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Spider plants are easy to grow, just watch water and fertilizer

Jessica Walliser
| Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, 12:03 a.m.
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are one of the most common houseplants, largely due to their wide availability and ease of care.
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are one of the most common houseplants, largely due to their wide availability and ease of care.

I got a spider plant as a gift from my grandson a few months ago. It’s in a large hanging basket and is in my front window where it gets plenty of light. The tips of many of the leaves have turned brown and overall the plant isn’t looking so good. I thought spider plants were easy to take care of! What am I doing wrong? Thank you.

Spider plants ( Chlorophytum comosum ) are one of the most common houseplants, largely due to their wide availability and ease of care.

Most often the variegated form of spider plant is the one grown as a houseplant. The strap-like leaves are striped with creamy white and green.

As the plant ages, it begins to produce runners that develop baby spider plants at their tips. These little plantlets can be cut off the mother plant and potted into their own containers to make new plants to pass along to friends.

Spider plant care is fairly easy in comparison to many other fussier houseplants, but they do require a few essentials to keep them happy and healthy.

Light: If your spider plant is the non-variegated, all-green variety, low to medium light conditions will suffice. But, if your spider plant is variegated, medium to high light levels are best. A bright, sunny window that receives ample light is essential; but keep the plant out of direct sunlight during the afternoon hours, which could burn the foliage.

Watering: Spider plants like to be evenly moist, but like most other houseplants, they do not like to have “wet feet.” When you water, move the plant to a sink and pour water into the top of the pot. At least 20 percent of the volume of water that goes into the pot should drain out the hole in the bottom.

If there is a saucer attached to the base of the hanging basket, be sure to tip the pot on its side to drain the water out of the saucer before returning the basket to its hook. Allowing standing water to collect and sit in the saucer will cause symptoms of over-watering, such as wilt and leaf yellowing. It could also lead to root rot and plant death.

The pot should feel light and the soil should feel dry prior to each watering. With houseplants, over-watering is far more common than under-watering, so do your best not to kill it with kindness by over-watering.

Fertilizing: The brown tips you describe on the leaves are symptomatic of salt burn. Most potting soils contain slow-release fertilizers, and the salts from these synthetic fertilizers can build up in both the soil and the plant itself.

Salt build-up in the soil is evidenced by a white crust on the soil’s surface. Salt build-up in the plant exhibits as brown, crunchy leaf tips. This is because the salts are absorbed into the plant with irrigation water and they travel to the ends of the leaves, where they collect and “burn” the leaf tissue there.

Salt burn on leaves and salt build-up in the soil are both prevented by flushing water through the soil with each watering, allowing it to drain out the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.

Following the watering instructions in the section above will keep this condition from advancing and browning more of the leaf tips, but it will not get rid of the tips that are already brown. You can trim those off with a clean pair of sharp scissors.

Houseplants really only need to be fertilized from March through August. I use a half-strength liquid organic houseplant-specific fertilizer once a month.

Since new growth on houseplants shouldn’t be encouraged during the winter months, there’s no need to fertilize them through the autumn and winter.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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