Diseases of garden plants
Flowers - Annuals
Flowers - Perennials
Native Plant gardening
|During the ice storm, our peace lilies suffered. They got too cold, but did not freeze altogether! There are still a few green, healthy leaves on the plant, but the others are blackish with still some rigidity and suppleness; they are not dried up and falling off. How do we bring these plants back? Do I trim all the cold nipped leaves and let new shoots spring forward? Don't see any new shoots yet. Or do I just leave it be, water it, and see what happens? Holly, Lexington|
|Hi, Holly: Not only did the ice storm devastate plant material outdoors, but in some cases houseplants also suffered. Those of us that were without electricity/heat in combination with temperatures well below freezing for several days can attest that some indoor plants are not so happy. Some are more cold-hardy than others but the peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is hardy in zone 10 & 11, which means they do not tolerate temperatures consistently in the 40s or below. The best thing to do is remove all the foliage that does not look healthy. Take it back all the way to the base of the plant. It will look spindly but this will allow the plant to focus its energy on new growth. Then the waiting game begins: if the roots were not damaged it should put on new growth in a few weeks. Make sure the plant receives sufficient water. Do not allow it to completely dry out. Typically we want to cut back on our fertilizing during the winter months, but in this case you can give your plants a half-strength dose of your favorite fertilizer. I was actually surprised at what houseplants survived when the temperatures in the house dipped into the low 40s. My peace lily was not one of those. I hope we and our houseplants don't have to endure another severe ice storm!|
|Hi, I really need help with a couple of my plants, they are dying and I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong or how to fix it. I purchased a parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans) and a moss fern (Selaginella pallescens) at the end of April this year. They looked healthy and didn't have any bugs. I tried to follow the care instructions as closely as I could but they just keep getting worse.
1) The branches or stalks on the parlor palm are all completely bent over at the base, not just drooping. A lot of the branches and leaves are shriveling so that they are skinny as needles and some have already completely fallen off. There are brown, dead looking tips and spots all over the leaves. The little leaves that wrap around the bottom of the branches are very pale and dry looking. Another odd thing I noticed is that when I bought it, it smelled like bad breath and now it smells like green tea or an old tent. It is in the plastic pot I bought it in, but that pot is in a bigger ceramic pot. The ceramic pot does not have a drip tray but sort of acts like one for the plastic pot because the plastic pot does not touch the bottom of the ceramic one. I try to water it when the soil is dry about an inch down, I did think I was over watering it at one point, which is when I started watering it like this [about a month ago]. It gets medium filtered sunlight.
2) The moss fern is shriveling, pale, and dry looking. This 'condition' is creeping up from the bottom [overhang] and making its way to the top [in the pot]. A few pieces have died and fallen off. A good sized clump from the top fell off. The top is already starting to look pale and dry. It is in the plastic pot I bought it in, but that pot is in a bigger ceramic pot. The ceramic pot does not have a drip tray but sort of acts like one for the plastic pot because the plastic pot does not touch the bottom of the ceramic one. I try to water it enough to keep to soil moist, about once or twice a day. I think I may have been under watering it when I first got it because I kept forgetting about it, so I missed a few waterings here and there. It has light filtered sunlight but I'm going to move it to a brighter place, so it will have medium filtered sunlight.
They are both still bug-free as far as I can tell. The air temperature stays between 68°F-77°F. The humidity level is medium. I use bottled/gallon water that is purified by reverse osmosis and/or distillation. There is also a fan on in the room every night, not directly on the plants but creates a decent airflow. I'm not sure if that would affect the plants but I want to include as much information as possible.
Should I mist the leaves? If yes, how often? I was also wondering what you thought of hydrogen peroxide and Epsom salt for plants. I did a fair amount of research on both and they seem to be a good idea. Have you had any experience with these? What do you think of them based on your experience/knowledge of them?
I have already been using the hydrogen peroxide for about a month now, it doesn't seem to be affecting the plants either way though. I have been using it like I would use plain water. Here is the chart I'm going by for the mixture:
Please tell me what I'm doing wrong, how to fix it, and what the best care regimen would be for these conditions [the temperature and humidity]. Please include as much detail as possible.
If you could cover all of these for each plant, that would be awesome.
• What I'm doing wrong
• How to heal plant
• Water this amount this often/when this happens
• This much/type of light is needed
• Use this type of soil
• Fertilize this often/when this happens
• Use this type of fertilizer
• How to tell when it needs more water
• How to tell if it needs less water
• How to use hydrogen peroxide
• How to use Epsom salt
• Repot if/when
• Use this kind of pot
• Any exceptions to any of these rules
• Any additional tips/observations
Also, should I get pH, sunlight, and soil moister meters? Can you recommend some?
If I do get those, what should each of the plants stay at on each meter?
Carter, Grand Blanc|
|Hello, Carter in Michigan: We have a lot to cover so let’s start with the parlor palm. If all the foliage is brown and crispy then there is not much you can do to save it. It may put on new growth but this will take time. For now, go ahead and cut back all the dead foliage. Without being able to see your plants I cannot say for certain the reason for decline but it does sound like it may have been a watering issue. The fact that the palm is bent over at the base is an indication of inadequate moisture. The smell may be the soil or if there was standing water for any amount of time this can cause an odor, but root rot certainly has a foul smell to it. As far as the light conditions, these dwarf palms can tolerate more shade than other palms so the medium light that it is getting should be fine. The moss ern (Selaginella pallescens) is definitely getting too much moisture if you are watering twice a day. This fern really likes to grow in moist conditions and the soil should not be allowed to dry out, but when it is grown as a houseplant it should only require water every few days. For any of your houseplants your watering routine is going to depend on the temperature and humidity of your home. The temperature range and humidity levels you mentioned are fine for both plants. The Selaginella prefers humid conditions but that is hard to accomplish indoors. It also prefers to grow in the shade or part shade so you might reconsider moving it to a brighter space. Although the light levels are much lower indoors than outdoors it could still burn if put in a sunny, south-facing window. I do not have any personal experience using hydrogen peroxide on plant material and there are differing opinions within the horticulture field. If you do choose to use it do not substitute it for water, instead adding 1oz per gallon of water. This is especially true in your case since you are already using distilled water. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, which can lower the pH of the soil and provide magnesium. This is not a necessity; as long as you are using a high-quality potting medium your plants should be happy. A well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 should be sufficient in terms of nutrients. As with any fertilizer make sure to follow application recommendations for the product you are using. I do not think you need any type of meters. Sometimes we tend to over-nurture our plants and really it is better to just let them be. Water and feed them and make sure they are growing in the proper light conditions and enjoy them. If you see roots growing out of the nursery container you purchased them in, go ahead and repot them into a container that is no more than 2 inches larger than the ones they are currently growing in. Make sure the new pots have drainage holes. I hope this answers your questions.
|How do you take care of a poinsettia after it's done blooming? Robert, Greenfield|
|Hi, Robert in Indiana: Euphorbia pulcherrima, commonly known as poinsettias, are a traditional Christmas decoration. There are now a variety of colors available, including different shades of reds, pinks, and cream. These Mexican natives prefer to grow in a sunny window with an air temperature no less than 60 degrees F. A watering schedule will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home but in general they should be watered every seven to 10 days or sooner if the soil is dry. They do not like to have wet roots so keep the soil on the dry side as opposed to over-watering, and make sure the container has sufficient drainage. As for getting your poinsettia to re-bloom, this can be done but it requires more than just patience. If you would like to try to get it to bloom again next Christmas you will want to continue watering on a regular basis until early April. Then it will need to go through a drying phase where it should be kept in a space where the air temperature is as close to 60 degrees F as possible and has good circulation. When the middle of May arrives you will want to cut back the stems to about 4 inches, repot with a good quality container mix, and water it well. Move it to a warmer location, preferably a south-facing window, and wait for it to put on new growth; when it does go ahead and give it a dose of your favorite water-soluble fertilizer and repeat every two weeks. In June you should move the plant outdoors to a sunny location, continuing to water and fertilize. In early July pinch back about one inch of each stem and do this again in late August, leaving only three to four leaves on each stem. At this time you can bring it back indoors and place it in a sunny window. When October arrives the plant will require complete darkness from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. each day; otherwise it should be in a sunny window. To get the poinsettia to re-bloom around Christmas time it will need this daily dark time until Thanksgiving. Continue to fertilize until mid-December and once again enjoy the blooms. Some would consider the poinsettia to be disposable after the holidays; in some cases it is easier to leave the work up to the professional growers and then purchase another one the following season.
|How often should I feed my new house fern? I don't have a green thumb and usually end up overwatering or under watering and never know how much or how little! Can you help me out? Susan, Plymouth|
|Hi, Sue in Michigan: Ferns are a popular low-maintenance house plant. Outdoors they prefer filtered light but will burn in the full sun with the exception of the Kimberly Queen fern. Indoors they are happy to grow in a brightly lit room. A south-facing window is fine since the light they receive indoors is filtered and not as intense as if they were outdoors. As for watering, they do not like to soggy soil so make sure to let the soil dry out between waterings. Test the soil with your finger before adding any additional moisture. Remember that the top layer of soil may be dry but below there may still be sufficient moisture. When you do water, thoroughly moisten the soil, letting excess water drain off. Make sure the container allows for good drainage and the holes are not clogged. Your watering schedule is going to depend on the temperature and humidity of your home, but every seven to 10 days should be sufficient. Ferns like a humid environment so lightly misting the foliage every few days will increase the humidity. As a general rule ferns are not heavy feeders. They only require a low nitrogen fertilizer three to four times per year. Too much food and/or water is how most of us kill our ferns so less is better in both cases. During the winter months you can cut back on your watering, as well as fertilizing, since the light levels are so much lower.|
|I have a beautiful rubber tree plant that I repotted and it was fine. Somehow it toppled over and it partially came out of the pot. We put it back exactly as it was, watered it, and the the plant went into shock. All the leaves but one are bent down like a weeping willow tree. I am heartbroken. What can I do to save it? Karen, Howard Beach|
|Hi, Karen: Without having details about the growing conditions of your rubber plant (Ficus elastica) it is difficult to give you specific advice. These plants are generally easy-care if given the proper growing conditions. They prefer medium to low light with consistently moist but never sopping wet soil. There is always a certain amount of stress involved when we repot our house plants. The symptoms you have described seem to be a bit more serious. I would not be too concerned about it falling over. These plants are pretty tough and from what you mentioned this has nothing to do with its droopiness. I am assuming the reason you replanted was because it was rootbound. If you repotted your plant into a container that was more than 2 inches larger than the one it was in originally this could be part of the problem. When we transplant our rootbound plants the general rule of thumb is to not bump it up more than 2 inches. This is because when we water and the ratio of soil to root mass is too much, the roots cannot take up the moisture, so the soil remains wet and can result in root rot. When this happens there is little we can do to save the plant. Good drainage is essential for healthy plants. Watering house plants during the winter months can be tricky since the light levels are so much lower and the plants do not require as much moisture. If this sounds like a possibility the only way to help the plant is to remove it from the container, loosen all of the roots, and remove the ones that are soft and rotted. Replant into a smaller container with dry soil and if it is not already too far gone it will slowly recover.|
|I have a chamaedorea radicalis that seems to be doing well so far by the window. The leaves are spreading out and the plant is widening. I give it water every five days. Why are the leaves spreading out? I may have to move it from the window to give it more room to spread its leaves. Yvonne, Newport News|
|Hello, Yvonne: It sounds like your palm is very happy. Usually when we bring our plants indoors for the winter, they do not continue to put on new growth. If your palm is an indoor plant year-round, it would make more sense that it is still growing because it is acclimated to the environment. You can certainly move it away from the window if it needs more space. It is a shade-lover so if it is in a sunny window it might be a good idea to move it anyway. Chamaedorea radicalis is commonly known as a Radicalis palm. It is considered a dwarf palm, native to Mexico. These palms only get to be about 5 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. So at least you know it is not going to take over the house! The foliage is spreading because this is the natural growth habit of the palm, very open and loose. They are typically slow growers and prefer moist, well-drained soil. Watering every five days is fine. Watering our indoor plants depends on the temperature and humidity of our homes, but it seems like you have that all figured out. Keep doing what you are doing, and move it if you feel like it is too big for the space.|
|I have a fairly large citronella (mosquito) plant that was given to me this year by my oldest son for Mother's Day. I reside in only a two-room apartment, but I so much want to preserve my plant for next year, if possible. Any help you can give me would certainly be appreciated, as I am very weary now of Old Man Frosty just around the corner. I have already moved the citronella plant into the breezeway, but it's starting to get mighty windy and cold out there.
|Hi, Lois: I assume your mosquito plant is a citronella scented geranium. These plants are considered annuals for those of us gardening in Kentucky. You were right to bring it indoors to protect it from the cold weather. The idea here is just to keep it alive during the winter months so you can take it back outside next May after our frost-free date has passed. Ideally you want to over-winter your plant in a south-facing window or any space where it will receive bright filtered light. The light levels are lower this time of the year so giving it as much light as possible is essential. You will want to cut back on your watering as well as your fertilizing. Make sure the container it is in has good drainage. The soil should never be sopping wet and you want to allow it to dry out before watering again. Over-watering is the worst thing we can do for our indoor plants so less is better. Every 10-12 days should be sufficient but this will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home. If your plant starts to look bad you can always take a cutting and root it in water. They are very easy to propagate this way. Not to worry, you will certainly still have your plant next Mother's Day!|
|I have a fern and it's growing too big for the pot it's in. Can I trim the leaves? Kim, Mooreville|
|Hello, Kim: When our container plants become root-bound, we have a couple different options for keeping them happy. Cutting back the foliage is not the best solution but here other ideas: First, transplanting them into a larger container with additional soil will allow more room for the roots to grow. Another option is removing it from its current container, root prune it, and re-plant it back into the same container. Root pruning is exactly what it sounds like. After you have removed the fern from the pot, take your hands and loosen the soil and the roots. Then take a clean, sharp pair of gardening scissors or pruners and take some length off the thicker roots, especially if there are any that are growing in a circular pattern around the root ball. Just a couple of inches will be sufficient and will reduce the size of the root ball. Then you can add fresh soil to the bottom of the original container and replant your fern. Both of these options will invigorate your plant. Keep your fern watered well for the next couple of weeks. The soil should not be sopping wet, just consistently moist. This is also a good time to a make sure the drainage holes are not clogged.|
|I have a peace lily that was doing fine until I moved a couple of years ago. All the leaves started turning brown and the plant no longer flowered. I have recently been trying to bring it back with some success; however, my cat got to it and chewed most of the leaves off and also dug in the pot and looks to have destroyed some of the root. I have no idea what to do now. Any help would be appreciated. Lisa, Hewitt, TX Lisa, Hewitt|
|Hi Lisa: It sounds like your peace lily has had a rough go of it. The fate of this plant depends on the severity of the root damage. If there are not enough roots to support the plant or transport moisture/nutrients, there is little hope for this peace lily. Hopefully this particular plant has no sentimental value and you can just replace it with a healthy new specimen. If you want to try to save it, you will need to make sure it is planted properly and in a container that has plenty of drainage holes. Fresh potting soil is not a bad idea. Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum) benefit from fertilizing once per month. Any well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 is fine. They prefer to grow in brightly lit rooms but will tolerate a bit of shade as well. The more light they receive the more they will bloom. Your watering schedule will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home but every 10-14 days seems reasonable. Most importantly you will want to put it out of reach of your cat!|
|I have a small lucky bamboo plant for indoors. I originally brought it from Lowe's. I have noticed that some type of white mildew is growing inside the pot. Is that bad? I also want to replant it in a different pot because the pot cracked. Do I have to wait until a certain time of year to do that or can I do it now? Also, what are any special precautions I need to do while replanting it? Diandra, Tampa|
|Hello, Diandra in Florida: Lucky bamboo is the common name for this popular houseplant. Technically this plant is a Dracaena sanderiana and not a bamboo at all; it just looks like one. These plants are low-maintenance and can tolerate low light. They are happy to grow in either soil or water. Have you noticed any white mildew on the plant itself? If not then you have nothing to worry about since you are going to repot in anyway. When transplanting your houseplant just make sure to use good quality potting soil made specifically for containers. Use a container that is less than 2 inches larger than what it currently is growing in and make sure you plant it at the same depth that it is now. You also have the option of growing this plant directly in water. The same conditions would apply in terms of the size of the container but make sure it does not have drainage holes. You will need to surround the base of the plant with rocks or pebbles for support and change out the water once a week. It is best to use distilled water since these plants are sensitive to elements found in regular tap water. Lucky bamboo does not have many insect issues but if you see white things on the actual plant it could be a couple of different insects such as mealybugs or scale. If the infestation is not severe you can simply take a damp cloth and wipe down the stalks. Do this before you transplant and be sure to change out the soil. You do not have to wait to repot your house plant, in fact it is better to do so now rather than waiting until the cooler months arrive.
|I have an aloe vera plant that is just not growing. What can I do for it? Do they like much water? Betty, Mammoth Cave|
|Hi, Betty: Aloe vera is a common houseplant for those of us gardening in Kentucky. This African native belongs to the Asphodelacaea family, which contains hundreds of species. This plant is a succulent, meaning it has the ability to hold moisture and in turn requires less watering on our part. Indoors, this plant should be in a south-facing window or any room that gets bright, filtered light. It is happy to live outdoors during the summer months and can handle full sun, but it must be acclimated to those conditions gradually so that it does not burn. It will require more water during the warm months and significantly less during the cold winter months when the light levels are lower. Aloe vera should be planted in a soil mixture made specifically for cacti and succulents. The soil should always be allowed to dry out before adding additional moisture. Make sure the container it is planted in has adequate drainage holes and never allow the soil to be sopping wet. Less is better when it comes to watering these succulents. As for fertilizing, these plants are not considered heavy feeders but if you have not fed it in a few months, go ahead and give it a half-strength dose of liquid fertilizer labeled for cacti and succulents. As long as the foliage is not soft and mushy but firm and sturdy, you should not be too concerned about it not growing. It will in time but certainly not during the winter months.
|I have an avatar spike moss plant (selaginella sp.) that's really healthy and in a 5 inch pot. How do I trim it ? Or could you tell me a Web site that would have a video on this? Jim, Portland|
|Hi, Jim in Oregon: Selaginella, commonly referred to as spike moss or arborvitae fern, looks more like a moss than a fern. These really cool plants are technically fern allies and belong to a genus with more than 700 species. They are very diverse in size and growth habit as well as hardiness and native habitats. It sounds like your plant may be one that has more of a creeping habit than an upright one. Trimming it is fine to keep it a manageable size. Use a pair of gardening scissors or just pinch back the stems to the length you want them to be. These plants are typically slower growers so keep this in mind when cutting it back. Another option would be replanting it into a larger/taller container. The general rule when bumping up a container size is not to go more than 2 inches larger than what it currently is growing in. Choosing a taller container might allow you to keep the plant the size it is now. You are obviously doing a good job keeping your plant happy so I will not go into details about growing conditions, but if you do decide to repot it then remember to keep the soil consistently moist so the roots can establish themselves in their new home.
|I have an indoor tree plant (not sure of the specific name) but it is in the palm tree family. It has developed a white, beaded, cottage cheese-like substance on the leaves. Do you know what it is and is there a treatment to get rid of it? Tami, Lago Vista|
|Hello, Tami: Palms are susceptible to a few different insects, including mealy bugs and soft-bodied scale. I cannot be certain without seeing a sample of your palm, but from what you describe both of these are a possibility. For a positive diagnosis you can take a sample to your County Cooperative Extension Service or a garden center with a knowledgeable staff. As a general rule, plants are more likely to become diseased if they are not growing in ideal conditions. If your palm is not receiving enough sunlight or water, it may be stressed and more susceptible to insect/disease problems. This is especially true if you take your palm outdoors during the warmer months and over-winter it indoors. The light levels are lower during the winter months so it is hard to give these sun lovers the amount of light they thrive on. Insecticidal soap is an organic option for getting rid of these insects. You can also use an insecticidal systemic. The soap is a spray and the systemic is a granular product that you top-dress the soil with and it works internally through the root system of the plant. As with any product, make sure to follow recommended application rates. You can also take a damp paper towel and wipe off the infected foliage; check the underside as well. This is time-consuming but it will remove a lot of the insects and stop any further damage.|
|I have gnats in my house plants--what can I do about them? And how do I properly repot my plants? Desiree, West Unity|
|Hello, Desiree in Ohio: Fungus gnats are more of a nuisance than anything. They will not harm humans or animals, but the larval stage of these gnats live in the soil of our plants and can damage the roots, so control is necessary to prevent plant stress. Good sanitation and drainage will help keep the numbers down. They like to lay their eggs in damp soil, so make sure the plants are not being overwatered and there is no standing water in the saucer. Sticky fly traps are a great way to eliminate these pests. You should be able to find these at your local garden center. They are exactly what they sound like. They are bright yellow and sticky and you can either lay them in the soil or just place them around the house and the gnats will find them. The flying adults are attracted to the color, and once they come into contact with the trap they will not be able to free themselves. This will prevent them from reproducing and stop the cycle. There may be many generations in one year but their life cycle is approximately one month long. Check and replace the traps once they are covered in these insects. As for the plants that you repotted, the general rule is to choose a container that is no larger than 2 inches than the containers they are currently growing in. Planting them in containers that are too large makes them more susceptible to root rot because of excess soil. All plants have different growing requirements in terms of moisture levels and sunlight. I cannot give you specifics not knowing what you are growing, but hopefully the plants still have the grower's tags in them. Make sure all of your containers have sufficient drain holes. Most plants except for succulents require water every seven to 10 days during the growing season and they can be fertilized once a month. If you find the names of your plants I can give you more detailed information.
|I have had a large neomarica gracilis for many years now. It is kept it in a bright, moderately cool sunroom and has given me many years of pleasure and many new plants. For some reason, this year's buds, of which there are many, have not opened and are still tightly closed. Do you have any ideas why this has happened? Margaret, Mississauga|
|Hello, Margaret in Ontario: Neomarica gracilis, commonly known as a Walking iris or Apostle plant, is grown as a perennial in many gardens but is certainly suitable for a houseplant for those of us not living in the warmer gardening zones. Native to Brazil, these plants are low-maintenance and are not prone to insect or disease problems, although they do prefer consistently moist soil. As you have found, this plant will give you many years of pleasure as well as additional plants. Your iris sounds perfectly happy and it may just need a bit more time for the buds to open. From the growing conditions you mentioned, it sounds like they are very suitable for this plant, and as long as the foliage looks healthy I do not think you have too much to be concerned about. It is true that stressed plants will produce flowers in a last-ditch effort to survive, but I would not suspect this to be the case in your situation. I would say just give it more time. Even in a controlled environment plants are not always going to bloom at exactly the same time each year. It actually is a bit early for them to be blooming as they typically flower in mid-spring. You obviously know how to care for this plant since you have been so successful in the past, so just keep doing what you are doing and the flowers will eventually open!|
|I have peace lilies. The leaves on the end turn brown and break off. Also the leaves turn yellow and then turn brown. Water is only given to them when they show us they need it. Can you give me any information on why they do this? Hilda, Fisherville|
|Hello, Hilda: Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum) are an easy-to-grow houseplant. Usually when we see the tips of our houseplants turning brown it is an indication of too much fertilizer, uneven moisture levels, and/or inadequate light levels. They should be fed no more than once per month. In the case of the peace lily, browning tips are very common. Not a great answer I realize, but this happens even in their native environment. In other houseplants this can be a sign of fluoride toxicity, which would make sense since our tap water has fluoride added to it. The good news is that it is not going to kill the plant; it just makes it look a bit ratty. You can take a sharp/clean pair of scissors and remove the brown tips. Basically you want to remove the brown tip but also create a new one, so cut at an angle in the shape of a V.
As far as the yellowing goes this is a different situation; again it could be too much moisture but it could also me a magnesium deficiency. If you have not fed your plants recently go ahead and do so. Any well-balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 is fine. These plants do let us know when they want moisture but it really is better to get them on a schedule because once they start to show signs of drought it means that they are already stressed. They should be watered every 10-14 days depending on the temperature and humidity of your home. Make sure the container has plenty of drainage holes that are not clogged. For now, remove any yellow foliage.
|I have several LARGE Kimberly Queen ferns that need repotting. What is the best method and potting material? Judith, Ojai|
|Hi, Judith: Kimberly Queen ferns (Nephrolepis obliterata) are beautiful sun-loving, upright sword ferns. I assume you are growing your ferns in containers, although they may not be considered tropicals in your part of the country. After a few years of growing in the same container, they will benefit from re-potting into a larger container or being root pruned and placed back into the existing container. The general rule of thumb for replanting any container plant is not to bump it up any more than 2 inches from what it is currently growing in. Root pruning is an option that will not involve purchasing all new containers. This process can be daunting for some gardeners, but it will invigorate your pot-bound plants and make them much happier in the long run. It will also prevent them from drying out so fast. Remove the ferns from the containers and shake away any excess soil. If they have a lot of excess soil, they may not need to be repotted. If the roots are on the outside of the soil ball, then it is a good thing you are giving them attention. With a clean and sharp pair of pruners, remove the smaller thread roots. You do not want to remove any of the large roots in the process, only the small thin ones. Do not remove more than one-third of the roots during this process. Then replant back into the existing container and the plant will be much happier with additional root space and less competition for nutrients as well as moisture. You may want to freshen your soil using a peat-based soil made specifically for containers. You can also give your ferns a small dose of either slow-release granular or liquid fertilizer at this time. One other option is to divide your ferns. This is exactly what is sounds like: remove them from their containers and literally make two plants out of one. Use your fingers or a pair of pruners and separate the plant from the bottom of the roots all the way up through the foliage. This will require smaller containers to replant them, but this process will also invigorate your ferns.|
|I have several peace plants that we have had for about 14 years. We have transplanted them so many times that the pots are quite large. Lately they have all gotten long stems and large leaves and generally look thin and spindly. There is new growth, but the older leaves look terrible. So many leaves have been removed over time that the remaining plant above the soil line looks like a palm tree trunk. I would be glad to send pics. They are looking terrible, what should I do? Joe, Stockbridge|
|Hi, Joe: It sounds like your spathiphyllum, commonly known as peace lilies, could use some rejuvenation. These easy-care plants will benefit from being repotted or even divided every couple of years when they become rootbound. When repotting them be certain to use a container that is no more than 2 inches larger than the current planter. If you have not divided your plants this should be your next step. When spring arrives, take your plants outside and remove them from their containers and shake off the soil so you can see the roots. Gently, with your fingers separate the roots all the way up through the foliage until you have several plants. Discard any that do not look promising and then repot the smaller plants into containers appropriate to their size. Make sure to use a high-quality container mix for your soil mixture. Add a few inches of this soil to the bottom of the planter and then measure how much more or less soil you will need to where the top of the root system is a few inches below the lip of the planter. It is fine to plant them deeper than they are currently because it sounds like the roots are above the soil line. Spread out the roots and cover them with soil and water them in. Peace lilies can tolerate low light but will be happier with some filtered light. I am not sure what your feeding routine has been but these plants will benefit from a well-balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20 every couple of months as the soil is depleted of nutrients. You may have fewer plants when it is all said and done but they will be healthier.|
|Is there an indoor grass we can grow for our cat to eat like cats do outside? Howard, Caneyville|
|Hello, Howard: There are several grasses that can be grown indoors for your cat to enjoy. Most commonly these grasses are rye, oats, barley, and wheat. These easy-to-grow fresh greens will certainly be a favorite with your feline. You may be able to find grass that is already growing, but purchasing a seed packet is certainly more economical and will supply your cat with a few months of greens. Check with your local pet supply store or your local garden center to find seed packets or kits that are already started for you. I know that Renee’s Garden, a seed company, offers a gourmet cat grass seed mix that contains all the grasses mention above. The back of the seed packet will give detailed instructions on how deep to plant the seeds and how long it will take for the seeds to germinate. Grass is fast-growing and usually a couple inches tall in just 10-14 days. Use a sturdy container so the cat cannot knock it over, and make sure it has drainage holes. Place in a sunny window and your cat will thank you! If you want to fertilize, make sure you choose an organic option such as fish emulsion.|
|Let's see if you can help me find my dream indoor tree/plant. I have seen the tree in several office buildings but, of course, no one knows what it is. It has a large pear-shaped leaf, almost leather-like in thickness, bright green coloring, and has a veiny like texture. It is an upright tree and very much like a column. I have only seen it indoors in bright rooms. Any ideas? Brenda, Louisville|
|Hello, Brenda: From what you have described, it sounds like you are wondering about a Ficus lyrata, commonly known as a fiddle-lead fig. This plant can be grown as either a shrub or tree form. Native to the tropics, it is a great low-maintenance houseplant for those of us not living in the tropics. The foliage, although somewhat variable, is like you described, fiddle- or pear-shaped, with a stiff, leathery texture, dark emerald green in color, and attached to a woody stem. The fiddle-leaf fig will grow best in an environment where it will receive moderate to bright light. This tropical is a slow grower, but can reach 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide after many years. Hopefully we are thinking about the same plant. If you are wondering where to purchase one in Louisville, The Plant Kingdom on Westport Road carries this plant. The phone number is (502) 893-7333. If this is not the correct plant I would be happy to identify it from a picture. You can send pictures to email@example.com.|
|My 9-year-old daughter built a small terrarium (maybe 4"W x 8"L) and we would like to know a plant that would be good to grow in this small space. Caroline, Jeffersonville|
|Hello, Caroline in Kentucky: Terrariums are all the rage again. How great that your little girl is so interested in plants at such an early age! I am not sure if you read the recent article about terrariums in the May issue of Kentucky Living magazine or not, so I am sorry if I am giving you information that you have already read. The first consideration is whether you want the terrarium to be a dry or moist environment. When we think of a dry environment, we tend to think of desert plants such as succulents that do not require much moisture. A cacti/succulent soil should be used for these plants. A moist environment would be more of a woodland or tropical setting, and a peat-based soil mixture would be best for this type of terrarium. As for plant suggestions, any type of cacti or succulent would be great for your dry terrarium. If you choose to make a moist terrarium, there are many more plant choices. Creeping fig, hypoestes, selaginella, parlor palm, and assorted ferns and begonias are all great choices, just to name a few. In a nonrestricted environment, some of these plants can actually get quite large, but kept in a terrarium they will remain small and compact. You should be able to find small terrarium plants at your local garden center. They are typically sold in 2-inch containers. Just use whatever catches your eye!|
|Please help me with my moth orchid. It was in bloom for 10 weeks; now all the flowers are gone and one of the two orchids is dying out. How can I get them to bloom again? lili, Lexington|
|Hi, Lili: There are many species of orchids, although Phalaenopsis orchids, commonly known as moth orchids, are the ones we typically see sold in garden centers and florists. Available in several colors, they are quite stunning while they are in bloom. There are different opinions about what should be done with the stem after your orchid has finished blooming. Some say that with older plants you can cut the shoot back halfway just above one of the nodes and the orchid can potentially produce secondary flowers. The chance of this happening is rare and the flowers will not be as large or last as long as the first ones did. The more common practice is to remove the stem all the way down to the base of the plant. Leaving an inch or so is fine. This will allow your orchid to concentrate all of its energy on the roots, foliage, and producing a new stem that will eventually bloom again. It is a process that usually takes three to four months. If the plant is healthy and happy, it can bloom up a couple times each year with the blooms lasting for several weeks. For now, continue to keep your orchid in a space where it will receive bright filtered light. A south-facing window is ideal. We do not want to allow the orchid to completely dry out, so depending on the temperature and humidity of your home your orchid should be watered about once per week. Continue to feed your plant with your favorite water-soluble orchid fertilizer once a month. Using a half-strength dose of food is fine. It is always better to underwater and feed than to overwater or to overfeed your orchid. It should be repotted every two years with a good quality bark-based orchid medium.|
|We live in a ground floor apartment in Brooklyn, New York. We live on a busy road that is a truck route. We have a new baby and have been thinking about indoor air quality. What are the plants that most improve indoor air quality?
Dahlia Ward Dahlia, Brooklyn|
|Hello, Dahlia in New York: Plants are not just for aesthetics anymore; many people use them in their homes and businesses to improve air quality. Studies show that certain plants are beneficial in terms of absorbing and breaking down toxins with no harm to the plant. Indoor air pollution is not something to take lightly since trace amounts of formaldehyde are found in many products around our homes and car exhausts. Living in the city near a truck route, you are likely dealing with more pollutants than the average home. Some plants are more effective than others and lucky for us, the ones that seem to absorb the most pollutants are tolerant of low light and for the most part are considered low-maintenance. The following is a list of houseplants that are good for this purpose: English ivy (Hedera helix), pothos, philodendron (not safe for babies or pets if consumed), sansevieria (commonly known as mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), dracaena, spathiphyllum (commonly known as peace lily), Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), and ficus are all good options for removing toxins from the air. All of these plants are quite common and you should be able to find them at your local garden center. Even if you are not a plant person bringing them into your home can literally improve your quality of life!|
|We were given an 8 foot cactus, but it needs to be transplanted. The pot it is in now is 17 inches tall by 8 feet in diameter. How much larger of a pot should we put it in and how deep? Can the cactus be buried deeper than in the original pot or will it rot? We have no idea what the cactus is called.
|Hello, Diane: There is a general rule when it comes to re-potting any plant. We want to use a container that is only a couple of inches larger that the one your cactus is currently planted in. The width is more of a concern than the height because we can adjust this with soil. Cactcus, like any succulent, likes to be a bit root bound in its container. It is best to use a clay container as opposed to a plastic one because it is porous and allows for good drainage. Use a good soil mixture specifically made for cacti and succulents. Some succulents such as Euphorbia can be buried deeper when we re-pot them, but since we are not certain what kind it is it is best to plant at the same depth to avoid rotting. So choose a container that is about 10 inches in diameter and fill about one-fourth with succulent mix. Gently remove the cactus from its current home, being careful not to damage the roots, and place it in the new container. You may need to adjust the soil level so that the top of the soil attached to the root system is a few inches lower from the top of the new container. Then back fill with the succulent mix and water well. Remember that a cactus likes very bright light and will not tolerate wet soil. It is best to keep them on the dry side.|
|We're moving from California to Kentucky and I am trying to find some info on regulations regarding bringing my houseplants to Kentucky. I can't find anything. Do you know if I am allowed to bring them? I would hate for them to be confiscated at some state border. Monique, Tehachapi|
|Hello, Monique in California: The reason it was so difficult for you to find any information in terms of moving houseplants to the state of Kentucky is that there are none! All states have different regulations, and according to the Kentucky’s office of the state entomologist you do not have to have your plants inspected or fill out any type of paperwork before bringing them into Kentucky. If the situation were reversed and you were moving from Kentucky to California where the laws and regulations are much stricter, you would have to go through the process of having your plants inspected. For future reference, this is done within the state where you reside and the paperwork is then given to the entomology office of the state you are moving to. You can read more on this subject at the following Web site: www.uky.edu/Ag/NurseryInspection/phyto/inspectionapp.html
. If you are not having professional movers bring your plants to your new home, you will want to avoid putting them in your trunk or leaving them in a hot car for any extended period of time. Be sure to water them along the trip and travel safe.||