Ask a Question forum: 2 identical plants --1 healthy, 1 sickly.. any ideas?

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Malta
Mycelium
Sep 28, 2017 3:12 AM CST
So we have these 2 bonsai plants at work which i believe to be ficus. I haven't been taking care of them long but as soon as i saw them the first time i noticed one of them does not look as thick and healthy as the other one. As time passed, it got worse. I am no plant guy but my first thought was that it was over/underwatering problem, so i dug out some soil and realised it was soaking wet. The pots do not have any holes at the bottom and the guy who was taking care of them before me seemed to be over watering them.

So i removed as much soil as i could without disrupting it's root system and put some fresh dry-ish soil instead. It was getting better for a time but it still can't seem to recover. I think it has been in the state it is now for a good 3-4 months now. New leaves pop out and fall soon after. New leaves seem to be drying out and some even grow curved or look pale (which i would blame on iron deficiency if i wasn't taking care of them myself). I have been giving them some miracle grow plant food + iron oxide as per the instructions of the plant guy that my company bought them from but to no avail. Both get roughly the same amount of water, so i am at a loss as to why one is always flourishing and the other can't recover.

I believe the weaker plant's condition was exacerbated from the lack of light it has had the past 6 months. A scaffolding was erected right above them, so they barely got any indirect light.

Here's a few pictures, any help is much appreciated.
Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/6f61ce
Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/23001e
Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/9f107a
Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/e4921c
Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/27d6b3

Name: Yardenman
Maryland (Zone 7a)
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Yardenman
Sep 28, 2017 5:58 AM CST
This may seem odd but...

In a former office, I had 2 snake plants and one seemed to get weak. I finally figured out that a co-worker was dumping his water bottle in the nearer plant thinking it would do the plant good. When I asked him to stop (and explained why) it recovered and I still have both 20 years later.

You never know what odd things can affect a plant.
Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
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porkpal
Sep 28, 2017 7:55 AM CST
Bonsai plants will always do better if they live outside - perhaps they need a vacation.
Porkpal
Malta
Mycelium
Sep 28, 2017 11:27 AM CST
They are outside during the day. These are in a shop so i take them out at 9am and bring them in for the night at 7pm. It's in the city so leaving them outside would be asking for them to get stolen or vandalised. From what i hear, they weren't cheap so i guess they are worth the gradual curve I'm developing in my spine haha.

However, the street gets almost no direct sunlight, it only hits the wall on the opposite side of the street for maybe an hour or two during the summer. I guess most of my confusion comes from the fact that only one is sickly, while the other is healthy despite being treated in the same way.
Name: Yardenman
Maryland (Zone 7a)
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Yardenman
Sep 28, 2017 11:57 AM CST
Mycelium said:They are outside during the day. These are in a shop so i take them out at 9am and bring them in for the night at 7pm. It's in the city so leaving them outside would be asking for them to get stolen or vandalised. From what i hear, they weren't cheap so i guess they are worth the gradual curve I'm developing in my spine haha.

However, the street gets almost no direct sunlight, it only hits the wall on the opposite side of the street for maybe an hour or two during the summer. I guess most of my confusion comes from the fact that only one is sickly, while the other is healthy despite being treated in the same way.


It's luck to some degree. I plant 16 radish seeds in a sq ft and 14 come up. a couple just die later and I harvest 10 eventually.

I buy a flat of 36 pansies and plant them. A few just die. I don't know why. They all get the same sunlight and water and soil. Maybe one gets a bug and the others don't.

Genetics, disease, root nematodes; you never know.

Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Sep 28, 2017 12:09 PM CST
Ficus are fussy plants.
I have no advice but I find it easier to look at photos when they are side by side:
Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/6f61ce Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/23001e Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/9f107a Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/e4921c Thumb of 2017-09-28/Mycelium/27d6b3



Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Sep 28, 2017 12:15 PM CST
Drill some drainage holes in the bottoms of the pots and find some pebble trays to set the pots on to raise the humidity around the plants. Stop misting and water less. Your plants don't need direct sun, just very bright light. The sun would probably burn them.
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

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Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Sep 28, 2017 2:18 PM CST
You indicated that the weaker plant's condition may have been exacerbated by lack of light. Ficus plants do require lots of light, so that may well explain the difference between the two. Going forward, the weaker one may not use as much water as the healthier one, so adjust your watering accordingly.

I have a few suggestions. Potting bonsais in sealed planters is highly unusual and irregular. If you are unable to drill holes in the pot, as Daisy suggested, then be sure to tip the tray on its side after each watering to make sure no excess water collects in the bottom. Replacing the soil is not the soultion. Just be careful with the watering going forward. Water only when the surface of the soil feels barely dry and don't give it too much when you do water.

I think it is inadvisable to move it outside during the day. Bonsais are intended for indoor use. Keep yours close to a sunny window indoors. Consistently bright indoor light will hasten their recovery.

Short of having a soil analysis done, there is no way to tell if there is an iron or any other nutrient deficiency. The symptoms you have observed are consistent with improper watering and light. Fertilizer will not fix that.

If some of the stems are leggy due to lower leaf loss, prune them back to regain some new foliage lower down. Bonsais are not intended to grow larger. Once properly established, they should be pruned or pinched regularly so that they maintain their designed shape and size.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: Yardenman
Maryland (Zone 7a)
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Yardenman
Sep 28, 2017 2:43 PM CST
WillC said:You indicated that the weaker plant's condition may have been exacerbated by lack of light. Ficus plants do require lots of light, so that may well explain the difference between the two. Going forward, the weaker one may not use as much water as the healthier one, so adjust your watering accordingly.

I have a few suggestions. Potting bonsais in sealed planters is highly unusual and irregular. If you are unable to drill holes in the pot, as Daisy suggested, then be sure to tip the tray on its side after each watering to make sure no excess water collects in the bottom. Replacing the soil is not the soultion. Just be careful with the watering going forward. Water only when the surface of the soil feels barely dry and don't give it too much when you do water.

I think it is inadvisable to move it outside during the day. Bonsais are intended for indoor use. Keep yours close to a sunny window indoors. Consistently bright indoor light will hasten their recovery.

Short of having a soil analysis done, there is no way to tell if there is an iron or any other nutrient deficiency. The symptoms you have observed are consistent with improper watering and light. Fertilizer will not fix that.

If some of the stems are leggy due to lower leaf loss, prune them back to regain some new foliage lower down. Bonsais are not intended to grow larger. Once properly established, they should be pruned or pinched regularly so that they maintain their designed shape and size.


And a moisture meter might answer some questions, too. Not perfect, but one is a useful thing to have.

Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Sep 28, 2017 3:28 PM CST
Moisture meters are very imperfect. They produce varying results with different potting mixes and with varying amounts of mineral salts. The problem is that you never know when they are accurate and they appear to be so scientific that it causes people to ignore their common sense.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Sep 28, 2017 7:01 PM CST
Moisture meters measure just two things: moisture content and salt contend. How do you know which you have? Too much water or a build up of salts? Its better to learn what your soil conditions are by feeling for dryness or wetness. You can even feel salt in the soil if you practice.
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

Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Sep 28, 2017 7:05 PM CST
Forgot to add that roots that are too wet all the time can't breath. That is a recipe for root rot and death of the plant. Either drill holes or repot. Those are your choices. I have drilled holes in pots with the plant still in them. It gets a little messy but can be done.
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

Webmaster: osnnv.org
Malta
Mycelium
Sep 29, 2017 5:49 AM CST
Thanks for the replies everyone.

When the plant started dieing the first time and i realised the soil was soaking wet, i did a few holes using a corkscrew, which was and pretty much still is all i have at hand over there. The pots consist of 2 pieces, one that actually holds the plant and another piece to elevate the plant. I can hear some water in the bottom one slush around sometimes so it clearly does drain a little bit but i doubt it's even along the entire bottom of the soil. The plastic was pretty hard, so i wasn't able to make the holes as big as i wanted to.

I've never been a plant guy, but my brother was big with plants and cacti when we were growing up and i always remember his pots having drainage holes. Makes it very easy to gauge the amount of water you use.

As for not moving the plants outside, this is a shop in the city so there are literally no windows. Even at the shopfront right outside the door i feel is lacking in light, as the street we are in is quite narrow. I will however try and make some more holes if i see it's condition worsening even more. I do not want to disturb the plant further if i don't have to.

About the prugning, is this supposed to be done in a specific time of year or something or can it be done whenever?

I will probably be calling the guy they bought them from again so he can come and take a look at it.

PS. I saw you write that the sun can burn ficus, but i constantly see ficus on the roadside that grow to be big trees around here, is it the fact that these are bonsai that makes them susceptible to being burned?
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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DaisyI
Sep 29, 2017 9:45 AM CST
The sun will burn any plant that isn't used to being in the sun, even cactus. When you want to put a plant in the sun that has spent its life in a house or office, you need to acclimate it slowly. That could take two weeks.
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

Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Sep 29, 2017 11:52 AM CST
I am not familiar with Malta's climate. Perhaps you can keep it outside year round. If so, find a good location for it outside and leave it there. It may lose some older leaves not adapted to the light in that location but over time the plant will adapt as long as it is not moved frequently.

Not sure I understand the odd planter set-up. You might ask your plant guy how you are expected to avoid overwatering.

Pruning can be done at any time of the year.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care

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