Lemon Eucalyptus and Patchouli Wintering Indoors
Answered by: Inge Poot
Question from: Linda Tuthill
Posted on: November 12, 1999

I sent away for lemon eucalyptus and patchouli plants. When I got the lemon eucalyptus plants I put them in an east window, but every now and then I would get leaves that started to dry out and drop off. I moved the plant about three weeks ago to a south window and I’m finding that all the leaves are drying up and falling off. The patchouli plant is getting a bit yellow, even though I have that in the same window that it’s always been in when it was doing fine.

Lemon eucalyptus dislikes any soil disturbance and does not want to dry out completely. Also the soil pH should be neutral to slightly alkaline.

When the heat comes on in the house in the fall, the humidity suddenly changes from rather moist to very dry. This causes pots to dry out much faster and root systems may not be able to keep up with moisture loss even if you have stepped up watering frequency to prevent drying out of pots for plants that want to be evenly moist. The plants reaction to this is to drop leaves in order to cut down on moisture loss. Also any leaf only has a certain life span and will eventually die and drop off. Leaves that are poorly situated to catch light will be most severely affected, because the plant is always striving for maximum efficiency. Therefore some leaf loss is always to be expected. When the plant has to reduce the total amount of leaves to match the roots’ capacity for water uptake, the leaf loss will increase at least temporarily.

However if all leaves drop off on an evergreen plant, it means something is very wrong with the roots. I would pop the plant immediately into a plastic bag, place it in a bright spot out of direct sunlight and keep it there until new growth is noticeable. Then gradually open the bag and then move it gradually into brighter light – preferable cooler temperatures as well- to simulate the cooler winter temperatures in its native habitat.

The patchouli might have an additional problem with the soil. It likes a slightly acid soil and a humid, warm atmosphere. The desert conditions of the average house in winter are quite a shock to it after a nice humid summer! Most municipal water supplies are alkaline (to keep chlorine in solution longer) and the increased watering schedule needed in a dry environment would quickly offset the ability of the peatmoss in the planting mix to keep the pH acid. The result is death of roots just when the plant needs them more than ever. Throughly water the plant with rain water or distilled water, then pop it into an open plastic bag and move to a slightly shadier position.

South windows are bright but without direct sun in summer, but as the sun stays lower and lower in the sky as winter progresses, they become quite sunny! This compensates more than enough for the lower light intensity during this time of year. Make sure that any plants in plastic bags placed in direct sun are in open bags or they will be cooked.

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