Saturday, October 24, 2009

How My Plants Die

(Preface: I'm not sure whether this will be of any interest to people other than me, but what the hell. Saturdays tend to be slow blog days anyway, and I've gone to the trouble to make graphs and spreadsheets so I may as well use them. Don't feel compelled to care.)

I have, at the moment, 725 plants. Officially. I actually have more than that, but they're not mature enough to count (seedlings, cuttings), not in containers and/or not indoors, part of Nina's terrarium, or otherwise not quite ready for prime time.

Besides those 725, I have had 484 more over the last three years, which are no longer with me for one reason or another, for an overall total of 1209. Here's what happened to the 484 missing ones.

The fate of all plants, to date, which actually looks quite a bit better than I was expecting when I started thinking about this.

230 of them were sold, traded, or given away. Most of these were specifically propagated for the purpose of selling/trading/giving, and don't really count as being dead, though I'm sure a good number of them probably are by now.

One plant was thrown out because I was impatient for it to do something. It was a pineapple (Ananas comosus), and probably was actually rooting, but it wasn't doing so quickly enough to suit me. I think lack of space was also a factor.

One plant (Adenium obesum) was thrown away because it went dormant and I thought that it was going dead instead. My bad.

One plant (Rhapis excelsa) was divided at the wrong time of year, and of course I couldn't get the division to root.

One plant (a Begonia) was getting too much sun, and burned up before I realized that that was its problem.

Two casualties I blame on a combination of being overpotted and having bad soil.

Two plants were rooted in water but then failed to switch over in a timely fashion to growing in soil.

Three plants are just perverse and impossible to please (Fenestraria rhopallophylla, Philodendron 'Xanadu,' Streptocarpus 'Purple Martin'), and I never had a chance.

Three plants were discarded because something fell on them, or they fell off a shelf, and broke in an unsalvageable way (though in one case I was secretly glad about this: I didn't like the plant anymore, but had no good excuse for getting rid of it until The Accident).

Four were lost to fungal infection.

Five were cut back at bad moments and failed to come back from the pruning.

Five were transplanted too early, or in the wrong season, and died as a result.

Seven died of insufficient light, or more accurately, they died because of being ugly, because of insufficient light.

Nine were lost to spider mites, though usually spider mites weren't enough without some exacerbating factors (dry air, neglect, being a croton) to push them over the edge.

Nine died due to unknown causes: either I just didn't record a cause, or I couldn't figure out what to blame.

Ten were already in bad condition when I made them official plants and just failed to get any better; most were rescues.

16 plants were thrown out due to mealybugs. I have, on occasion, actually tried to fight mealybug infestations instead of pre-emptively discarding the affected plants, and sometimes this has even worked out, but it's rare enough that I no longer automatically try to save the plant. The overwhelming majority in this category are Haworthias, because I got one plant that had mealybugs, noticed the mealybugs and tried to divide it so I could at least salvage a couple offsets from the situation, and counted the divisions as plants. Even with squishing all the adult bugs I could find and dunking the divisions in rubbing alcohol, I still found bugs on the offsets mere days later, so the one plant with bugs got counted like nine times. Also quite a few Marantas in the mealybug group.

21 were simultaneously overwatered and underwatered. Saintpaulia ionantha cvv. owns this category: I'd let them get too dry, realize it too late, and then try to overcompensate by standing them in water, which I would then forget to dump out.

21 were overwatered. Crappy soil was probably a contributing factor in some of these, but I'm more than capable of overwatering a plant even with good soil.

30 involved me putting a cutting or division of a plant on the official spreadsheets prematurely, and then having to count it as a fatality when it failed to take.

39 plants were underwatered. When I say I'm not good at plants that can't occasionally cope with the occasional long drought, I'm being totally sincere. You'd think that the plants would know this by now, and stop jumping into my arms in the garden center.

64 were thrown out because they were ugly. This was often my fault to some degree or another, so there's a bad-care aspect to most of these too, but plants in this category, though they probably could have been rehabilitated back to respectability, never did that much for me in the first place, weren't in good enough shape to sell or give away, and were taking up valuable space that could have been used by something else.

With the survivors removed.


Sue Swift said...

Oh am I glad that I'm not the only overwaterer around here ...

Liza said...

I'm convinced some of mine committed suicide. There was nothing I could do for them.

Andrew said...

I'm sure you must just be getting diseased (or otherwise pre-damaged in an irreversible way) Philodendron 'Xanadu's. If we can keep them alive and looking good where I work you definitely should be able to!

I'm planning on getting one eventually as a mini replacement for my old P. bipinnatifidum.

Nell Jean said...

I love it when you're bored.

Anonymous said...

Very funny! Love the graphs. -Jean

Ivynettle said...

"Three plants were discarded because something fell on them, or they fell off a shelf, and broke in an unsalvageable way"
I don't know why that amuses me so much. Maybe because the one time something fell on one of my plants, it was a bookcase, and the plant (an Abutilon) not only survived, but saved a lot of my other possessions by supporting the bookcase long enough for me to empty it out and lift it off the other stuff.

And I agree with Liza. Suicides. My last Mimosa pudica threw itself off my desk one morning.

our friend Ben said...

Having been flirting with the idea of trying a pineapple myself, I'm a bit disturbed by your account. but I certainly don't think you can count plants you successfully sold, traded, or gave away as deaths, whatever may have subsequently befallen them! once you remove those from the equation, you've lost damned few if you ask me. Though our dog has pulled over more than a few of mine (grrrr), if memory serves, only one of those actually died as a result. Instead, the Grim Reaper of plants here is yours truly, whose idea of fun really isn't hauling milk jugs of water across a half-acre to the greenhouse and then back to the house for refills. As you can imagine, the houseplants and deck plants fare much better. The happiest plants in the greenhouse are, perhaps not surprisingly, the water-garden plants, cacti and succulents, and orchids. Everybody else kind of hangs on by their toenails like grim death.

Anonymous said...

I have to say Mealybugs are just evil. Evil. I've had to sacrifice some of my favorites (i.e., Clivia, Costus) that'd become incurable vectors (Mealybug Marys?) One of my plant books says the newborns can float on drafts of air. Evil.

I'm sure if we could come up with a use for them they'd all get mealymites or something and become an endangered species.

Sorry, we have history...

mr_subjunctive said...


The three plants that had stuff fall on them were:

-a Ficus microcarpus that had a fluorescent light fixture fall on it; I had two others just like it so I didn't feel obligated to keep it around to watch it recover. Also I think the bulb broke in the process, so there might have been glass in the soil too. I don't remember exactly; it was a while ago.
-an Agave NOID that must have had another plant land on top of it, and the stem of the Agave broke off. I'm not sure what made me think it was unsalvageable at the time, but I did.
-a Kalanchoe tomentosa that jumped off of its shelf onto the (concrete) floor in the plant room a couple weeks ago when I was watering. Technically, it was saveable, but it looked so bad, and had looked so bad for such a long time, that I took the opportunity to throw it away without guilt, except there was still some guilt because I knew I hadn't actually had to throw it away.

Liza & Ivynettle:

I have a large Dieffenbachia 'Tropic Rain' that got big enough that when it got dry, it would begin to wilt, and it was big enough that this slight change in posture was sufficient to pull it over the edge of the table where it sat. Never any injuries, but it made a mess on the carpet repeatedly until I got smart enough to put it in a bigger clay pot. So I guess clay pots are like antidepressants for plants?

There was a Sansevieria that did the same thing for a while; I don't remember what happened to it.


Could be; both times we ordered them at work, some leaves on every 'Xanadu' in the order were already liquefying and stinky. You'll forgive me if I'm not willing to try again with the variety, though, considering that I've seen maybe 25 individual plants so far and not one of them has been a good experience.

our friend Ben:

At the time, I hadn't had much experience with rooting bromeliads, and this was a plant from a supermarket pineapple too, so I wasn't sure if I expected it to work at all. It felt like the plant had been with me long enough to have rooted, but it was still loose in the pot and there was no new growth, so I gave up on it, only to find (as I was throwing it away) that it did have roots after all, just very tiny ones. I don't remember why I threw it out anyway, rather than trying to replant it, but it's a good bet that I was short on space.

CAROLANN said...

You are too funny...
When I grow up I want to be just like you!!!!!
Thanks for the smiles.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Wow. That was a marvelously anal post. I might have to reread it! :)

barrywilliamsmb said...

Hello. I'm new to the plant world but a new, anxious to learn more student of Cleve Backster and his conscious plant theory.

Would you direct me to any blog stories or provide guidance as to where I can learn more about this fascinating topic?

Thanks for your time.

mr_subjunctive said...


Everything I've done here at PATSP can be found at this link:

but you should probably be warned that I think Backster is wrong.

barrywilliamsmb said...

Blogger mr_subjunctive said...

" but you should probably be warned that I think Backster is wrong. "

Thank you for this, I will definitely follow up and boy, do I hope you are wrong ;-)

Diane said...

You are my idol. I thought I was an obsessive list-maker and record-keeper but now I see that I am a mere amateur. However, I find it too depressing to track plant deaths, preferring the "delete that record and forget it happened" method of dealing with grief.

Plants totally commit suicide! I once had an aloe plant heave itself out of its pot and crawl several inches across the floor. By the time I found it, its insides had dissolved and the carcass lay in a puddle of aloey goo. Plus side: my hands were very soft after the funeral.

Kenneth Moore said...

The only part of that pie that upsets me (besides the lack of apple on the inside) is that the largest chunk after given away/sold/etc is "ugly." I prefer to let my ugly plants die of spider mites or underwatering--I don't want their next of kin to see the death records where "cause of death" is listed as "mirror-cracking syndrome."

Samantha G said...

I am cracking up at the category of "ugly" as a cause of death. Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

The listed exacerbating factor of "being a croton" under Spider Mites is not encouraging at all. -.-

Especially considering I've been spending quite a bit of time squishing spider mites on a slowly-recovering croton. Boo.

Liza said...

Spider mites are easy to kill. Get a spray bottle and fill it with a 50-50 mix of rubbing alcohol and water. Add a few drops of dish soap. The alcohol will fry the mites. The soap helps the alcohol stay on the leaves, and cleans the leaves at the same time. It's the best nontoxic pesticide, and it works on mealy bugs (you still have to wipe them off, ew), scale (eventually) and the aforementioned spider mites.

Anonymous said...

Liza, I think you've saved my croton. <3