Horticulture/plant ID and care
QUESTION: I have two plants that I don't know exactly what they are and how to care for them. The first palm plant was doing fine in Florida (hot weather and lots of sun). Now I've moved north with cold weather and not much/no sun in my house. The plant is not doing well. I can't find a sunnier location and certainly can't put it outside in the winter. Does it need less/more water? Is there anything else I can do to keep it alive?
The second plant/bush I was told likes the cold weather and will survive outdoors all winter. I was also told that the leaves would turn reddish but they are turning brown and dying. Can I keep this outside all winter as I was told (it is a bush, after all)? How much water should it have and why might it be dying?
ANSWER: Hi Rebecca.
The first plant is actually a philodendron. It will get used to living indoors under lower light, but it needs less water. You could help it a lot by getting a grow light bulb. These are inexpensive and are available at Walmart, Lowes, hardware stores, and nurseries. Plants can get used to different conditions, but it has to be gradual. Less light always means less water.
The second plant looks like a star anise (Illicium). It appears to have a tag. If the name is unreadable, pick a green leaf, crush it, and smell it. If it's a star anise, it will have a pleasant, spicy smell. This plant is hardy to zone 6, but that is for plants that are in the ground, not in pots. Is there an area outside with more light but sheltered, close to the house where the plant would be protected from north winds, etc? I would also cut back the dead/dying parts with some clean, sharp scissors or shears.
On both plants you need to be certain the plant is dry before watering again. Simply stick your finger in the soil. If it's dry an inch below the surface, than water it. If the water runs through, don't let the plant sit there in a saucer full of water.
Let me know if the plants continue to be unthrifty. They are in shock now, so don't give them any fertilizer, etc. If a root rot has already set in, they may have to be re-potted in sterile soil, but let's give them a chance to heal without doing more drastic things to them for now.
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QUESTION: I checked the tag of the second plant, it says "pieris japonica". I've never heard of that before. I'd like to keep it in the pot (we rent and will be moving with a year so we can't plant it in the ground). Could you tell me more about that plant and how I can care of it. Thanks. (and thanks for the info on the philodendron). I have not been watering any of my plants a ton, been too busy, so hopefully they have not rotted. Will my other plants get used to lower light as well? (I have a few others, money tree, pony tail palm, jasmine, to name a few)
ANSWER: Hi Rebecca,
Plants are very adaptable to gradual change, and they get used to how they are taken care of. When I worked for a firm that cared for indoor plants at various businesses, etc., whenever a plant tech would go on vacation, she would come back to dead plants, even though another tech took care of them. I saw plants live in dark casinos where I practically had to feel my way to them. In these conditions, I might not have to water the plant but once every 2 months! The same plant in direct sun might need to be watered 3 times a week.
Pieris japonica is also called "Japanese Andromeda". It's hardy to zone 4b. It might do better outside in a protected area - even in a pot. You know you can plant a plant - pot and all - in the ground to make it easier to dig up later when you move. I really think you have a better chance of keeping this alive out of doors - it's not going to like the heat inside. I'm attaching a photo of the plant in bloom. Hope this helps.
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QUESTION: Thanks for the info about water and light. I didn't realize that lower light requires less water.
The Pieris Japonica is in a pot outside. It's sits on our covered porch. Being that its zone 4b, it should be fine outside all winter but it seems to be dying. How much water should it get? Should I move it off of the covered porch? (its still outside in the cold weather though) Can you think of any reason why it might be dying? (its protected in a shady spot and gets only a little water).
Pieris gets phytophthora root disease easily in pots - especially after periods of too much water. We're going to have to look at the roots, and maybe do surgery before repotting it into new, sterile potting soil. First, prune off any dead branches with pruning shears or scissors that have been dipped in alcohol or a 10% bleach solution. Take the plant out of the pot. Examine the roots. Any that are mushy or withered will need to be removed. Often, there is a rotten smell, if the damage is extensive. On dead roots, the "skin" (outer layer) will slip off if gently tugged between your thumb and forefinger. Wash all the dirt off until just the root system is left. Sterilize a pair of sharp scissors in alcohol trim away the dead tissue. Next, we will dip the roots into a 10% bleach solution (1 oz bleach to 9 oz water). Get a clean pot one size smaller than the one it is in. replant it in a sterile potting mix and water thoroughly. Keep the plant out of the sun for 24 hours, and protect it from frost. Then give it bright light - even morning sun. It has to be protected from freezes, etc. for 3 weeks or so, so that it has a chance to recover.
If you don't know what size your pot is, measure straight across the center of the circle - it will be an even number, like 12 or 14. Go one size down. A smaller pot will keep the plant from getting more water than it needs.