Ruby Flora is a plant shop that promotes communication and conversation surrounding houseplants and their care. I seek to educate and inspire all the plant lovers who enter through my doors.
First off let me just say that so many factors go in to figuring out what is happening with your plant. When I thought of writing this blog post a zillion thoughts popped into my head of how to organize the chaos of what really is happening to a dying plant. So let's take this slow.
To start identifying an issue, you’ve got to put on your detective hat and start asking yourself questions. Has the plant been over / under watered? Where is the plant placed at in your home? Is it near a drafty window or heat vent? Have you seen any pests or pest damage (PS sometimes you can't see pests with your naked eye!)? Maybe the soil isn't breathable enough and your roots are becoming too wet. See all the possibilities? If anyone is reading this that has sent me a photo of their dying plant on Instagram or Facebook, you know how many questions I throw at you in the beginning to start dwindling down to the root of the problem. It's a lot, but it's important to do so you can correctly diagnose the issue and not try to fix something that isn't wrong.
Once you identify the problem, then it’s time to assess whether or not you have the patience, care, or the right environment to start fixing the plant. If the plant doesn't have any sentimental value to you or it's too far gone, sometimes it's easier to simply toss it and start new.
Depending on the issue found, it's time to start slow and change things one by one. I always tell people it's important to fix things slowly so you can see what works and what doesn't work. Let's start with one of the most common issues, water stress, whether it be over or under watered.
If you over watered a plant and you're experiencing leaf drop or yellowing leaves, there is a good chance it can be rectified by simply letting it dry out bare root and soil in front of a very sunny window. Too much water leads to root rot, make sure you always have proper drainage for your plants and when in doubt, let it dry out.
If you feel that you may be under watering and are experiencing curling leaves, yellowing or brown crunchy edges, give your plants a good, long drink. Assuming you have drainage holes in your pot, try bottom watering for up to an hour and watch the plant to see how much it is sucking up.
If overwatering is an issue with a cactus, the base will be mushy and the remedy differs a bit. If the top of the plant is healthy and still stiff, the plant can be saved! In a case like this you would cut the healthy part of the cactus off the mushy base. You’ll need a very sharp knife and a pair of very thick gloves and then you cut until you don’t see any rot or brown color inside the core of the cactus. Once you’ve cut the healthy section from the unhealthy section, throw the rotten piece away. You won’t repot the freshly cut section right away, it needs time to callous over. When the fleshy part of the healthy cut has calloused, only then can you replant it into a gritty cactus mix. Otherwise, it will soon rot and the whole procedure was done for nothing.
Pests, DUN DUN DUN!!!!!!
Okay let's talk about pests, the thing no one wants to see on their plants or hear about. But unfortunately, once you start accumulating a lot of plants, it becomes a very common issue and the easier you digest that pests on your houseplants is just a thing that happens when you have live plants in your house, the easier your life will be. There are basically two kinds of pests—those that suck their juices, and those that eat foliage.
The first treatment method for a pest-infected plant is to isolate it immediately.
Depending on the pest, treatment differs, but we can talk about the most common ones first.
Mealybugs can be quite difficult to eradicate fully but good news, they aren't that bad for the plant, they definitely annoy the plant parent more than the actual plant.
COMMON PROBLEM AND SOLUTIONS
What You'll See: Fluffy white insects with tiny antennae or what looks like white snow on your plant. Normally cluster in between the plants leaves and stems.
Treatment: Dip cotton balls or q-tips in alcohol and remove all visible mealybugs. Mix rubbing alcohol, water and a few drops of Dawn dish soap in a spray bottle and go to town. Repeat as needed.
Scale insects are a common problem and sometimes really easy to miss because they often just look like little brown lumps. Pretty unassuming but sadly, that easy-to-ignore disguise means they’re usually able to grow from young nymphs to adults all within that shell, just sucking away at the sap of your plant with a little canopy over their head!
COMMON PROBLEM AND SOLUTIONS
What You'll See: Small brown hard bumps on your plant stems. Your plant is looking sickly and withered with yellowing leaves where they meet the stem. You also may see honeydew, which is a sticky substance under the leaves.
Treatment: Remove existing scale by rubbing a cotton swab dipped in alcohol over the insect gently but forceful enough to dislodge the pest from the leaf. You could also use your fingernail if you're that badass! Once that is done, thoroughly wash your plant with insecticidal soap in the shower, this should help get it clean and wash away any dead bugs that may still be sitting on the leaves.
Aphids are tiny foliage-sucking insects and love to cluster together. Adult aphids are pear-shaped and light green in color but aphids can also be pink, white, grey, and black depending on the variety and maturity.
COMMON PROBLEM AND SOLUTIONS
What You'll See: Houseplants with stunted growth, deformed or yellowing leaves, sticky residue on leaves.
Treatment: Promptly wash the plant with soap and water in your shower. Spray the leaves of the infested plant with a strong stream of water to rinse off all of the aphids that you may see. Usually a hardy spray will knock off a lot of the pests. Neem oil is often used for aphid infections but Neem is typically last on my list of treatment methods so I always try insecticidal soap first.
To recap, there really is no magic cure for most dying plants but typically water stress and/or pest infections are the culprits. Take it easy by isolating the plant first, examining the issue and diagnosing. Sometimes it just takes some patience and a solid pest preventative routine. Good luck plant parents!