Entire Plant room drying up

fieldofflowers(3 or 4a)April 22, 2014

I grow African violets and various other gesneriads, coleus and misc other houseplants.

This has been an ongoing problem this winter, but in the weekend I decided to visit my family I came back to find nearly every plant in my apartment completely or nearly dry, light as paper and floating off the shelf at the slightest touch. I'm in panic mode trying to water and salvage what I can. At this point the mess will have to be cleaned up later. I am already stressed because I've been trying to pull several all nighters working on another hobby that I'm trying to make into some kind of profit. Anyways feeling really discouraged and confused.

What can cause an entire collection of 100+ plants to all dry up at once, and dry up nearly every other day. Some plants I can be lucky and put off watering for about 3-4 days but most seem to find themselves bone dry within hours.

Some thoughts:

heat - not sure how hot it got while gone. I see it typically about 75-81 degrees. Very little to no control over the heat. It's either very warm or turn it off or crack open a window.

humidity - I haven't been able to get a measurement but I assume very dry. I can't be there all the time to boil water or tend to a very high maintenance humidifier.

light? I have the lights going about 10-12 hours, but maybe it is still too much? It's kind of hard with several different plants and their lighting needs.

- pests? I found soil mealybugs in some of the plants. I am treating them as I find them by crown cutting and repotting with a systemic. But it appears the plants drying up are not just the affected. The affected fair less well though.

Things I've tried:

-Wick watering - fails. Soil dries out before the water can absorb from the wick. Perhaps the nylon cord I was using isn't good? I bought it at a hardware store.

- repotting from solo cups or 3" pots to 4" - I don't know why but I always end up with the plant nearly dying in the 4". Survival rate seems best with standards in 3" and only growing large standards in the 4". But this also compounds the water issue.

- switch from peat to cocoanut coir and use less perlite + more orchid bark. Resulting in a heavier mix but still fast draining. Seems to help some but not a lot.

- putting in a tray using soaked batting as a matt. - Seems to produce the least water starved plants but not practical when dealing with a pest issue. I really need to separate each plant and keep them from sharing a water source. How to do this without going crazy?

This post was edited by fieldofflowers on Tue, Apr 22, 14 at 1:34

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This AV I have raised from a leaf, and have it labeled:
REBEL'S RASPBERRY YUM. I can't find it any place.
Do you think I have it mis-labeled?

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 10:03AM
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Your main problems are the excessive heat and humidity. You need to find a way to lower heat and raise the humidity.

If you could successfully wick/mat water, the environment would still not be conducive to good growing in that heat/humidity combo.

If you can get the temps down, there are easy ways to increase humidity.

Is it possible to leave a window open at all times?


    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 1:58PM
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fieldofflowers(3 or 4a)

Now that temps are getting higher outside I will need to have the windows open but being in a city it gets awfully noisy. Lots of road traffic noise. But at least the air shouldn't be making chilly drafts during the day.

Eventually, I'll need to get the air conditioner on, but it is only a window unit and only the living room area has the spot to fit one in.

So yes all year long the plant room does run hot. Though not as bad as the old place I lived which had no air conditioning/ steam heated and always hot. Like up to 90+ in the summer. But at least there I had access to a basement and kept my show violets there all year long. I don't have that here in an apartment.

But yes I woke up to my alarm clock temp saying 77 degrees, so I am pretty sure it has to be over 80 where the plant lights are on. I'm opening the windows a crack.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 3:14PM
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You could change to T8 bulbs which don't produce as much heat, but those come with their own issues. They produce more light. I recently saw some tips for using them that would have helped me. I gave away the T8 Floracart.

Did you try the standard 1:1:1 mix and go from there? Orchid bark doesn't hold moisture. It's meant to drain quickly. Your wicks may not be working well. I had some problems with the nylon ones. I've used two in some pots. You can try a separate reservoir for a pot. Experiment with a few plants and adjust things accordingly. Are the root systems developed enough for the larger pots? I've never used coir, but I'm not sure what it would solve in this case. Sometimes it takes a little experimenting to get a mix that works for your conditions.

I don't know if you have gotten new coleus, but mealy bugs are fond of them. I would be very careful of them with violets. I grow them, but I've had the ones I have for a long time.

I don't know if a fan would help or not. I deal with extremes in temps when we go from winter to summer here and the plants survive. They dry out more in the winter with the forced air heat. There is more humidity in the summer.

You might want to consider limiting the plants a bit too. I know we don't like this advice, but it can make life easier :).


    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 6:41PM
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fieldofflowers(3 or 4a)

I already do use T8 for about 80% of my plant room. The extra light yeah is a problem. I try to either place my other gesnariads or place the coleus there. Other shelves I have sheets of paper taped over them to diffuse the lights. There are a few remaining T12s, but they are a bit limited supply. I used to get them much cheaper than the T8, but now it isn't so. They are being phased out.

The coleus are a few NOID's (though I suspect Twist and Twirl is one (see it grown in the conservatory where I got the plant as a door prize some years ago. And one variety I've had in some form or another since 1995.

Most of the newest coleus I have right now are from seed, exhibition mix, and carefree. Those are going outside in the little front shade garden by the apartment building. I've yet to see mealybugs int he coleus. I suspect I got them from sale plants in a show a year ago. I was slow removing my show plants out of the bins, so everyone who shared that bin got them eventually. Ugh.

Overall the infestation seems spotty. Some have them and some don't, because I do use systemic granules in the soil. The ones that missed treatment or have been in the same pot for a number of years and not been treated recently seem to have them. The recently repotted or treated don't. And ones dried up and sans roots, I notice the mealies don't like either. I find them on the main trunk under the soil. Very easy to treat, but harder for the plant to survive post treatment. (I tend to be slow repotting, so they might rot in the water/insecticide solution I hold them in before I have a block of time to repot.

Soil: Coconut coir seems to work well with wicking. It retains more moisture than peat but compacts more. I have to use either more perlite or orchid mix to compensate and allow for more air. I also rinse it well to reduce any salt in it. I also mix in soil moist. I've heard that stuff is not ideal in wick mixtures, but under high heat, I notice it seems to be needed. I had one sale plant using yarn (not cotton based I guess?). That one works. I may have to get over to a fabric store and try that over the nylon cord.

This post was edited by fieldofflowers on Tue, Apr 22, 14 at 19:41

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 7:37PM
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If you can make your plant room dark during the day it may be best to try running your lights during the night only. This way the heat of the lights isn't combining with the heat of the day. I know people who have done this with much success.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 7:55PM
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Your coleus sound okay then. I have gotten mealies on them though from orders so I'm careful.

I added bark to a mix for holiday cactus and it definitely doesn't stay as damp as the mix they were in before. That's my only experience with it. I had been using a synthetic wick that I think is a macrame cord and tried the nylon and I think I had better luck with the macrame stuff. Whatever it is is very synthetic.

If you can run the lights at night, it's a good plan, but it sounds like they are in your living quarters? Yes, they are phasing out some T12s - I'm not sure if that means "gro-bulbs" or just common ones. I hate T8s. Still, it's a reason to complete the change.

I have no experience with soil moist, but assume it is something like they add to the Miracle Gro stuff to hold extra moisture. I've used that for outdoor planters but wouldn't use it in the house because conditions vary too much (well, I don't use Miracle Gro inside, but wouldn't use the water retention stuff).

There is something called a maximum/minimum thermometer that would tell you how hot it gets and how cold.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 8:52PM
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fieldofflowers(3 or 4a)

Yes it is those little jelly crystals sans fertilizer. My experience with it has been overall positive. I notice the roots look healthiest in the areas they push through the gel. Granted this won't work for everyone, but under hot dry conditions they can be a life saver. I used them when I lived with my grandma in her non air-conditioned house. My apartment conditions are very unfortunately similar, though having one air-conditioner kept it from getting over 90, but still it got pretty hot some days.

And yes I have to suspect too much light being a secondary problem. I get a lot of tight crowns and bleached leaves. Putting those in my main room/ sleeping area, that seems to resolve some of the too much light problems, but I don't have the space to put the entire collection there. That room also gets more natural light during the day since the window is larger. The plant room is the 1 bedroom. That area also holds my computer.

I could perhaps try the lights on at night. Ideally I'd like to get a 3rd timer so the coleus and outdoor seedlings and cacti get the most light they can get while the shelves with the African Violets can get their light at night.

BTW The cacti love my apartment. I've had the most success with them here than anywhere else. I wonder why? :eyeroll:

This post was edited by fieldofflowers on Wed, Apr 23, 14 at 15:22

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 3:19PM
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I wonder if the coconut coir is part of the problem. I don't have experience with it but maybe it doesn't hold water like peat will. Is that something that you might use in a hydroponic method.
If peat is soaked it will absorb water and that is the reason we add the perlite.
Also, Walmart has some nice thermometers with a humidity gauge. The one I have is about $9. It's worth it because I know exactly what is happening with humidity and temperature. Then, I can deal with whatever the situation is.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 10:03PM
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If the problem is high heat/low humidity and watering constantly, this is what I do.
I use straight AV mix. It is heavy and it holds water. I don't have to water every day.
Cacti love my yard and my house so perhaps you might consider a heavier mix.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 10:58PM
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Cacti and African violets are very different plants with very different needs. Heavy mix is a recipe for disaster for violets. All the soil changes, wicking, and lighting changes will not work until the high heat/low humidity issues are addressed.

In order to grow any genus successfully, their natural environment must be emulated. Violets are cloud forest' plants; polar opposites of cacti/desert plants. They come from an area of Africa with moderate temperatures, high humidity and open soil.

They are often found growing on rocky outcroppings near waterfalls-cooler temps/high humidity with lots of air movement. If these conditions can't be emulated, violets cannot be grown successfully.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 12:56AM
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81 degress Farenheit is about 27 degrees Centigrade and is the typical summer indoor temperature for my area. We use air-conditioning to mitigate the summer heat problem, temperatures are kept around 24/25 to save electric bills.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 1:39AM
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A $30 humidifier makes a huge difference in my office in winter (I run it for the printer, not the plants), and some days I have to fill the gallon tank up several times, the air is so dry (2br apartment).
If you consider changing your potting mix, remember perlite doesn't store water, but increases humidity, whilst vermiculite stores water. I only use perlite (combined with av mix 1-1 or 2-1 ratio) because I'd rather water more often than have my plants stay too wet.

Linda, I actually read somewhere that deserts have higher humidity than the average household. And some cacti can actually survive freezing temperatures (but not a year in my care). Just some fun info on the side :-) anyhow, that still doesn't compare their habitat to av's....


    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 11:25PM
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In the desert, we run Swamp Coolers. It is a box with pads. Water is pumped up over the pads and a fan draws dry hot air across the pads into the house. That raises the humidity from 5% to 40% more/less
People use to hang wet burlap in open windows on the windy side. Same principle
Swamp Coolers raise the humidity but will not work when natural humidity is high.
Cacti can freeze. Prickly Pear grow as far north as Wyoming. Seguaro can take freezing temperatures but not for 24 hours.
The monsoon here is defined as "humidity over 50%" so the desert is humid in some seasons.

This post was edited by lucky123 on Wed, May 7, 14 at 23:43

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 11:41PM
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