Welcome to my help page
Since 1996 I have been asked many questions concerning plants. I have always attempted to answer those questions with a mix of technical knowledge and experience. My answers have confused many.
One must always remember concerning plants:
- They were here on the Earth long before we were. They need very little from us.
- They are only “solar powered water pumps”.
- Whether the growth is in spurts or continuous. Plants must always continue to grow. When they add one leaf, they will drop one leaf. Never be concerned about leaves dropping from the bottom of the plant.
I have noticed that many of the same questions are asked year after year. I have listed some below and attempted to explain my answers. I hope you have fun.
What is acclimating?
This past week I was reminded again of acclimation, and how quick things can change. My daughter went with some friends to the beach. Not being acclimated to long periods of intense sun light, she arrived at home looking like a 'red lobster'.
We seem to not have a problem understanding acclimation in moving from the inside out, but quickly forget the acclimating of outside in, especially with plants.
Nurseries try to minimize the acclimating process by - 'pre-acclimating' plants for the indoor environment. Some nursery growers may take offense to this but - NO PLANT can be fully acclimated until it reaches its final destination, indoors or outdoors.
Growers typically produce plants in full sun or in shade house/greenhouses. As plants reach a salable size they are moved into areas of lower light levels. Probably at least 2000 foot candles. These plants receive on an average 10 to 20 times the amount of light that they will receive when moved indoors. If they receive 300 foots candles indoors that would be considered high.
As plants begin to acclimate the primary concentration is focused upon outward appearance, mainly leaves or the loss of leaves. When in fact the plant is going through many areas of acclimating, roots, lighting, moisture, leaf reduction, and temperature to name a few.
Take the Ficus Benjamina also known as the 'weeping fig'. It is grown out in full sun. When it has reached the desired size for market, it is moved into shadehouses where it undergoes the process of 'grower acclimation'. This process may last from 4-6 weeks to 1 year depending on the size plant and future market.
Upon shipping, the plant is ready to again transition to its next phase of acclimating - its destination and final acclimation.
A fully acclimated plant is very much different than that of a nursery grown plant. For instance, sun grown Ficus Benjamina leaves are smaller and thicker. The plant has more leaves, which are also closer together, and a lighter green color.
The acclimated plant will stretch for light and carry fewer, thinner and wider leaves. The plant will physically change the thickness of its leaves to allow more light through the leaf to the cells that produce its food.
Because of the great light intensity the cells in sun grown leaves stack up on top of each other. The shade grown leaves cells spread out making more efficient use of the available light (Readers Digest version).
Nursery grown Dracaena Marginata leaves are very upright where the interior acclimated leaves lay down.
The one exception to the thinning and thickening of the leaf is the “Ficus”. The Ficus must drop its old “thick” leaves and grow a new “thinner” leaf. That is why Ficus trees seem to be very sensitive to turning or moving the to different locations. Acclamating a Ficus tree? Pick a spot and leave it for 3-4 months. It will shead 70% of it leave and regrow 20 – 30%.
During the time of acclimating, plants generally live consuming their energy reserves. It is a stressful time for plants and I recommend no fertilizer, no repotting, no pruning and back off on the water.
On the average, acclimating a plant to its final destination takes 2-3 months…sometimes longer.
Remember this when you purchase any plant for indoor or outdoor use:
- Look for good value and not price. A quality plant (not from the big discount stores and not from nurseries).
- Be patient (some of our readers have reported of plants that they have had 10-20 years.)
- You will never force a plant to accomplish what it does not want to.
- Don't over water.
- Pick the right plant for the right area.
- 20% will die, not able to acclimate before their energy reserves are depleted. (not your fault).
- The plant must acclimate to their new environment.
- I know many will disagree, but once acclimated to the inside, few plants can be moved outside. They can no9t react quickly enough and the leaves will burn (turn black). The black is the photosynthesis cells on the underside of the leave “burnt”.
- Enjoy them.
What do I do with Bromeliads…after the bloom?
A few months have past since you got your bromeliad, the "flower" was beautiful and added color in the right spot. You've held on as long as you could and now, that flower is fading, in fact it is getting ugly. The question is "The bloom is gone and what do I do now with the plant?"
QUESTIONS YOU NEED ANSWERS TO:
- Do I cut the flower off?
- Will the plant die?
- Will it ever bloom again?
DO I CUT THE FLOWER OFF?
The answer is yes. The plant has finished its course and no matter what you try you're not going to be able to make the flower "hang on". The varieties that you will have to do this on are the Achmeas, Guzmanias and Vrieseas.
Take a sharp knife or a pair of your favorite pruning shears and cut off the bloom spike as far down as you can. You may not have any color but you can keep growing your bromeliad plant.
WILL THE PLANT DIE?
You can keep growing your plant just as you have in the past. It probably is a good time to give the leaves a cleaning with some clean water and a soft cloth.
The plant over time will begin to put out new plants or what we call "pups" from the base. These pups should remain on the parent plant until they reach a approximately 1/2 to 3/4 the site of the parent.
Now is also a good time to move the plant into some brighter light if possible.
WILL THE PLANT BLOOM AGAIN?
The plant will never bloom again for the original plant. The new "pups" will grow up and they can flower if given enough care and light.
Remember that most of the bromeliads produced today never grow to their full size. When the plants reach about 3/4 their full size they are treated to flower and shipped out.
The treating is simply a gas such as ethylene (which is given off by ripening fruit) that will force the plant to induce a bloom.
Bromeliads are wonderful plants for indoor use that can add color to any interior. Sooner or later as B.B. King sang "The Thrill is gone" and the flowers must go, but the plants can still live on and provide you with indoor green.
Why do I have brown tips on my leaves?
While running some errands this past week, I notice a Chlorophytum - "spider plant" in a hanging basket. From a distance it looked great. Lots of foliage and "pups" hanging down. Looking at it closer I noticed a lot of brown tips on the leaves.
Why brown tips?
Growers don't seem to have the same problem with brown tips while growing the plants. What is different from the growing end and moving indoors?
Yes, the plant does move inside and there is some stress from reduced lighting. But, one answer may not seem quite so obvious.
What is it? - Water
Water is water - right?
Not so fast. Let's take a quick look at the differences in the water a grower uses and the water most people use on their plants at home.
Most growers (that produce indoor plants) have wells with electric or diesel pumps. The pumps draw water directly from the ground.
Unlike the water that is found in most cities, this water hasn't been treated by the local water treatment plant.
Some growers are beginning to collect and "clean" water before using it on their plants. I didn't say add chemicals but clean the water. They are doing this through REVERSE OSMOSIS. Water is pumped through a screen that is fine enough to allow water molecules to pass, but stops dissolved solids, such as salts (fertilizer) and other chemicals.
This "clean" water helps growers produce plants that have less problems with disease and they have cleaner foliage.
HOMEOWNER or CITY WATER
Tap water or city water is different. The water that comes out of your kitchen faucet has most likely been treated.
Years ago cities began to add chlorine and fluoride to the water supply. Fluoride may be fine for your teeth but many indoor plants are not fond of it.
Lynn Griffith from A & L Labs states:
"Fluoridated city water usually has 1 ppm (parts per million) of fluoride, four times the amount considered safe for sensitive plants."
His book is a MUST HAVE and MUST READ for any commercial grower of plants.
Don't get the idea that if you water your plants with water from the kitchen they are going to die. What does this have to do with brown tips on your plants anyway?
Over time some of these minor chemicals such as boron and fluoride build up in the leaves. This build up shows itself in the form of tip burn on Dracaena, and spider plants. Spathiphyllums show distorted leaves with high boron.
There are other reasons for tip burn:
- Too much fertilizer
- Too much water
- Not enough water
- Chemical burn
Using good water on your plants is a great way to start.
How can you get good water?
The easiest way to help yourself get "good" or "better" water for your plants, is by filling up a container with water from the sink, and let it sit overnight. This will allow at least the chlorine to dissipate.
Professional Plantscapers must deal with using and moving water around all the time. Some of them have no problems and others it's a battle.
If you face browning tips on your plants, try setting out some water the night before you water.
Helping to stop the possible headache of brown tips caused by chlorine and fluoride is just one more way for you to enjoy your plants more.
How do I clean my plants?
Before I start, I will get the topic out of the way. I never promote the use of food substances to clean or shine your plants (Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip). I have heard about food products 1000 times and will probably hear it 1000 more times. BUT, I never recommend organic food substances to shine plants. Organic substances will decompose and attract insects, fungus or diseases. In fact, I prefer a plants natural luster.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
Many of the plants used indoors come from Florida, California and Texas. Some are grown in greenhouses, but most are produced under screened enclosures called shade houses. Generally, water is pumped from wells and the plants are watered overhead with sprinklers. In south Florida where there is a large concentration of nurseries the water contains a lot of calcium. When the plants are watered overhead and the water dries quickly, a white residue sometimes remains. Growers try to clean the foliage but are not always successful. This is why when plants arrive you may notice some “white stuff” on the leaves.
Professional Plantscapers always groom the plants before placing them in clients interiors. Grooming will consist of checking the soil, removing any extra fertilizer that is visible, trimming any damage that may have occurred in shipping, and cleaning the leaves to name a few. The leaf shine is intended to only be temporary. Over a short period of time your plants will absorb the “white stuff” on the leaves. Afterwards the plants exhibit their natural luster and shine.
There are professional cleaners out on the market but sometimes going back to the basics is all that is needed. One of the recommended “cleaners” is the use of a very light solution of vinegar and water to remove the “white stuff”.
WIPING THE LEAVES
Many Interiorscapers use moist towels or cloths to wipe down dirty leaves. With a “wiper” in each of your hands, start wiping from where the leaf attaches all the way to the tip, carefully wiping both the top and bottom of the leaf at the same time. Apply enough pressure to remove any dust. Make sure you change the wipers regularly. Plants with pronounced leaf hairs won’t be able to be cleaned this way. Always be careful when wiping leaves. They can become damaged very easy. I always recommend a spray.
BACK TO THE LEAF SHINE ???
Many Plantscapers don’t use leaf shine. Leaf shine products can clog pores and inhibit transpiration. This was pointed out by more than one Interiorscaper. If you have plants in the kitchen area, watch out for grease that can accumulate on the leaves. These plants will need to be cleaned more often.
Periodic cleaning will help your plant live and grow longer indoors. Try to enjoy their natural look.
Dracaena and Fluoride?
Did you know...
Greek for dragon, the genus Dracaena got its name for the first Dracaena introduced to the West, ---- Dracaena Draco, so named for its thick red sap which was likened to dragons blood.
Dracaenas are members the Agave family, with the majority of the 40-some species originating in Africa, a handful from Asia, and one from the Americas.
In their native habitat, they thrive in the under growth of tropical rainforests, which goes a long way toward explaining their preference to low light and warm humid conditions.
Most Dracaenas, particularly the Warneckiii and Janet Craig cultivars are sensitive to boron and fluoride. Fluoride may be good to help stop cavities, but dracaenas aren’t to keen on it. Many cities now add fluoride to the water. Too much fluoride shows itself in many different ways, but, generally, what to look for is elongated, brownish leaf spots, orange blotches and tip burn. Fluoride damage also shows up more when the plant is allowed to completely dry out. People may believe that they just cannot grow plants indoors when they are in fact slowly hurting the plant by watering.
FIGHTING FLOURIDE on your DRACAENAS
Find a source of good "clean" water in your area to water your plants or if you are watering directly from the tap, and your water is fluoridated, you should add some lime to the potting mix to achieve a pH of about 6.5.
More on Ficus and leaf drop.
FICUS BENJAMINA - Why do they lose so many leaves?
by Gary Antosh
Almost everyone that has ever purchased a Ficus tree (Benjamina that is) has had to drag out the rake, broom or whatever to clean up the leaves that have dropped.
Generally, when you ask a plant professional "Why" this happens you'll receive a short but simple answer - "It's acclimating". This is true, but a more complete answer will help you understand what is happening.
Acclimating is normally pigeon holed as a matter of going from high light to lower light or vice-versa. With Ficus you need to know about it's background. Ficus is truly a creature of habit.
Just as birds migrate south for the winter season, the Benjamina comes from an area that has very distinct seasons. The exception is that the seasons are wet and dry.
How does a Ficus prepare for the dry season?
It sheds its leaves. It reduces the amount of leaves to survive because it will not have enough water to support them during the dry season. When the rains return, new growth comes out and the canopy returns.
The survival mechanism for Benjamina is leaf drop. It doesn't like changes, it is a creature of habit. Once you have decided where you are going to place your Ficus (the more light the better), give it the same lighting, same amount of water and stay on the same schedule.
In case I didn't mention it, if you throw on some fertilizer you can also expect some leave drop.
Less is sometimes more?
We have all heard the saying "Less is More". Many times when selecting a plant in the garden center, we are looking for the fullest plant we can get. Is that always the best choice?
Some growers are look to give you more with less. Let me qualify that idea, but first a little history.
Before the 1970's when the plant boom took off, many nurseries grew 8" and 10" diameter pots with 3-6 plants per pot (depending on the variety). Most of these plants were sturdy with heavy or thick stalks and root systems that took more time to develop.
As new nurseries got into the market more seedlings and cuttings were made available to the growers as starter plants. Slowly, growers began to add cuttings to make the plants fuller and get to market faster. They began to grow them in full sun with allot of water and fertilizer.
There was a time when an Areca Palm would have 8-10 plants per pot. Now it isn't uncommon to find a plant with 30-40 "seedlings". These plants haven't had the ability to properly develop a heavy root system and strong thick trunks. They have not developed a “storage” of energy. Remember that acclimating thing?
If you purchase a plant with many very thick leaves, no energy reserves, immature root system and addicted to the Nitrogen in the fertilizer, you have no chance of acclimating the plant.
What you get is a plant that has a lot of foliage but is not really ready to handle "Life Indoors". It is not you with the brown thumb, its is a “bad” plant.
A tropical plant is probably the most difficult item to purchase from a store. Most if not all plants are of very low quality. Few are expected to live. Store managers tell me quality is not important. The stores think you will blame the death of the plant of your brown thumb.
WHAT YOU CAN LOOK FOR
During your next trip to the garden center look for plants that may not be as full as you have seen in the past. Make sure that you let your eyes wander down to the growing stalks and not just the leaves. Look for strong trunks and not a lot of little "grasses". Also keep on the look out for what is called "cutbacks". We find these mainly with the dracaena family. These plants that are cutbacks have had extra time to produce more roots.
Remember, one of the keys to enjoying your plants for a long time is having a good root system.
I need a tough plant?
Over the past few weeks the e-mail bag has been getting quite a few responses for a good starter plant or a plant that can handle a lot of abuse. Those of you that have been readers for a while know that I have been torturing the "ZZ" or Zamioculcas Zamiifolia.
(I've watered it 3 times in about 8 months.)
This week I want to hit on another really tough plant the Sansevieria or the "Snake plant". Plants as with fashion seem to come and go and come back again. Over the last few years the Sansevieria has started somewhat of a comeback. The Snake plant has been grown in the US foliage trade since the 1920's.
There are about 60 varieties but only about 15 varieties are grown commercially. Of these the two most popular are laurentii and zeylanica. They are also known by another name that isn't very "politically correct" the mother-in-law's tongue.
Stock plants are grown in beds out in the full sun. One very unusual thing about the production of these plants is that stock growers actually mow the tops of the plants to force them to produce new growth. Snake's can be grown from leaf cuttings, clumps or rhizome cuttings.
These plants are very versatile in both size and in growing conditions. You can find Sansevieria used in small dish gardens all the way up into 14" containers about 42" inches in height. They can handle full sun and look great on a patio during the spring and summer, but also can go inside into very low light. This plant can hang with the best of all low light plants.
The one climatic condition which it will not tolerate is temperatures below 45 degrees for extended periods. When the plants are damaged it can show up slowly sometimes over a 1- 4 week period.
Everything seems to have a downside. Sansevieria are no different. Their downside is weight. Because of their relationship to the succulent family they hold a lot of water. As plants reach 10" and larger in pot size the weight goes up dramatically. I've seen 10" plants that weight 25 pounds or more.
If you're looking for a plant that:
- Is tough indoors
- Can be placed just about anywhere
- Takes up little space
- Goes a long time between watering
- Is a good plant to start with in the house
- Can start outside this spring and move inside
My plants are drowning!
Living in Texas has its advantages. It's usually warm, sunny and has a lot of beautiful foliage to name a few. Although the weather is great, it does have some climatic drawbacks. There is an old saying in Texas. "If you want the weather to change wait 20 minutes."
Texas can experience severe and long droughts, sudden dramatic change in the temperatures and very cold weather. For those who do not believe it…plants know what is going on outside and attempt to react to climate changes.
Many people ask me “when should I water my plants”. I try not to sound arrogant when I reply “when they are dry”. There is no set schedule. Sometimes once per week, sometimes once every 2 months. I depends on when they become dry.
Plants grow and rest. If they start to grow during cool Spring or Fall type weather. They may stop or slow down during the Summer and Winter. Cold fronts, warm fronts, overcast days, heating and air conditioning all confuse plants. I have learned, the most stressful time for plants is during season changes. This is a time to be patient and not push your plants.
Many of the plants produced for the outside enjoy a good quick watering and then draining off. Yes, you must watch out for fungus diseases but the plants grow well.
Many of the plants are grown off the ground in some form or fashion to allow for drainage, whether it is on benches, concrete blocks on in baskets.
What the plants don't like is rain, rain, rain and no drain, drain, drain. The water must be drained off if the roots are to survive and not drown. The roots need oxygen to function properly, move nutrients, collect moisture and support the plant.
Where am I leading you with this explanation of outdoor watering? Plants have an even more difficult time with water inside. There is no warm sun or warm breezes to evaporate excess water.
I begin to see diseases start, when soils are not allowed to dry out and they begin to rot. When plants are being grown indoors the water has no method to drain off, unless a sub-irrigation product is used the plant must find a way to use up the water or rot.
This is one of the reasons we see plants not doing well indoors: TOO MUCH WATER. The plants are simply drowning.
Check out your plants, are you drowning them?
I have a plant that I have been drying out in my office for the last 4 months. In that time I have watered it 1 time and it is not only maintaining the foliage but growing.
Sometimes the best care is the care not given.
P.S. This is what is causing your black flys
Can plants clean the air?
Those common indoor plants may provide a valuable weapon in the fight against rising levels of indoor air pollution. Those plants in your office or home are not only decorative, but NASA scientists are finding them to be surprisingly useful in absorbing potentially harmful gases and cleaning the air inside modern buildings.
NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) have announced the findings of a 2-year study that suggest a sophisticated pollution-absorbing device: the common indoor plant may provide a natural way of helping combat "SICK BUILDING SYNDROME".
Research into the use of biological processes as a means of solving environmental problems, both on Earth and in space habitats, has been carried out for many years by Dr. Bill Wolverton, formerly a senior research scientist at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Based on preliminary evaluations of the use of common indoor plants for indoor air purification and revitalization, ALCA joined NASA to fund a study using about a dozen popular varieties of ornamental plants to determine their effectiveness in removing several key pollutants associated with indoor air pollution.
NASA research on indoor plants has found that living plants are so efficient at absorbing contaminants in the air that some will be launched into space as part of the biological life support system aboard future orbiting space stations. While more research is needed, Wolverton says the study has shown that common indoor landscaping plants can remove certain pollutants from the indoor environment. "We feel that future results will provide an even stronger argument that common indoor landscaping plants can be a very effective part of a system used to provide pollution free homes and work places, " he concludes.
Each plant type was placed in sealed, Plexiglas chambers in which chemicals were injected. Philodendron, spider plant and the golden Pothos were labeled the most effective in removing formaldehyde molecules. Flowering plants such as gerbera daisy and chrysanthemums were rated superior in removing benzene from the chamber atmosphere. Other good performers are Dracaena Massangeana, Spathiphyllum, and Golden Pothos. "Plants take substances out of the air through the tiny openings in their leaves," Wolverton said. "But research in our laboratories has determined that plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors".
"Combining nature with technology can increase the effectiveness of plants in removing air pollutants," he said. "A living air cleaner is created by combining activated carbon and a fan with a potted plant. The roots of the plant grow right in the carbon and slowly degrade the chemicals absorbed there," Wolverton explains.
NASA research has consistently shown that living, green and flowering plants can remove several toxic chemicals from the air in building interiors. You can use plants in your home or office to improve the quality of the air to make it a more pleasant place to live and work - where people feel better, perform better, any enjoy life more.
Can plants clean chemicals in the air?
For many years weeks I have talked about plants cleaning the air and "Sick Building Syndrome". But there are many chemicals we encounter on a day-to-day basis and which plants help "clean the air".
Formaldehyde is a ubiquitous chemical found in virtually all indoor environments. The major sources which have been reported and publicized include urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) and particle board or pressed wood products used in manufacturing of the office furniture bought today. It is used in consumer paper products which have been treated with UF resins, including grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues and paper towels. Many common household cleaning agents contain formaldehyde. UF resins are used as stiffeners, wrinkle resisters, water repellents, fire retardants and adhesive binders in floor coverings, carpet backings and permanent-press clothes. Other sources of formaldehyde include heating and cooking fuels like natural gas, kerosene, and cigarette smoke.
Formaldehyde irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat. It is also a highly reactive chemical which combines with protein and can cause allergic contact dermatitis. The most widely reported symptoms from exposure to high levels of this chemical include irritation of the eyes and headaches. Until recently, the most serious of the diseases attributed to formaldehyde exposure was asthma. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently conducted research which has caused formaldehyde to be strongly suspected of causing a rare type of throat cancer in long-term occupants of mobile homes.
Benzene is a very commonly used solvent and is also present in many common items including gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber. In addition it is used in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyes. Benzene has long been known to irritate the skin and eyes. In addition, it has been shown to be mutagenic to bacterial cell culture and has shown embryo toxic activity and carcinogenicity in some tests. Evidence also exists that benzene may be a contributing factor in chromosomal aberrations and leukemia in humans.
Repeated skin contact with benzene will cause drying, inflammation, blistering and dermatitis. Acute inhalation of high levels of benzene has been reported to cause dizziness, weakness, euphoria, headache, nausea, blurred vision, respiratory diseases, tremors, irregular heartbeat, liver and kidney damage, paralysis and unconsciousness. In animal tests inhalation of benzene led to cataract formation and diseases of the blood and lymphatic systems. Chronic exposure to even relatively low levels causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness, psychological disturbances and diseases of the blood system, including anemia and bone marrow diseases.
TOP 10 plants most effective in removing:
formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide from the air.
- Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea Seifritzii)
- Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema Modestum)
- English Ivy (Hedera Helix)
- Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii)
- Janet Craig (Dracaena "Janet Craig")
- Marginata (Dracaena Marginata)
- Mass cane/Corn Plant (Dracaena Massangeana)
- Mother-in-Law's Tongue (Sansevieria Laurentii)
- Pot Mum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
- Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum "Mauna Loa")
- Warneckii (Dracaena "Warneckii")
One question that always seems to come up is:
How many plants do I need?
The recommendation is one 6 inch plant per 100 square feet of interior.
NASA research has consistently shown that living, green and flowering plants can remove several toxic chemicals from the air in building interiors. You can use plants in your home or office to improve the quality of the air to make it a more pleasant place to live and work - where people feel better, perform better, any enjoy life more.
How do I prepare for winter?
When old man winter is right around the corner, and that means more time inside to care for our plants. As we start preparing our holiday decorations, it’s easy to push our plants into the corner and out of the way. One of the most important factors in caring for our plants is matching and maintaining the plant's needs to its indoor environment.
As the light source and intensity changes and/or decreases in winter we need to consider possible additional light sources, light intensity, temperature and the total room environment. Most indoor plants can handle some changes, but each plant has its own individual cultural requirements, and minor adjustments may need to be made during the winter. For example: Does the watering cycle change when the heat comes on?
All plants require some natural light. Generally, flowering plants prefer stronger light; foliage plants will tolerate very low light conditions. Keep that in mind when moving plants around during the holidays.
Avoid placing plants such as Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen) near direct sources of hot or cold drafts. A sudden change of temperature from opening doors, windows, furnace ducts, wood stoves, etc can cause damage to the plant. This damage may not show up right away.
Now is a good time to give your plants a cleaning. Over time indoors the leaves accumulate dust. This slow accumulation of dust does its share to diffuse and block light. Remember not to "scrub" the leaves but use a sponge dampened thoroughly with room temperature water and wipe the leaves clean. Don't forget to wipe the undersides of the leaves also, as this is a favorite hideout for pest.
Speaking of pest, this also presents the perfect opportunity to check for any insect pests that might be present, look under the leaves as well as in the soil area. And if, for example, you detect mites or aphids, add a "little" soap to the water, as it will suffocate them. You can also contact your local garden center and ask them what they recommend for pest.
You may want to "shine" up those leaves with a leaf shine. Most plants have a natural luster to their leaves and we're not too big on leaf polish as continued use tends to block the plants "pores" and reduces the plant's natural transpiration rate, inhibiting its ability to absorb beneficial gases from the atmosphere. I know that sounded real technical. Basically they can't breathe. Check out the NASA clean air pages at http://www.zone10.com/tech/NASA for additional information on this topic.
Also cut back a bit on your fertilizer regimen, as growth rate tends to slow a bit under lower light conditions. We spoke of light last week but, take another look around. You might need to move some of your plants that have higher light requirements to other areas as well. You'll know which ones if they start "stretching" toward their light source.
As the heat comes on you may find areas of the house that may dry your plants out quicker. Keep an eye out and adjust your watering accordingly. Remember – Not To Much…….
Growing plants in water, what’s up with that?
ROOTS in WATER - WILL IT GROW?
When Spring on the door step and soon all those great spring foliage and color plants will be filling up the stores.
It's funny how something new (or old) brings up questions in a person's mind. Recently, I have noticed some e-mail that has come across the computer screen that I haven't seen before and wanted to address it.
I'm not going to get very technical, and want to post more of a "word of caution". Here it is.
This e-mail has dealt with the issue of growing plants in water - ONLY.
Below is the basic question.
I purchased a Spathiphyllum which is placed in a vase with roots submerged in water. What variety of Spathiphyllum lives in water with no soil?
Another variation is this: I received a plant in a clear glass vase with the glass marbles used as the "soil". What kind of plant is it and will it live?
One of the greatest causes of death to a plant is - over watering.
If this is the case how can these plants survive?
Plants are an amazing creation and can adapt to a wide variety of situations. The key to all of this is the root system and growing techniques. These plants didn't start out this way. the root systems in their search for moisture have been able to adapt to living in total submersion.
I am not aware of any growers in South Florida at this time but 30 years ago there was a grower that produced Spathiphyllum - little 4 inch bare root plants just for the aquarium trade. They ship them out by the thousands.
Some of you have taken the vacation trip to Disney World and visited Epcot Center's - The Land - and have seen first hand tomatoes growing in air with nothing but regular misting. If you haven't seen the exhibit and you get the opportunity, take the time to do so.
It isn't uncommon to see plants growing in nature along river banks to drop their roots in for a drink and have both roots above and below water. As I said, plants are amazing creations.
These roots differ in that you won't see them having large roots that support and stabilize the plant, they are there helping supply moisture and nutrients.
Plants growing in this environment are also very sensitive to environmental changes. That can be changing the water or even adding new water, which can include chlorine or flouride. These plants would suffer greatly if their roots were exposed for any length of time (minutes) to the dry air which they are not adapted to.
Secondly, (read carefully) the diseases and funguses that attack plants are found mostly in the soil and not in the water.
Stick to growing plants the traditional way, pots and soil. Hey, if you want to try growing plants in water only, go buy a 4 inch Pothos and take some cuttings.
If you want to take one of your plants, remove it from the soil, wash it, and drop it in water; be prepared for a short lived plant life.
A better alternative is to investigate subirrigation.
What is a sick building?
It is defined as “an acute incidence of indoor air pollution that can occur in closed or poorly ventilated offices and residences”.
Numerous studies conducted by the EPA over the last 25 years have shown measurable levels of over 107 known cancer causing agents in modern offices and homes. The presence of these VOC's (volitile organic compounds) are due to the switch from open windows to energy efficient living and working environments. This occurred in the 1970's due to the energy crisis atmosphere that had developed.
Combined with the advent of modern building methodology and products, the result has been energy efficient homes and offices that contain amounts of known cancer causing chemicals. In extreme cases, some buildings have such high levels of contaminants that they are known as "Sick Buildings" because exposure to them results in multiple symptoms of sickness exhibited by the inhabitants who try to use them.
The fact that concerns most scientists and doctors is the unknown effects that could occur in humans over long periods of time being in contact with low dosages of these cancer causing VOC's such as are found in modern offices and homes. Scientists say it is still too soon to tell whether increased incidences of cancer can be attributed to exposure to modern living and working stations.
NASA research suggest that by including indoor house and office plants, one may reduce substantially the amount of exposure to now common VOC's one experiences in his or her daily routine. On going research indicates that lessening prolonged exposure to VOC's and other commonly found indoor pollutants (secondhand smoke, ozone, etc.) can substantially contribute to your long term quality of life. In summary, the NASA research combined with increasing large amount of corroborating research indicates that it is beneficial to have live plants in modern office and home environments. Plants and the accompanying benefits they bring, can help to improve indoor air quality in any building. Combined with increased ventilation rates and other recommended remedies, plants even help clean up 'Sick Buildings"
Read Dr. Wolverton's book How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants to Purify Your Home or Office
One chemical that we are talking about is Trichloroethylene or (TCE).
Trichloroethylene is a commercial product found in a wide variety of industrial uses. Over 90 percent of the TCE produced is used in the metal degreasing and dry cleaning industries. In addition, it is used in printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives. In 1975 the National Cancer Institute reported that an unusually high incidence of hepatocellular carcinomas was observed in mice given TCE by gastric intubations and now considers this chemical a potent liver carcinogen.
Look around your home or office; new desk, carpets and other items can help in making you "sick". Plants can prove to be one of the answers to assist you in feeling better.
My Spath’s are droopy?
Did you know...
Spathiphyllum the genus name means, literally, "leaf spathe", with spathe defined as "A large bract or pair of bracts sheathing a flower cluster, as a spadix." You're likely to know it as "Peace Lily". Its' widespread interior use is due to its exceptional acclimation to low light conditions. Not to be confused with “Spaz”. Even though they may act that way at times.
Spathiphyllum Sensation from Oglesby Plants InternationalOf the 35 or so known species of Spathiphyllum, approximately 30 are native to Central and South America. Interestingly, two species are found on the other side of the world, in Malaysia, and one is native to both Costa Rica AND the Philippines. A fascinating plant that has somehow managed to circle the world long before man discovered its beauty. Wherever it is found, it thrives in the deep shade of the humid tropical rainforest understory.
There are many cultivars in production today, and can be generally classified into large, medium, and small varieties. (We’ll cover them in future issues).
The Peace Lily is very different from many plants used today indoors.
Spathiphyllums are THIRSTY PLANTS. They let you know quickly when they are thirsty by a noticeably droop in the foliage. They'll bounce back quickly once watered.
OVERWATERING is one reason many people do not have success with plants indoors. Although it’s best to not have your Sathiphyllum dry out, they can be very helpful in teaching us how much time can go by between watering.
One thing to keep in mind.... during the summer months IF your Sathiphyllum sits in a bright or warm area you may notice a "droop" in the foliage late in the day even if the plant is moist. The plant may not really need water.... make sure you don't over water the plant. If the heat is too much and the leaves "droop" every day you may begin to see some brown tips or edges.
Move the plant to a more protected area or cooler space if possible. In the nursery it isn't unusual to see Sathiphyllum droop late in the day.
Next time you’re ready to pour water on your Spath, WAIT – let’em droop (just a little).
What about that air temperature?
Many times we take for granted that the air temperature is the same throughout our indoor space. One look at the thermostat and our assumptions are confirmed. The fact is indoor temperatures are very often variable. Indoor plants in their natural setting normally are greeted with short-term temperature swings - day verses night. When introduced to the "alien" indoor growing environments of the nursery or interior they can face 4 different temperatures ranges - Cold, Cool, Warm and Hot.
Humans find the temperature range of 60 - 80 degrees comfortable. This follows the similar temperatures that are found in the tropical areas that most of our indoor plants are native to. Although, temperature is seldom an issue with our indoor environment we must be aware of the subtle difference in temperatures throughout our indoor areas. Large rooms, hallways, and different exposures along with doors and windows can effect the temperature of your "microclimate".
Cold temperature problems generally show up slowly - unless you're an Aglaonema 'Silver Queen' and hang out near the door with cold drafts. Office building sometimes have the temperature turned down on weekends and can cause chilling. It is also difficult to know if your plants are being cold damaged. Plants that have cold damage often have downward curled leaves and/or mottling.
Since winter is here, we may only think of cold being a problem but in fact we can face heat problems as well. Heat from heating vents or people moving the shades to get as much direct light as possible can cause heat stress. Leaves may turn yellow. The tips and edges can become dry, as well as spindly or stretched growth. Sometimes the only remedy for the cold and hot problem is simple:
Move the plant!!!
A LITTLE PLANT SCIENCE
Most tropical plants have a fluctuation in day-night temperatures. I know from past experience the months of March-April and October- November are some of my favorite times of growing. These periods would produce slow strong growth because of cooler night temperatures and less day light intensity. The lower night temperatures translates into lower transpiration and less water loss.
Generally, try to eliminate wide swings in temperatures and monitor your plants for any changes that you may notice, both leaves and roots.
As this is the holiday season one more item to keep in mind. Plants like water on the soil and roots. They aren't to fond of that rare vintage wine or straight gin. People sometimes love to be courteous and empty their drinks in the soil or your plants. So don't confuse cold or heat problems with alcohol damage.
Should I repot my plant?
WHY ARE YOU REPOTTING? - Your Indoor plants
Following up on more of our e-mail questions this week, people seem to like the idea of potting or stepping up their plants. I guess it is just the idea of repotting, that makes people think things are going to grow like crazy.
Let me give you a word of advice, and if you follow it your plants “should” do well.
GROW GOOD ROOTS and the foliage will follow.
Many people think that plants are going to do better just by repotting them. In the process of maintaining your plants indoors, most of them like to be on a schedule. Introducing a new pot, new soil, and disturbing the root system may cause the plant to “react”. This reaction could be in the form of dropping leaves, drooping or wilting leaves, brown tips, or the plant might just go nuts.
Most of the plants used indoors will be able to grow for a long period of time in the containers they are purchased in.
Probably the best time to repot a plant is as soon as you get it. When you’ve purchased plants from your local nursery or garden center it is quite possible and very likely that the plants have traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles. The plant will be going through a recovery period and an acclimation period. Why let the plant re-acclimate twice?
Let me take you through a brief trip of the plant as it makes its way to your home. Stay with me on this…..
- An order is received at the nursery and it is pulled from the growing area and placed on trailers or conveyers.
- Plants are groomed and then placed in a sleeve or box.
- Plants are then reloaded onto trailers waiting for the trucker to pick them up.
- The shipment is loaded onto trucks.
- The trucking company usually strips the truck of all plants and then reloads it by their drop off points.
- Trucker delivers to the nursery or garden center.
- Plants are unboxed or unsleeved.
- Garden Center then puts the plants out for sale.
- You purchase the plant, load it up, and transport it home.
I said all of that to make a point.
You can look up in a 10th grade botany book, or you can look at the roots of most tropical plants, and find tiny root hairs. The root hairs are the things that make the plant flourish. The tiny hairs help absorb the nutrients and moisture for the plant.
Think about this for a moment.
If someone dropped you on your head from 2 feet in the air, would it hurt? Now look at what happens to the root hairs from being in transit. They can become damaged, pulled off, and dried out. The root hairs need to be regrown.
Now let’s look at the soil for a moment. The plant is growing indoors fine. It is on a regular schedule of once a week or every other week watering.
“Unless the plant needs watering more than once a week, generally there is no need to repot “
If it is decided that the plant must be repotted. You place your plant into another pot, water it really well. Now it is time for you to figure out a new schedule for watering.
In the nursery this isn’t a problem, because the plant is working hard with plenty of light to produce food and grow into its new shoes. Indoors the plant’s metabolism is greatly reduced and will not be growing actively as much.
Don’t (replant or step up) your plant just because it may look better. If you plan on stepping up your plant into a new container, follow these guidelines:
- Does the plant really need it?
- Make sure the plant has a good root system before repotting.
- Move up to the next size pot, 6” to 8”, 8”-10”, 10-12” and so on.
- Use a good, well-drained soil for tropical plants. (ask your garden center)
And remember when you’re shopping for plants make sure that they have a good root system, BECAUSE, IF YOU GROW GOOD ROOTS the foliage will follow.
My Spath’s have brown tips?
We have received this question a lot lately, so let's dig in and see if we can give you some answers. Or more questions.
First, there are many reasons that the tips may be turning brown. The plant can be over-watered, under-watered, have too much heat, have too much fertilizer, or any combination of these factors and others. Then we throw into the mix all of the different varieties and its gets very confusing on why you get brown tips.
Today, there are we many varieties of Spathiphyllum grown. Some are grown primarily for the abundance of flowers they produce and flowers come at some expense. The cost is that the nutrients that are going to the flowers are not going to the plant. These plants usually have a lot of foliage, and may require more water to support the foliage. You may notice lighter colored leaves and if these plants are allowed to dry out too much you can get browning tips.
The older leaves are on the bottom. Is this where the brown tips are occurring? If so, these leaves are not "pulling" food the same way that new rapidly growing leaves do. Your brown tips and leaf loss in that case may be natural.
What about varieties that are not grown for flowers like Lynise, Supreme and Sensation. These plants are usually grown in 10 inch and larger pots and may present you the same problem in looks, but for a different cause.
In the nursery these plants are watered and fertilized on a regular basis. They may be watered every day or every other day. All of a sudden the plant is shipped to a nursery or garden center and it isn't receiving the same treatment.
They may get less water and the fertilizers (salts) which are in the pot are getting higher because of the reduced moisture and can be burning the roots.
Speaking of under-watering, there are two ways (and probably more) to do this. The first is just not watering the plant enough and allowing the plant to wilt down before watering. A little droop may be OK, but not laying on the ground. I will admit this is rarely the case with house owners.
The second method is what I'll term "fake watering". We think we water but we really don't. This occurs when the soil has dried out, the soil may even be pulling away from the pot and the plant is re-watered. The water is going to take the path of least resistance and heads to the bottom of the pot. The soil may become moist in areas but the root ball or soil mass doesn't become sufficiently moist. It may be moist enough to let the plant perk up but the soil is still too dry. Again, this can be salts or the plant protecting itself by reducing the amount of foliage it needs to support. Result - Brown tips.
Water slowly and not in one small area.
Over-watering can cause brown tips also. The root system is just not able to use all the water you provide. The roots may be swimming in water and rot off. Less roots means less leaves, and the plant will usually begin by losing the oldest leaves first.
Too much heat is another possibility. You may be asking yourself how can I have too much heat, it's 72 degrees in the house. That may be true but a plant sitting next to the window can be heating up more than you realize. We all have hot and cold spots indoors.
Why do I have brown tips on my Spathphyllum? There are many reasons!!!
Plants are great communicators and they really re-act in ways that we can understand if we stop and look at the situation. Plants may not tell us what is wrong BUT they do tell us to LOOK something is wrong.
When you're looking for answers to WHY, on your plants, ask some questions. I find many times that it is the little things that we may not pay attention to that have caused the problems.
Did anything change in the environment?
Something as simple as - Yes we opened the house up after a long winter to air things out. The temperature was still a little cool but a light sweater was all I needed. Did the plants get a sweater?
- Did you move the plant?
- Has the watering changed?
- Is the plant new and getting acclimated?
- What is the root system like?
- What variety is it?
Is the plant actively growing? Putting out new leaves with good color.
ALL valid questions.
Don't assume that because you have some brown tips that your plant may need to be repotted or need fertilizer. It may be just the opposite.