So here's what's been going on.
Watering the plants has always been time-consuming and tedious, but it got worse in April. I've been watering almost everything in the house on a 14-day rotation. A lot of the plants would prefer more frequent checks than that, but 14 days is what I'm able to do, so they either live with getting watered every 14 days, or they die, or I make a special exception for them and check them every seven days. Previously, the special exception category was limited to about 10-15 plants on a small table in the plant room, but in April, I decided that about 500 plants in the basement also needed to be getting checked every 7 days, because a lot of them were seedlings or newish cuttings or plants that are just really drought-sensitive, and they wouldn't survive if I tried to keep them on the 14-day schedule.
What this has meant is that instead of checking about 1000-1050 plants every 14 days, I was suddenly checking about 1500-1600 plants every 14 days. So I took the most tedious and time-consuming part of the hobby and made it like 50% worse, basically.
And because of the extra work, I thought to myself at some point in May or June or probably both: I bet I'm never going to be lying on my deathbed thinking, "Gee, I wish I'd spent more time watering plants." And as I started mailing out plants to people I was selling to or trading with, I started fantasizing about how I could scale back the collection in a way that didn't involve outright killing anything, because that always makes me feel bad.
And then the scaling back started to happen, in the most literal way possible: I started finding scale insects on the plants. One plant at the end of March. A handful at the beginning of May. And then at the end of June, the floodgates opened and I was finding scale everywhere:
1 Alpinia zerumbet variegata (plant room; 31 March; discarded)
3 Alworthia 'Black Gem' (basement; 1 May; discarded)
1 Aloe NOID (basement; 8 May; discarded)
1 Albuca bracteata (basement; 28 May; treated)
1 Strelitzia reginae (plant room; early June?; treated)
1 Aloe polyphylla (basement; 26 June; discarded)
1 Philodendron squamiferum (living room; 27 June; treated)
1 Agave desmettiana, variegated (basement; 28 June; discarded)
1 Agave titanota (basement; 2 July; treated)
1 Agave americana (basement; 2 July; treated)
2 Agave 'Blue Glow' (basement; 2 July; treated)
2 Agave lophantha (basement; 2 July; treated)
3 Aloe vera (basement; 3 July; discarded)
3 Gasteraloe x beguinii (basement; 3 July; discarded)
1 Aloe x 'Silver Ridge' (basement; 3 July; discarded)
13 Alworthia 'Black Gem' (basement; 3 July; discarded)
5 Hoya polyneura (basement; 9 July; discarded)
1 Philodendron hederaceum micans (basement; 11 July; discarded)
1 Philodendron erubescens 'Red Emerald' (basement; 11 July; treated)
4 Pereskia aculeata var. godseffiana (basement; 12 July; discarded)
1 Ficus benjamina 'Black Diamond' (basement; 12 July; treated)
1 Hippeastrum 'Red Lion' x ? (basement; 16 July; discarded)
1 Hippeastrum 'Red Lion' x ? (basement; 23 July; treated)
I think there were three separate infestations here, based on what plants were affected and when I noticed.
The first plant, the Alpinia, was I think was a single isolated infestation: I don't know where the scale could have come from, since I hadn't brought anything new into that area, but the plant was stressed, so it's possible it had a low-grade infestation for a long time, and then it got a lot worse really fast when it got stressed.
The second infestation barely counts: somebody sent me a cutting in June that had some scale on it, but I found them pretty much immediately, and it wasn't very advanced, so I think that's not going to be a big deal either.
And then the third. I think it came in on an Aloe polyphylla I received in December as a gift, because the outbreaks have all been taking place on plants that had been grown near the plant in question at one point or another. This is the infestation that swept the basement, might still be sweeping it, and what's caused all the troubles.
It's now been a couple weeks since any new scale was spotted, so possibly the worst is over. For a while there, though, I'd have to throw out more plants every time I watered, and that was depressing as hell.
But did I let myself sink into despondency and depression? Hell, no! I took action! For a few plants that I suspected had been exposed, but which I couldn't find any scale on, I decided to get out there ahead of the infestation and spray neem oil on them, to stop the infestation before it became visible. Which sounds like a good idea, right?
Yes. Well. You know how the directions on neem oil say not to use it on plants that are in direct sun, or that will be exposed to sun within a few hours of application, and all that? They should probably also add fluorescent lights to that warning, because within 24 hours, I'd completely defoliated two small Euphorbia trigona cuttings, and produced a few bleached spots and several ominous dark brown blisters on my baby Agave victoriae-reginaes. The former have bounced back, but the latter look to be permanently disfigured:
Which was even more discouraging, not that I learned my lesson. I then sprayed a plant room Euphorbia milii and Pedilanthus tithymaloides with neem because there was some kind of fungus that had been growing on their leaves. The Euphorbia responded by dropping about 95% of its foliage, immediately. The Pedilanthus was less of a drama queen about it, and only lost about 30% of its leaves, over the space of a month. Either way, though.
Also, some of the Agaves I treated with neem and stuck outside also bleached (no blistering, though); they'll probably come back inside again in the fall, because the scale is probably not a problem anymore, but it'll be sad regardless, since they looked better when they had scale but no sunburn: I didn't really have the time or means to try to ease them into the outdoor light, and we don't have much for shady spots.
So then I started sinking into despondency.
All this was happening on top of the usual plant attrition, too. Not saying I encourage it or anything, but it's normal for me to lose a plant here, a plant there, for various reasons over time, and this was an exceptionally good summer for that.
I finally had it with Crassula ovata 'Gollum' and threw the lot out, because they persisted in developing a stupid fungus (maybe the same fungus, maybe a different one; I have no idea) even though I told them not to, and I didn't have a way to make them stop if they weren't going to listen.
The Salvia elegans all dried out (even getting checked weekly, they still dried out!) and died, save for one, which had a round of spider mites and is only barely alive now.
The Aeschynanthus radicans all gave up due to underwatering.
I threw out most of the Gynura aurantiacas I had when became clear that nobody was ever going to want to buy one. This is something I should probably have learned last year, but I'm slow.
The Fatshedera x lizei got spider mites and was thrown out. In fairness, I should note that I'd been expecting that to happen for almost two years, so it should probably get some kind of posthumous medal.
One of the Hatioras ("Easter cactus") imploded, the way they do.
And so on.
It was basically like the plant collection had caught fire. A very slow, and occasionally sticky, inferno. Everything was sort of slowly falling apart: scale, drought, scorching, defoliation, 50% more watering to do, spider mites, and fungus. It also wasn't getting any better. I had no way to know what plants might go bad next. There wasn't much I could do about it. And when I tried to do something about it, I mostly just made things worse.
The upshot of all this being that for about two or three weeks, I basically hated my plants. I didn't want to think about them, talk about them, or take pictures of them, and I sure as hell didn't want to water them, because the surest way to find something horrible hiding in your plant collection is to pick them up and look at them. Which you have to do, in order to water the way I water. (I still did take care of them, of course, because I recognized that I'd probably like them again eventually, and that there was no point punishing the healthy plants upstairs for the scale infestations of the plants downstairs. I just hated doing so more than usual.)
It's now been a couple weeks since I've found a new scale infestation. (New mealybugs as of last Wednesday, alas, but the scale seems to have slowed down.) In the last couple weeks, the plant collection has done two big things which I am choosing to interpret as apologies too. I won't tell you what those are yet, but there should be posts about them in the relatively near future. So we're getting back to the point where I'm able to appreciate plants again, somewhat, but I'd still rather not spend a lot of time thinking about them.
The blog, consequently, will be a bit up in the air for a while. I'm officially no longer on hiatus, but I'm probably not going to be posting very often, and I'll probably only be doing that when something exceptionally cool happens. And I'll keep going like that until . . . something changes and I start doing something else, I guess. Your guess is pretty much as good as mine right now.