Ask a Question forum: Sick Plant Needs Help

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Name: Coop
Queens NY (Zone 7b)
Feb 11, 2017 2:55 PM CST
Hello Benevolent Gardeners,

New to the forum here and would greatly appreciate your advice (if there's a better place for this question, or a place I should introduce myself, feel free to let me know).

My favorite houseplant has been dropping leaves- how do I nurse it back to health?

Plant History: I don't know what type of plant it is (I posted in the ID forum about that). I've had it for a few years, nearly always inside. This previous August, my plant-sitter put it outside, and it grew quickly. After taking it back, I repotted it in the large pot pictured.

Around October, the plant began dropping leaves, which yellow and fall off over a matter of days. I moved it directly to the window (which faces West-Southwest), thinking it needed more light. It continued dropping leaves.

At the time, my small rose bush had spider-mites, and I realized this was likely an issue with this plant also. So I took the plant in the shower and washed those mites away with a biblical flood. It was a pain, as the plant is so large, but I have no yard/hose (NYC apartment).

The plant responded well; some leaves were stressed (dark green lines form water pressure?), but for a few months, it dropped no leaves!

Fast forward to a few weeks ago- it began dropping leaves again. While I didn't see any mite-webbing, I did notice small white specks all over the leaves. First, I wiped down the entire plant with a sponge. Then, I ordered 'Mantis botanical insecticide/miticide' (made of rosemary/peppermint/soybean oils). I used the entire bottle.

A little over a week later (yesterday), I sprayed an entire second bottle. Then, for the first time, I gave the plant a bunch of Miracle-Grow food spikes. Today the plant already has newly yellowed leaves! The leaves that drop always seem to be at the shady side of the plant.

What's happening to my precious plant and how do I save it? I have included photos of the medium, the recently sick leaves, and a recently dropped leaf.

Apologies for the novel-length post, and thanks in advance.!


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[Last edited by BotanicPanic - Feb 11, 2017 2:56 PM (+)]
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Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Feb 11, 2017 4:24 PM CST
Hi and welcome, Coop. It sure looks like your plant might be a Medinilla. Going on that assumption, here are a few thoughts:

First, fertilizer - if you think the plant is in distress, it's probably not a good idea to give it fertilizer until it recovers. My personal opinion on those fert spikes is that they don't distribute the plant food very well anyway. You're better off to use a soluble fertilizer. Even growing indoors, plants do experience seasonal changes, because of lower light levels comingin your windows, and probably lower temperatures at night. So your plant is very likely in "winter" mode right now so not growing as quickly as it did in the summer (more on that later). When a plant is in full-on growth is the time to give it fertilizer regularly. Slowing down on both watering and fertilizer is a good idea in winter. When it's warm outside again (nights above 55 degrees dependably) is the time to fertilize and water that baby. I'll bet you'll see blooms this summer if you do that.

Second, temperature - it's a tropical plant so consistent temps around 70 is pretty cool for it. Do you have a south-facing window where it gets really warm in the daytime? If you do I'd gradually move it towards that window, although I'm not sure if Medinilla likes too much direct sun, so maybe placing it slightly to one side of the window so it only gets sun in the morning, but gets the extra warmth all day would be good. Tropicals really like extra humidity too, so anything you can do, like maybe a tray of pebbles with water near the plant or spraying the leaves whenever you think of it will help. Just keep a spray bottle of water handy, and spritz away whenever you pass by. It's good for you in the winter, too.

Third, it will naturally lose some leaves as it grows new ones on top. If most of the leaves you've been losing are low down on the stems, it may be partly just natural attrition.

Fourth, spider mites!! Indoor plants are very susceptible to these little varmints. They love warm, dry weather which indoor conditions imitate. You should check all your plants regularly for them, just by running a leaf between your fingers and looking at what rubs off. If you get a reddish stain on your fingers, you've got 'em. Yes, they do make the leaves look rather mottled with white spots as well. Your solution of rinsing the plants off in the shower is the best one, and as you observed, works well and the plants love it. I no longer have any plants indoors, but I hose down my outdoor plants weekly, if we go a long time without rain here. Keeps the mites at bay really well. You should just schedule to do this shower routine for your plants on a regular basis.

An organic-approved insecticide that I've found effective on an array of other insects for my orchids is Capt. Jack's Dead Bug Brew, a spinosad based spray available at your big box store.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
Seed Starter Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Level 1
Feb 11, 2017 7:43 PM CST
What Elaine said.

In addition, your plant was outdoors and then brought back in. Virtually all plants go into shock to a lesser or greater extent when brought back in. They can lose a LOT of leaves. E.G. I am sitting here looking at 2 Hibiscus that lost > 95 % of their leaves when I brought them in during November. They still look horrid.

When a plant starts to look "bad" don't throw fertilizer at it haphazardly.

And do not overdue it with insecticide/miticide. That second bottle might be overkill.

Get it a lot of light and good luck. Come back to this post later and let us know how it is doing.
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Feb 11, 2017 7:57 PM CST
It does look like Medinilla. And they have some very particular needs.

Medinilla is an epiphytic succulent plant that grows in the crooks and crannies of trees and gets about 4 feet tall. It needs warmth, indirect bright light and humidity. You may want to invest in a humidifier.

You are probably overwatering. This plant needs a light airy medium that drains and dries quickly. Don't set it near any A/C or heater vents (hates drafts).

To get it to set flowers, it needs a night time drop in temperature to 55 or 60 with daytime temps in the 70's.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

Name: Coop
Queens NY (Zone 7b)
Feb 12, 2017 10:08 AM CST
Thanks for the responses everyone!

Certainly it is looking like a Medinilla, as another forum member suggested. (Medinilla Multiflora/'Malaysian Orchid', it seems?).

Elaine, the plant has dropped both upper and lower leaves, which makes me think it's mites rather than a sunlight issue. I'll probably take the plant back into the shower tomorrow, and if I can, I'll dig out all the fertilizer sticks.

David, the reason I started using the miticide over the shower was that the shower seemed to stress the plant. It's in a large, very heavy pot, so I was taking the plant with it's root ball only, which I figured can't be too good for it. But if that's the way to go it looks like more plant showers for me.

Daisyl, thanks for the note on the drafts, I currently have the plant near a window with an AC and radiator, so perhaps that's part of the problem. I do worry about moving it back to the wall because there's less light there.

I had no idea that this plant could produce such exotic flowers. I'm hoping to see them but I'd be happy just to get this baby healthy either way!

I want to change the plants medium to something lighter, and was thinking using coconut peat, as it seems more affordable than many of the orchid mixes. Perhaps that mixed with some of the soil it currently has? What do you think?
Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Feb 12, 2017 10:18 AM CST
Coop, despite the name this plant is not an orchid. So you shouldn't use orchid medium to pot it up. The coconut coir will be great as it has a fairly coarse texture, but I'd also mix in some Perlite to keep the air spaces in the soil more open. Perlite is available in a separate bag, and is used as an additive in a lot of potting soils.

As an epiphytic plant, it will also take in a lot of nutrients through the leaves, so as it recovers, light misting with a little bit of very dilute fertilizer in a spray bottle will help to feed it as well as humidify the air. Don't start fertilizing until you see new growth, and the leaves stop dropping, though.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill

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