By Marina Welham
Buying a new plant is exciting. If it is healthy when you buy it, it should give you years of enjoyment. The most critical time in the life of your new plant is going to be the first few weeks in your care.
In your home, the new plant will face different growing conditions to those it had before it was sold to you. Any change in light intensity, humidity, temperature or air circulation will often put your plant into a temporary state of shock. This is particularly true of larger, more mature specimens. To minimize this trauma, even if you know a plant ordinarily needs full sunshine, if it has been sitting on a dark shelf in a store, you should not immediately put it into full sun at a south facing window! It needs a chance to become accustomed to more light by being put in a very bright but shaded from the sun location and gradually moved to full sun over a period of several weeks.
If your new plant goes into a mild state of shock, it will look sick and some leaves may drop off. Flowering plants may stop flowering and plants with flower buds may drop the buds. Recovery can take two weeks to a month although flowering plants may not flower again until the following flowering season for those plants.
This weakened condition makes a plant very susceptible to insect attacks when one or two bugs can raise a family very quickly. This is why new plants should be kept in isolation for at least two weeks. Remember that most house plant pests and disease problems are carried in with new plants. During the first two weeks, inspect the new plants closely and regularly. If pests are present, deal with them and get rid of them before you move the plant close to others which do not have insect problems.
Sometimes there is a huge difference in growing conditions between where the plant was sold and your home. For example, if you buy a plant at a nursery in the middle of a summer heat wave and bring it home to a thoroughly air conditioned apartment, expect the plant to suffer major shock. Don’t be surprised if all the leaves fall off and the plant appears very sick. Sometimes it will recover but don’t expect miracles. And don’t expect an improvement for up to several months. More often than not a severely traumatized plant will die.
While your new plant is going through the process of getting used to new growing conditions and especially if it shows any signs of being unwell .. do not feed it. For non succulent sick plants, they often feel better if the humidity around them is kept high. In the case of cacti and other succulents, however, less water is better than too much during this time of stress.
Because cacti and succulents travel well in the mail, many are purchased on line and for a period of a week or two or even more, they spend their time on their way to us in very dark boxes. The same period of adjustment should be given. Take them out of the box as soon as they arrive. Put them where they will receive good light but no sun. Pot them up but don’t move them to the light conditions they need (some need full sun and some do not) for at least two weeks. Gradually move them to a brighter location over this period of time. A little water can be given but don’t soak the soil until the plants have been in their final position for a week or two.
Fertilizer should not be given to plants in shock. If you pot your new plant into your own soil mix, feeding is not necessary in any case for the first six months as there should be sufficient nutrients in the soil to feed the plant during that time.
A little extra TLC (Tender Loving Care) during the first few weeks will ensure you won’t suffer ADL (Abject Disappointment Later).