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?
The Gardener’s Answer
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.