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March 12, 2016 


My daughter is trying to root the attached plant. We don't know what it is. It appeared to be a vine with off shoots from the root. It was potted. Can you give us any direction on what it is and the best way to root it?
Thank you.


black and white picture of contorted wax plant



The plant in question is a contorted hoya, commonly called a Hindu rope plant or contorted wax plant.  These succulents are quite slow growing but when they bloom they have beautiful clusters of fragrant flowers.  Hoya plants produce the roots and new shoots at a node—where the leaves are attached.  You can either lay the cutting you have on top of moist potting soil trying to push it lightly where the leaves are attached into the soil, or make cuttings with one set of leaf cuttings leaving a longer stem section below the leaves to anchor the cutting into the soil. Cuttings should be positioned so the node (the point where the leaves are attached to the stem) is at the soil surface to ensure maximum rooting. Avoid sticking cuttings too deep as they will not root well if the nodes are positioned below the soil surface. Cuttings should root in about 3 to 4 weeks and a single shoot usually develops from one of the buds on each cutting approximately 4 to 6 weeks later.


October 31, 2015


QuestionWhile we were visiting my son in California this summer he gave my wife a cutting from a Jade Plant. My wife put it into a small container of potting soil to root, which it has done. It has put out new leaves and should probably be repotted. What kind of potting soil should she use – something for cacti and other desert plants or just ordinary potting soil?


AnswerThe same thing could be said for Boston ferns, tropical hibiscus and others.  But for those who don’t mind vacuuming, the plants should be inside now.  If you wait until a killing frost, they will shed even more, since they will have been exposed to some pretty low temperatures.  


September 2015

QuestionI received this arrangement after a funeral. How do I care for it?


AnswerWhile this is not technically called a dish garden, this grouping of individual houseplants needs to be separated into individual pots so that each plant has the space it needs to grow.  I see at least three of four types of houseplants in the arrangement—a palm, a dieffenbachia (dumb cane), a prayer plant and maybe a dracaena.  They may be individually potted in the arrangement or planted together, but give each their own container.  Give them bright light and don’t overwater and they should do fine.  These combination planters look impressive when you get them, but they are not intended to continue growing together.




(December 2012)

QuestionI have a ten year old ficus tree indoors that is oozing and dripping a sticky substance on my floors. I suspect that it is caused by some sort of insect or parasite. It looks like it is very healthy and still putting out new leaves but the sticky stuff is quite a nuisance. Some leaves have small dark scale type things on them. If this is the cause is there anything I can do to rid my plant of them. I've tried spraying with insecticidal soap and removing what I see with rubbing alcohol . Maybe something systemic would work better?


AnswerYour ficus tree could have scale, just like the azaleas in the previous question, but ficus trees are also notorious for a process called guttation—where they basically sweat—they have built up too much moisture in their leaves and it has to come out somewhere. It typically occurs when there has been a major change in the plants environment-often when they are moved back indoors in the fall. They ooze excess moisture typically out of the leaf where it is attached on the stem. It is very sticky and it can stain, just like the honeydew that comes from sucking insects. If you determine that insects or scale is the culprit, there is systemic houseplant insecticide that comes in a pellet form of imidacloprid. You put the pellet into the soil and it slowly releases the insecticide and fertilizer into the soil to be absorbed by the root system. They are safe to use indoors.


QuestionI received a beautiful 3ft tall schefflera plant in Sept as a gift upon my mother's death. Since then it has lost over half of its leaves, some brown and dry others green and healthy looking, some with brown spots. It is in a bay window facing east but does get some direct morning sunlight from the southeast window. Some new growth has appeared, but even those leaves drop. I haven't over-watered and have fertilized once. Help - I really don't want to lose this plant.


AnswerMake sure that the pot has a drainage hole and that there is no standing water at the base. Overwatering is usually the cause of houseplant woes, but occasionally under watering also occurs. When you do water, let the water pour through the container, making sure that the entire root ball has moisture. Then throw away the excess water that has poured through. Typically in the winter, houseplants only need watering every two weeks or so. Morning sunlight is ideal, but make sure it is getting enough light, and turn the pot occasionally—you might find a brighter location for it now. Winter is often tough on indoor plants, since we have little humidity and even lower light. I would not fertilize during the winter, since there is little new growth. Once we start having longer days it should start to perk up. Once spring is here, repot it and move it outside and see if it doesn’t thrive.

(August 2012)

QuestionCan you please identify the attached plant picture.


AnswerThe plant is a houseplant called wax hoya or simply hoya. The flowers are very waxy in texture and usually last quite a while. Some varieties are highly fragrant, and can be slow to flower. Others like the shooting star hoya bloom more freely, but have no fragrance.

(January 2012)

QuestionI always repot my plants in the fall to bring around 4 in my house. I repot because my brother brought 11 baby copperheads in the house one fall. Anyway, I always get gnats, several hundreds of them come out of my plants so therefore I have to move them to the garage and cannot enjoy my plants in winter. Do you know what I can do to avoid the gnats? I always buy good soil.


AnswerWow! And I thought the snake story was an urban legend! If you have gnats every year, I would say you are overwatering. Fungus gnats multiply more rapidly in moist soils. Especially during the cooler, winter months, houseplants would benefit from being on the dry side—usually no more than once every two weeks for most plants. Timing of course will vary by plant, plant and container size and how hot you keep your house. Top-dressing the soil with sand, using a mild insecticidal soap drench when you move them inside can also help.


QuestionI have a very old (20 years) croton plant that has deep sentimental meaning to me. This summer I put it outside and it was very happy and turned beautiful colors. However, since I brought it inside, it has been dropping leaves. At first, I thought it was just adjusting to the climate change, but today I noticed fine web-like stuff in the crotches of the branches. as leaves continue to drop. I sprayed it with Neem oil and washed off the webs with Murphy's oil soap. I also moved it into my greenhouse so it can get more light and humidity. What else should I do to save it? Is there danger of whatever is on it infecting my other plants in my greenhouse?


AnswerThere is definitely a chance that the insects will move from one plant to another, particularly in a closed environment of a greenhouse. It sounds like spider mites to me. The Neem oil and the Murphy's Oil soap should definitely help, but keep it isolated from your other plants and monitor it. Keep the soil on the dry side, but try spraying the foliage with water periodically, as spider mites thrive when dry. Don't expect miraculous new growth until the day length increases, but I would suspect it will rebound. The more light they get, the more colorful their foliage. Good luck!

(December 2011)

QuestionEight years ago my daughter gave me a Christmas cactus. Each summer, I move it outside to filtered sunlight and it has done great. This August it started dropping leaves. Sections about five leaves in length will fall off. I dip them in rooting hormone and they are rooting, which is confusing. I re-potted it in September and moved it indoors in October when the temperature dropped and it had set flower buds. It has bloomed beautifully but the leaves continue to drop. There is no sign of insects that would be cutting the leaves. Do you have any idea what is wrong with it?


AnswerChristmas or Thanksgiving cactus plants don't tolerate stress well. If they get too dry or too wet they can drop leaves. Major changes in conditions will also cause them to drop leaves and or flower buds. The intense heat this summer also took its toll. Since the plant did bloom and didn't drop all the flower buds, you are probably in good shape. Keep it in a sunny room with cool temperatures. Water about every two weeks and get it through the winter. Then next spring, move it outdoors and hopefully it will rebound.

(February 2011)

QuestionWe live in Fayetteville. We have a Hibiscus that we have been keeping in the garage for the winter and during days when the temperature does not get below 45 digress we have been putting the plant outside. It has been doing real well until we had the snow and freezing weather about 2 weeks ago. I had left the garage door open while I was scooping snow after that evening I notice the leaves started to curl up and die. Just this last weekend I pulled all the leaves off the limbs and cut about 25% off all the limbs. Have I killed this hibiscus? Can I do something else to help this plant? Will it come back?


AnswerFirst of all, don’t move your plants in and out during the winter. Leave them in the garage until you move them out permanently. The goal is to keep them alive, but not thriving and growing. If they were exposed to below freezing temperatures for any extended time it could be bad. If they are close to the house and not the open door, it could be just a burn. Cut them back by half when you move them back outside. Repot them into a new container and water and wait and see what happens. Don’t move them outside until mid April to early May. Good luck.


QuestionAs soon as I got my corn plant dracena home, one of the trunks leaves started dying off. They turned brown and died, one after the other. I started cutting them back and before long they were all dead. Then the trunk started getting soft but stopped in a short time. What do I do now?


AnswerI would say it either got too wet or too cold. Corn plants actually can tolerate fairly dry conditions. Cut out the soft tissue and damaged trunk. If it goes all the way to the ground, you probably have a dead plant. Dig it up and examine the roots. If they are brown and gummy, toss it. If they are full and white, give it a chance to send up another sprout. You might also visit with the store where you bought it and see if they would replace it, or if others had the same problem.

(November 2010)

QuestionI have a beautiful variegated sansevieria that grew on my front porch all season. Our porch gets bright/diffused light and I was careful not to over water and the plant has thrived. Now it is indoors, however the information that I have read indicates to water only once per month. Does this sound correct to you?


AnswerSansevieria or ‘Mother-in-law's tongue’ or ‘snake plant’, is a tough houseplant. Watering it once a month should suffice. It has a very tough, leathery leaf and prefers it on the dry side. Indoors, your plant is growing slowly, so the key is not to overwater.

(August 2010)

QuestionMy friend received this plant in an assortment garden from the florist. She has since transplanted it and it is thriving. I have enclosed pictures. The top side of the leaf is a brilliant green and the underside is a deep purple. The delicate blooms almost look like a “jack in the pulpit”. The green that you see behind the blooms are a trellis. We would love it if you could identify this beautiful plant for us!


AnswerI believe it is a Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender'. Plectranthus is the same family as Swedish Ivy but this plant is grown outdoors as a summer annual in morning sun or filtered sun. The foliage can be a dark purplish green with these spikes of purple flowers. Some will try growing it as a houseplant but it would need very bright light to keep blooming indoors.


QuestionMy prayer plant is in the carport out of the sun I water as needed and it is putting out a new leaf in the center, but it prays constantly. Does it want to be in the house where it is 73 degrees? I want it to be happy; please advise me.


AnswerMaybe it is on a religious retreat!! I personally would rather be inside in 73 degrees versus outside with 100+! Typically the prayer plant or Maranta closes at night in relationship to light and dark. I would say your plant is stressed in some way. As hot as it has been, it may be a reaction to the heat. It may not be getting enough light. It also likes even moisture, but can’t tolerate wet feet, so rots easily—and is very shallow rooted, so it can dry out quickly. Try moving it inside and put it in a room with good morning light and see if it doesn’t come out of its prayer routine. Make sure you are watering properly and the plant has a healthy root system. It should be easier to manage the water needs indoors versus outside.

(April 2008)

QuestionI have two bougainvillea plants that I have had a couple of years. I bring them in each fall. I was wondering when it would be safe to put them outside this year. Also I am trying to stake them so they will look like a tree instead of a bush. Do you have any suggestions?


AnswerI think it is a good idea to wait until mid to late April before moving any tropical plants outdoors. This just guarantees that a late frost won’t hit them—think back to last year!! Bougainvilleas usually bloom better if they are slightly pot-bound, so don’t give them too much container space or you may get more foliage than flowers. To train them into a standard takes time and patience. You would need some form of stake to get the trunk established, then start pruning the top at a height where you want the bush to begin. Be careful, since the stems do have thorns on them.

(February 2010)

QuestionThis past fall, I repotted my houseplants into clay pots before bringing them in for the winter. Recently, I’ve noticed that the pots have a white substance on the outside of them. What is it?


AnswerThe white substance you see on the outside of clay pots is usually salt leaching out of the soil. Typically it is more prevalent in houseplants that are fertilized regularly, since fertilizer is salt. The clay is a porous substance and the salts leach out. With heavy buildups you can also get a white or yellow crusting on the top of the soil. Don’t over fertilize houseplants, in fact during the winter I recommend no fertilizer.

(February 2006)

QuestionI have a Key Lime tree which I grew from a seed. It is about five feet high and bloomed profusely for the first time this year. Unfortunately, my tree has been attacked by some insects which I believe to be scale. I went to the nursery to find something to get rid of the scale, and the proprietor told me there was really nothing that would be effective on citrus. I am guessing that a systemic insecticide would be necessary to kill them. Is there something you would suggest? If I treat my lime tree with such an insecticide, could we eat the fruit in future years? I have been physically picking the bugs off and squishing them, but there are just too many! I need your help!


AnswerUnless the product is labeled for edible plants, don't use it. There are some formulations of insecticides for fruit trees. Probably your best bet now would be horticultural oil. You need to have thorough coverage for the product to be effective to smother out the insects. Once the scale insects die, they won't fall off, but you should see the plant gaining in vigor, and no new insects. You may want to wait until you can move the plant outside before spraying. Avoid using the products when it is extremely hot. There are several formulations--dormant oil is heavier, while some of the sunspray oils are more refined and can be used on plants that are not dormant.

(November 2005)

QuestionMy house plants have brown tips on the end of their green leaves. What am I doing wrong?


AnswerOften times the brown tips are a sign of salts in the soil and water. If you fertilize frequently, the salt can build up in the container, causing brown tips. Look to see if there is any white crusting on the surface of the soil. You can scrape this off then flush the pots with plenty of water. Cut off the damaged tips, following the pattern of the leaf, to make the cut leaf less noticeable.


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