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"(The caterpillar is) an emblem of the Devil in its crawling walk, and bears his colors in its changing hue." MARTIN LUTHER, "Table-Talk."
The most experienced gardeners have occasional failures with one or another of their house plants. If some of yours fail, try to find out why. Here are some of the possible reasons:
1. The air in your room may be too dry. With central heating this is likely; so follow the suggestions in preceding chapters.
2. You may have neglected them and not watered them often enough; take care that the soil never completely dries out. Cacti will stand a lot of drought, but even they can eventually suffer.
3. On the other hand, you may have given them too much water; follow the suggestions in Chapter 14 and, with a few exceptions, do not allow water to stand in the saucer.
4. The trouble is quite likely to be in your potting soil. It may be overacid or overalkaline. Ascertain the soil conditions required and make a series of tests with your soil as suggested in Chapter 3. If there is any doubt, give your plants a neutral soil. Dress with aluminum sulphate to make soil slightly acid or with limestone to make it slightly alkaline. Your earth may be too cohesive; nearly all house plants do best in a porous medium, so see that yours has the proper amount of sand.
5. You may have been too generous with fertilizer. Make frequent applications of very small amounts; too much at any one time may be fatal.
6. Your soil may lack one or another of the trace elements that fertilizer does not contain: manganese, magnesium, boron, iron, et cetera. Apply Esminel or some other advertised source of these substances.
7. Suspect drafts in cold weather, calling for weather stripping and putty.
8. Suspect escaping illuminating gas from the kitchen. Have a plumber tighten the valves, grinding them if necessary. Adjust the pilot and clean the burners if they are slow to ignite and thus release gas every time you light them.
g. Suspect coal or oil gas from the heating plant. Have a steam fitter check. Sow a pinch of tomato seed every month and pot up the seedlings so that you always have some young tomato plants; if they thrive, you have no gas trouble.
10. Suspect factory smoke. Even some distance away, with a favorable wind a smelting works or an oil refinery can do damage to your plants.
11. Look into your water. Boil it and let it cool, using it only at room temperature. Better yet, collect rain water. Heavily chlorinated water is bad, as also is alkali water or well water in alkali country.
12. An earthworm in your pot may so disturb the plant roots that the plant suffers, though earthworms do not harm the plants directly. But eelworms do; these nematodes may be the source of galls on the roots. Aphis on the roots will often make a plant sickly; dig up a dying plant and look at the roots. If hundreds of gray-white insects are crowded upon them, water all your plants with a dilution of Black-Leaf 40. Grubs may be feeding on your plant roots.
13. If an individual stem or branch of a plant dies or falls over, suspect the presence of a borer inside. Cut off the stem and slice it along its length; if you find a grub, he was the troublemaker.
14. Your plants may be suffering from spray injury. Always follow exactly the directions on the container.