Ask a Question forum: Dying Aspidistra

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Name: Las Vegan
Las Vegas, NV (Zone 9a)
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LasVegan
Sep 14, 2016 11:49 PM CST
About a year and a half ago, I foolishly repotted my beloved Aspidistra thinking it needed a new pot (it didn't). I damaged it in the process and ever since it has been losing leaves one by one. Usually, but not always, it begins with the leaf turning yellow (sometimes pale or brown) at the tip, gradually spreading to the rest of the leaf until it goes completely dead. The entire process takes several weeks. Every time after this happens I keep hoping it's the last time, but then it starts again. While it does put out 1-2 new leaves every growing season, the rate at which it is losing leaves is faster than the rate at which it is putting out new leaves. At this rate, I am worried I will lose the plant in a matter of time. Is there anything I can do to save it? The plant belonged to my late fiancee and it is very dear to me, please help.
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Name: Sally
central Maryland
Seriously addicted to kettle chips.
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sallyg
Sep 15, 2016 5:14 AM CST
I hope we can help.

From what we can see, the pot looks quite big for the plant. Sometimes that means the plant will stay wet a lot longer than you're used to, and it gets root rot.
But also possible when you repotted, the old rootball isn't 'meshing' with the new soil, and does NOT get watered. Water might run through the new soil but not soak into the rootball.
I have 0 experience with Aspidistra but fair amount with sick potted plants. I would take it out of the pot and see how the roots look. Then decide whether to pot into a smaller pot, water more or less, etc.
..come into the peace of wild things..-Wendell Berry
Life is a buffet (anon)
Name: Karen
NM , AZ (Zone 7b)
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plantmanager
Sep 15, 2016 8:42 AM CST
Here is a link with a bit of care information. Make sure you're not overwatering, and that it's not in too bright a location. They are very happy with low light and little water if they are properly potted. Good luck! I, too, have some sentimental plants and know they mean a lot.
http://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/120/cast-iron-p...
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Name: Las Vegan
Las Vegas, NV (Zone 9a)
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LasVegan
Sep 15, 2016 10:32 PM CST
Thank you both for your replies. Now that I think of it, it does look like it's not taking up water, because it's the leaf tips that turn brown/yellow, as if water isn't reaching them. But I am leery of repotting it because it's what started this whole thing. When I repotted it back in 2015, it lost 5 leaves right away, and has lost another 3-4 at a slow but steady drip since then. If I do repot it in a smaller pot, what kind of soil should I use? What should I look for in the roots? From memory I remember its root system was very small. I also noticed the aspidistra turns its soil into almost concrete after a few months. This is the original reason I repotted it.

Would feeding it help boost leaf growth? I have never fed the plant, and it puts out 1-2 new leaves every growing season (which I think is normal for aspidistras). If I should feed it, should I wait till next growing season (it has never put out new leaves this late in the year)?
Texas (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Sep 16, 2016 1:29 AM CST
I had a neighbor (he died 4 years ago) and I have been slowly liberating some of his plants. I know that whoever buys the house (still in probate) will tear it down along with his plants. The house dates to 1954 and there are a boatload of aspidistra. (And some irises, four o'clocks', and I'm really eyeing his camellia.) But I digress. All are planted in the ground. Twice now I have dug some up and thrown them in a bucket with drainage holes. Tried to include some of the nice soil that they were in. One day I'll get around to planting them. But I keep them in the shade and they have survived drought, snow & ice, abuse and neglect by me. Yes, some leaves turn yellow or partially yellow (brown depending on your eyesight), but I liberated enough to keep them going. So don't give up. They are so easy to grow and are very forgiving. Be sure not to plant them too deep if planting straight into the ground. Good luck.
Let me see if I have a picture of one of my buckets.
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Name: Sally
central Maryland
Seriously addicted to kettle chips.
Charter ATP Member Native Plants and Wildflowers Region: Mid-Atlantic Composter Region: Maryland Birds
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sallyg
Sep 16, 2016 6:32 AM CST
It sounds like the soil previously used had problems, LasVegan. A plant can't make the soil turn bad. Or the stuff it was in before was not good, (or turned bad due to years of being in the same pot) and that's why it had such a small root system.
Not all stuff bagged as 'potting soil' is of good quality. It should feel light and fluffy (although some decent soil is sold moistened and the bag can feel heavy).You can probably buy Miracle Gro potting max anywhere and that should be good enough.
I still vote to repot. Loosen the roots and make sure the new soil gets poked in to fill the spaces.
..come into the peace of wild things..-Wendell Berry
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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Sep 16, 2016 12:42 PM CST
Welcome! What is it actually potted in, it looks like mostly wood?
Name: Las Vegan
Las Vegas, NV (Zone 9a)
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LasVegan
Sep 17, 2016 12:35 AM CST
It's potted in standard potting mix from Loews or some place like that.

The old soil was looked bad but that it why I repotted it in the first place, and it did all this damage. I have read aspidistras hate having their roots disturbed, and this would seem to confirm it. What about just feeding it, would that help it grow roots, even at this point in the season? If yes, what food do you recommend?
Name: Las Vegan
Las Vegas, NV (Zone 9a)
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LasVegan
Sep 17, 2016 12:37 AM CST
I wish there was like a plant doctor I could take it to have a look at it and tell me what's wrong. Any ideas?
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Sep 17, 2016 5:11 AM CST
LasVegan said:I wish there was like a plant doctor I could take it to have a look at it and tell me what's wrong. Any ideas?


You could take it to your local Extension office, some locations here:

https://www.unce.unr.edu/

Does the pot feel light for its size when you pick it up?

Name: Sally
central Maryland
Seriously addicted to kettle chips.
Charter ATP Member Native Plants and Wildflowers Region: Mid-Atlantic Composter Region: Maryland Birds
Cat Lover Dog Lover Region: United States of America
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sallyg
Sep 17, 2016 5:40 AM CST
or look up Master Gardeners, check around. They might even be visiting a library (one of ours has this). Anyone you can think of who seems to have a green thumb? It is a challenge giving advice without the real plant. Even an actual nursery, would possibly help out of kindness. They'd have to be real jerks (or super busy) not to try and help you. I'm sure they know about special memory plants. NOT a big box store unless you really know there's a staffer who knows plants.

Usually not good to feed a sick plant.

Roots disturbed- but look at what tx flower child has ...

There's someone who was very active in this community who has posted detailed explanations of why proper soil is so important. After reading his posts, I have new respect for it. And I have taken a couple of 'mysteriously' sick plants out of their pots, to be surprised at what was happening to the roots that I had never guessed. To oversimplify greatly: roots need moisture and air both.

I'm sorry for your loss. I know this plant is very special. I've lost some 'memory plants' too. I tell myself that if I buy a replacement, it's probably the 'same' plant because they've all been propagated en masse.
..come into the peace of wild things..-Wendell Berry
Life is a buffet (anon)
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
Region: Canadian Keeps Horses Dog Lover Plant Identifier Garden Sages
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sooby
Sep 17, 2016 5:58 AM CST
This picture linked below is interesting. Note the banding, which is very obvious but if we compare with LasVegan's second picture in the first post, there is a suggestion of banding there too. The suggested cause is possible water stress. If fluoride toxicity looks the same as is implied, then can that be ruled out? Is the water fluoridated in Las Vegas?

The medium in LasVegan's pot looks dry to me but it's hard to be sure from a picture - if the pot is light when picked up it would suggest it is too dry though.

http://www.apis.ac.uk/effects_gallery/aspidistra

Regarding fertilizer, there already is some in the potting mix (the little green balls). I wouldn't add any more. If the plant is indeed too dry that can make it worse.
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional interior landscaper
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WillC
Sep 17, 2016 7:13 AM CST
I do work professionally as a "plant doctor" and I do routinely make many house in NYC.

This is a great example of the problems associated with unnecessary repotting, the single most common cause of indoor plant problems. Aspidistra, somewhat ironically called Cast Iron Plant, are slow growers that thrive on neglect. They do not tolerate direct sunlight or soil that stays constantly damp. The hard dry soil in the original rootball suited this plant just fine. The soil you added has kept the soil around the roots too damp and the roots have been slowly dying from root rot. Dying roots are not able to absorb water sufficiently for the foliage which starts to discolor and die.

Fertilizer is intended for use on healthy plants that are growing vigorously. It is NOT medicine and should never be used as cure for ailing plants. I wish fertilizer was the simple answer for you, but it is not.

You have two options. One is to remove all excess soil you added to the top of the original rootball and then allow the soil to become almost bone dry between waterings. Add just enough water so that it dries out again in about a week. Perhaps there are enough roots remaining and new roots will gradually emerge provided you water only in small quantities so that the soil dries out every week or so.

The second approach is to carefully remove the plant from its pot. Then, gently remove all excess soil that is not in immediate contact with healthy roots. Health roots will be firm and wiry. Damaged roots will be shriveled, soft, dark and mushy and should be removed. If you have some healthy roots remaining, move your Aspidistra to the SMALLEST pot that will accommodate the remaining roots and just enough soil to barely cover them. The goal here is to surround the roots with just enough soil to retain moisture for up to a week, but no more. The roots require oxygen just as much as they need moisture. Use a porous potting mix of 3 parts peat moss and 1 part perlite.

Your plant is in poor condition and may not make it. At best, the recovery will be very slow and will require patience and tolerance of its minimal needs on your part. Resist the temptation to nurture this plant.

Good luck! Let me know if you have further questions.
wcreed@HorticulturalHelp.com

Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
[url=www.HorticulturalHelp.com]www.HorticulturalHelp.com[/url]
Texas (Zone 8a)
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tx_flower_child
Sep 17, 2016 9:06 AM CST
One more thing to make sure we're all on the same page. The plants that I 'liberated' are grown from rhizomes, not roots per se. But that might not be true of all Aspidistras and y'all might have known that anyway. I'm throwing this in b/c I was getting confused by the use of the word 'roots'. But that could be me.

Anyway, best of luck. I think most places have Master Gardeners. And I often go to certain nurseries just to ask questions. Ya never know what you might find out.
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
Region: Canadian Keeps Horses Dog Lover Plant Identifier Garden Sages
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sooby
Sep 17, 2016 10:03 AM CST
"This is a great example of the problems associated with unnecessary repotting, the single most common cause of indoor plant problems"

I thought the single most common cause of indoor plant problems was over-watering Smiling
Name: Las Vegan
Las Vegas, NV (Zone 9a)
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LasVegan
Sep 17, 2016 11:22 AM CST
I wish there was like a plant doctor I could take it to have a look at it and tell me what's wrong. Any ideas?
Name: Las Vegan
Las Vegas, NV (Zone 9a)
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LasVegan
Sep 17, 2016 12:12 PM CST
Wow, excellent advice, thank you all. This is a really great community.

WillC, I will follow your advice. I also found the Master Gardener program and will take it to them to have a look.

By the way here is a pic of the soil, a pic of the leaf that died in january (some of the leaves are scorched because I foolishly kept it outside in 2014), and another one of the "banding" sooby mentioned (although that leaf has stabilized and is doing fine). It definitely seems to be there is banding going on. The water in LV has very pH, so I usually give my 4 indoor memory plants (the aspidistra, a spider plant, rubber plant, and a dieffenbachia) distilled or bottled water.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your excellent advice and I will keep you posted on how things go.





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