My Top 5 Houseplant Fails from 2020 & What I Learned

In this post I will tell you some of my houseplant dirty laundry.

We will discuss the biggest struggles I had with houseplants in 2020, what happened, and what I learned from it!

Table of Contents

#1 Burning some of my most rare and expensive houseplants

I performed a huge reshuffle of my houseplants mid-way through the year. This included moving all of the toxic and expensive houseplants under grow lights and out of the common areas that my toddler frequents.

I wanted to make sure that both my toddler and my plants were safe!

However, I had a lot of plants to fit into a small area and some of my largest and most prized plants were squeezed onto shelves that put them only inches away from the grow lights.

A few weeks after the move, I started noticing some browning and crisping and wondered if maybe the plants were beginning to burn. Soon after, it became impossible to ignore that my plants were burning…. badly.

The plant that suffered the most damage was my Monstera Thai Constellation, an expensive plant to replace if lost.

It’s painful to post these, but this is what my plant looks like currently.

What I’ve learned:

Saving space isn’t worth sacrificing my plants.

I increased the height between plant shelves to help prevent further burning.

If I had to do it over, I would start with more height between shelves and lower light intensity. Then I would ramp it up as needed.

Trying to move my plants quickly and cost efficiently backfired on me and it will be a very long time before my plants do not reflect this grave error!

#2 Repeatedly losing Scindapsus treubii Dark Forms

Once I became aware of Scindapsus treubii Dark Form and Moonlight, I had to have them both. What I didn’t expect, however, was to find them so challenging.

I lost 2 beautiful, full Scindapsus treubii Moonlights before finally rehabbing and successfully keeping one alive. My problem was (and often is) overwatering.

While I was able to find some success with S. treubii Moonlight, the same can’t be said for the Dark Form.

I have lost several Scindapsus treubii Dark Forms to overwatering and poor recovery from shipping.

I cut one of the plants up when it began to rot and successfully rooted a piece, but then overwatered my propagated plant after transitioning it to soil despite doing my best not to overwater.

Here is my propagated S. treubii Dark Form shortly after potting it.

If I experienced this much trouble with other plants, I would accept that the plant just isn’t one I am able to keep and move on. But I really love S. treubii Dark Form, so I keep on trying!

I was recently watching an older video from Summer Rayne Oakes about orchids (click to view YouTube video) and some of the orchid growers were saying that you can’t be considered an orchid grower until you have killed at least 100 orchids.

Well, perhaps the same can be true of other plants as well. 🙂

I’m currently attempting two more rooted cuttings and hoping for the best. One of them is unfurling a new leaf, which is a first for me. I think this time I might find success!

Here is one of my current plants:

What I have learned:

In my most recent purchase, I asked the grower for advice. They told me to give these guys lots of light, lots of humidity, and lots of neglect.

I tried putting the two new plants under my grow lights in the room with my humidifier and am pleased to say that one of them is unfurling a leaf! Maybe there is hope for me after all!

Scindapsus treubii HATE the cold, so drafty areas or winter shipping can be a big issue for these plants

The texture of Dark Form is different than all of the other Scindapsus I’ve cared for. The leaves are succulent and glossy. (Has this observation helped me to care for them though? No. Nope. Unfortunately, not at all. Haha.)

They need extremely well-draining soil and rot VERY quickly if their roots are wet for too long.

Someone well-versed in Scindapsus care told me that S. treubii Dark Form’s leaves will curl when thirsty like the rest of the common Scindapsus we care for. However, that hasn’t been my experience. I haven’t seen any of my Dark Form’s leaves curl. Why? Not sure. If you know, please tell me!

I’m beginning to believe that the leaves lose their glossy appearance and look more wrinkly when in need of water. I would not take my advice on this yet. It’s still in the testing phase!

Be careful where you purchase your Dark Forms from. I’ve received multiple plants that weren’t the healthiest upon arrival which made it even more difficult for me to get a handle on caring for these plants. I think these must not take kindly to shipping.

What I haven’t learned:

When to give up on this one. 🙂 I can’t do it! I’m bound to figure it out eventually, right?

#3 Trusting ladybugs to handle pest control

I use live ladybugs as part of my pest management around the house. They are pretty good at finding and eating pests and no one in my family minds living with them.

I introduced ladybugs indoors earlier in the year and was so impressed with how well they cleaned up pest issues. When fall came, very few ladybugs remained so I added more and relaxed, knowing that any pest issues would be managed.

Unfortunately I relaxed a little too much and stopped checking my plants as thoroughly. I completely missed some mealybugs and spider mites moving into a couple of my plants.

One Calathea in particular became infested with spider mites seemingly overnight. It is the worst infestation I’ve ever had. I’m embarrassed to show you, but this is real life with lots of plants!

Since identifying these two issues, I’ve been working hard to keep any affected plants controlled and checking lots of other plants, which has resulted in a lot of spraying neem oil (so smelly) and staring at my plants.

What I learned:

Ladybugs are helpful in pest control and make a huge, visible difference. However, I still need to be checking my plants thoroughly and regularly to ensure that I treat the plants the ladybugs don’t.

Also, it’s time to try some other beneficial insects as well. I ordered pirate bugs and predatory mites to try, instead of lady bugs this time. I will report back with what I learn!

#4 Overwatering my beautiful Hoya Mathilde

Before the overwatering incident

Hoya Mathilde is one of my favorite and most prized Hoyas. For the first time this year, it grew a peduncle and then soon after buds.

As any Hoya grower will tell you, bringing your Hoya to bloom is a great achievement and one that I was super excited to witness with my Hoya Mathilde.

Through watching and caring for other hoyas on the verge of blooming, I’ve learned that it is critical to get the watering right or else they may blast their buds (blasting buds means to drop the buds and stop trying to flower).

Hoyas are also very susceptive to root rot from overwatering so it is a delicate balance between giving a hoya enough water to be happy and bloom, but not too much.

Well, I was not successful in my venture to ride this line and I overwatered one of my most precious hoyas.

Once I realized my mistake, I let it flower and then took a look at the roots and realized they were too far gone to save. So, I cut the plant up, rerooted it, and repotted it.

Below is a photo of Hoya Mathilde’s beautiful blooms and after that is a photo of my newly propagated pot of H. Mathilde.

What I learned:

Even with so many houseplants I can overwater by attending too closely to certain plants. I’d like to say it won’t happen again, but overwatering is a lifelong struggle for me that I’ll just have to keep working on!

#5 Not cutting my plants (The Tradescantia Debacle)

I have a really hard time with cutting my plants. Even though I understand that it is healthy and natural for them to receive a “haircut” from time to time, I just hate cutting off the growth they’ve put such hard work into creating.

However, there are times when it becomes very obvious to me that I’m hurting my plant by not giving it a trim. One of those examples is a Tradescantia that my mom rooted for me. She grew hers from a cutting that my mother-in-law gave her, so it’s kind of neat to have it passed around on both sides of my family.

In any case, the rooted cutting developed a thin stem at the soil level as it grew longer and longer. It was as if the weight of the long vine was becoming too much for the plant.

By the time I realized I had to cut it, it was nearly hanging by a thread.

I was worried that if I didn’t manually intervene, the plant was going to fall off without my noticing and that would be it.

So, I cut the long vine into multiple smaller sections and rooted them in water. They rooted extremely quickly and now make a cute little 4 inch pot that is MUCH healthier than the previous single plant.

Taking the picture below of the current 4 inch pot made me realize that the plant could probably use another trim and a couple more rooted pieces to make an even fuller plant. 🙂

What I learned:

I can help my plants significantly by giving them a trim! Full disclosure: I already knew this, but seeing the real impact on a plant helps to reinforce it.

I still have many vining plants that would benefit from a trim, but instead I’m looping the vines in and around the pot.

Maybe one of my 2021 goals will be to embrace trimming my plants more.

2 Comments

  1. Laura

    Thank you for sharing these painful stories! I fell in love with the scindapsus treubii dark form and have been wanting to get one. Do you have good ressources/contacts to share?

    Reply
    • Colleen

      Hi Laura! Unfortunately the seller that I would trust isn’t currently selling plants. I don’t have someone else in mind to recommend the purchase of S. treubii Dark Form from. I have noticed that there are A LOT more people selling the plant now on sites like Etsy and Ebay, so its definitely becoming more common. If I see someone I know well as a seller offering it, I can pass it on!

      Reply

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