Growing Concerns 553: Peace Lily, care

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Troubled peace lily can be revived with patience and scissors

Dear Janet,

I have a peace lily that is very dear to me. I received it at my mother-in-law's funeral in February of 2002. It appeared very happy and was enjoying its environment up until about 3 months ago.

I have always watered it once a week but about 3 months ago it started overflowing when I watered it. I believed it was root bound and needed to be transplanted into a larger pot. There was very little soil in the original pot.

I transplanted it into a larger pot. The leaves remain green and droopy. It is producing new leaves but it just sits there looking weepy. I have been very careful not to overwater but I fear that before transplanting and with the lack of soil it may have been damaged for good.

I have not fertilized it. Could that be its problem? Currently it is in a west window. - A.B. -

Dear A.B.,

I called on interior plant specialist Jane Suhail to assess your situation. As staff horticulturist for Planterra Tropical Greenhouses, Suhail trains the technicians who maintain plants in many of the corporate and commercial buildings in the Detroit area. Suhail's seen it all when it comes to peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii), a mainstay in those interiorscapes.

"What I think happened is the plant dried down, more than once," says Suhail. "You can't overwater a peace lily unless you let it stand in water but you can stress it by letting it go too dry. Then it wilts, and how long it takes it to come back up after you finally water is a measure of how badly you stressed it. You can only let (peace lily) faint a certain number of times before it just isn't going to come back up. The leaves are finally damaged enough that they can't."

Watering isn't a matter of once a week, Suhail explains. "The same size pot always needs the same amount of water but how often you water has to change as the plant grows and conditions change. A plant with more leaves and more light uses water faster than a smaller one in less light. As this peace lily grew I think it became bigger and used water more quickly until once a week just wasn't enough. The potting medium became gradually drier and you know, depending on the type of medium, once those dry out it's almost impossible to rewet them. Water you pour in just sits on top and overflows or pours right down through the gap that's formed between the shrunken soil mix and the side of the pot."

"It didn't help to repot in late fall. Plants have a hard time recovering from repotting if they have to do it during winter when the light is weak."

Suhail advises, "What I would do is keep this plant in good light and water it well but carefully, then at the end of March when the light's better and the new growth is developing nicely, cut off all the old ugly leaves. Start fertilizing again, adding one-quarter strength fertilizer at every fourth watering. It'll recover quickly."

"It's also possible," muses Suhail, "that a cold night last fall damaged the leaves but didn't kill them. That's another case where they wouldn't be able to stand back up. The same remedy applies, though. In late March, cut off that bad foliage and let the plant regenerate."

Short reports


Surprisingly tall groundcover!

G.S. from Highland went to as I suggested last week and "had fun playing with the Plant Selection Wizard," but was "astounded to see tall plants in the recommendations that resulted."

Dave MacKenzie, owner of that website and Hortech nursery, explains that groundcover isn't synonymous with short. "In general, the term applies to any plant less than about four feet tall, that grows in such as way as to cover the soil and exclude weeds."

DSC_0841.jpg DSC_8059.jpg

So if stature as well as weed control is on your mind as you design, check a proposed plant's height before you let it loose to cover the ground!

Schedule spring work now

Thinking about contracting for design or planting in your yard this spring? Interview designers and check landscape company references now. Many people start this process in March, thinking that's "early," only to find the best firms are by then fully scheduled for April and May.


Green thumbs up

to dense evergreen plantings at the southeast corner of a building. Sheltered by walls from prevailing winds and warmed by heat leaking from windows, such shrubs can shelter whole flocks of songbirds during winter storms and afford them early morning warm-up sites. What a grand place for a bird lover to have a bedroom or an office, in that corner of the building where each day starts with birdsong.


Green thumbs down

to those who whine about plants damaged by snow piled or pushed there from walks, driveways and roads. You missed design step number one, determining the uses of a site before you planted it. Snow has to go somewhere if you don't want to walk and drive on it. So beds adjacent to walks and drives should be designed -- or redesigned -- to place brittle or obstructive woody plants out of the shovel's way.


 Originally published 2/7/04



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