The Q&A Archives: Help!! My beautiful rainbow sunrise New Zealand Flax plants are looking very sick.

Question: They started out with gorgeous red and pink with the greens and gold colors, but are now looking rather sickly. The leaves are bunching up like an accordion and the leaves have lost their reds and gold?s to take on a brownish hue. I do not want to return them, as we have not seen any more. These are (or were) perfect for the spot my wife has for them. They get plenty of morning sun and the house shades them at the time of the suns direct Sacramento heat. Are they being like my girls and protesting the coming end of summer? The soil is hard pan and I added 10 year old horse manure to the soil and roto-tilled it down to 2 feet. There used to be some wild (thousand wishes Chinese tree, as I've been told it was called) stinky, heavy, but easily broken trees in the area. What do you suggest I do to help the rainbow sunrise flourish and survive again?

Thanks, Kevyn

Answer: It sounds as though you've been doing everything humanly possible to make your Phormium happy in terms of soil prep, sun exposure and taking care of its cultural needs. It's not nice that it isn't performing well for you! The most serious complaint we have on the hybrid flax is the tendency of the colorful leaf forms to revert back to a green or bronze color. When a shoot of an unwanted color is seen on a hybrid plant, this shoot should be cut off at the base. With some of the hybrids it is the new foliage that is the showiest, and it is often best to remove all of the older leaves as the new ones emerge. If diligence is used, even the plants most likely to revert can be kept the original color. So, the bottom line is - you can cut away those faded leaves and hope the new foliage is the right color. As for the accordian shaped leaves - phormium does this on occasion. It is generally an environmental reason and not all leaves are affected. You can cut away the affected leaves. You might also closely inspect your plants for insect populations. Mealybugs can take up residence in the center or crown of the plant and their feeding will affect the appearance of the leaves. Also carefully inspect the undersides of the leaves. Spidermite infestations can cause a stippling effect and their feeding can change the leaf color. Spider mites like dry, dusty locations so to keep them at bay you only need to hose off your plants every week or so during the summer months.

Hope this information helps!

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