8 Common Ghost Plant Problems and How to Fix Them
Even through they are considered low maintenance, ghost plants can still encounter their share of problems. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Emily Horn examines some of the most common problems that gardeners may see when caring for ghost plants.
Botanically named Grapetolpetalum paraguayense, Ghost plants are flowering succulents that have a beautiful rosy color to them. They start out green but as the plant matures, the pretty pink begins to shine through. This pink hue, along with their yellow flowers, makes them a coveted succulent for rock gardens or homes.
No living creature comes without health issues over the course of their lifetime and that includes succulents. Although ghost plants are relatively easy to grow and require little maintenance, occasionally they have brushes with both biological pests and improper cultural practices that impact their overall health.
Problems with succulents, including ghost plants, can depend on a number of factors. Thankfully, most of these problems have solutions that can help the health of the plant, as well as its aesthetics. Let’s take a look at the most common ghost plant problems.
Biological agents that can impact this succulent are living things that can cause the plant harm. Examples of biological agents include insects, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Each one of these things is a living organism.
Bacteria and viruses are not really a problem for ghost plants, and fungus is usually a resulting secondary condition caused by another issue, like overwatering. Today we are going to focus on three main biological problems you will deal with: aphids, mealy bugs, and spider mites.
Aphids are soft-bodied insect pests that will suck the life out of your Grapetolpetalum paraguayense, literally. They range in colors from pink, green, yellow, black, and brown. Depending on the sex and age of the insect, they may also have wings.
These pests are usually a problem in the spring and summer months, the time when your ghost plant is actively growing. The mouth of most aphids is arranged to first pierce the plant tissue, then suck the sap from the plant as their source of food. The softer, lush new growth is the prime target for the aphids.
One of the major problems with aphids is their ability to multiply very rapidly. Some juvenile female aphids are born pregnant, so there can be 50 aphids one day, and the next day there can be 1000+ aphids on just one plant. With that said, it is imperative to get an aphid outbreak under control as soon as you notice it.
How To Fix:
Dish Soap Solution: Insects breathe through their skin, and when dish soap is applied, the dish soap smothers the aphid. Dish soap can be used with water to create a solution that can be sprayed directly on a plant with a simple spray bottle.
Fill a 32 oz spray bottle with clean water. Next, add one or two drops of liquid dish soap (not dishwashing detergent) to the bottle and shake lightly. Take the plant to a sink, bathtub, or even outside out of the direct sun to spray the aphids directly until the soap solution drips from the plant tissue.
Apply the soap solution on a weekly basis until you no longer see any aphids. It may take a few applications of the soap solution due to the lifecycle of the aphid itself.
Take the Plant Outdoors: Another option is to take the plant outdoors, weather permitting. Do not place the plant into direct sunlight, as the plant will scorch with the light’s intensity. Rather, place it in a shady, partial sun area. You will be pleasantly surprised at how fast ladybugs and other beneficial insects hone in on a free lunch of plump aphids.
Another common pest for Grapetolpetalum paraguayense is mealybugs. They are often found at the nodes of plants, appearing as white, cottony clusters along the entire plant. The oval-shaped, soft-bodied insects like to suck the sap out of the plant they are infesting.
Mealybugs are a common pest year-round, although they do prefer warm, humid locations which usually means summer invasions. Like aphids, mealybugs multiply rapidly. Under certain conditions, female mealy bugs do not even need males present to reproduce.
If the white cottony mass is not visible, you may notice a wet-looking leaf or even a black powdery substance on the leaves. If you happen to notice your plant looks wet, even though you haven’t watered it, check and see if the “wetness” is sticky.
Since mealybugs are eating plant sap, and plant sap is primarily sugar, mealybug excrement is sticky to the touch. Turn over the leaves above the sticky area and scout for pests. You’ll most likely see the mealybugs on the underside of the leaves. Hanging out underneath a leaf gives the mealybugs protection from predators as well as sprays used to control them.
How To Fix:
Controlling mealybugs is similar to controlling an aphid outbreak. See above for more details on dish soap solutions and predatory insect controls for mealybug pests.
Spider mites are not as common of a pest to compared to aphids and mealybugs. But a problem, nonetheless. Spider mites are in the arachnid family. The usual symptoms of a spider mite infestation include webbing among the leaves, discoloration of the leaves, and leaf drop.
When leaves are covered in spider mites and webbing, eventually the leaves begin to drop. The plant often sends out a replacement leaf, but if the spider mite population is still present, the mites will quickly damage the new leaf.
Producing new leaves requires energy. And energy is produced in plant leaves. If you keep dropping your leaves due to the mites, you can’t photosynthesize. And if you can’t photosynthesize, you can’t make enough food to survive. Over time, this cycle will kill your ghost plant.
How to Fix:
Dish Soap or Alcohol Solutions: Similar to aphid and mealybug control, dish soap solutions, as well as rubbing alcohol, are very successful in controlling spider mites. It is recommended to pick either the dish soap or the rubbing alcohol. Don’t do both at the same time. Doing so can cause damage to the already stressed plant tissues.You can also alternate between the two at weekly intervals with great efficacy.
Dish soap solutions are usually mixed at a rate of 1-2 drops of dish soap per quart of water. For alcohol applications, soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol then apply it to the leaf surface. After a few hours of contact time, gently rinse the solution off the plant leaves.
Environmental Factors: Helping control environmental factors, such as humidity, can impact a spider mite population. Typically, spider mites prefer a warm, dry environment. If the plant has spent the summer outdoors and you bring it inside during the winter, this transition into your warm, dry house is ideal for spider mites. Also, if your ghost plant is located near a furnace vent, the warm, dry air is an open invitation to mites.
A small humidifier, a spritz of water on the leaves or even a pebble tray are effortless ways to increase the humidity. Just remember it’s a desert plant, not a tropical plant, so it can tolerate some dry air.
The best way to describe cultural practice in the gardening world is how one takes care of a plant. Watering, pruning, fertilizing, removing dead leaves, and repotting are all methods of cultural practices.
Even the level of light a plant receives as well as the environmental temperatures fit under the cultural umbrella. Let’s look at common Grapetolpetalum paraguayense cultural problems and how to fix them.
Plants love sunlight. And Grapetolpetalum paraguayense really, really love sunlight. So much so that if the light intensity is moderately low in the location where your ghost plant is situated, the ghost plant will stretch and elongate its stems to get more sunlight. This is a process known as etiolation.
Depending on your overall desire for your plant, this stretching may be perfectly acceptable. Are you growing it as a single specimen? Will it grow as a houseplant in a hanging basket? Are you wanting a plant to add to a container that will have a trailing effect?
How to Fix:
Move to a New Location: If you want to have a single specimen, you may not like the trailing look low light gives Grapetolpetalum paraguayense. If that is the case, gradually acclimate your plant to a new location with better light and higher intensity.
For hanging baskets and mixed container gardening, low light would be ideal to achieve your chosen results. However, the plus side to growing in lower light is the coloration of the leaves. Under low light, their leaves take on a bluish-gray color that is fairly uncommon in the plant world.
Grapetolpetalum paraguayense leaves can discolor for many reasons. The light intensity of a location impacts the color of their eaves. If the area is high light for 6+ hours a day, the leaves of the ghost plant may take on a reddish-yellow color. In contrast, in locations that receive indirect sunlight or sunlight less than 6 hours a day, a blue-gray coloration is often present.
If you have decided to move your plant from a low light space to a high light space, sometimes straw-colored patches form on the leaf, or the entire leaf may turn this color. This is called leaf scorch. Transitioning any houseplant from inside to outside without a slow acclimation to the new environment will certainly mean some degree of leaf scorch.
Brown, crunchy lower leaves are a natural occurrence. These leaves are the oldest leaves and simply fall off due to age. No significant impact will happen to your plant. It’s part of the natural cycle of a plant leaf.
Leaf discoloration may also indicate a pest problem. Observe your plant leaves to see if any aphids, mealybugs, or spider mites are present. Small, inexpensive magnifying glasses or hand lenses work great for seeing any insects present on your plant.
How to Fix:
Acclimate the Plant: If you want to take your ghost plant outside for the summer, find a shady spot for the first two days, followed by a slightly sunnier spot for two-three days. Repeat this slow transition to brighter, direct light over the course of 7-10 days and you will not have issues with scorching of your leaves.
Wrinkly, Leathery Leaves
Ghost plants are succulents. Succulents have leaf adaptations that allow them to store water within their leaf tissues. Their leaves are very thick and fleshy/slightly squishy when squeezed. The ability to store water is key to survival in a desert environment where rainfall is sparse.
Although succulents and cacti are often overwatered, underwatering is also a problem. This can be easily remedied with thorough watering. Sometimes I think to myself, “When’s the last time I watered those?” And the next thing I know it’s a week later and I still haven’t watered them.
That’s okay. It’s better to underwater than overwater pretty much all succulents. Characteristics of underwatering include thin, wrinkly, leathery, tough leaves. Depending on how long ago the plant was watered, the plant may have lower leaves that have turned brown and crunchy. But again, that’s okay.
How to Fix:
Thoroughly Water the Plant: If possible, take the plant to a sink or bathtub to give it a thorough watering. If the plant has any brown leaves or they are in the pot, remove them. Next, water the plant from the top to avoid getting water on the leaves until water runs out of the bottom of the pot. This allows the entire soil profile to get wet.
Let the water drain into the sink, and thoroughly water the plant again after a few hours. Plant tissue will have absorbed the initial watering. By watering the second time, the plant has a chance to absorb more water if needed or leave some in reserve in the potting mix.
Within 24-48 hours of the initial watering, you should see a noticeable difference in the appearance of the leaves. The leaves should be thicker and more squishy than thin and leathery.
Ghost plants are members of the Crassulaceae family, and from time to time will flower with a long scape of white to yellow star-shaped flowers. These flowers are a beautiful contrast to the dynamic foliage colors Grapetolpetalum paraguayense can display.
However, flowering is not a regular occurrence and is influenced by many unseen factors. Age of the plant, atmospheric temperature, and the pot the plant is in can all affect flowering.
The maturity of a plant will determine a plant’s ability to flower. In the plant world, flowering is the end goal for plants. If successfully pollinated, the flower will develop fruit and bear seeds for the next generation of plants. They achieve maturity at about 3 years of age. So be patient when it comes to flowering. It can be well worth the wait.
Being a desert plant, they do like to have a temperature difference between day and night, and sometimes temperature can impact whether a plant flower or not.
Even though your ghost plant is in the house, if it sits close to a window, there is a difference between day and night temperatures, especially in the winter and spring months. This temperature differential plays into their blooming.
The amount of room available in the pot can also influence flowering. Plants that are pot or root-bound, meaning that the plant’s roots are tight in their pot, often circling the inside walls of the container. Root-bound plants are stressed and will eventually direct their energy into surviving and will end up flowering.
Plant Collapse/Root Rot
I do love the challenge of resurrecting a plant that is near death. However, not once have I been able to bring back a plant once it’s gone all the way down the path of no return.
Overwatering is the number one killer of succulents and cacti. When the soil stays too wet for an extended amount of time, rot begins to occur. Leaves will become overly succulent and ooze when touched.
Other times the leaves will turn black, or the stem will rot at the soil line, causing the entire plant to fall apart. More often than not, a bacteria or fungus will have taken up residency in a wet environment, and your plant soil is no exception.
It is best to water when the top 1-2 inches of soil are dry. But, if you overdid it, it is possible to save your succulent from overwatering, depending on how far gone it is. If you have rot but want to try and salvage your plant, follow these steps in an attempt to bring it back.
How to Fix:
Look at the Roots
With clean pruners, remove all damaged roots from the plant. Damaged roots are squishy, often brown, and sometimes have an odor to them. Healthy roots are white, firm and may have little root hairs on them.
Wash Prior to Replanting
If you want to use the same pot again, wash the pot prior to replanting your ghost plant. When using porous, unglazed clay pots, give the pot a good scrubbing in hot, soapy water. With a plastic pot, wash with hot soapy water or a household disinfectant to clean the pot. After washing, rinse your pot thoroughly with clean water.
Use New Potting Soil
When you pot up your ghost plant, be sure to use new potting soil. Do not reuse old potting soil. Old potting soil may contain pathogens that will happily reinfest your stressed-out plant.
Adequate Light, Temperature and Water
Place your repotted plant in a location similar to its surroundings prior to repotting it. Avoid any major light intensity changes and temperature fluctuations. Ghost plants still need to be watered, but water sparingly as to not recreate the wet environment that caused the plant to decline in the first place.
Ghost plants, given the wide scope of issues any plant can face over the course of its lifetime, require minimal maintenance and is a great starter plant for beginning your houseplant collection. Yes, there are a few things you need to watch for when it comes to insects, disease, and how you care for your plant, but overall, these are tough, forgiving, and versatile succulents!