The Q&A Archives: My aspidista is turning brown!

Question: I have a 13 year old aspidistra which is kept indoors. I divided it last year and it now resides in two pots, close to each other. It seemed to respond to being repotted without distress. It has been in my bedroom for years, the room is cool and the plant gets some indirect sun for only a couple of hours a day.

This year both plants have been slow and late to produce new shoots, and the shoots seem frozen in development at a few inches high, green and healthy, but not growing. Also, the adult plants' leaves are gradually turning brown at the ends and this is spreading down the leaf until the leaf is finally lost. I would say this is happening to a quarter of the leaves on each plant.

I have used tomato fertiliser on the plants this year as that is what I had in the house. Could this be the problem? Otherwise, I am caring for them the same way as ever. How can I save my aspidistra(s)?!

Answer: If the only difference in the situation is the use of tomato fertilizer, that might be what's changing the growth pattern of your aspidista. Tomato fertilizer is typically 5-10-10, 5-20-20, or 8-16-16. Since you want to promote flowering and fruit set in tomatoes, the fertilizer recommended for them are heavy in phosphorous and potassium and light in nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages vegetative or green growth, phosphorous encourages flowering and fruiting and potassium encourages root growth and strong stems. So, your plants simply aren't getting the nitrogen they need to produce lush, green growth.

If the plants were mine I would unpot them, remove as much of the old potting soil as possible from the roots and then repot in fresh potting soil. You'll also be removing any fertilizer that might still be in the soil. After repotting, water them well and wait a couple of weeks for them to settle back in to their new homes. Then fertilize them with a standard houseplant fertilizer. I use a water soluable fertilizer such as Peter's, Miracle-Gro or Shultz's and make a half-strength dilution which I apply every 2-3 weeks during the growing season. This provides a constant source of nutrients and seems to make my houseplants happy. It should work for your aspidistra's, too.

Best wishes with your plants!

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