Can't get my houseplants healthy no matter what I try!

Discussion in 'Houseplants' started by xbonet, Jul 6, 2019.

  1. xbonet

    xbonet New Seed

    Jul 6, 2019
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    Hello! Hope I can get some recommendations in this forum :fingerscrossed: as I'm currently at the end of my tether with my houseplants...

    About a year ago we moved to Madrid, which is a very dry environment (25% at its lowest), prone to heatwaves in summer (we're currently in one; the temp normally is around 31°C or 88°F during the day and around 19°C or 66°F at night; though we've had it go up to 40º or 104º during this heatwave), not too cold in winter (it normally gets down to 5-15°C or 41-59°F during the day, −2-6°C or 28-43°F at night—of course, never indoors: we keep it around 18º in winter), but it doesn't rain often and it never really gets that humid (at least in comparison to other places we've lived, because here the absolute max is 60% humidity, though I don't think we've felt it go as high as that up to now). And to top it off, we live in a flat with no good natural light to speak of... Nonetheless, we were really tired of not being able to keep houseplants as we used to years ago, before we started moving around; so we bought some LED growing lights and we bought a Ficus Robusta Elastica and a Calathea Medallion (one recommended as being suitable to our environment and the other, less so, and more of a challenge to keep happy) so we could really test out our flat, setup and our cares to see if we can actually make things work.

    In terms of care: we followed all instructions and even researched extensively online to really know how to give them both the best care. We started buying bottled drinking water to water them with (even though we ourselves drink Madrid's tap water, as it's perfectly good for human consumption and it's not at all hard, has no scale to speak of). We mist the leaves and we have a mist diffuser we often turn on to keep the humidity level a little higher up where these plants are. As I said, because we don't get any direct sunlight and only some hours of indirect bright light (but it's in the kitchen and we don't want to be moving the plants around too much) we bought LED lights. And during this heatwave we even sacrificed one of our fans to them, as we placed it under the doorframe of the room where they were in ("were" because we've since brought them out to the living room in hopes that they might find that room more to their liking and come back to normal life!) in order to create a good current flow that would bring down the overall temp of that room.

    So, we bought them some 3-4 months ago. And right off the bat the Calathea (contrary to the warnings) did just fine and it was the Ficus that started giving us headaches. According to what I was told and what I read, I wasn't overwatering the ficus at all; however, it started getting some yellow leaves and some brown, dry spots started appearing on the sides of some leaves and then spreading, finally and they would drop off. Everywhere I read it was that overwatering was the culprit, so I started allowing the plant to really dry and show signs of wanting water before actually watering it. I took to letting it sit on a tray with water when it needed the water (and this helped a bit, I think) and I bought a humidity tester to test down to the roots. This sowed me that the roots were almost always at a good humidity level but at this point the plant had lost almost all its lower foliage; it was however still producing new leaves at the top. These leaves, however, were growing small, flimsy, thin and didn't have that dark green look. In fact, the leaves started drooping... So on the one hand, if I watered the plant I would be overwatering it and the leaves would fall off; on the other, if I didn't water the plant I would be starving it and the leaves would droop... This has been my dilemma and, frankly, a very stressing thing for the past months until today, I woke up to find 3 big, lush green, visibly perfect and healthy leaves were on the floor... as I touched the plant, another perfect leaf fell off as if it was hanging by a thread. We're about to give up with this plant, honestly... :(

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    And then theres the Calathea... Well, it hasn't gown one single new leaf since we bought it. But it looks fine (or rather, LOOKED, fine until a week ago). It even grew three things which I thought were new leaves or clumps of leaves and then, after some research, I'm inclined to think were actually its flowers. (I say "inclined" and not "sure" because there really isn't much about this particular kind of Calathea... you find plenty on others but not too much on the Medallion variety. In fact, the store that sold it to us, even though it was a rather posh, trendy plant store, couldn't actually remember the exact variety, so I had to research and find a photo of exactly the one we have to ascertain this information.) Anyway, the flowers came and went but still no new leaves. It never had any issues: it was always perky and would close up naturally at night; the small brown "injuries" and spots it had on the leaves when we bought it were never incremented and no new ones appeared (I believe because we were giving it bottled water). As I said, we were keeping it in good humidity and watered it when the soil passed the boundary between humid and dry in the scale I bought. But all of sudden, literally from night to day, I went in to check on it and 3 of its leaves were drooping, touching the ground! As I said, this happened a week ago, in the midst of the heatwave. So I quickly took it out of there and placed it near a window were a draft could reach it and I watered it, as it was coming up to its time for watering it. The other leaves looked as good as ever, but for these 3. When I came back to it n the afternoon, 2 of the 3 drooping leaves had popped right up to the point that I couldn't tell which ones they had been. The 3rd, however, having looked already a little wonky for the past days before drooping, kept on drooping and started curling up. The next day, I noticed two leaves had developed yellow spots. I assumed these were the ones that had dropped the day previous and thought perhaps I hadn't noticed the spots before and that hey would get better as the days went on. But they got worse and those 2 other leaves had steadily started to curl up and dry out like the other one had done. And that bings me to today: after noticing the healthy-leaf-armageddon on the above plant I noticed a 4th leaf on our Calathea is no half yellow... so it's going into the same direction as the others. (Thankfully the rest of the leaves look as good as always... but that's today and I fear tomorrow I may wake up to find the entire plant drooping and shrivelling!)

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    So, we were on our way toward giving up on the ficus, as I said; we even started thinking ti might have been sold to us diseased or with rotting roots... But after seeing this second plant going down hill so quickly.... we're abut to give up on having houseplants altogether! My wife just told be she knew our apartment was fit for them. We might as well wait until we get a suitable apartment but the truth is that since we moved to Europe some years ago we've never been able to have a suitable apartment for houseplants.

    So is this a red seal on us having houseplants? Or is there something we're doing wrong, something we could do right to get them to thrive as normal plants? I'm sure I never had to care so much for plants in my life... Having a pet would be less troublesome than these two. I'm sure there's something fundamental we're doing wrong because there's no way these two plants could survive in the wild if they're so weak and delicate that our actual pampering and treating them like queens hasn't been enough to keep them healthy! :crying:

    Please, any helpful input will be greatly appreciated!

    (P.S. I will only add that as far as green thumbs go, I have always had a knack for making stuff grow in the least favorable conditions. It really surprises me that I'm failing with these two)
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2019
    Cayuga Morning likes this.
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  3. Dirtmechanic

    Dirtmechanic In Flower

    Feb 6, 2019
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    Birmingham, AL zone 8a

    Reading about your plants was entertaining for me. Thank you for bringing the questions. I am sure that other members have knowledge about the plants that I lack, but I do have a question. I see the pH needs are extremely low on the medallion, 4.5-5.5 and the rubber plant is 5-5.8 or thereabouts. Because they are so low, and you did not mention the soil, just what magical concoction do you have them resting in? Also, I ran across the recommendation for distilled water. It is pure, and is a low enough pH that it will dissolve copper pipes, 6 pH or so. The volume of moisture passing through a tropical plant in your dry clime means the small percentages of things in water become big issues. I am a little leery of distilled water, but it is full of oxygen looking for something to attach to, which can be a blessing or a curse.
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2019
  4. mart

    mart Hardy Maple

    Mar 31, 2010
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    NE Texas
    Getting the water schedule right may be the problem ! The Ficus does well in indirect light so you should not need grow lights ! Close to a window but not directly in front of it ! I would like to know what it is growing in as well ! Commercial potting soil or what ? Unless the plant store was using distilled water I would keep it on the same plain old tap water they were giving it ! Some plants just do not like to be moved so I would find a place and just leave it alone for a while ! The Ficus does like soil to be on the dry side so check the soil before watering it and make sure you have good drainage !
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2019
  5. Cayuga Morning

    Cayuga Morning Hardy Maple Plants Contributor

    Jun 15, 2011
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    New England
    I don't have much to add other than perhaps the two plants are still adjusting to their new quarters?

    If these two don't make it, rather than giving up on plants entirely, how about trying your hand with smaller ones? Or finding out what kind of house plants your neighbors grow successfully.
  6. Jewell

    Jewell Incorrigible Gardener Plants Contributor

    Dec 17, 2008
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    Puget Sound Region of the Pacific NW,Zone7b
    You are very brave to grow big broad leaf plants of the varieties you chose. I have always found them difficult to continue looking good. They have usually been grown quickly in hot humid greenhouses or tropical areas so do not adapt well to house conditions. It is because they haven’t been hardened off properly and have adapted to other living conditions with high humidity and heat. Patience is the key and not over watering.

    I think CM’s suggestion of starting with smaller starts a great idea. You can try the same varieties, or other easier to grow varieties but as smaller rooted starts. That way you get to know their needs and they aren’t so temperamental. There are some large leafed philodendrons or similar plants that are less cantankerous. (Monstera deliciosa or Philodendron bipinnatifidum) These have been much easier varieties for me to grow.

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