Houseplants forum: A tale of two diffenbachia

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Apr 12, 2017 9:23 PM CST
I had two dumb canes outside last year, during the summer, in a semi-shaded area. I brought them both in at the end of October. One I tried to water every few weeks, but it would always lose leaves. Then I would wait a long time before watering again, and the leaves would curl. Then I would water again and more leaves would turn soft and yellow.

The other dumb cane is pretty tall, and I suspect its soil doesn't drain well, so I have only watered it once since last October. It still looks great! It lost a few smaller leaves at the beginning, but otherwise there is nothing about the plant that looks unhealthy.

are diffenbachia supposed to be barely watered? Even sansevaria are supposed to get water every 1-2 months, I thought, and this thing wasn't watered for four months. Maybe it's wintering?

Anyway, it's warming up again and they will both go back outside, at which point I expect the other one to recover. But for next winter, any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.
Name: Sally
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Apr 13, 2017 6:22 AM CST
Your experience seems to show that they can go pretty dormant and not need water. It sounds like the one has some underlying problem that the other does not, for whatever reason. I'm guessing a rot somewhere, seems to match the history that when you water, things seemed worse.
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Name: Gene Staver
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Apr 13, 2017 7:32 AM CST
I water my Sansevieria way more often than 1 - 2 months ! How often you water a house plant depends on at least a dozen variables. Take the plant that is not doing so well out of the pot. How does the soil look and smell? How are the roots? Gene
Name: Will Creed
Professional indoor plant consultan
Apr 15, 2017 11:34 AM CST
I think it is a mistake to water plants be a pre-determined schedule because every plant and environment is different. All plant roots need oxygen as well as water. It is when they soil around the roots don't dry out sufficiently that they die from lack of oxygen. Most plant roots require some drying out or oxygen every week or two. However, some plants native to arid regions (most succulents) can go much longer than that without water. On the other hand aquatic plants need constant moisture around their roots. Most houseplants fall somewhere in between.

How soon a plant dries out enough for water will depend on the amount of soil around the roots (pot size); the root to soil ratio; growth rate; the porosity of the soil; available light; temperature; humidity; and how much water it was given the last time. Watering is not rocket science, but beware of simple instructions to water a particular plant every so many days.

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Name: tarev
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Apr 17, 2017 1:18 PM CST
Hello 3x5, typically during winter, my houseplants do slow down in their watering needs. I guess it is the lesser light and the fluctuating temps. Though we have heater inside the house, it is not always sustained to temperatures/conditions they like that will require them more water, compared to being grown outdoors, with more warmth, wind and sun.

So I do my watering indoors during winter for them at least once every two weeks. Heaters are still running after all, so it gets much drier, humidity low. And I have made sure my media is well draining enough, so they don't go soggy or too wet for the roots, so when I repot my houseplants, there will be perlite or pumice in the soil. It takes awhile longer for water to dry out for plants growing indoors, that is why there is a need for good interval in watering. The plants are still alive, just slowing down, so they still need water to do their function. Unless it is a specific type of plant that really has winter dormancy, then absolutely no watering during winter. But Dieffenbachia is not that type, nor are Sansevieras.

As mentioned already those roots also need good air below soil level. Simple measures like sticking bamboo skewer in the soil to know if it is still wet, if it comes out wet delay watering. Or if container is not that heavy comparing the weight of the container before and after watering, so if it gets too light already, then need to water. The usual next mistake after problems with watering is applying fertilizer during winter, got to delay that to mid Spring, when conditions return to favorable levels.

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