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Plant pick-me-up

25 February 2022
asian girl waters the plants in house

The sustainably minded and savvy Diana Noonan helps us revive precious plants.

Monstera on the mend

Nothing looks sadder than a droopy Monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant) unless, perhaps, it’s one with crispy brown leaves. But whatever is ailing your pet pot plant, don’t give up on it. With some TLC, you’ll have it looking perky in no time.

Before you begin the ‘treatment’, work on the diagnosis. The following are signs of under-watering: brown edges to leaves, entire brown leaves, drooping green leaves and pest infestation. If the plant has suffered from over-watering, it may display yellow or fallen leaves, a foul smell in the root area (from root rot), and an infestation of pest insects.

close up of yellow dried leaves of monstera due to over watering of the plant. plant disease.
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Under-watered treatment
If the plant has been under-watered, use clean, sharp scissors to remove any leaves that are mostly or completely brown. Rather than simply watering from the top (which often means the water passes only quickly through the growing medium) soak the entire pot in a container of water for 20 minutes, let it drain well, then return it to its saucer, which should be lined with pebbles.

Over-watered treatment
If your plant is suffering from excess water, remove any moisture left in its drainage saucer. Use clean, sharp scissors to snip off damaged and dead leaves. If the growing medium smells foul, purchase fresh potted plant mix. Remove the plant from its container, and gently brush off all the old mix from the roots. Use scissors to snip off any roots that are unnaturally soft or rotten, before replanting in the fresh growing medium. Refrain from watering for couple of days. From then on, water only when the growing mix is dry. Use a moisture meter to check, or push your finger into the growing medium up to the second knuckle. If it comes out clean, its time to water. If soil adheres to your finger, wait a while before watering.

Pampering
Using a clean spray bottle of mild, soapy water, spray both sides of the plant’s leaves (this will help kill pest insects). After a few minutes, wipe the leaves shiny-clean with a soft cloth. Mist the leaves with fresh water and do not dry. Repeat again every 3–4 days.

As well as water, your plant will be craving humidity. If your bathroom is well lit and reasonably warm, pop it into the room where it can enjoy the heat and damp created by showers and baths. Wherever it is housed, make sure it is sitting in a saucer lined with pebbles, and allow moisture to gather there.

A well-lit spot is essential for your plant’s health. Unnaturally thin stems and stalks, coupled with drooping or sun-scorched leaves, are a sign the plant is not in an ideal spot. Close to a window but in the protection of dappled light is the ideal situation. You can create this by covering a bright window with a bamboo blind that can be lowered in periods of intense sunlight, and raised on an overcast day. Early and late sun is best because it is less intense. If the only place you have for your plant is sunless, consider purchasing full-spectrum grow lights that can be run on a timer to introduce ‘daylight hours’ to the environment.

mature male gardener watering fuchsia (fuchsia magellanica) plant in hanging basket

Freshen up your basket fuchsia

With their lovely, trailing flowers, fuchsia are made for hanging baskets. Left in the care of a holiday plant-waterer, however, they can look seriously worse for wear on your return. Curling foliage, dropping flowers, yellowing leaves and infestation of pests such as aphids are all signs that your fuchsia has gone beyond thirsty and into drought mode. Discoloured, falling leaves, buds failing to open and spotted flowers with grey patches are all signs of over-watering.

Correcting under-watering
It’s not surprising that basket fuchsia can quickly dry out. Their dense, soft foliage means they lose moisture quickly, and their mass of fine roots work like a sponge to wick water from the growing medium. Basket fuchsia are especially prone to drying out because they are anchored high up where heat rises, and where warm winds sap moisture from them.

wilting fuchsias

As a precaution, basket fuchsia should be watered twice a day in warm weather. If they are seriously wilted and do not respond to moisture, take the basket down, put it in a cooler place with dappled light, and prune back the foliage by a third. Treat pests by spraying with a soap and water mix (¼ teaspoon of hard soap dissolved in a cup of boiling water and left to cool before using).

If the fuchsia is over-watered, root rot can develop, in which case the plant will appear sickly because the roots aren’t pumping through food to the leaves and flowers. Water only when soil doesn’t adhere to your finger when you push it into the growing medium up to the second knuckle. If you are following this advice and the growing medium is failing to dry out over a period of 3–4 days, you may need to repot the fuchsia. Ask at your garden centre for a free-draining mix. Once you have repotted the plant, place the basket in a shady position for 3–4 days to recover, then gradually reintroduce it back into dappled light before rehanging the basket.

Pampering
Fuchsia are delicate plants that do not appreciate intense sunlight. Morning light is fine but afternoon sunlight is too hot and bright. Hang your basket fuchsia where it receives dappled light or light shade in the afternoons.

During the active growing season, feed basket fuchsia a balanced fertiliser once per week to promote growth and flowering, and to maintain the vigour that can resist pest infestations.

Fuchsia grow naturally in forested areas where humidity is high. Help your plant experience similar conditions by misting it regularly, especially on warm days.

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