| Back to

Talking PlantsKetzel on the RadioAsk KetzelDigital DiaryPlant ProfilesDirt on the DoyennePlant This!


Why Did My Plant Die?

This is the place to read Ketzel's advice to readers' most harrowing gardening challenges from whitefly eradication to weed killer application, lawn alternatives, and bulb care. No matter where you keep your garden, check out the resources available to you locally. Find a shady spot and maybe a helping hand in the Talking Plants Gardens and Arboretums map of the United States.

Here's the Vast and Cavernous Archive of Enquiry that I've already answered. Good clean fun for the whole family.

This week's questions:

  • Allergies
  • Droopy Indoor Gardenia
  • Jade Plant In Distress
  • Return of the Scale


    Dear Doyenne,
    I'm looking at a plant book that purports to discuss gardening for those who sneeze a lot. I'm sure there's more than one out there, but this is the one in the current Burpee seed catalog (Allergy Free Gardening). My husband has had some allergies that can become pretty severe in May and then different ones show up in August. We moved to Vermont 4.5 yrs ago (partially to escape the plants to which we thought he was allergic), and he had no allergies for 4 years until we moved from mountains and forests to flat, sunny dairy fields. I know we can't do anything about the area surrounding us, but we have 8 acres immediately around the house and want to know 1) will this type of book actually help steer us away from plants that cause reactions, 2) will this type of book suggest plants that tend to NOT cause reactions, 3) will it make one hill-of-beans difference if we're stuck in cow country? Also, is there an on-line resource that you could suggest that may make such a listing of plants available?

    Thanks for any and all info you can provide.


    The folks I know who've seen Allergy-Free Gardening (by Thomas Leo Ogren) say that it reminds them of the ad campaign going on these days (out here, anyway) which suggests that smoke doesn't know how to stay in the smoking section. Sure, there are plants that your husband is going to be more allergic to than others... and if you wanted a book with an index of bad (read: allergenic) plants, this one is it. But as you intimated, the landscape at large is so beyond your control, the pollen rain often originating from hundreds of miles away, that even the so-called right plants in a home landscape may not make "one-hill-of-beans difference." Unfortunately, in moving to an agricultural area, you've moved into Weed Central. But for what it's worth -- as you've no doubt discovered -- it's getting increasingly difficult to find an allergy-free part of the country, save the beach. As far as websites go, I know of none, and the book in question gives only printed references.

    All the best, KL

  • Read a reply from Tom Ogren, the author of Allergy-Free Gardening.

    Back to top


    Droopy Indoor Gardenia

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in Brooklyn, NY and I have a Gardenia that a friend gave us last month that is not doing well. It came to us in full green vigor, but now it seems I have done whatever it takes to make this plant dislike its new environment. We have no direct sunlight, and I kept it in the center of my living room where it received indirect light. I then moved it to the kitchen where there is more light, but I think it was too late. As for watering, it seems to suck up an enormous amount of water and I try to give it water every other day. Sometimes I miss a day, but one would not think a plant would die because of this. Something is killing the leaves - they dry up and fall off, but not before turning yellow or brown.

    Is it the watering and if so, how often should I water? Or is it the lack of sunlight? Or does it need plant food with every watering (I have yet to give it plant food)? If so, what kind of food is non-toxic/organic for Gardenias?

    Thank you!


    Let's start with what's not your fault. Gardenias are, well, horrific house plants. They like bright light, high humidity and lots of fertilizer. They don't like the same household conditions that you do. Who can be bothered! If you really want to put some energy into keeping this plant, start by repotting it into a container twice as big (you can do this anytime). Then be prepared to get into fertilize mode, every time you water, with a diluted (half the recommended dose) solution of any over-the-counter product. Face is, the organic fertilizers stink way too much to use on houseplants. Don't worry about issues of toxicity. And come summer, get that puppy outside. Let it soak up whatever rays it can.

    Best, KL

    Back to top


    Jade Plant In Distress

    Dear Doyenne,
    I have a Jade plant indoors in a pot. The plant has 3 medium size stems, and the pot has good drainage. In the summer I move it outside to the yard where it seems to flourish. (we live in Chicago) However, now that it is inside, the stems are mushy and don't seem strong enough to hold up the leaves at the ends. All of the leaves (the little rubbery ones) that grew on the stems themselves have dropped off. Also, the plant doesn't seem to be rooting itself into the soil . The whole stem just pulls right out. It is getting indirect afternoon sun, and watered about once every two weeks. I watered it once a week, but thought it might be causing the mushiness. Any ideas?



    Two possibilities come to mind. Either the plant froze or got waterlogged before you brought it inside. One way to revive an ailing jade plant is to start a fresh one from a cutting. So, if your plant is not rooted into the pot, take it out, cut off the bottom end of the stem, let it callous over out of the soil for a week, and replant it into a smallish pot in fresh, fast-draining potting soil. Give it the brightest possible light and water sparingly (once every two weeks is fine) until the stem forms new roots. You can also prune back the floppy branch tips; they should resprout. Oh, one more thing: stop pulling that plant out of its soil!

    Best of luck, KL

    Back to top


    Return of the Scale

    Dear Doyenne,
    I need some advice. My plant isn't dead yet, but will be if I can't find a successful therapy.

    I have a sun room with an indoor lap pool in it. The pool is kept covered except when in use, so the humidity hovers around 60%. I have many plants in the room that do well, but my 30 year old grapefruit tree is once again suffering from scale. Last year, during the winter I believe, I spent hours and hours wiping down every surface of every leaf, stem and trunk with alcohol. I did this several times, and the scale abated. Now it is back with a vengeance. I tried some systemic granules that seemed to help a bit, but the problem is not solved. What do you recommend? The tree is 6' tall, so the alcohol treatment is so tedious I do not consider it very feasible. The tree means a lot to me since my mother-in-law started it for me from a seed when our first child was born.

    Thank you,


    Wow. Not a lot of pleasant options here. You could cut the plant back to a nice shape, removing all of the leaves, and allow it to resprout (be sure to check for scale on the stems)... or you could consider a horticultural oil spray, but this is something you must apply out of doors on a cloudy day when the temperature's above 40F.

    You might also have luck with Safer Spray as a control for younger scale, AFTER you've successfully removed the larger, stuck-on population. Lastly, keep an eye out for ants that might be coming in from outside; they cultivate scale and will gleefully spread it around. Let me know how you make out.

    Best of luck, KL

    Back to top


    Copyright © 2003 National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.