If you have ever gotten a new pet for the first time, you may recall learning your pet’s language since they cannot speak ours. With dogs, erratic pacing may be a sign of needing to go to the bathroom or growling or barking in the home may be an attempt to warn us of a stranger nearby. For a cat, incessant loud meowing may communicate hunger or the whipping of their tail back and forth may indicate a pending cat attack waiting to happen any second! The benefits of learning to speak a pet’s language allows for better pet parenting.
The same is true with plants. Plants have their own language and we can care for them better once we learn how to speak it. As Sir Issac Newton once said, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When plants show signs of distress most times it is a reaction to an action or lack of action from us or from the plant’s environment. Sad droopy leaves, leaf fall and dried out crispy leaves are just a few of the many ways our plants attempt to communicate their needs.
If the edges of the leaves have become scalloped, uneven or mangled and that is not the original shape of the leaves, you may have visitors that love your plant even more than you. It is likely that pests have enjoyed their breakfast, lunch and dinner from your plant's leaves. Be sure to isolate the pest ridden plant to avoid infestation of any other plants nearby. Pruning damaged leaves, changing the soil and the pot and applying organic remedies or chemical insecticides may help. Determine if it is worth your efforts to save the plant or if the pests have taken over.
Wilted soft mushy leaves can indicate overwatering which can result in root rot and or disease. Black or brown spots throughout the leaves that eventually turn translucent can be signs of disease as well. This is also how a desert plant may react to being misted or given too much water too often, which can rot its leaves in spots where water remains too long. Crispy brown or black leaves that have dried out from the very tips and progressively dried inward towards the petioles and stem is often indicative of underwatering or chemical burn from salts or chlorines.
Black or brown speckled crispy drying out of the leaves that begins at the edges of the leaves and gradually progresses to the center vein of the leaves usually indicates salt or chlorine burn from using hard water or the incorrect fertilizer for that plant. This behavior can also indicate that the soil acidity is incorrect for that specific plant. A plant that is especially prone to this is the Avocado tree. It is very common that the leaves suffer when the soil is not acidic enough or if there is too much salt and or chlorine in the water or fertilizer being used.
Leaves that wilt and droop are usually asking for water if the top couple inches of soil are dry to touch. Plants that continue to droop days after watering may be waterlogged or could be too far parched to bounce back. Leggy long stems are usually a result of not enough light as the plant reaches its leaves far in the direction of the closest light source. This can inhibit plant growth and starve the plant of one of its main vital resources.
Understanding your plant’s original wild environment, your home's environment and the way that plants communicate their needs are all essential to the best care. “Do some research on your plant’s needs, follow those instructions as best you can in your home, and observe them. They’ll soon tell you if they’re happy or not,” advise Alana Langan and Jacqui Vidal in their book, Plant Style: How to greenify your space. Learn your plant, mimic its natural habitat in your home and observe for any tell tale sign that modifications may be needed and you will be on your way to better plant care!
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