Indoor Plant Leaf Loss?

If you have put your plants outdoors for the summer–or even perhaps if you haven’t but you start to see something like this, what do you do?

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When I lecture, I often say that we are far too quick to discard plants that “look” like they’re dying. I know more ficus plants end up in the trash than ever should because a weeping fig’s (ficus benjaminii) unfortunate habit is to lose many of its leaves once it’s moved.

So if you buy one in a nice humid greenhouse and bring it home to your house–especially as we get into the drier heating season–you can bet it’s going to lose most, if not all of its leaves. That’s the point that new plant growers think they’ve killed it, not realizing that this is just the unfortunate habit of the plant.

So patience! Patience is sometimes required (and let’s face it–who has patience and wants to look at a bunch of sticks in a pot?) But do try not to discard a weeping fig before it’s really dead.

My geranium (pelargonium, actually)(the plant in the above photo) is another story. What’s happening?
Well, a bunch of things. First of all, it’s pot bound (which you can’t tell by looking, of course, but I know from my experience with this plant) so it goes through cycles of “wet” and “dry.”

When it was outside and in full leaf all summer, it was fine with this. Now that it’s indoors and in a sunny window, it’s not so happy about this. I tried to cut it back a little to prevent some of the transpiration from the leaves, but obviously I didn’t succeed enough.

Should I worry? Not as long as I can see that my leaves are burning (as they are) and that I am still losing older leaves from the bottom of the plant (as I am–it may not be apparent from this photo).

I don’t want to do anymore cutting back right now–there’s not a lot to cut. I would rather let it defoliate, if need be and then trim up in the spring.

But I hope that this shows you that it’s okay to let a plant lose leaves. On Friday I will show you my citrus. They have come in in full leaf. But mid-winter, they’ll be sticks in my climate, even though they are in a full sun south window. Do I worry? No. Do I hate it. Yes. We’ll talk more Friday.

Proper House Plant Watering

A chance comment I made in my post on Calatheas 2 weeks ago has led to this post.

One of my faithful commenters pointed out that my watering practices could lead some of you astray because watering from the bottom could lead to toxins from the water accumulating in the soil. He has a valid point.

It’s not that I so much worry about soil “toxins” per se–I think what he was getting at is the build-up of excess salts and minerals that accumulate when you (or I, in this case) exclusively water a plant only from the bottom. I think most of you probably know what this looks like or have seen it somewhere. It looks like a white, crusty ring on the edge of your pot, or white, crusty deposits on tops of the plant soil. Here is an example–although a minor one–of some of that mineral deposit.

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It is not perlite, which is a soil additive that loosens soil. This is what perlite looks like.

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Normally, setting a plant outside will flush all the mineral deposits from tap water from the soil because it will be watered naturally (and in my case, quite abundantly this summer) by rainwater. You can also avoid this by watering with collected rainwater, if that’s practical for you. If you have a large collection of plants, clearly, that’s not practical.

Over-fertilization with synthetic fertilizers can also cause this problem. Again, flushing the soil–in that case, even with tap water, can be helpful.

And of course, upon re-potting, scraping the pot rim to remove the build-up of deposits is always recommended.

In the case of the Jade plant–the plant I showed with the deposits of minerals–that plant is watered very lightly and not from the bottom. That just shows that any plant that stays in its pot for some time can be prone to this issue.

Ferns–or Not?

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I will guess that these 2 plants are not what you were thinking of when I said “fern.” But with the lifestyle I have–and that many of us have–these are two of the easiest care ferns around.

The two on the right–the bright greener plants–are called bird’s nests ferns. There’s a reason for that. If you look down into the center of these plants–where the new growth comes from–it looks like a little nest.

These plants are small so the effect isn’t really pronounced. On a larger plant–one in a 6 or 8 inch pot–it’s much easier to see. But the plants are great in any size.

The plant on the left is a staghorn fern. Many plant “purists” will say that this needs to be out of a pot and mounted on a piece of cork or bark to be grown properly. The reason for that is that “in the wild,” or where the grow naturally, they would grow on a tree bark.

Knowing my propensity for disaster, I haven’t mounted my fern. I will leave it up to you to decide how to grow yours. I can control the moisture requirements far beter in a traditional pot/cachepot arrangement.

Either way, I do recommend both these plants. No sun, low light and fairly moist is the way I grow mine.

Philodendron

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On Friday I talked about pothos. Today it’s philodendron.

These two plants are often confused because they are both green, often variegated vining plants that are sold just about everywhere. And there are a lot of similarities. Both are easy care. Both are great at cleaning the air.
Philodendrons are known for removing formaldehyde from the air.

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But of course they do look a little different. Here are two variegated types that have recently come into vogue. The one at the top–the heart leafed type with the interesting striped leaf is a variety called ‘Brasil.’

Philodendron will grow in bright light but no direct sun. They will take “regular” watering, which for my house means about once a week, (so they can dry a little in between, unlike the calatheas we saw last week which like it evenly moist).

In their native habitat (or the “wild,” as I like to think of it) some of them actually are semi-epiphytic, which means that they use their long roots to attach themselves to pockets in trees branches–almost the way an orchid would. They live in tropical rain forests where they are drenched and then dry–so remember that.

And if they are languishing in your warm, dry home, increase the humidity around them. I am never a fan of misting. I prefer putting small saucers of water around to evaporate. It’s less work and less mess.

Pothos

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Happy National House Plant week. Who even knew there was such a thing? But what a great thing to celebrate!

This plant is NOT in my collection under my table–it’s hanging in my kitchen. This is a variety called “Snow Queen.”

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These are the plants you may remember from that window collection. The variegated variety is “Marble Queen.” The lime green one is “Neon.”

These plants are real throw-backs to the 1970s when everyone had the variegated green and yellow variety with long stringy tendrils draped over something. Of course I had one too back then. I think it probably had vines growing 5 feet in either direction off the top of a book case.

At my first apartment I had a hook in the ceiling. I had to be 20 feet back from a window–but yet, a pothos grew there, no problem.

And of course, this is one of the plants that NASA tested as an air cleaning plant.

It’s a real workhorse–it cleans formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide (just don’t discard your detector in favor of a house plant!)

That makes these plants both beautiful and practical as we get into the indoor heating season.

Calatheas

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These plants, as you can tell by the photo, come in a variety of different types. They all take low light, which is nice because you get a lot of color and texture from a plant that essentially will grow in a dark place.

One thing that I will caution you about: they do want to remain “evenly moist,” which is a lot harder to do than it sounds.

As a general rule, plants are killed by over-watering, so don’t just water every day. Yet you do want the surface of the soil to be moist at all times. What I do is to check the pots a couple of times a week and when they are dry, I water the plants from the bottom. That seems to be working.

Another way to do this–since these are rather small pots and the plants are fairly full in them–is to soak them completely by letting them fill with water several times at a sink until the water drains completely through. That will hold them for quite some time for me (there’s no way for me to tell you how long it will work in your house–my house may be warmer–or cooler–or brighter–or darker than yours. You will get to know after one or two waterings like this).

These plants are readily available online, which is where I got mine. Good garden centers should also have some varieties of at least one or more of these. Even box stores occasionally carry them. I definitely recommend them, provided you observe the careful watering.

Color From House Plants

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All summer, this was the display of house plants in my living room. It changed a little bit as I shifted them around trying to decide on the best placement and a sort of symmetry. Don’t get me wrong–I am not the sort of person who has to get everything perfectly symmetrical—especially if it’s detrimental to plants–but some arrangements do look better than others. And of course, some of these so-called “low light” house plants take more light than others.

Things will change again when I bring in my summering house plants. The table up above will have a fuller load of plants, reducing the light getting to these “low-light” plants. SO I might have to rearrange them again to be sure everyone is growing happily.

You’ll notice that the more highly variegated or more brightly colored plants are toward the front–or the light. As a general rule, the more variegation a plant has, the more light it can take. This is true even in outdoor “shade” plants like hosta.

At the same time, you need to be very careful about too much sun. The second that the white fusion peacock calathea gets a little too much sun–at the same time that it is a little too dry–its leaves brown. Very ugly. SO it is good to know little cultural tips and tricks about these plants (it helps to know that in general, caalthea prefer it a bit moist).

If that last paragraph was all mumbo-jumbo, come back next week. I’ll showcase all these individual house plants and talk about what they like!