The Q&A Archives: What's wrong with my bay leaf plant?

Questioner's Location: Jackson Heights, NY
Date: May 8, 2006

Question: We recently moved to our NYC apartment and brought our large bay leaf plant that we transplanted into a large container with plenty of soil. At first it seemed to be doing well, but now the leaves are drying up, turning brown and falling off. It is in front of a sunny window, but does not get bright sun all day long. We water it like we always did. It is about three feet high. We've always enjoyed this plant and now feel as if we are killing it! Can you help?
Arthur B. Pulitzer

Answer: Based on your description I think it may be a combination of factors. Repotting can cause problems if the new soil is not a good match with the old soil and so they do not drain at the same rate or there is an interface problem. If it was badly rootbound, it may be drying out where all the roots are concentrated in the old soil while the new soil is still moist. Repotting can also result in overwatering especially if the new container is much larger than the original -- the plant is not pulling the same proportion of moisture from the soil so needs watering less often. Moving is also a shock to the plant, since it is in a new environment with different light and possibly different air circulation, different humidity, and/or different temperature. Also, if it was suddenly exposed to cold air or exposed to it for a period of time during the move, that may have been a shock. The other thing to check for is scale insects. The population of this insect will increase during the winter and then seemingly all the sudden cause the plant to look like it is drying out. These can be removed by hand (check stems and leaves top and bottom) and the plant can be sprayed with insecticidal soap to try to control them. So while I am not certain what is happening, maybe this will help you trouble shoot.

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