container before you next water. If you're using a commercially prepared, peat-based soil, you should be made aware that most hold significant volumes of perched water in the lower reaches of the soil. Perched water is the water that occupies that soggy layer of soil at the bottom of the pot that defies gravity and stays in the pot after the pot has stopped draining. This excess water literally kills roots, impairs root function due to a lack of oxygen, and because it causes anaerobic conditions, produces harmful gasses like sulfurous compounds, methane, and CO2, which also inhibit root function and can kill roots. By extending the intervals between waterings until all of the perched water has been used by the plant and/or evaporated, you at least give the plant the opportunity to partially recover from the ill effects by allowing it to regenerate some of the lost rootage. This isn't the ideal situation, because the cyclic death & regeneration of lost roots uses energy that would have been used to produce blooms, fruit, foliage - more growth.

You might want to consider looking into building a soil based on larger particles, which will ensure much better drainage and aeration. If not that, at least adopting practices aimed at dealing with and minimizing the effects of the excess water will help to ameliorate the cyclic root issues that accompany the use of water-retentive soils.

In order of worst to best, here are your options:
A) Continue along the path you're on
B) Start monitoring your watering practices carefully so the plant has a chance to use all the excess water before you water again - the soil should be getting nearly dry to the touch at the pot's deepest
C) Water copiously, but take steps to ensure that after watering you are taking an active part in removing the excess water. We can talk more about that if you choose that tack.
D) Develop a soil that allows you to water copiously at each watering with no fear for root rot because all or nearly all the water drains from between soil particles, eliminating the soggy bottom layer and its negative effects. We can talk about that issue, too.

Even though it's most probable this issue is soil-related, it's also possible that the level of dissolved solids in the soil might be the issue - especially because you've had the plant for such a short time. I'm curious about what you fertilized with (NPK %s)? how often you fertilized? and how much you used? Also, is there a water softening system in the picture. If yes, is it an ion exchange system (uses salt)? A reverse osmosis treatment system would count in your/your plant's favor, but the ionic exchange systems would be decidedly bad.


    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 3:48AM
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Thanks for your help, Al. I am trying to led it dry up now.
I was using a fish emulsion: N 9%, P 2%, K 6%.
I dissolved 1 cap in 1.5l of water and put that once a month maybe.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 6:55AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Agree with the soil stuff, and if that's where the plant is all the time, I don't think it's enough light.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 8:37AM
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dellis326 (Danny)

Looks like some sort of Dracaena.

When you repot this thing, something you can consider doing with a nice deep pot like this, is to place a couple of inches of stones on the bottom and cover it with plastic window screen with your soil mix on top of that. You could also use plastic pieces like legos (or something like them) or packing peanuts. The idea is to create an air space under the soil for the water to drain.

That way when you water your plant the water will drain through and settle in the tray but the soil mix will be above the water and not be sitting in it. This will also allow you to raise the plant closer to the top of the pot without using large quantities of soil.

As recommended above, use a fast draining soil.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 9:24AM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

Probably perched water ;)
And it looks like a Dracaena marginata.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 9:52AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Agreed, D. marginata.

Anne, you could go ahead and remove all of the brown leaves. They can't heal and turn green again.

Legos?! One of the things we'll grab if there's a fire. Man these things are expensive and the box of them is no doubt one of the most valuable items in here!!!!

    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 10:07AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Dellis - "drainage layers" don't promote drainage, except under very specific conditions. If the particles in the drainage layer are more than 2.1X larger than the soil particles, water will simply 'perch' in the soil above the drainage layer. What that means is, if you are using a soil that supports 4" of perched water, and you add a 2" deep drainage layer to the bottom of the pot, you'll have 2" of well aerated drainage layer with 4" of soggy soil perched above it. The rest of the soil above the perched water table will be free of perched water, but it would have been anyway, even w/o the drainage layer. All drainage layers do is raise where the perched water table is located in the container, which we really can't consider a beneficial accomplishment.

Larry is exactly right on this one. In view of the small amount of fertilizer you've supplied (and as long as you don't have an ion exchange water softener) your issue is almost assured to be directly related to excess water retention, or 'perched water' in the soil.

I also agree the plant needs more light, and the lack of light is a direct contributor to the reduced rate at which the plant uses the soil solution, so if possible, it would be to your advantage to offer the plant a siting that gets stronger light and temps of 65* or higher.

BTW - if fertilizing with fish emulsion when the soil temp is below 55* and or soggy, ammonium toxicity is a possible cause of the dead foliage.

Best luck ..... and Happy Thanksgiving!!


    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 10:37AM
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silentsurfer(6A OH)

i never thought about this before, but its likely difficult to gauge and tend plants in large heavy containers like that one,,,
how would you tip it to remove excess water from the drainage tray (saucer)?
how would you check for moisure content Deep down in the bottom of the pot??

....if i were Anne, i'd consider replacing the soil AND the Pot,, to something more manageable, (possibly?) shallower,, and maybe use that one as an umbrella stand ?
but thats just me,,
...have you busted ya shin on that thing yet?? :x

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 7:35AM
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Thanks for all your responses! I followed your suggestions: I replaced the soil (contains crystals) and gave the plant some time to dry. All the leaves are dead now and I was thinking to cut them off. Does that mean the plant is dead or do I have a chance that leaves will start to grow again? How can I support this?

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 7:29PM
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