What's wrong with this plant?
November 23, 2014 2:17 PM   Subscribe

(Asking for my sister) My sister has this houseplant (pics inside) which is not doing too well. She'd like ideas on what the problem is.

Here are a couple photos: Pic 1
Pic 2

She bought the plant at Sam's club and does not know what it is. I think I have seen similar plants called corn plants (obviously not the actual corn vegetable plant), but take that with a grain of salt. She waters it about once a week, and it is in a bedroom with a single window facing north. It is winter here, so the plant probably isn't getting a ton of light. As you can see in the pics, the lower leaves are yellowing and dying off.

Any ideas what the problem is? Too much water, not enough, not enough light? Does it need some sort of plant food? I think she has given it Miracle Gro. Neither one of us has a green thumb or really knows anything about plants, so even the most basic info is welcome.

Thanks guys, we are really hopeless when it comes to keeping green things alive.
posted by catatethebird to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Response by poster: One more photo she just sent me. Pic 3 There does appear to be a bit of spotting on the leaves too.
posted by catatethebird at 2:20 PM on November 23, 2014

It looks like the leaves are little pale, not enough light? Less light could also mean it isn't drying out between watering. If you fertilize I would rule fertilizer out unless it's too much, a little goes a long way.
posted by Brian B. at 2:29 PM on November 23, 2014

I think it's a Yucca. Some care tips here.
posted by Solomon at 2:33 PM on November 23, 2014

The Miracle Gro could have shocked it a bit. Let the soil dry out completely before watering it again. Use filtered water that is room temperature. It may need new soil and a new pot.
posted by myselfasme at 2:42 PM on November 23, 2014

Not enough light. There are very few plants that can thrive when the only source of light is a north facing window (north facing window = the least amount of sunlight exposure a room can have short of having no windows at all).

Try moving the plant to a room where it can get south or west exposure.
posted by jamaro at 2:46 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agreed it's a Yucca, probably this variety. Get it some better light, and go easy on the watering.
posted by beagle at 3:00 PM on November 23, 2014

That really is a corn plant. And the lower leaves will yellow and fall off and you get new growth out the top. You can trim them off if you'd like.

Dracaena Corn Plant

Pruning: You will find the lower leaves on this plant turn yellow after a period of time which is normal, and the leaves on this plant only have a life span of 2 - 3 years – anyway. Remove the lower leaves when they begin to yellow.
posted by Roger Dodger at 3:07 PM on November 23, 2014

By the way, this is actually a really good choice for a houseplant. They are almost impossible to kill and easy to bring back from the brink in my experience.
posted by Roger Dodger at 3:10 PM on November 23, 2014

Pretty sure it's not a Dracaena fragrans "corn plant", it's a sad yucca. Dracaena fragrans has broader, floppier, softer, less fibrous leaves than a yucca; yuccas are also typically a deeper green. The problem is if you don't provide the right environment for a yucca, it will droop/yellow and make differentiation harder from photographs. What do the edges of the leaves of this plant feel like? Like running your finger along it might induce a paper cut? Then it's a yucca. Could you easily rip the leaves cross-grain, or only along fiber lines? The latter is a yucca.

Either way, the plant needs way more light; if your sister can't relocate the plant to a more suitable location, she can get a daylight spectrum fluorescent light bulb for it (they sell them in actual bulbs as well as tubes, so you can just use a clamp lamp or desk lamp fixture or whatever and keep the bulb very close to the leaves - anywhere from 4-10 inches away is fine); just remember to turn it off at night as plants need cycles of light and dark to properly grow). It should also be planted in a loose bark/pea gravel/soil mix that allows for rapid drainage and fed lightly with plant food (less in the winter). It should be in a pot with drainage holes on the bottom, and when watering you should drench until water runs out the bottom and then let it dry fully (when you stick you finger in the pot, three inches down it's still dry) before watering again. You can pull off the unsightly dead lower leaves though they aren't hurting anything other than aesthetics.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:45 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

What do the edges of the leaves of this plant feel like? Like running your finger along it might induce a paper cut? Then it's a yucca. Could you easily rip the leaves cross-grain, or only along fiber lines? The latter is a yucca.

Came to say exactly this after looking at the photos. My bet is that it's a Yucca, because a Dracena would be far more forgiving under these circumstances. Yuccas need super sunlight indoors, north just won't cut it. Particularly at this time of year when daylight is so short and weak. It doesn't need plant food this time of year, really, save it for spring. Let it get drier over winter, too, once a week on watering is too much. But mainly, sun. And lots of it.

If it makes it through this winter, she could summer it outdoors, which will strengthen it for a less-than-ideal winter. Just transition it really slowly from indoors to out --- a super shady spot for a week, then a slightly brighter one, then finally some direct sun. It would be happy to summer in part or full sun.
posted by missmary6 at 5:32 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

In addition to more sunlight, it might need a warmer environment. It is a hot weather plant and you are some place kind of cold. It looks droopy to me in a way I have seen Aloe Vera also do in too much air conditioning.

If you can find a very sunny window and put it on, say, some tiles of the sort that will absorb heat from the sun and radiate it back into the room at night, it might be okay. I had aloes in a very sunny window in Washington state. We had snow and frozen pipes that winter, but it is the only time my aloes really thrived like that. So I would try more sunlight + more warmth.
posted by Michele in California at 11:09 AM on November 24, 2014

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