Since 2001, I’ve owned a small plant care business in Albuquerque called Good To Grow. Since 2009, I’ve maintained this indoor and outdoor gardening blog.

Each Wednesday, I’ve been posting emails from readers who had questions about their houseplants. Most of the letters came from people who are not regular readers, but who stumbled across this blog because they had a specific houseplant question. When I could, I wrote them back with advice tailored to their specific question. I saved all these emails in a file.

Since my regular readers are so sophisticated with their houseplant knowledge, and because everyone has their own take on caring for plants, I wanted to turn the emails over to them and see what their advice would’ve been had the email come to them. On Wednesdays, I’ll post the original question, and on the following Wednesday, I’ll reveal the advice from the regulars, as well as my response, so we can see how we match up. It’s been an interesting experiment so far, I hope you enjoy. If you have advice, please leave it in the comment section or on my facebook wall.

Last week I shared the problem that the lovely Alissa is having with her Plectranthus plant. Here’s her email:

>>>>I have a concern about my swedish ivy (is that the name?) you gave me cuttings of. It used to be right in an east facing window receiving some direct morning light. I noticed the leaves that were not in direct light all seemed much happier so it’s now sitting just below that window sill. I water it when I remember to lol. It gets very dry between waterings. It usually loses one or a few leaves when I let it get too dry. I thought it had spider mites at one point because a nearby plant had them right around the time the ivy started getting black spots on his leaves. I treated it twice along with the other plant. I don’t see any bugs now, but he still gets black blotches on his leaves. I usually pick off the sick leaves. Do you know what the problem might be? >>>>

Uhhhh, no, no I don’t Alissa.

Spider mites cause leaf damage, but not like that!

We emailed back and forth, and at one point, I asked her about fungus in the soil. Here’s what she replied:

>>>>I just checked out the soil, and it does not appear to have any fungus. Although I did now notice a bunch of little crawly guys all in the soil….yuck! I don’t know what they are and they are very hard to see. I tried scooping soil onto a plate to get a better look at them and now they are very hidey and hard to spot. The one I saw crawl across the plate was like the tip of a sharpened pencil and red I want to say. >>>>

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I turned to you for help. Here’s how you answered:

Ginny Burton, of Burton Optician in Washington DC, wrote, “I don’t think it has anything to do with the bugs. I think water gets splashed on the leaves and the droplets act as magnifying glasses and burn the leaves. Or, if she’s using fertilizer, she may be spilling some on the leaves and it’s strong enough to damage them. The plant itself looks perfectly happy, so I’d just do what she’s doing: pick off the damaged leaves.”

Alissa replied, “Thanks for the input! I haven’t used any fertilizer, but it is definitely possible that the leaves get wet often since it is next to the kitchen sink.”

Claude from Random Rants and Prickly Plants wrote, “If this was an outside plant I’d say this was caused by allowing the plant to get too dry and hot. Ive never seen it on an inside plant though. as for the creepy crawlers… eeeeewwwwww! Consider taking cuttings and rooting them in a new pot, with new soil, and sans ickies. have you seen any gnats? it could, I suppose, be maggots of fungus gnats, but that doesn’t make sense with the hot, dry theory. if it’s by the kitchen sink, they may have picked up something from foods prep… but again, eeeeewwwwww”

Thank you Ginny and Claude for your advice. I think you are both right that there are two different problems with this plant – the black spots problem and the bugs. Changing the soil eliminated the latter.

We may never know for sure what caused those black spots. But Ginny’s right that the plant looks great and that she should continue picking off damaged leaves like she has been.

Alissa, I’m sorry we don’t have anything more conclusive for you, but hopefully the problems are already in the past.

If anyone would like to add to the discussion, please feel free to do so in the comments section.

I’ll be back tomorrow, I hope to see you here.

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