| 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 and lawn alternatives to 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 Archive of Enquiry that the Doyenne has already answered. Good clean fun for the whole family.

This week's questions:

  • Indoor Rosemary
  • Non-Blooming Ornamental Grass
  • Jasmine Under Glass
  • Sago Palm As Bonsai
  • Avocado Sabotage!
  • Messy Pear and Olive

    Indoor Rosemary

    Dear Doyenne,
    Every year I bring in our potted, healthy happy rosemary, plunk it in a south-facing window -- and the white powdery mildew (I think it's mildew) comes back and attacks the plant. Do I over-water? Is it too close to the window, the heat vent? Am I a bad person?

    Please help!

    It's likely that there isn't a plant in the world that hates being inside as much as rosemary. In low-light conditions (never mind the sunny window, it's still a pittance compared to the light it needs), and in ordinary household humidity levels, it is extremely susceptible to pests, overwatering and inevitable decline. You are a very good person attempting the impossible. If your winters do not get colder than, say, 22°F, I'd put it back outside against a sunny, south-facing wall. Otherwise, wait until spring.

    Hang in there, KL

    Back to top


    Non-Blooming Ornamental Grass

    Dear Doyenne,
    Three years ago I purchased from a reputable nursery gallon pots of Muhlenburgia capillaris "Regal Mist." They have gone on to thrive in my Z9 garden but have never bloomed. I got them because the inflorescences looked so beautiful on the tag. I asked about it at the nursery, and they suggested I move them to a less favorable place to stress them and perhaps that would make them want to make flowers. Now they are in a border with very little supplemental water, rocky soil and full sun but after one year there are still no flowers. Should I rip them out or give them another year to prove themselves? Could I have been sold the wrong plant?

    Thank you,

    PS: I have had good luck with a product for moles that is made from Ricinis communis extract. Spray on affected areas and water in. The moles/voles dislike the bitter taste and move on. Supposedly safe for organic gardens.

    First off, you probably bought the right plant. And I'd agree with the nursery's diagnosis; Muhlenburgia is adapted to leaner conditions, so amended soil probably made them too fat and happy. It could be that your Santa Rosa garden doesn't receive enough desert-like summer heat for them to flower. In any event, I would definitely give them another year in their new location. Nothing to lose.

    Thanks for the mole advice; I might add that Ricinis communis extract (from the castor bean plant) is to be handled with extreme care.

    Best, KL

    Back to top


    Jasmine Under Glass

    Dear Doyenne,
    We invested $100 in a handsome jasmine "tree." Blossoms just now starting to open. Greenhouse provided little care information other than light (we could use more). The large pot is too snug in the saucer and basket for us to feel for water run-through. Re-potting is impossible; we can barely move it. Question is when and how should we prune? And how do we avoid either soggy or too-dry soil? Some leaves have dropped, but not many.


    Light, light, light; the more the better. It's really the key here. Also, as the plant is potbound, make sure you add a little liquid fertilizer every time you water (water only when you see the surface of the soil begin to dry). As for pruning, you can prune jasmine very hard right after it's finished blooming. If it doesn't seem to want to bloom, still prune it hard, keep it fertilized, and keep giving that puppy light. It should eventually perform.

    Best to you, KL

    Back to top


    Sago Palm As Bonsai

    Dear Doyenne,
    I received a bonsai Sago Palm as a gift. I cannot find anything on the Internet about this plant. Do you have any suggestions where I can look?


    Sago Palms are not all that difficult. Place it in a sunny place indoors during the winter, and test to see if it's dry by lifting it. If the pot is extremely light, water till it runs out the bottom; then test again to make sure the pot is heavy and that the water's been absorbed. If possible, put it outside in a shady place during the frost-free season and water as above, adding liquid fertilizer (20-20-20) at a quarter of the strength recommended. Note that you'll only feed the plant during the growing season, which for a Sago Palm is May-July.

    Good luck, KL

    Back to top


    Avocado Sabotage!

    Dear Doyenne,
    My friend tried growing a jade plant. Because his family hails from a sandy region of the world, he for some reason believes he is genetically prediposed to being a better jade plant cultivator than me. I was eating an avocado and threw the pit in a pot of dirt. It grew. It grew much better than his jade plant. His jade pinched itself off in fact. Now no jade plant grows. We are at the University of Illinois and we just returned from our winter break. I left my avocado plant here and it flourished -- no water, poor soil, and who knows what other sorts of neglect.

    My "friend" returned to school several hours prior to me and noticed my flourishing avocado plant and his suicidal jade plant. I don't know what happened in the following hours, but what I do know is that my plant had the strong odor of isopropyl alcohol when I returned.

    I thoroughly rinsed the soil, but I feel that the damage was already inflicted. The plant has been stiff and its four leaves have been shriveled. I gave it some bone meal several days ago. It has been one week since the dastardly incident. Ketzel, please help me to help my plant.

    Thank you.

    Poor Allan,
    The damage had indeed already been inflicted. Do nothing but care for the plant the way you normally would. Isopropyl alcohol will generally evaporate and the plant just might (I stress MIGHT) recover. Certainly a tale of woe. :(

    Best, KL

    Back to top


    Messy Pear and Olive

    Dear Doyenne,
    I live in So. Calif. and have two troublesome trees in the front yard. One is an olive tree which drops ripe olives making a mess and encouraging birds to eat and leave behind purple "calling cards," often on the stucco. The other is an ornamental pear, now 14 years since it was transplanted, and this fall and winter it finally produced its first ornamental pears. These too overripen on the tree, then drop onto the sidewalk when they are soft and juicy and create a horrible mess.

    What might interfere with the setting of flowers or the fruiting cycle for these types of trees?


    Stop by a local nursery and ask for a fruit-control hormone spray that you apply when the tree's tiny white flowers appear. This is to reduce its fruit. As for the pear, when it's in bloom, try squirting the pollen off of the flowers using a hose-end sprayer.

    Good luck, KL

    Back to top


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