Indoor Michelia Alba not Growing

myuew(8a)June 1, 2011

Hi everyone! I'm new to this website but have already found it to be such a wonderful place for information. To everyone who can offer me some advice on this subject, I truly appreciate it!

I bought a 3gal Michelia Alba from T Tropical in the middle of April this year. After it arrived, I did everything that was instructed, including not fertilizing it for a first month, but after nearly six weeks, I'm still not seeing much new growth at all.

There is no new leaves forming, and the ones that came with the plants are getting old and droopy. I'm very careful with not overwater it. I'd only water it after the top soil feels dry, and that's about a week or so. I plucked some of the very old leaves hoping it would help direct the energy to forming the new ones, but nope. I'm afraid to take down more because that would really just leave me "naked" branches.

The plant has formed one flower bud, and it's been there for a couple of weeks now without doing much, after it grew out of its "shell".

The plant is indoor most of the time and kept by the south window. I used to take it out and let it sit under my gardenia tree for a few hours to receive indirect sunlight, but as the weather is getting hotter by the day and the wind is so strong, I stopped doing that.

A week ago, I repotted the plant for the first time, thinking maybe it ran out of space to grow since I potted it in a container just about the size of its rootball when it arrived at first. The new pot is not that much bigger, just 1" wider in each side. The potting soil has shales and coconut fiber, and I added perlite to help more with the drainage. I mixed Colorburst 15-30-15 into the soil as fertilizer.

I find myself staring at the plant so much everyday (which my husband calls me crazy), trying to figure signs of growth. I think some of the leave tips are still growing, but just sooooooooooooooo slooooooooooooooowly. And all the growth (if any) are from the tip of the branch, nothing new grow from other part of the branches. The repotting didn't do much, and I'm running out of ideas of how to help it grow. I'm hesitant to add more fertilizer such a stuff for acid loving plants and iron(22%) as I don't want to see it getting burnt. I haven't watered it since I repotted it a week ago, the soil is still plenty moist. That tells me the root is not absorbing the water along with all the goodies in it as fast as it should be. I'm misting the leaves several times a day since now the AC is on at home (set at 83 though).

So all your experts out there, do you have an idea of what's going on and how I can fix it? Or how long does it usually take for a plant to become adjusted to the new environment? It came from FL with just the root ball, no pot.

Thank you very much!

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mehitabel(z6 MO)

Hi, myeu. I don't have an alba now, tho I did grow one some years back, so I'm certainly not an expert. But I had some thoughts to share:

When I get a nice healthy plant, even a small one, I never notice a noticeable "adjustment period". I'd say growth would usually start within a few weeks. However, most plants don't put on appreciable new growth until the weather warms up nicely. Especially needed are warm *nights*, 65 or so. How long have you been having nights that warm there?

Your climate may be too dry for this, but I find many plants thrive better here outdoors in summer. They seem to know the difference between real sunshine and the thru-the-window stuff, and the warm nights give them a big boost. Real sun and the attendant warmth is going to be the #1 growth stimulant you can provide.

The other thing about being outdoors is that misting isn't something you have to do with a squirt bottle. You can turn a hose mister on them several times a day, and really drench them, especially the stems. This heavy misting is the one thing that always encourages thick new growth to sprout along the stems. After several weeks of this, you'll be astounded by the new growth coming on. This really is a wonder-worker.

I would also recommend a clay pot-- clay isn't magic, but it's a little more forgiving than plastic, and it keeps the roots cooler.

Please don't start with fertilizers and chemicals until your plant is showing some growth. These can really hurt an ailing plant.

Finally, I bought a lot from TT some years ago, but this year was disappointed with the puny plants I got from them last summer (except for one, Jasmine molle). The puniness was definitely correlated with the rareness and expensiveness of the plant. The rarer and more expensive, the punier. If your plant was weak to start with, it may take it a good sweet while to catch up.

Good luck. I hope some of these comments are helpful to you.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 4:38AM
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Dear Mehitabel,

Thank you so very much for your kind advice!

When I first got the plant in April, I used to take it outside everyday for it to bathe in th sun, it wasn't too hot back then, and I'd move it inside after sunset. I also misted the plant a lot and noticed new leaves forming. But, as the day gets hotter and hotter, the weather was being so unpredictable for a while, with all the storm, tornado and hail around. I stopped taking it out around that time. Even before then, the two tender leaves "mysteriously" broke, and I had not seen any new leaves forming since.

I'm going to see if the wind could go away for a while outside, if so, I will move the plant to the outside of the east wall for it to get some nice sun in the morning - natural outdoor sun. :) And I will follow your advice on misting the plant. I noticed that with my vigorious squirt bottle action in the past two days, I can see SOME growth on the branches. As slow as it may be, it's definitely a good sign. :) At night, the temperature has been in the mid-70's for a couple of weeks now. Inside, our house is around mid-70's to 84-ish.

And you are very right about the plant establishment. My neighbor also has a Michelia Alba tree in a container. Height-wise, it's very similar to the one I got, but there are a lot more branches on her plants, also the main stem/branch looks much stronger, with the bark showing more grey than green, if you know what I mean. Mine for some reason, shapes like a rake, hmmm.... Hers has been growing like crazy, very envious...

Thank you once again for everything! I'm keeping my fingers crossed and I'm hoping to report some good news here soon. :)


    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 8:54PM
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marlene_9ca(9 CA)

Hi Melody - How tall is your plant? I would normally not transplant the plant till it is at least 6 feet tall because their roots are very sensitive, and it will shock the plant. Be sure the next 3 days following transplanting are not hot days because after transplanting do not water for 3 days to avoid infections to enter through broken roots. I would allow any newly purchased plants to adapt to my environment first. During this time, the plant will drop leaves, looks sad, and everything is very slow. Once adapted to your environment, they will show new leaves to replace old ones and growth will speed up. The most important thing to remember is not to over water the Michelia plant. It will cause root rotting and the plant will slowly die. Less leaves means the plant do not need as much watering especially if you grow them indoors. Do not allow water to sit under the plant. It will be too wet for them.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 4:00PM
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Hi Marlene! Thank you so much for your kind advice. My plant is about 4 feet tall. With all my loving/tender/care these days, finally it's showing signs of growth! :D It produced one flower, and now there are several branches forming new leaves. I make sure the water is drained well and I don't water it unless it feels dry or the weather is too hot. It's getting 4 to 6 hours of sun everyday, and I move it indoor at night. With this crazy weather, you just never know. One day, the temperatuer is over 100 degrees, the next day, a huge thunder storm with wind that would blow down our fence... I'm taking no chance of that. :) My husband says I take care of the plants more so than I pay attention to him, hehehe...

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 6:28PM
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