Questions on: Piggyback Plants

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service

Q: I have noticed little white specks on the leaves of my piggyback. At first I thought I may have splattered paint on it while painting recently. Upon closer examination, I see a sticky white substance at the base of the plant, actually in the roots. I cleaned the leaves with water and a bit of dish soap. They look better, but the plant seems to be failing. Any idea what is happening? (e-mail reference)

A: The plant is likely responding to the dish soap treatment. It should recover.

Q: My piggy back plant is turning light green to yellow and the leaves are curling under. What can I do to prevent this? (E-mail reference)

A: I suspect that you have kept the mother plant beyond the point of being attractive and it is beginning to decline. I suggest propagating with a leaf that has a plantlet attached to create a new plant for you to admire. While these are "fun to grow" plants, they begin to look a little worse for wear if they have been around for awhile and been transplanted a couple of times, which I suspect yours has been.

Q. Enclosed is a sample leaf from my piggyback plant. I think I gave it too much water, but I am not sure. Can you tell me how to care for my piggyback plant? (Carrington, N.D.)

A. Piggyback plants—Tolmiea menziesii—like cooler, moist air (about 70 F), and partial shade conditions. Repot each spring in free-draining pot and keep the soil moist.

Allow the plant you have to dry out some and it should be fine. If not, try starting a new plant with one of the baby plants on top of the older leaves.

Q. We were gone from home for a week and a squirrel got into our house and ate part of my piggy-back plant. It also ate part of my banana tree and destroyed my blinds. Will my plants survive, or do I have to start over with them? (Carrington, N.D.)

A. An interesting and unusual letternever had one like it before. Here is what I think. The piggy-back plant will eventually make a comeback. Keep it in bright, indirect light and use flourescent tubes if necessary. The same is possible with the banana, since the stem is a unique structure, which is really known as a secondary rhizome. If the squirrel left any leaf scars on the main rhizome, there is a chance it will recover.

Q. I have a Piggy Back plant my girl friend gave me about two years ago. I brought it home, and it looked like it was almost dead, so I transplanted it into a bigger pot. I used some dirt from my garden, gave it some plant food and put it out in our family room, which is cool. Come winter, it was beautiful. The leaves were so nice, and shiny, but it began to look so droopy this spring I didn't know what to do so I transplanted it again, in fresh sorgum and potting soil. I also put some more root powder on the roots, but it still looks pretty droopy. Could you give me any advice? Am I doing the right things? Is there some fertilizer I can give it to bring it back? (Carrington, N.D.)

A. You've obviously got a green thumb talent if you can bring one of these back to life! Let's see if I can continue your good fortune. First, it is the nature of the plant to have drooping leaves, to allow the "youngster" to touch the soil and root. Keep the soil moist and fertilize with Schultz's or similar houseplant fertilizer on a weekly basis until September. You can also propagate by taking plantlets from the leaves.

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