“Ever since I started my lemon tree from seed, its leaves appear cut around the edges. I’m not overwatering. Today I gave it Jobe’s Organics Fruit & Citrus fertilizer and treated with Bonide Systemic Insect Control, both of these being used for the first time, as I haven’t done anything but water and mist it since its birth. When its first leaf appeared, it was small and oddly shaped. I thought it was a “lucky” leaf, like Nemo’s “lucky” fin in Finding Nemo (lol). I have kept a fan on it on medium to make it strong that continues to run (for months and months now). I don’t think that’d be causing this. If it’s a pest, I have no idea which one. Thank you so much for your time.” Question from Bradley of Cleves, Ohio
Answer: There are a number of reasons that may explain why your citrus leaves look malformed and discolored. Both physical and nutritional problems are among the possibilities. Let’s start by covering the essentials for growing indoor citrus.
Indoor Citrus Growing Needs
Indoor citrus trees require a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight a day to perform well in addition to warm growing conditions (60 – 75 degrees F) and moderate humidity (45 – 50%). Bringing plants outdoors in summer, on a sunny porch or patio, helps them grow better year-round. Plant them pots that drain well, and provide a potting soil with good porosity and water-holding ability, such as Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, which is OMRI Listed for organic growing. Regular fertilization is essential, but pots require light fertilization with granular fertilizer. Water plants deeply until the water drains from the bottom of the pot. Allow pots to become moderately dry between watering–the tops should be dry down to 3 inches. (Outdoor plants may need to be watered almost daily, while indoor plants require less frequent water.) During the winter months, when growth naturally slows, the watering regime should be reduced. Signs of overwatering include leaf yellowing and drop and eventually stem death. Trees allowed to become too dry may also unexpectedly drop some leaves.
Troubleshooting Your Citrus Woes
Lack of fertilizer, excess fertilizer, and low humidity can all contribute to the leaf troubles you are experiencing. Your tree had no fertilizer for a while, which can cause various nutrient deficiencies, and now it has a lot if you used Jobe’s Organics Fruit & Citrus fertilizer spikes. Moreover, the fan may help with stem strength, but fans are also drying and reduce humidity.
Here are my recommendations: Make sure your tree is in a well-drained pot, provide it with lots of sunlight, remove the fan, remove the Jobes’ Organics Fruit & Citrus fertilizer spike and replace it with a granular citrus fertilizer that can be added at lower quantities, and take your tree outdoors in summer to improve stem strength. Also, refrain from using Bonide Systemic Insect Controls. Systemic insecticides are not suited to edible plants because they poison plant tissues. That is why systemic labels says: “It is not meant for vegetable or fruit plants.” Insecticidal soaps are quite effective on most pests. It also helps to occasionally wipe the leaves down.
Succulents have had a place in my home since I was in college. In fact, as life became busier and busier, I began to replace more tender, needy house plants with resilient succulents. By the time I had children, I only had succulent indoor plants. Then I realized that hanging succulents were even more convenient because they were out of reach from the kids and cats. They are beautiful and convenient if you have lots of windows that stream sunlight into your home. Some can even take the partial sun.
Another perk is that succulents lack the woes of average, needier hanging plants. They don’t need to be constantly watered and tended to due to higher exposure to the elements. Succulents are much slower to dry out and far more forgiving if the soil runs a little dry. The foliage will continue to look lush as long as you keep giving them a little care each week.
It is good for the health of any house plant to be taken outdoors during the frost-free growing months. Hang them along a bright porch or patio where they will get some protection from the high midday sun and strong winds. Regardless of their drought-tolerant status, they will still require weekly to twice-weekly water when outdoors. Light, slow-release fertilizer, and intermittent water-soluble fertilizer will encourage robust growth. They must be well-rooted and established in their baskets before they are fully tolerant of dry heat and winds, so keep a more watchful eye on new plantings.
When you take them indoors in fall as house plants, give them direct sunlight or bright filtered light. Water much less during the cold months–excess water can induce crown or root rot. Thorough water two to three times a month should be sufficient, depending on the plant, pot, temperature, and humidity. (Click here to learn more about winter succulent care.)
Securing Hanging House Plants
If you have a mantle and little inclination to secure hooks to your ceiling, place hanging plants along the edge. Tall, sturdy plant stands also work. Otherwise, hanging plants should be hung from hooks or brackets. Strong hangers and hooks hung over wooden rafters or securely mounted to a wooden ceiling beam are your safest options. Proper installation is key.
Choose a large, solid metal hook to mount in a ceiling joist (supporting beam) to hang a plant. Start with the basic materials: a step ladder, stud finder, pencil, and cordless drill set with the right bit (it should be a little smaller than the hook’s threaded shaft). Stud finders make it easy to find joists. Once you find the right spot, mark it with your pencil, and then drill a straight hole in the spot that is a little deeper than the length of the hook’s threaded shaft. Twist the hook’s base in until flush, and you’re done.
Hanging Succulents for Foliage
Burros, Dolphins, Donkeys, Pearls, and Pickles: There are several senecios that are uniquely attractive. Each grows to great lengths–up to 3 feet or more–and has whimsical succulent strands. Blue Pickle Vine (Senecio radicans ‘Glauca’) has strands of fun, blue-green, pickle-like leaves. String of Dolphins (Senecio peregrinus) is somewhat similar, but its curved fleshy leaves look almost dolphin-like. Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum ‘Burrito’) has dense strands of rounded, succulent leaves that look a bit like tails. Donkey’s tails are nearly identical, but the succulent leaves have sharper tips, and the stems tend to grow longer. Finally, Variegated String-of-Pearls (Senecio rowelianus ‘Variegatus’) is one of the easiest and prettiest succulent hanging plants to grow. Its grey-green stems are lined with round baubles of foliage with streaks of ivory and pink highlights. This one’s a little harder to come by, but Mountain Crest Gardens carries it often. Unusual white or lavender-pink flowers rarely appear on each of these plants.
Dancing Bones (Hatiora salicornioides) is a unique spineless cactus. Though delicate, yellow flowers often grace its stems, its glorious, mop-head of foliage is the main show. Grow it in a strong, sturdy hanging basket or tall container. Happy plants mature quickly and become large, so be sure you hang it from a strong hook secured to a beam.
String-of-Turtles (Peperomia prostrata) has flattened, translucent leaves that look much like tiny turtle shells. In time, the plant will form a dense mat of dangling stems. This one can take a little less light. On rare occasions, it may produce spikes of reddish-brown flowers that rise from the foliage.
Variegated String-of-Hearts(Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’) has delicate, heart-shaped succulent leaves of silvery-white, pink, and dark green that dangle from the dark stems for an impressive show. It is one of the easier house plants that you can grow, and it does not disappoint when it comes to good looks.
Hanging Succulents for Flowers and Foliage
Chandelier Plant (Kalanchoe manginii) becomes massive with age, so choose a substantial container from the start. Its dense stems have rounded succulent leaves. From late winter to early spring, copious orange to salmon-pink bells bloom for weeks. During the rest of the year, the lush foliage of this Madagascar native looks attractive. Thin out excessive older growth to encourage new.
Flower Dust Plant (Kalanchoe pumila) has very bright silvery-white, almost dusty leaves that spill from any container or hanging basket. When this Madagascar native becomes laden with pretty pink flowers, it looks even prettier. Like chandelier plant, it flowers in late winter and spring.
Rattail Cactus (Disocactusflagelliformis) develops long strands of finely-spined stems that cascade down to form a hair-like mop. Spectacular, large cactus flowers of pink, reddish-pink, or purplish-red appear from spring to summer. Prune off any excessive stems or those that become damaged or tangled.
Easy to Propagate and Share
Most succulents and cacti can be propagated from leaf or stem cuttings. The rarer your plant, the more you will want to propagate it for gifting and friends. Here is what you will need to take stem or leaf cuttings from your hanging succulents.
Rooting hormone with an anti-fungal additive (optional)
Use a sharp knife to gently cut healthy leaves from the stem. Dip the bases of the leaves, or a stem tip, into rooting hormone; rooting hormone hastens the rooting process and reduces rot but is not necessary. Gently moisten the perlite or potting mix in your shallow pots, and nestle the bases of the leaves into the mix. Place the pots in a spot with bright, filtered light and keep the perlite or mix lightly moist to almost dry. Over a matter of weeks, the bases will root and small plantlets will appear. You can pot them up once they have several leaflets.
“Why should I continue to use Black Gold products for my indoor gardening projects, rather than switching entirely to hydroponics?” Question from Vicki of Brownsburg, Indiana
Answer: It depends on your home, budget, and goals, but I favor soil growing for lots of reasons. Either way, both methods have value. To help you make up your own mind, here are the plusses and minuses of growing in pots versus home hydroponic growing.
“Is it possible to grow any vegetables indoors in a sunny room with a grow light? I live in NE PA and we have long cold winters. I would love to grow veggies over the winter. I have a room that I think would work.” Question from Melanie or Susquehanna, Pennsylvania
Answer: What a nice space! You can certainly grow container vegetables in your bright, sunny room. It offers so much natural sunlight that only some supplemental grow lights will be needed, if any. Vegetables will grow best in the sunniest window. A south-facing exposure is optimal.
“What is the best practice to ensure a window-sill cilantro plant will thrive? I have a green thumb and can grow or rehab practically any plant/flower/herb/garden. However, each time I’ve purchased a cilantro plant, it wilts after a few months. I only water when dry. Thank you!” Question from Ann of Raleigh, North Carolina
Answer: Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a short-lived annual herb that grows best in full sun and cooler temperatures between 65–70°F. That’s why it dies away after a few months after flowering. It’s just what annuals do. My recommendation is to start it from seed in pots along a sunny windowsill and keep replanting as needed.
Growing Cilantro from Seed
Cilantro seeds germinate well in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Sow the seeds, cover them lightly with 1/8 of an inch of soil, and water them thoroughly. Then keep the seeds lightly moist by spritzing them with water. Expect them to sprout in a week to ten days. Then keep the soil just moist by watering from the bottom. It also helps to apply an application of water-soluble fertilizer weekly after they begin to grow. Typically, you can start trimming the leaves for cooking after a few more weeks. Microgreens can be harvested earlier.
Cilantro remains leafy for only a couple of months before it starts to send up stems of white, lacy flowers. If you let it flower and set seed, you can harvest and dry the coriander seeds for pickling and cooking. If you prefer cilantro, then pull the plants as they flower, and plant seeds anew. You might even maintain a couple of pots and plant them several weeks apart to ensure you have a constant flow of cilantro.
Some cilantro varieties stay leafy longer than others. ‘Calypso‘ is one of these. It is generally ready to harvest 50 days after planting.
“When is the best time to plant tomato seeds?” Question from Diana of Indianapolis, Indiana
Answer: This is an easy question to answer! It takes around six to eight weeks to grow tomatoes from seed to ready-to-plant starts. And, tomatoes produce fruit between 65 to 85 days after planting, depending on the variety, so you want to give them plenty of time to produce good fruit through the warmth of summer. It’s also good to know that determinate or bush-type tomatoes produce earlier than indeterminate or vining tomatoes.
I always start my tomatoes indoors for the best results. Then, once the threat of frost has passed, I plant them outdoors. Please read this great Black Gold article Growing Tomatoes from Seed to Harvest. It will tell you everything that you need to know to grow the best tomatoes possible from seed.
“I start my seedlings indoors. How do I keep them from shooting up 6 inches with a weak stem before I can get them outdoors?” Question from Jerry of Lead, South Dakota
Answer: This is all about providing lots of high-quality light from start to finish. When light is insufficient, seedlings will reach and stretch towards the source, which results in elongated, leggy shoots and poor overall color and growth.
If you start your seeds along a sunny windowsill, make sure that it is south-facing. Place your seedlings as close to the pane as possible and consider fortifying their light with high-spectrum bulbs for plant growing.
“In an effort to keep down the insect population of my indoor veggie garden, I’ve been sterilizing my soil in the oven or microwave. I’ve had whitefly and fungus gnat infestations from using Miracle Gro and other soils right out of the bag, so someone told me to sterilize, and it seems to work. However, if there are beneficial microorganisms in your Black Gold soil, I fear that sterilization may kill them. So, my question is this… should I heat sterilize my Black Gold organic soil before using it indoors? Or is that defeating the purpose of the soil’s ingredients?”Question from Holt of Georgia
Answer: Theoretically, fresh, straight-out-of-the-bag potting mix should be pest and disease-free. Black Gold® gets good grades in this arena, but if a bag gets slashed or torn during transport or is improperly stored, the contents can pay the price. (Only buy Black Gold® bags that are undamaged with contents that are not waterlogged.) Otherwise, you shouldn’t have to worry. Still, if you prefer to play it safe, soil sterilization is certainly helpful with preventing damping-off (click here to learn more), and it would kill any harboring pest eggs, but beneficial microbes will also pay the price.
The chief potting soil beneficials to consider are mycorrhizae and the good microbes in earthworm castings and sometimes compost. Other soil components, like Canadian Sphagnum peat moss and bark, are not particularly rich in any worthy beneficial microbes accessible to plant roots. Currently, we do not add mycorrhizae to any of our Black Gold® soils (unlike some of our Sunshine® mixes), but we do add earthworm castings and compost to quite a few, including our Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Sterilization would certainly kill any soil good guys, but if you are determined to sterilize, it should not impact your growing dramatically. And, you can always beef up your soil after sterilization by adding Black Gold® Earthworm Castings Blend from a well-sealed bag, or dry mycorrhizae spores, which are available at most garden stores.
Even after the sterilization of greenhouse pots, surfaces, and soil, pests may come. Every open door, window crack, or new plant brought indoors is a threat. When it doubt, fight back early using smart IPM. We have lots of blogs on the topic. (Click here to read an article about managing the worst indoor plant pests, and watch our video below about beating fungus gnats.)
Cultivate a shower of flowers for the holidays! Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus are easy to grow if you know what you are doing. Get yours to grow and bloom to its fullest year after year. Here are the seasonal steps that you will need to know for the most beautiful display!
Growing vegetables in containers in winter is a different story. First, you generally need lots of sunlight–at least 6 to 8 hours for good growth and production. Also, warm-season vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, need extra warmth and moderate humidity. Greens and herbs are often the best choices for indoor growing because they need a little less light (five to six hours of sun) and are able to withstand cooler temperatures. They are great candidates for a bright, sunny, south-facing window. (Click here for a great article about growing windowsill greens in winter, and here’s an article about growing indoor herbs.)
Because you live down south, you may be able to get really cold-hardy greens to overwinter in pots as well, but this is never a sure-shot deal. Experiment with kale and collards to see if you can get them to survive your winter cold in pots.
I hope that these tips help! Growing veggies in big, tall pots is lots of fun and almost like raised bed gardening.