Okay, plant friends! We’ve taken some time to celebrate the beauty of 2019 and now I want to celebrate those times of growth where things didn’t quite go as I planned.

I’ll tell you what happened and why it happened (if I know), even if it’s embarrassing. *face palm*

Here are my Top 10 Plant Fails of 2019!

1. Unsuccessfully rooting the cutting of Euphorbia lactea ‘Dragon bones’

Left: cutting that rotted; Middle: cutting that successfully rooted; Right: replacement ‘Dragon bones’ already rooted

I bought two Eurphorbia lactea cuttings in mid-summer. One was the cultivar ‘Dragon bones’ (a gorgeous milky white Euphorbia) and the other was the chimeric variety that has patches of creamy white and rich green.

I treated both the same way: I potted them in a very gritty, well-draining soil and watered them very sparingly since they would have no to little roots. I didn’t mess with them so I wouldn’t disturb any root growth that was happening beneath the soil. Both were placed in a west-facing window to ensure they would receive good light.

In December of 2019, I woke up one morning and noticed that my ‘Dragon bones’ was leaning oddly. Upon closer inspection, the bottom looked dark in color and puckered. I dug it up and found that it was rotting and had almost no roots.

I cut off the lower half, a bit above the rotted section, to see if I could still root the top portion. Unfortunately, it was clear the next day that the top half was too far gone to be saved as it was also puckering and looking unhealthy.

Was it something I did? I don’t think so; it just didn’t work out.

I unpotted the chimeric cutting to see how that one was rooting after finding the ‘Dragon bones’ cutting had rotted and it had nice, healthy root growth.

Some just don’t make it!

2. Unsuccessfully rooting a cutting of Hoya ‘Joy’

I was so excited when I saw this cutting of Hoya ‘Joy.’ It’s huge, dark green foliage with mint green flecks was stunning. Despite the time of year, I had to try rooting it. It was also challenging because it was only a one-node and one-leaf cutting.

I put the cutting in water and it seemed like it might be doing okay for a while. Several weeks later, however, I saw some shriveling behavior starting at the base of the leaf near the petiole and knew this one was unlikely to survive. The entire leaf shriveled and died over the next week or so.

What do I think went wrong? I tried, in the beginning, to only use natural light in fall/winter where the light was pretty low. I also purchased a very small cutting, which most likely wouldn’t have rooted for the smaller leafed cuttings and is still sometimes challenging with larger leaves as well.

If I were to try again, I would purchase a larger, multi-node cutting and use artificial lighting or wait until Spring/Summer to propagate.

3. My dog ate my Watermelon Peperomia (Peperomia argyreia)

I have a 5-tier bookshelf that I use as a plant shelf in my dining room which has a huge South-facing window and a West-facing window, so plants do really well here. For a while, I was keeping plants on the bottom shelf which is only a few inches off the ground.

The plants on the bottom three shelves are always pet and human safe because I have pets and a toddler running around my house, but I don’t really want the plants to be played with or eaten of course, as they are my babies too!

Well, for some reason one of my dogs is really attracted to the potting mix I use, not the plants, and she likes to lick it if she gets the chance.

She spent a lot of time when we were out of the room with my tiny Watermelon Peperomia and it did not make it. This plant and another one were the reason I decided not to keep plants on that shelf anymore. 🙂

4. My dog ate my Tillandsia xerographica (Airplant)

This story contradicts my last one a little, but in this case my dog really did chew up my plant!! This poor air plant was just hanging around on the plant shelf when gravity got the best of it and it fell off.

My dog was the first one to find it and had a really good time flossing her teeth with its leaves. It was just too tempting visually, I suppose. I promise I will do better with its successor and ensure it cannot fall!

5. Getting a plant delivered with root rot and thinking it was a smaller issue than it actually was

I haven’t had the best luck until very recently with Scindapsus treubii ‘Moonlight.’ My first attempt at keeping it ended poorly due to overwatering because I took “keep plant moist” too literally– I’ll expand upon this in a separate section as it was its own fail.

I ordered another plant and this one arrived in pretty wet sphagnum moss. Upon arrival, I checked the roots and a small portion of the bottom roots seemed a bit unhealthy (the outer casing came off), but the rest looked okay. The leaves were curled, but I thought it was just the stress from shipping.

It turns out I was wrong on both counts. The leaves being curled were a sign that the plant was in significant distress and was suffering from sitting in wet moss for too long. The leaves never uncurled and are still curled today (I never gave up on the plant, though it’s not looking good).

When I saw that its roots were looking unhealthy, I should have treated the plant as if it were unhealthy and not given it the benefit of the doubt. If I had to do it over I would have left the plant out overnight without potting mix to let the roots have air and dry out. Then I would have potted it in a well-draining mix after cutting off any unhealthy roots and watered it only when the moisture meter read extremely dry.

I could have also used a fungicide or diluted hydrogen peroxide to help control bacteria or fungus issues.

It doesn’t matter how many plants I have success with or how many years I’ve had plants, I am always learning. This is a good example of a tough lesson I learned this year.

6. Getting plant mail packed inside a sealed sandwich bag

This is the plant that came in a sealed sandwich baggy. This photo was taken after I had it a few months in quarantine. Many of the damaged leaves had already been removed and the new growth was emerging healthy. You can see the older leaves still show damage.

This isn’t really my own fail, but a packaging failure when sending plants. I want to share it because I want people who mail plants to avoid the same problem!

I had 2 different people ship me small plants inside a sealed sandwich baggy. Both didn’t end well because the plants received no airflow and were sitting in excess moisture for a long time.

These factors induced root rot, leaf rot, other fungus and bacteria, and just yuckiness. One plant was nearly rotten on arrival and died shortly thereafter, but the plant pictured above I was able to save and is still with me today.

Both of the people who sent me the plants were kind and genuinely wanted what was best for the plants, they just didn’t realize what would go wrong until it went wrong. It’s possible I could have made the same mistake had I not witnessed the product of using a sealed plastic bag for myself.

7. Letting a plant fry on my porch accidentally

I have a south-facing porch, which means it receives intense light most of the day during summer. I accidently left one of my more sensitive plants in the full sun while I was gone on a trip and crisped its little leaves beyond repair. I don’t have a picture of this one… but trust me, it was sad.

8. Knocking my Hoya Carnosa off a shelf (Prettiest fail ever)

This is more of a fun story than anything else! I knocked this cute little Hoya cutting off the plant shelf and the way that the pot hit the floor split the pot almost perfectly in half!

While I still felt bad for the mess I created and the trauma I caused the plant, it was such a neat break that I took this picture and am still in love with it today.

Some accidents are beautiful. This is one of them. 🙂

9. Taking the plant advice, “keep plant evenly moist” too literally

Trying to keep my Scindapsus treubii ‘Moonlight’ evenly moist is how I overwatered it from being the full plant you see on the left to what is currently still alive on the right. “Keep evenly moist” just does not work for me; this is my most recent example of near-death by “evenly moist.” Haha.

I now interpret this advice as: “I need to do more research on how to care for this plant in a way that I better understand.”

That can be tough because there are certain plants that do not have a lot of information out there, like the S. treubii ‘Moonlight.’ However, I’m no longer keeping plants moist because it almost always ends badly for me!

I will water a plant thoroughly and then water again when it is dry. If it doesn’t seem to like that, I will adjust accordingly if I can’t find better information elsewhere.

Most plants seem to do better with a little less water than too much. As a person who has said goodbye to a lot of plants due to overwatering, I want to lean on the side of less is more!

For S. treubii ‘Moonlight,’ I ended up finding out that the leaves curl just like S. pictus does. Now I wait for the leaves to curl before watering and my plant stays happy!

10. Unsuccessfully drilling a hole in a pot and burning my drill out in the process

Okay – full disclosure, this one is actually from a while ago when I was pregnant with my daughter (so sometime in 2018). I decided I was going to drill holes in a couple of my pots that didn’t have drainage. I researched what kind of drillbit (a diamond drillbit) to purchase, brought it home, and got to work.

As I began to drill, I noticed that the drill was using a lot of effort to create the hole in the pot and that a lot of heat was being created. This took place inside the house, flinging ceramic dust around my kitchen counter. (Not the best choice)

I did successfully drill one hole. I went to drill the hole into the second pot the drill started making a high pitched noise, became hot, and then began to smell.

It became clear that something was not right and I stopped immediately! I ran the drill outside to my garage (as I was concerned it was on fire) and then poured some water on the drill to cool it down. The drill didn’t make it, as I’m sure you guessed.

What I think the problem was: It was a miniature, low-powered drill that wasn’t equipped to do this type of job. I think if I had used a full-size drill it would have been fine.

I haven’t tried drilling holes again and typically just buy terracotta pots now, which are beautiful and ready with drainage holes. I’m confident I could do it if I wanted to, however, as long as I used a full-sized drill.

I hope you enjoyed reading about some of my failures or learning opportunities this year. What were some of yours?

Click to read more Top 10 of 2019 posts:
Top 10 of 2019: My Favorite Cacti and Euphorbia
Top 10 of 2019: My Favorite Houseplants of the Year!

Click to read last week’s article: Better Ways to Know that Your Houseplant Needs to Be Watered

A Natural Curiosity
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