What is wrong with my peace lily?
February 24, 2015 8:15 AM   Subscribe

My peace lily keeps wilting no matter what I do. I'm kind of bad with plants, but usually not this bad. I need to do something different, but what?

Ok, so when I started working in this office two years ago, I inherited a peace lily that sits in the outer portion of the office. A lady who has since left used to take care of it, and it seemed to do fine.

When she left, I took over the job, and I noticed that I had to water the plant around three times a week or it wilted. Not just wilted a little -- we're talking completely fallen down, dead-looking wilting, like soggy salad. When that happened, I'd water it and it would perk up for a few days and look fine and healthy, but two days later -- floparoonio.

So I looked at the soil and saw that it looked kind of dry and dead, and I figured probably the soil wasn't giving the plant enough nutrients because it (the soil) was too old. So I went to Home Depot, got a new terra cotta pot and new soil, and repotted the plant. It's a fairly large plant, so the pot is also fairly large. I watered it and it looked pretty good. I put in some plant food -- the kind that sort of looks like a blue lollypop stick that you push down into the soil. Two days later -- whomp. Wilted.

This has been going on for a couple of weeks now. I water it generously; it perks up and looks fine, but then I come into the office and staring me in the face is a totally wilted plant. It really goes right from looking fine to being completely wilted in one day flat. All kidding aside, it's actually pretty demoralizing. I've had peace lilies before and I've never seen them do this; at worst, the soil will get dry and they start looking a tiny bit sad, but not totally dead like this one does.

As I mentioned, I'm not so good with plants; I can do the easy ones like peace lilies (usually), pothos, dieffenbachia, and so forth, but anything harder than that and I'm lost. (I once did sort of ok with a jade plant; it grew sort of crookedly, but at least I didn't kill it.) Is there anything at all I can do for this poor peace lily? (My boss, never the sentimental type, said, "Just let it die," so of course I'm keen to save it.) Or is it too sick to save?

Oh, I should note that there are two other plants in the office, one of them immediately next to the peace lily, and I'm taking care of them too and they're doing fine, so I'm assuming it's not something in the office poisoning the peace lily.

posted by holborne to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This has always been my experience with peace lilies. They tell you very clearly when they need water by keeling over -- then you water them and they perk right up, and it doesn't seem to ever hurt them permanently.

Probably putting it in a terra cotta pot wasn't the best course, because terra cotta is very drying -- the moisture in the dirt evaporates through the clay quickly. How much are you watering it, when you do water it? I would try figuring out how much water you are giving it per week, then dividing that by 5, and then water it that much every day. I'd give it a little extra at the end of the day on Friday to get it through the weekend.

If it keeps flopping over, increase the amount of water you are giving it each day, but not by much. Peace lillies don't like to be in sopping wet soil.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:29 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is it sitting under a heating vent, by any chance?
posted by something something at 8:30 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I inherited one that similarly seemed completely doomed, and radically cut it back to just a few short shoots (also repotted it, into a plastic/basketed pot with drain tray). It came back to life beautifully before too long. Now it sits in a very sunny window, near a heating vent; I water it maybe once a week or two, and (rarely) stick a plant-food stick into the soil. (I also turn off the heat over the weekends.)
posted by mmiddle at 8:35 AM on February 24, 2015

Mine has survived for about four years, blooming a couple of times a year, while behaving the same way. It looks sickly and dead after only about two days, but springs back right away within an hour of watering. When I go away on weeklong trips, I always think it'll die permanently, but it livens right back up after I give it water.
posted by theraflu at 8:38 AM on February 24, 2015

Yup: Watering. I actually called mine the Lazarus Plant because it would seem quite dead and then spring back quite easily. As long as the leaves didn't get crunchy, it was fine.
posted by mochapickle at 8:45 AM on February 24, 2015

One of the problems with a lot of plant soils is that they can be very difficult to 're-wet' if you allow them to completely dry out. What happens instead is that the water just runs right through the spaces in the pot that have formed when the soil dried out. This can be mitigated by letting the plants soak in a sink for a bit (but not to long because you don't want to drown the roots)
posted by srboisvert at 8:55 AM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

A tip I learned that helped with keeping ferns indoors without uprooting them to repot out of terra cotta:

Get a second glazed pot that's a couple inches bigger than the one holding your lily. Put your lily pot inside the new pot and fill the space between the two with sphagnum moss. Keep the moss moist-to-wet and it'll help moderate moisture content inside the unglazed terra cotta pot. Your lily will thank you.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:08 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

We've got one of those at my office. It is the most dramatic of plants, really. Just keep watering it whenever it has a fainting spell and it'll be fine.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:14 AM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

When you water it, water it so that you totally soak all the soil in the pot. Lots and lots of water.

You'll water it again when the soil starts to dry again.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:17 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

nthing everything everyone's said about lilies overdramatic tendencies. In addition to the double-pot-and-moss recommendation, get a watering bulb to keep a steady water supply.
posted by erst at 9:31 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Consider repotting. Spathyphyllums don't need a lot of room (and indeed need very little soil at all), but putting them in a bigger pot may allow you to go a little longer between deep waterings. And speaking of which, when you water it, submerge the pot nearly up the rim and let it get good and soaked, and then let it drain completely.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:53 AM on February 24, 2015

Next time you re-pot it, include a generous serving of water crystals in the soil mix.
posted by flabdablet at 9:56 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it's getting watered thoroughly when you water it, and the whole root ball is getting soaked all the way through, and you're not making it stand in its own drainage water, the problem is that it is probably very rootbound and just uses up the water that quickly. The solution for this is to move the plant into a larger pot. Wilting too severely (and completely flat = severely) too often could be damaging the roots, so this is better done sooner than later.

If it's not getting watered thoroughly when you water it, and the root ball is not getting soaked all the way through, there's a good chance that the soil mix is peat-heavy (Miracle Gro is always super-peaty, and sold widely enough that it's a good bet that that's what your plant has). When peat dries out, it turns slightly water-repellent (as srboisvert said), such that it can be difficult to get the soil wet again, so you could be watering around the root ball but never getting substantial water actually on the roots, in which case the solution is to water better, as sciencegeek and Emperor SnooKloze said, or change out the soil.

If it's wilting while the soil is still wet, that's a whole different problem, but it doesn't sound like that's what's happening in this case.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:21 AM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

You might want to consider using a self-watering pot. I think you can even make these yourself. It's basically a terracotta pot within another pot that is filled with water. The terracotta doesn't dry out, so the soil stays damp, but you don't have to worry about over watering.
posted by stripesandplaid at 11:39 AM on February 24, 2015

My peace lily always did that too.
One time I went on a vacation and prepped it as follows:
Gave it a shower and really wet the soil, then tied the whole thing up in a clear plastic garbage bag and left it in indirect indoor sunlight. Basically I made it a wee humid greenhouse.
I came back expecting to see a dead plant, but instead discovered luscious new leaves and a flower, for the first time ever.

Other thoughts:
Use a glazed pot, or a plastic pot. Terracotta is so porous that water exaporates through the pot and the plant dries out very quickly.
Try a diaper? King of Random did a great video about putting diaper crystals (super-absorbent polymer) into plant soil to retain water. I guess you can buy the crystals, too, but a diaper is more fun.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:59 PM on February 24, 2015

Next time you re-pot it, include a generous serving of water crystals in the soil mix.

It's generally better to use a high-quality soil media rather than gels. For one, they break down eventually; and more importantly they degrade to acrylamide, which is a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen. Exposure can be through the skin or inhalation, which means one is at risk when repotting a plant with polyacrylamide crystals. Also:

PAM hydrogels do not work well in clay soils.
Fertilizer salts and saline soils decrease the water uptake and holding capacity of PAM hydrogels.
Positively charged ions such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron decrease water
absorption by PAM hydrogels by as much as 90%. These minerals are plant nutrients that
naturally occur in the soil and are contained in fertilizers.
Since lower (more acidic) pH levels increase the solubility of cations, especially metals such as
magnesium and iron, hydrogels in acidic soils are even more likely to be ineffective.
PAM hydrogels were found to decrease plant uptake of several essential nutrients in field studies.

See here (scroll down for polyacrylamide gels .pdf)

I suggest instead using a potting mix with a large amount of coconut coir. In a soil media lab I worked in, coir had plant available water longer than any other media, including the famous UC mix. Great aeration as well. I use it in everything.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:23 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My solution was just to water the HELL out of it. Like, i never let the drain tray under the pot not have a 1/2 or 1in of water just sitting in it. I watered it until it got to this state, and just keep it there, pouring in probably 10oz of water in a medium sized pot every time i notice it's low or the drip trays dry. I kept worrying about overwatering it, but that seems to be nearly impossible.

It looks like some crazy disney jungle thing now, and it's almost perpetually blooming.
posted by emptythought at 2:38 PM on February 24, 2015

This is normal for peace lilies and you can keep from overwatering them by waiting until they droop to water them.
posted by capricorn at 6:34 PM on February 24, 2015

I'm not sure what to tell you on the watering--I water mine a fair bit once a week and it's fine and hasn't done the dramatic wilt in ages--but I'm also having it sit right under a desk light these days and that seems to help.

Also, repotting/giving the plant new soil usually seems to help, and gets peace lilies to flower again if they haven't for awhile.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:53 PM on February 24, 2015

Thanks, everyone! Sounds like maybe I should try a glazed pot instead of a terra cotta one, for starters, and course, because this is New York in winter, it's super dry here, which I'm sure isn't helping much. (It's not under a heating vent, at least, so that's good.) Will also try a bunch of the other suggestions of that doesn't do the trick.
posted by holborne at 5:46 AM on February 25, 2015

« Older Where can I play drums in Brooklyn, near or...   |   SMS announcement service? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.