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Caudiciforms and Pachycaul Trees Includes ponytail palms, Madagascar palms and desert roses (NB: these aren't true palms or roses!)

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Old June 4th, 2007, 03:57 PM
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portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

i seem to be having nothing but problems with my new elephant bush. i've kept the soil dry and i've kept it at my window trying to give it the best light i can provide but it won't seem to stop dropping leaves. im not sure what i should do about that problem. i'd appreciate any sort of advice that can be given.
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Old June 4th, 2007, 07:54 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

you say you are keeping the soil dry but is it getting enough water?
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Old June 4th, 2007, 08:02 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

i've been watering it once a week but not to the point that it runs out of the bottom. the soil ends up being moist but not soaked. i have it in regular potting soil because i didn't know about all the mixtures and such that are for particular plants. im sort of a newbe to the plant world. sort of goin by the seat of my pants with most of them. but always at some point the tiny tag that comes included with most plants doesn't offer a whole lot of support.
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Old June 4th, 2007, 08:03 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

This is a newly aquired plant? It is not uncommon for any plant to take a few weeks to adjust to a new environment.

I think if you just give the plant some time, it will recover. However, potting soil is not appropriate for this plant. This is a desert/arid climate plant. If you have not checked it out yet, there is a Caudiciform and Succulent Care Guide in this forum. I think you will find the information very useful.
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Old June 4th, 2007, 08:14 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

i've had it for nearly a month. everything had been going alright at first. i saved a cluster of succulents that were grouped together at lowes prior to buying this portulacaria and it started dropping leaves and sprouting more that were alot weaker and would drop off almost as soon as it matured and then it just turned into a stick, i know now with having the tag from this recently acquired bundle that i overwatered it in the worst fashion. im afraid to put it outside to give it the light that it most likely would prefer because we get so much rain here i'd hate to drown this one out as well. and it's also really humid outside most of the summer, also another down side. but im also not sure that it bein in the cold house and out of direct light is doing it any better.
either way, im learning that fussy plants most likely aren't for me until i become more of a seasoned plant owner. but the elephant bush is really a beautiful plant. and also, im new to this forum for plants so im not sure about all the things the site provides but now that i know it's out there i will definitely check out the growers guide you mentioned.
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Old June 5th, 2007, 04:28 AM
markinwestmich markinwestmich is offline
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

Portulacaria are not "fussy" provided they are given the proper soil mix. Root health is vital for any plant, but especially for desert/arid climate plants. A loose, quick draining mix (in the care guides mentioned above) will allow you to bring the plant outdoors to enjoy the rain and humidity. I live in Grand Rapids, MI where it is frequently cloudy and rainy. All of my succulents, caudiciform plants, pachycaul trees, and cacti are fully exposed to the elements outdoors and are thriving right now. Under full light and exposure to a good breeze, the plants are rarely wet for long. In fact, the reason I have aquired a large collection of these plants is the fact that they are not fussy and I rarely have to worry about them. The soil mix seems to be key to a strong plant because most desert/arid climate plants are well-adapted to tolerating extremes in temperature, water, and light.

Unfortunately, many of the plants sold at the local home and hardware stores are poorly labeled and seem to be all potted in a mix that holds far too much water and drains poorly...often leading to the demise of the plant.

I think if you do a little reading, you'll be able to turn your Portulacaria around and have it thriving again.
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Old June 5th, 2007, 07:46 AM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

i went through the 3 sites that were listed and im still a little confused about the soilless mix. im assuming that they have "idiot proof" bags sold at different garden shops that'll be good for my portulacaria. i've read alot about people mixing their own but im definitely not going to take that on. we've recently had a 2 day adventure of serious rain and i don't believe we'll be having something like that again for a while. so im slowly adjusting my plant to being outside in the full sun and hoping that the rainless weather will hold up until i can get better mix that will drain better. at the moment its not dangerous sun hours so i have it in the sun but i plan on moving it onto a shaded table top thats in the shade for the higher sun times between 11 and 3. i don't want to scorch the leaves from shocking it from being a window plant to a outdoor sun plant. if you have any sort of names of mixes that you'd recommend i'd definitely appreciate it. thank you so much for you help so far.
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Old June 5th, 2007, 09:21 AM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

If you don't want to mix your own, I would suggest bags of bonsai soil. Sometimes you can find bonsai soil at your local nursery. You can definitely order it on the web. You are in Wayne County? As in the Detroit, MI area? If you do a general web search for, say "bonsai in Detroit", I know there are a handful of bonsai nurseries in this area. In addition, your Portulacaria will make an awesome bonsai. If you do a web image search, I believe you will find several examples. http://www.knowledgeofbonsai.org/gal.../small/116.jpg

I mix my own, but bonsai soil makes up a good 60-80% of my indoor/outdoor succulent mix.

Last edited by markinwestmich; June 5th, 2007 at 10:23 AM.
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Old June 5th, 2007, 10:53 AM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

This is June 5, 2007. It has been raining on and off for the past three days. Another cloudy day with sprinkles of rain again today. This is one of my small rock gardens on the south side of my home. Here is an assortment of several large and small succulents, in containers, most of which are in a well-draining bonsai soil. The temperatures have been 70-80*F during the day/50-60* during the night for the past two weeks. Many of the plants are just coming out of their dormancy and are just beginning to show some new growth. Bonsai soil, in my experience, works very well for succulents in a relatively cool, wet, humid climate as it dries out quickly and significantly reduces the chances of root rot. It is relatively nutrient-deficient, so mixing in a little slow-release, granular fertilizer helps.
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Old June 5th, 2007, 12:27 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

you definitely have a nice assortment. i'll look into the bonsi soil and also the fertilizer. in reference to wayne county its actually in north carolina. at the moment it's humid and hot and at this point most likely going to get rainy off and on. i've noticed on your plants that you have rocks above the soil. i've seen quite afew others that have the same thing goin on. just curious if that has a greater purpose than looking pretty.
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Old June 5th, 2007, 12:40 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

The landscape rocks keep the rain from washing out the soil. It adds weight to small containers to reduce the chances of strong winds blowing the plants over. Any soil organic material/mud that gets splashed onto cacti, agaves, and aloes often leads to fungal infection, so the larger rocks significantly reduce this. When I bring them indoors in the Fall, I throw the landscape rocks back into the garden.

Your Portulacaria looks to be in decent condition. A few leaves dropping off with this species and other Crassula family members often precedes new growth at the site. My Crassula ovata does this frequently and almost always leads to more branching and foliage development.

If your photo is any indication of it's current health, I'd say you're doing OK with it, so far.
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Old June 5th, 2007, 01:03 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

This is my Crassula ovata, a close relative to your Portulacaria afra. This is two weeks after a recent pruning. You can see all the new growth coming in. The same thing often happens when a leaf drops off the plant. You will likely have to prune your plant back once or twice a year to keep it's nice shape...or any shape you choose, for that matter. For my plant, I simply cut off the third set of leaves once they come in, or sometimes after the first set, depending upon the overall shape of the plant. Doing this often results in further branching and a compact form. Your Portulacaria will benefit from similar pruning. It will take a little time and experience with it to see what technique creates the best form with your plant.
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Old June 5th, 2007, 02:39 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

markinwestmich, you have some beautiful plants there! Some really nice aloes...I was wondering if you know what kind the large agave is in your second pic? I have that same one and haven't been able to positively ID it...thanks!
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Old June 5th, 2007, 03:15 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

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markinwestmich, I was wondering if you know what kind the large agave is in your second pic? I have that same one and haven't been able to positively ID it...thanks!
I am embarrassed to say that this particular agave I have not been able to positively identify. Believe me, I've scoured the internet and books for images. There are a few that I think it may be, but the spines on the edges of the foliage are always slightly different, or the size information claims it to be significantly larger than mine. It has not bloomed in the 5 years I have had it, so I do not have that to go by either. All I know is that it is very cold hardy as it spent the Michigan winter in a coldhouse with overnight temperatures as low as 20*F/-7*C. It multiplies rapidly...even the separated offsets have offsets of their own. I am thinking it must be a fairly common cultivar, as I picked it up at a local garden center. Unfortunately, it had no label except for the generic "succulent/full sun" label.

That said, I think I might be an Agave victoriae-reginae x scabra http://images.google.com/imgres?imgu...%3Den%26sa%3DN This plant is commonly called the Scabra Queen or the Sharkskin Agave. It is native to the Chihuahuan Desert and tolerates temperatures as low as 10*F. I am about 90% sure that is what it is.

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Old June 5th, 2007, 03:57 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

Thanks! I did a little more research and it appears you are correct...mine is smaller than yours and I managed to find some pics that are EXACTLY the same. One more id down!!
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Old June 5th, 2007, 05:31 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

i wasn't able to find bonsi mix but i did find a cactus/succulent mix. hopefully this'll work out. it's hard for me to say if my portulacaria has gotten new leaves on it because i see it everyday and the new growth is hard to determine. i was having some trouble with spider mites or mealy bugs still not sure which it was but i took it outside on sunday and sprayed it down with the hose. and hopefully this plant doesn't mind a bit of misting because i've been misting it from time to time to try and keep it from becoming a real issue. i also brought the rest of my plants out and gave them a good spray to try and keep it from jumping from plant to plant. just been keeping my eye on them all. i want to thank you for all the help you've provided. it's alot more helpful to actually talk with someone back and forth than it is to just sit down and read through a web site. one more thing as well, with the soil its in now..when i bought it a month ago it was in potting soil. and the roots are all tangled in it. but i've been told not to mess with this particular root cluster. so what do i do about the soil thats packed in?
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Old June 5th, 2007, 06:30 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

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i wasn't able to find bonsi mix but i did find a cactus/succulent mix. hopefully this'll work out...i was having some trouble with spider mites or mealy bugs still not sure which it was but i took it outside on sunday and sprayed it down with the hose. and hopefully this plant doesn't mind a bit of misting because i've been misting it from time to time to try and keep it from becoming a real issue. i also brought the rest of my plants out and gave them a good spray to try and keep it from jumping from plant to plant. just been keeping my eye on them all...with the soil its in now..when i bought it a month ago it was in potting soil. and the roots are all tangled in it. but i've been told not to mess with this particular root cluster. so what do i do about the soil thats packed in?
1.) The popular commercial cacti/succulent mixes...another soapbox of mine. To summarize, I am concerned that these mixes are still too fine grain for proper root transpiration and they still tend to hold too much water for container plants. My advice is to grab a small bag of perlite or vermiculite and cut it 50/50. You may find yourself watering the plant more, but on the otherhand, it is far less likely that the plant will suffer root rot once the roots start getting compacted in the container.

2.) Mealy bugs and mites...spraying the plants with water can help, but may also wash them into the soil. Rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab, then wipe, is time consuming, but works well. Granular "indoor" plant insecticide mixed into the soil works well for a preventative measure and will reduce the chances of carrying little critters indoors in the Fall. With your Portulacaria and other Crassula family members, do not use the insecticidal soaps and oils, as this may plug up the pores in the foliage which open and close throughout the day...a special feature of this family. During the heat of the day, the pores close off to reduce water loss, then will open when it cools off in the evening.

3.) It is true that upsetting the roots of many succulents will potentially cause root rot. That said, you can still remove a fair amount of soil from the roots. Make sure the soil is dry, then take a pencil/narrow stick/chop stick...and carefully tease the soil from the roots. Do not worry about getting it all out. You can then place the plant back in the container with your new soil mix. Gently packing the soil into the roots with your stick and/or gently vibrating the container will settle the soil into the root ball. Large air pockets may trap gases and moisture in your container...not good. Avoid watering it for about a week, as moisture may trigger the growth of soil-borne fungi on damaged roots. Usually, damaged roots will need at least 24 hours to callus over before exposure to water.

4.) Back to your first post. Watering...let it dry out, then soak it good. This will push trapped gases out of your root system and pull in fresh gas as the water level drops in the container. "Wimpy" watering is not good for the overall health of the plant. Roots have to transpire gases (breathe)...especially important with container succulent plants.
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Old June 5th, 2007, 07:23 PM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

so im assuming that with the portulacaria..it's not how much you water, it's how often?
giving it enough water rather than giving iddy biddy amounts just so the soil isn't parched is a better idea? like i said in one of the earlier posts, i really over watered my other p. afra by doing it too often. so.... shame on me for assuming that professional soil mixers aren't out to ruin plants..bonsi soil for a succulent rather than succulent soil. either way...it's very obvious by your photos of your succulents that you most likely are more experience than soil mixers. in this area we don't have many nurseries to be honest. i think we've got one but they deal mostly in trees and vines from what i've seen. either way, i'll have to check out they're mixes. and whats the purpose of sprinkling cinnamon into soil to prevent mealy bugs? i've come across that on here somewhere.
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Old June 6th, 2007, 04:33 AM
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Re: portulacaria afra (elephant bush) wont stop dropping leaves

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Originally Posted by odoms_spire View Post
so im assuming that with the portulacaria..it's not how much you water, it's how often?
giving it enough water rather than giving iddy biddy amounts just so the soil isn't parched is a better idea? like i said in one of the earlier posts, i really over watered my other p. afra by doing it too often. so.... shame on me for assuming that professional soil mixers aren't out to ruin plants..bonsi soil for a succulent rather than succulent soil. either way...it's very obvious by your photos of your succulents that you most likely are more experience than soil mixers. in this area we don't have many nurseries to be honest. i think we've got one but they deal mostly in trees and vines from what i've seen. either way, i'll have to check out they're mixes. and whats the purpose of sprinkling cinnamon into soil to prevent mealy bugs? i've come across that on here somewhere.
1.) I think how the theory goes with watering is that with most plants it is important to have a short period where the roots actually need to be dry in order to stimulate growth. As the water recedes, the roots will, in a sense, chase the water, stimulating new growth. Keeping the soil moist all the time tends to inhibit root growth, reduces gas exchange, and encourages the growth of soil-borne fungi, thereby putting your plant at risk for overall poor health and disease.

2.) I think the succulent soil works well, but just not in a container with a somewhat root-bound plant. The interesting thing with many container-grown succulents is that as the roots become a little root-bound, the plant converts it's energy toward top growth. So, for many succulents, giving the plant a larger container often stunts the top growth and because the roots have not filled the container, the soil stays wet for too long encouraging the growth of fungi. If the roots cannot get enough gas exchange because the soil mix is too fine, it encourages rot. I am not convinced that there is a conspiracy to have us all kill our plants so that we will purchase more and make lots of money for the nurseries. I do think that you have to find the right product for your particular application. Bonsai soil works well in my climate. Someone in Arizona may find something else to work well for their climate.

I would also like to point out that if you look at any of the specialty nurseries on the web, I am not aware of any that use commercial succulent mixes. Most will have their own recipe for their particular climate. Whenever I have mail ordered succulent plants they were in a course grit of some sort, usually ground pumice, course sand, and/or a finely ground tree bark material. Most of these nurseries are in the desert southwest US. Personally, I cannot get the pumice or the ground tree bark locally, but I can get bonsai soil and course sand easily and obviously, has worked well for me.

3.) Cinnamon, and other "strong" spices like cheyanne pepper do work well at keeping bugs and even small animals from munching on your plants. However, you will have to re-apply it often. Every time it rains, or you water, it washes it away.

Last edited by markinwestmich; June 6th, 2007 at 09:49 AM.
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