please help me identify and care for my new plants
October 23, 2010 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Can you identify my office plants from the photos, and give me tips for caring for them?

Earlier this year, I moved into a new office and inherited the plants that were there. The plants are probably 3-5 years old.

I've been watering the plants once or twice a week, often using a few drops of the Miracle Gro liquid houseplant food that was provided with the plants. From reading similar posts, I've learned that I should water the plants with room-temperature water, whereas up until now I've been using cold tap or drinking water.

These plants are up against a south-facing window to the outside, but the window is now coated with an opaque white covering. I can't change anything about the window, but I could provide supplemental lighting. Alternately, I could take a plant home if it needs more sunlight.

* Plant #1, "leafy"

This plant looks healthy. The main problem is that the trunk is crooked, and if the plant continues to grow, the weight of the plant may make this worse. An earlier Ask MeFi post showed a plant where the trunk was supported with string. Pros/cons?

* Plant #2, "palmy"

This looks like a palm plant. It recently lost some leaves (they turned brown and I cut them away). Many of the remaining leaves have brown tips.

* Plant #3, "branchy"

This plant lost a lot of leaves which were dried up and brittle. The remaining leaves look healthy, but this plant seems neglected.
posted by germdisco to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Plant #1 is a variegated dwarf Schefflera arboricola, commonly known as an Umbrella plant. They hate drafty and/or dry locations and appreciate regular misting. The misting will help knock back dust and spider mites, which love to suck Schefflera dry. These need more light indoors than average, rotate the pot a quarter turn every month or it will start leaning in the direction of the light source.

Plant #2 looks like a very unhappy Howea forsteriana, aka the Kentia palm. Yours looks like it's gone through some dry spells, which they hate. It needs more light to get really lush and tall (I keep a big out outside on the covered patio) but will semi-tolerate crappy indoor lighting if it can be near a window. Brown tips = not enough water, yellow fronds = too much water.
posted by jamaro at 4:51 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay, here's how I mentally divide up houseplants:

darker leaves = less sun
light green leaves = more sun
fat thick leaves = water less, just when dry (they store water better)
spindly thin leaves = water more vigilantly, but don't go nuts (you can add water to a saucer rather than from above and it's a little more consistent)

I can't remember killing a plant. My cat did, though. I don't blame myself.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:51 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Second one is what I call a parlor palm at work.

First one is indeed the Schefflera Arboricola.

In our store either one seems to like indirect lighting and moderate watering.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:56 PM on October 23, 2010

For the Schefflera, in addition to rotating it, you can stake it and prune it, so that it is balanced. I agree more light for the kentia, also might want to consider fertilizer which includes the proper micronutrients.

I can't tell what's going on in that kentia picture, the potting media looks weird. Maybe it's time to step up the plant? If you don't want a bigger pot a second option would be to separate out some of the shoots and put the remaining half or so back in the original pot with new media. Palms in general don't like to have their roots messed with, but if you just make a single clean cut down the middle, you would disturb the majority of the roots very little. Plus then you'd have two "palmy"s
posted by abirdinthehand at 5:31 PM on October 23, 2010

Re #2, palms should not get regular houseplant food, they get salt deposits and that's bad for them.. (they need special formulations). Generally plants should get plant food during growth spurts in spring / summer (but there are exceptions). You also need to repot them every ~2 years (every year for smaller plants, but your are fairly big). Watering should be done based on how dry the soil gets, because depending on humidity / temp that can happen slower or faster. You can dip your finger in the soil ~2" deep, you can also tip the pot when it's just watered and then tip it when it might be getting too dry and compare the weight. Palms do, generally, need quite a bit of light. That's all I got!
posted by rainy at 5:32 PM on October 23, 2010

Branchy might be "lipstick plant" (Aeschynanthus pulcher.) Unfortunately my experience with (my mom's) lipstick plant was limited to vacuuming up all the dead leaves it dropped, so I can't advise on care.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:57 PM on October 23, 2010

Thank you for your responses! I should come clean and admit that I killed a small cactus that I owned for about 4 years. :(

• misting for leafy: I'll have to come up with a covering for the computer that is right by this plant. Also, I'm severely allergic to dust mites. And I'll start regularly rotating it.
• feeding palmy: I'll stop using the houseplant food and seek out a more targeted product for it.
• re-potting palmy: Horizontal space is very limited, but I have some room to spare with palmy.
• branchy: Yeah, the aeschynanthus pulcher photos I looked at seem to match.

In addition to the advice you've given, I'll go read about these plant types to learn more.
posted by germdisco at 10:30 AM on October 24, 2010

Spider mites are related to but aren't quite the same thing as dust mites, though I understand they can trigger similar allergic reactions in agricultural settings. The connection to dust is that spider mites favor the sorts of dry, low air circulation environments that also produce dust buildup on houseplants and looking back at my first comment, I see that I worded that very ambiguously, sorry for the scare!

You can tell if your plants have a spider mite infestation by looking for very teeny tiny unorganized webs (like, the longest strand is less than 1 inch) where the leaves meet the stems then holding a sheet of white paper under the webby parts of the plant and tapping the leaves, causing the mites to fall off. Spider mites in Nor-cal are bright red, about the size of a period dot and show up easily against white paper. They also can be easily spotted on the undersides of leaves (I automatically flip over any yellow leaf I find on my houseplants in search of the little bastards). I don't actually see any sign of spider mite infestation in Leafy's photo as Schefflera respond rather dramatically to an infestation by quickly developing mottled yellow leaves that drop off at a touch until you have nothing but potted twigs. Fortunately, spider mites drown easily which is why misting is a great way to keep spider mites from gaining a toehold.

If Leafy is small enough, carry him pot and all into the office bathroom, sit him in the sink and spray away. I sit my larger houseplants in the tub, hose them down with the shower attachment and leave them in the corner to drip dry; if your office happens to be equipped with a shower. If moving or spraying Leafy is out of the question, give him a quickie sponge bath by sandwiching his leaves between two damp O-Cello sponges now and then.
posted by jamaro at 2:38 PM on October 24, 2010

Ohh, you meant "dust" and "spider mites". :)
posted by germdisco at 9:34 PM on October 24, 2010

There is a shower on my floor, but first I'll try using a small spray bottle. I can just carry the plant from the office into the hallway and spray it there, where the mist won't cause any problems.
posted by germdisco at 9:38 PM on October 24, 2010

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