Ask a Question forum: Can anyone help me figure out what's going on with my office plants?

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Name: CatDrk
California (Zone 9b)
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CatDrk
Dec 20, 2017 2:28 PM CST
Hi everyone. I have houseplants at home which are thriving and doing good this winter, but two of my office plants are driving me crazy as I cannot figure out what's going on with them. My E. aureum (Pothos) and Croton are doing fine at work, but my Sansevieria (Snake Plant) and Aloe Vera are struggling. I know it's winter and my plants need less water, but as a rule I still check the soil once a week and have only been watering when the top 2" is dry. My aloe is in an unglazed clay pot and the top soil dries out every 10-days (that's when I water it). My Sansevieria is in a plastic pot and the top soil dries out about every 15 days (that's when I water it). I have a sliver of an office window and in the winter my plants get 4 hours of bright indirect light in the mornings and 3 hours of a 5w full-spectrum grow light in the afternoon.

Current Issues:

Sansevieria - some of the leaves on my plant are starting to curl inwards. I know I'm not over-watering, but as it's winter I am using less water than normal. I tried to water deeply once last month and that did not go well, and then I let it dry completely and still no change. There is no root rot and there are no gnats either. So basically...I'm trying to figure out a good water/lightning schedule to help my plant through winter.

Aloe Vera - my aloe seems to have had a growth-spurt and the outer leaves are starting to lay flat. I am watering the aloe every 10 days, but I am watering it about half of what I normally do. Like with my Sansevieria, I tried to water deeply once last month and that did not go well, and then I let it dry completely and still no change. There is no root rot and there are no gnats either. So basically...I'm trying to figure out a good water/lightning schedule to help my plant through winter.

Note: I believe my job lowers the heat at night because the morning temperature ranges between 62°-65°. Could that be a factor?

Thanks!

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[Last edited by CatDrk - Dec 21, 2017 11:17 AM (+)]
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Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
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joannakat
Dec 20, 2017 3:10 PM CST
Hi CatDrk and Welcome! !

I'm pretty sure that Aloe needs sun, but others will chime in with their advice. I'm also pretty sure that it doesn't like cold or dry. If your office has heating that dries the air out and if it gets cold at night and over weekends, that might be a problem.

I've had some very good luck with snake plants but they've all been in plastic pots that leave very little room for the roots. For some reason, they seem to like being crowded, and mine also likes being overwatered so that it stands in a substantial amount of water for a day or so (but not too long), and it also doesn't mind drying out in between watering. The medium should drain well. Mine gets some indirect light in the morning hours and then it's kind of dark in here afterward.

HTH and again, Welcome! !

AKA Joey.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Dec 20, 2017 3:58 PM CST
The only thing I can add to what Joanna said is when you water, don't half way water. The water should run through the pot and out the hole in the bottom.

If it runs through quickly, and the pot is still light after you water, the moisture is not being absorbed by the soil. Then, put the plant, pot and all, in a sink or bucket of water and leave it there for an hour or so.

If that doesn't help, you may have to consider repotting.
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: CatDrk
California (Zone 9b)
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CatDrk
Dec 20, 2017 6:01 PM CST
Thanks! I'm in California and right now (December) we're having cold but sunny days. My small window gives my plants 4hrs of bright indirect morning light. I then plug in my 5w full-spectrum grow light for 3 hrs. So I'm doing my best to make sure they're getting at least 7hrs of light 5 days a week. As for the water, now that you mention it I think my Snake Plant's pot does feel light after watering it.
[Last edited by CatDrk - Dec 20, 2017 6:03 PM (+)]
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Name: Carol
Santa Ana, ca
Sunset zone 22, USDA zone 10 A.
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ctcarol
Dec 20, 2017 6:14 PM CST
I see lots of folks on here that are against repotting crowded plants, but if they have been in the same pot for years, sometimes it is necessary, unless you can soak them every time you water. There is a big difference between fast drainage and water just flowing past the root ball.
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
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joannakat
Dec 20, 2017 6:25 PM CST
CatDrk said:Thanks! I'm in California and right now (December) we're having cold but sunny days. My small window gives my plants 4hrs of bright indirect morning light. I then plug in my 5w full-spectrum grow light for 3 hrs. So I'm doing my best to make sure they're getting at least 7hrs of light 5 days a week. As for the water, now that you mention it I think my Snake Plant's pot does feel light after watering it.


I'm no expert on grow lights, but I'm pretty sure that 5w isn't enough for the aloe. There have got to be a lot of experts on the topic here--you might like to post a question to this forum asking for recommendations and input.

BTW, I'm pretty sure your snake is actually a mother-in-law's tongue which typically has the yellow band.
AKA Joey.
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Dec 20, 2017 6:56 PM CST
Perhaps it is my old eyes, but I am not seeing the problems that concern you. I don't know what you mean when you say the Sansevieria leaves are curling inward. As Aloe vera leaves age they naturally start to become less vertical and more horizontal. They also do normally grow in spurts with less frequent growth in reduced (winter) light.

Both plants always benefit with more rather than less light. You may be worrying too much about watering as I don't see any evidence of under or over watering. Both plants tolerate drought very well, but not constantly wet or damp soil. Water thoroughly and then allow the soil to dry about halfway deep into the pot before watering again.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Dec 20, 2017 7:01 PM CST
Watts is a measure of how much power is used to light your light. Look at the small print on the package and find one with a 'k' value of 6500. That is considered 'day light'. You needn't buy an expensive bulb actually labeled 'gro-light' or 'day light' because with 6500k (kelvins) it is a day light bulb. Those fancy words cost a lot of money sometimes.

Also, cfl's are cheaper than LED's.

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Ph...

WillC, no your eyes aren't getting old. I was wondering the same but don't grow either of these plants.
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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[Last edited by DaisyI - Dec 20, 2017 7:03 PM (+)]
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Name: Sue
SF Bay Area, CA (Zone 9b)
Container Gardener Canning and food preservation Dog Lover
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Zuni
Dec 20, 2017 7:06 PM CST
The only thing I could add is the idea of fertilizer. Not sure if you're using any fertilizer, but I have good luck using a watered-down liquid fertilizer added to every watering. Miracle Gro is an option, along with others. You just follow the directions for regular feeding. It's something like 1/8 teaspoon per gallon of water. But, I agree, they look pretty good to me, too.
Name: CatDrk
California (Zone 9b)
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CatDrk
Dec 21, 2017 11:13 AM CST
Hi Will. I've attached better pictures for you. I've seen worse houseplants before, but not MY houseplants (say in ain't so D'Oh! ) I know they're surviving, but I would like to see them flourish as I have them to help improve air quality at work. As the roots still have room to grow, I did not transplant them this year. I dislike using chemical fertilizers and prefer to do a top soil change which is what I did with these plants this past April. The two plants did fine up until last month (November). As for the grow light, I cannot get approval to use a higher wattage at work. Here are the specs on my grow-light: www.amazon.com/gp/product/B072BHT2VV/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

LED beads quantity: 24 pcs
LED Color: Red (660nm 16pcs), Blue(460nm 8pcs)
Color Temperature: 3200k(red) 2800k(blue)
Power: 5W
Input Voltage: AC100V-260V

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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Dec 21, 2017 12:15 PM CST
I have never seen a light like that so can't help you there.

Your plants look perfectly fine to me. Is the smaller Sansevieria with the slightly curled leaves the older plant? The Aloe Vera outside leaves are also the oldest but they look healthy.

As for fertilizing, I very rarely fertilize anything. If you are changing the soil that often, you don't need to anyway. Its hard to find any potting soil that is not fortified with about 6 months of fertilizer.
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: CatDrk
California (Zone 9b)
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CatDrk
Dec 21, 2017 1:43 PM CST
Hi Daisyl. I've never had an issue changing out a little top soil once a year in place of fertilizer. It's not much, maybe 2 handfuls or I'll add more soil if the plant needs it. You're right about some soil having fertilizer added and I stay away from Miricle-Gro; I'm currently using "G&B" and "Kellogg Organic" soils. I've only transplanted these two plants 1x and that was when they outgrew their grow pots (used Palm/Cactus soil). The reason why I've asked for advice is because I've read that leaf curl on a Sanserveria typically means over-watering or under-watering. I do not believe I'm over-watering my plant. And the Aloe Vera I have at work is about 2-3years old and I don't think the leaves are big enough for them to be laying flat due to weight. One cause of flat leaves is not enough sunlight, but it gets 4hrs in the morning and then 3hrs of my grow-light. I could take the two plants home, but I really wanted these at work to help purify the air. Whistling
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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DaisyI
Dec 21, 2017 1:56 PM CST
I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, plants don't really purify the air. And if they did, you would need a jungle before you noticed a difference.

The NASA study that started this whole thing used carbon charcoal filters in the root system of their plants and concluded it all needed more study.

Plants will improve your mental health in your work space but not if you are worrying about them. Take your plants home.

As a side note, underwatering and overwatering look a lot alike because, in both cases, the roots are being effected negatively.
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: CatDrk
California (Zone 9b)
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CatDrk
Dec 21, 2017 2:35 PM CST
Thanks Daisyl.
Name: Will Creed
NYC
Professional indoor plant consultan
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WillC
Dec 21, 2017 3:24 PM CST
Optimal light is what causes plants to grow best, not fertilizer, larger pots or fresh soil. It is the light that is the controlling factor. The fact that your plants require artificial light is an indication that they are getting less than ideal natural light. That is not a problem, but it does mean they are not going to grow the way you would like. The artificial light will help, but is not as good as a full day in the direct sun would be. Fertilizer will not change that. Given their situation, your plants are fine.

Keeping your plants moderately potbound with their roots undisturbed will help their growth.

Tiffany is right about plants removing air pollutants. They may help a bit, but not enough to make a significant difference. Have your plants to enjoy rather than for purifying the air.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: CatDrk
California (Zone 9b)
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CatDrk
Dec 21, 2017 5:07 PM CST
Thank You!

Name: Yardenman
Maryland (Zone 7a)
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Yardenman
Dec 30, 2017 2:10 AM CST
I had snake plants in the north office windows 15 years ago and quite frankly they seemed to appreciate the weak light and iffy watering more there more than they like the better light and regular watering here at home now. In fact, I had to break one old pot apart to get at the roots, chop them into pieces, and repot them into 8 pots. So far, they seem to be thriving again after 6 weeks anyway.

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Name: Sue Taylor
Northumberland, UK
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kniphofia
Dec 31, 2017 12:39 AM CST
The curling of your Sansevieria leaves does look like underwatering to me. As others have said the water is probably just running through the plant without it being fully absorbed by the root ball. Are the leaves showing any creases at all? I've noticed that on my Sans which are underwatered. I've recently brought one home from my office which is displaying these signs. The roots were very dry so I broke off the pieces with some roots attached and have repotted them and thrown away the rest of the root ball.
Try and put your plant in some sort of container like a bucket or large saucer and water it thoroughly and let it sit in the water for half an hour or so to allow it to absorb it. Then you can throw any excess water away.
Name: Sue
SF Bay Area, CA (Zone 9b)
Container Gardener Canning and food preservation Dog Lover
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Zuni
Dec 31, 2017 10:34 PM CST
kniphofia said:The curling of your Sansevieria leaves does look like underwatering to me. As others have said the water is probably just running through the plant without it being fully absorbed by the root ball. Are the leaves showing any creases at all? I've noticed that on my Sans which are underwatered. I've recently brought one home from my office which is displaying these signs. The roots were very dry so I broke off the pieces with some roots attached and have repotted them and thrown away the rest of the root ball.
Try and put your plant in some sort of container like a bucket or large saucer and water it thoroughly and let it sit in the water for half an hour or so to allow it to absorb it. Then you can throw any excess water away.


I was wondering if a plant nanny type system might work well for these types of plants. I have a bougainvillea on my balcony and when it's really hot in summer, when I water it, and the water just flows right through the pot, it doesn't get enough moisture. So, I use a "poor man's" olla - a plastic vodka bottle turned upside down and put into the soil, filled with water, so it slowly waters the plant.

You can also buy terracotta plant waterers on Amazon or the brand "plant nanny" to do the same thing, or bury an olla into the pot, if the pot is big enough.

Unless it's really hot, the bougainvillea doesn't like to be too wet. So, it's still best for it to be in soil that really drains quickly. And as I understand it, these types of plants (the mother in law's tongue) don't like to stay really moist all the time either. So, I'm wondering if watering occasionally with the plant nanny or poor man's olla might help.

This is what I have set up with my bougainvillea on my balcony. I just fill up this plastic vodka bottle and turn it upside down into the soil. I bungee cord it to a stake in the pot. It's hidden by the foliage. Right now, I only water it by pouring water into the pot and letting it drain out - and at most once a week. But, in summer, I'll water that way every day or two, and also fill up the vodka bottle every day or two. I can tell by if the leaves droop, if it needs water. I know the mother in law's tongue plants don't give you that kind of instant warning, but if they just need to have a slower watering, where they have more time to absorb water, I think this might work for you.

The terracotta waterers you can buy on Amazon, and then use a wine bottle, are much nicer to look at, as you can buy a pretty blue bottle of wine, or you can buy the pretty colored glass plant nannies. But, if you don't care about looks, this works really well.

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Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Jan 2, 2018 10:13 PM CST
Zuni said:
I was wondering if a plant nanny type system might work...


A plant nanny is a very good suggestion. Thumbs up

Here is a photo showing the type of plant nanny available at my local nursery (this is the small size; there is a larger one available).
I use a green plastic bottle for the small plant nanny or a blue wine bottle for the larger size plant nanny.
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But that Vodka bottle is a good idea. That could keep the plant happy for several days. Thumbs up

Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~"Leaf of Faith"

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