Mike E emailed with a question about sagging fittonias, a low-growing houseplant that's often offered for sale in garden centres.
I have a red veined (Pink Anne), a white veined, and two "Pink Frankie" fittonias. All but the "Pink Frankies" are growing nicely with no leaf drop. The 2 "Pink Frankies" are smaller, purchased at Wally World, and have suffered from considerable leaf drop. All are in 3 inch pots in same soil as purchased. Have not repotted or fertilized any since I bought a month ago and my room temp. varies from 70 to 80 degrees with humidity recorded between 50 and 65%.I keep all in a planter box on a table 2 ft. high next to a sliding glass door window (remains closed). Only light is coming through a South facing sliding glass window with vertical venetian blinds partially open.
The "Pink Frankies" are 4.5 inches high by 4 inches acoss and the other fittonias are 7 inches high by 7 inches across (plants-not pot size). One of the "Pink Frankies" has six main stems in its pot. The leaves have completely dropped on 4 of the stems-the other 2 stems are fully leaved bottom to top. The other "Pink Frankie" has 5 stems in the pot with four bare of leaves and one stem fully leaved. There are newer leaves coming out on the bared stems but they seem to drop off after about a quarter inch long. Could you give me any suggestions as to why my "Pink Frankies" are suffering so much leaf drop?
I had to Google "Wally World" but it seems you may be referring to Walmart? Anyway, anyone who's bought a fittonia may be nodding their head in agreement with Mike's sorry tale of dropping foliage.
I will, if I may, quote from my favourite houseplant tome, the Gold-Plated Houseplant Expert, in which DG Hessayon notes: "Many people have bought a specimen to add novelty to their collection ... only to find that the plant has died within weeks. Unfortunately the standard large-leaved types are very difficult to grow under ordinary room conditions".
Sadly, this is true for many of the houseplants on display at your local supermarket or garden centre: caladiums, dizygothecas, codiaeums, and anthuriums, for instance. These plants are all divas, demanding conditions that most living rooms won't be able to provide: high humidity, steady temperatures and no draughts, primarily. For most of us with busy lives, these plants are out of bounds: a waste of money. If you insist on growing them, you're better off getting a large terrarium to put them in: fittonias are small enough to work in bottle gardens, too. (And as I've already noted, bottle gardens and terrariums are back in fashion right now - bonus!)
That said, Mike's growing conditions don't sound too off the mark: humidity of 50-65% isn't bad for most houseplants, although it would help to stand the plants on a drip tray containing pebbles and some water to help moisten the air a little more for the fittonias. The leaf drop on Mike's plants may have been set in motion by events well before he bought the plants: were they stored incorrectly in transit, exposed to deadly cold, under or overwatered? A plant that looks perfectly healthy when you buy it can suddenly die from the shock of travelling from the cosy confines of the shop to your home, too. If I were you, Mike, I'd cut back the de-leafed stems and hope they begin to revive. Also, it's worth looking for the small-leaved, white-veined fittonias (Fittonia argyroneura nana), which tend to be a bit tougher and less susceptible to turning up its toes.
The lessons here are several:
1. Buy from a reputable supplier who knows about houseplants: they're more likely to have cared for your plant before you bought
2. Keep plants protected on the journey home, preferably wrapped in bubble wrap if you're buying them in winter, and never buy houseplants from outdoor markets - in the summer they may be burned by sun, and in winter the cold will kill them
3. When you get them home, put the plants in a bright place out of direct sunglight to give it a chance to acclimatise before choosing its final position
4. If your plant dies, remember: it's not your fault, it's the shop's!