Field notes — August 29, 2021

Got several repotting needs done in one. Used the same mix for all: 2 parts worm castings : 2 parts coco coir : 3 parts perlite.

Dracaena surculosa, Päivi

  • ~Aug 12: Root rot due to using isopropyl alcohol in soil as an overly enthusiastic first attempt to threat against thrips. (Silver lining: no more thrips…)
  • ~Aug 13: Repotted next day into fresh soil, but over next two weeks, half of leaves slowly browned and fell off.
  • Aug 29: Snipped off remaining healthy stems, dipped in rooting hormone and planted in fresh soil mix.

Pilea cadieri, Louhi

  • New-ish aluminum plant. Let acclimatize to my house for a couple weeks (in isolation; no signs of pests so far).
  • Snipped off tops to encourage branching from main stems.
  • Decided not to waste the tops and see if they’ll grow. Dipped in rooting hormone, then into fresh soil mix.

Ficus elastica, Antero

  • Roots were extending past his nursery pot (which was oversized for his few roots at the time. I had removed a lot of soil and put a small layer in the bottom, using the sides of the container to prop up his huge leaves).
  • Quite a few more roots now, so repotted with more soil into smaller nursery pot; I expect the roots can now hold the plant better upright.
  • Some signs of pest damage on new leaf and one old leaf and bugs moving in soil; probably thrips.
  • Shook as much soil out of roots as possible, repotted in fresh soil mix, topped soil with diatomaceous earth.

Leaf collection

Plants often show distress via their leaves in a cryptic code of browning here, crispiness there, and the tactical expansion of yellowing across the surface.

What does it all mean!?

The answer to “why is this leaf yellow?” could be many things from over- to underwatering or too much or too little light. It could depend on how the leaf is yellowing, where the leaf is located on the plant, what kind of plant it belongs to, and just understanding how your plant experiences your environment.

Result: honestly, I generally just don’t know, and not knowing is frustrating, so I will treat the leaves I am given as a collection of specimens and find out what I can each time.

Leaves of distress: the pictures

Leaves of distress: the breakdown

Sign of distressNotesInexpert diagnosis and treatment
Yellowing from the base up on a bottom leaf– On a Dracaena surculosa (Päivi)
– On the lowest leaf
– The previous lowest leaf also yellowed and fell off
– The same stem has pushed out three new leaves
– Plant is not in the best area to receive light.
Plant took energy from old leaves to support new leaves.

Add more light to give it enough energy to support new and old growth.
Crispy edges– On a Calathea lancifolia (Jessica)
– New leaf
– Other new leaves have shown similar signs
– All new leaves are hidden under larger leaves
– Plant is recently acquired
– Moisture meter was not functioning and improperly indicated “moist” when soil was dry, so I left it too long
Distress from moving to my house.

Improve watering and humidity consistency.
Brown spots along the edge– On a Virginia rabbit’s foot fern (Fern)
– Appears on two leaves
– Appeared one day after spraying with insecticidal soap
Insecticidal soap applied in the daylight may have burned the leaves or have been applied too heavily.
Apply pest treatments more carefully or switch treatments.
Completely yellow or pale– On a Pothos plant (Esmerelda)
– Two yellowed leaves out of many on an otherwise healthy vine
– Yellowing leaves are further from the window than the healthiest ones
Too little light on that side of the plant; aging out those leaves.

Not a cause for concern.
Yellowing from the inside out– On a Virginia rabbit’s foot fern (Fern)
– On a newish, lower leaf
– Petiole is crispy and brown
– Moisture meter was not functioning and improperly indicated “moist” when soil was dry, so I left it too long
– All other leaves are OK
Too little water when this leaf was growing.

Monitor soil moisture more carefully.

Here be Dracaenas

I’m off the edge of my usual houseplant map, exploring new areas, but I’m so glad I found you!

You’re sitting on my relatively new plant shelf in the dining room, a bit further from the light and the humidifier than most of the other plants on the shelf.

I’ve decided to also start a spreadsheet so I can track who wants moisture and fertilization more frequently, and you’re my first entry! I’ve also learned that cultivar names should be enclosed in single quotes or preceded by “cv.” and are never italicized.

  • Binomial name: Dracaena surculosa ‘Florida Beauty’
  • Given name: Päivi
  • Native to: Central-west Africa
  • Bought: June 15, 2021 at Plant & Curio
  • Original pot: 3 inch square pot (was already root bound)
  • Current pot: 4 inch nursery pot, cut shorter
  • Repotting: 1/4 regular potting mix + a little cactus mix, 1/4 perlite, 1/2 coco coir from 3 inch square plastic pot to modified 4 inch square plastic pot
  • Soil moisture: 8.5 (wet)
  • Soil pH: 7.5
  • Light: 9 a.m.: 100 (dark) (honestly though, the area is close enough to the window and probably fine)
  • Longest stem with leaf: 7.5 cm, but the new ones will be longer!
  • New growth: two new stems (started before I bought it); five new leaves unfurled, 1 cm or longer
  • Signs of care issues:
    Leaf damage: probably during transport.
    Longest wound: 1.5 cm


  • Light: bright, indirect with possibility of morning or evening sun (maintains variegation); tolerant of low light (loses variegation, becomes leggy)
  • Humidity: average
  • Temperature: 15 to 24 degrees Celsius, free from drafts


  • Preference: moist; water when top inch or third is dry

Soil, fertilization, and pots

  • Soil type: well-draining, soil-based, plenty of organic material (peaty)
  • Fertilization: biweekly in summer with houseplant feed, but water 24 hours before
  • Repotting: every other year; keep in small pots; will mature in a 5 inch pot


  • Grow style: slow, hardy and tolerant
  • Mature size: 60 to 160 cm, spread of 38 to 100 cm (can take 8 to 12 years)
  • Common problems:
    Root mealy bugs: use pesticide
    Too much light: and too little water (signs: curled, dried, brown leaves)
    Too little light: yellow lower leaves
    : reduce watering if placed in a cool or low-light position (signs: yellow lower leaves, rotten stem, wilting, mouldy soil; brown, mushy roots)
    Underwatering: (signs: yellow leaves; loss of older leaves; stunted growth; wilting)
    Nitrogen deficiency: yellow lower leaves (nitrogen moves in the plant to where it’s needed — that is, from old leaves to new growth)
  • Pruning: prune and trim old stems to encourage new growth at cut sites; prune leggy stems to encourage bushiness
  • Other care: remove discoloured leaves; shower monthly (remove dust, hydrate leaves); wipe with neem oil to remove dust (neem also protects against infestations); becomes dormant in winter
  • Propagation:
    Division of rhizomes when repotting: separate pup 8 cm or more with several mature leaves (good to reduce chances of root-bound); cut stem with two root strands attached to base. Set pup into small pot with drainage and houseplant compost; bright indirect light and room-temperature; moist soil; allow top third of soil to dry out; after one to two months, treat as mature.
    Tip cuttings with three to four leaves: insert in 3 inch pots with moist mixture of peat and sand, enclose in plastic bag; place in room-temperature area in partial shade; do not add water for four to six weeks.
    After rooted: remove plastic bag, water moderately and allow top 1 cm to dry between next watering; apply half-strength fertilizer every two weeks.
    When roots appear on surface: move plant to pot one size larger with standard potting mixture and treat as mature.

Research sources: Plants RescueNorth Carolina Extension Gardener Plant ToolboxukhouseplantsThe Gardening CookNouveauraw