Troubleshooting Miniature Plants in the Miniature Garden

Ladybug in the Mini Garden

Jump on these “Kodak Moments” in the miniature garden. When you come across a photo opportunity, drop everything and get the camera. You’ll pat yourself on the back for it later.

Trying Something New in the Miniature Garden

“My plant is turning brown and getting leggy, it was fine before
I got hold of it, what am I doing wrong?”

It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out learning to garden, or if you’ve been gardening for twenty years, some plants can be tricky to learn how to grow. In our Miniature Garden Center, we normally test each plant for resilience, which is why you won’t see much changes in our core inventory of true miniature trees, shrubs and bedding plants.

We have a customer that buys 5 or 6 of each plant, knowing that she will lose a couple of them while learning what the plant Miniature Gardening with TwoGreenThumbs.comneeds. “One will die right away because I’ll try to grow it in the wrong place… “ She was quite funny and surprisingly quite serious. This is indeed extreme. The garden maxim, “Right plant, right place” helps tremendously!

But sometimes I adapt her point of view when I’m shopping for new plants I’ve never grown before. I’ll pick up at least three of the same plants – or I try to if my budget allows, and I do make sure I put the “right plant in the right place” and not force any plant to my bidding.

In other words, don’t get discouraged if you kill a plant. They don’t grow on trees – a good lot of them are trees! There are multitudes of microclimates throughout any region so you may have to try a couple of different situations to find out what the plant needs. And yes, it may discouraging but, out of your learning curve, you create opportunities!

I’ve written about how plants tell you when they are unhappy, so here’s a quick recap on some of the signs you’ll see from the plant and what the issues could be. Keep in mind these are sweeping generalities because we are not talking of the individual plant, just the issues.

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Light Issues

Snail in the miniature garden

A visitor in the miniature garden. He didn’t stay long, there wasn’t anything in this miniature garden that suited his tastes.

Leggy branches – The plant wants more light. Move closer to the light source or out in the sun more. Wait to see new growth at the crown of the plant (the base) before shearing back the leggy branches and then the plant should flush in nicely.

Dried tops of leaves – Too much light at once. The light has scorched the leaves of the plant. Move it away from the light or give it more shade. Wait for new growth before clipping off damaged leaves. Note that if you cut all the damaged leaves off without waiting for the plant to show you it is recovering by putting out new growth, you are cutting off its food source.

Water Issues

Soggy soil, black soil or soil is growing mold or moss – you are either watering too much or the pot doesn’t have a drainage hole. Back off the watering, let the soil dry out to barely damp, churn up top surface of the soil. Unless you’ve chosen water/moisture-loving plants, make sure the pot has a drainage hole.

Soil is crusty, peeling away from the side of the container – Not enough water. When soil dries out completely, the water rolls right off of it. Prevent this by churning up the top layer of the soil, place the pot in a bucket or similar container, water it thoroughly, letting the water drain out of the drainage hole.

Conifer Dieback in an Hinoki Cypress

Preventative Care: Check your miniature and dwarf conifers for “Conifer Dieback.” It’s how the little plants exfoliate. Stop and clean it out whenever you see it so the plant can breathe. If you put it off for another day, you will forget about it and it will be too late. (Speaking from experience!)

Keepin' it real in the miniature garden with TwoGreenThumbs.com

Soil Issues

Soil for Containers – Use potting soil only. Yes, I know your garden bed is full of soil but that’s different. Potting soil has certain things in the mix that are ideal for a contained environment. Garden soil will turn to mud in a pot. Stay away from Miracle-Gro soil or soil with fertilizers in them. They are supposedly best for vegetables or seasonal container – although I have’t heard many good things about that kind of soil, regardless what plants are used.

Soil for the garden beds – There are many different types of soil in the gardens across the world. Consult with a knowledgeable gardener or visit your local independent garden center in your area. Bring a sample with you for them to see. They will know exactly what you need – or don’t need.

White stuff on top of the soil or on the side of the pot – It’s a big word for the small stuff: efflorescence. It’s normally a build up of salts and other mild chemicals accumulated from the watering. It may be an issue for more sensitive plants but generally it’s harmless. You can scoop it up and throw it out or churn it back into the soil. If it appears on the sides for the pot or on the miniature patio, wipe it away as you see it because it will harden over time.

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All Issues

Miniature Garden Vignette

When the groundcovers start to invade your patio, clip the individual branches back, (as opposed to shearing them all at once,) to make it look more natural.

The internet has become a great resource for gardeners. You can literally type what you see in the search bar and you’ll find it quickly using the image search. I found a huge bug in the backyard last week, it was huge, (okay, it was huge by my wimpy standards) striped and, well, huge! So I typed, “big striped bug” in the search bar and there he was! A Lined June Beetle! Who woulda thought? Be sure to look at a couple of different “answers” or authority sites to verify the information is correct.

Another fantastic resource is your independent garden center. There is usually at least one walking plant encyclopedia working there – you know those brainiac people that know every plant, how it grows, what it needs and the history behind it? THOSE people are fantastic resources that can help and there’s a good bet they know exactly what you are talking about. Bring a photo with you or snip a sample branch or leaf off and seal it in a plastic bag to show them. Gardeners love to show off their plant knowledge so ask away!

So, the moral of this long blog post is that if you have a plant that is not working for your situation and your not able to adjust to save it within a reasonable time – do not fret! Every plant that you lose opens the door to trying another plant and, chances are it will be a better fit for you anyway!

 

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5 Comments »

  1. SoundEagle said

    Thank you, Janit. I can’t agree with you more on those issues. Sometimes we just have to admit defeat as there can be circumstances and factors beyond our control or expectation. For example, I have had to give up trying to grow cyclamen, heuchera, certain succulents, Thuja Reingold and some miniature ornamental conifers as they invariably suffer from irreversible decline during and after the humidity and heat of subtropical summer. 😦

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  2. Garden Goddess said

    Thanks, these are very helpful hints!

    Garden Goddess

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  3. […] so often, when I jump on my high horse about NOT using fortified soil for miniature gardening, I feel like I am shouting in a vacuum. I mean, what’s a miniature […]

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  4. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL OF YOUR VERY HELPFUL INFORMATION JANIT. I JUST FOUND YOUR SITE TONIGHT AND I’M SO GLAD I DID. I WANT TO START A FAIRY GARDEN. MY HUSBAND THINKS I SHOULD MAKE IT FOR INDOORS, I THINK IT SHOULD BE OUTDOORS BUT EITHER IS OK WITH ME. WE HAVE A BAY WINDOW THAT HE’S THINKING IT SHOULD GO INTO, BUT LIKE I SAW YOU MENTIONED ABOUT OTHERS COMPLAINING HOW THEIR HOMES GOT INFESTED BY KNATS FROM USING MIRACLE GROW POTTING SOIL, YOU FINALLY SOLVED OUR HORRIBLE PROBLEM!
    IN FEB. WE WENT TO A GARDEN CENTER AND I BOUGHT SOME BEAUTIFUL PRIMROSES TO PLANT IN MY GARDEN FOR WHEN THE WEATHER FINALLY WARMED UP HERE IN PHILADELPHIA. AND I ALSO BOUGHT A FROSTY FERN WHICH WAS IN DESPARATE NEED OF REPOTTING. I ALSO HAD OTHER PLANTS WHICH NEEDED REPOTTING TOO SO WE WENT TO HOME DEPOT AND BOUGHT A BIG BAG OF THE (WHAT I THOUGHT WAS THE BEST MOISTURE RETENTION SOIL FROM MIRACLE GROW (BECAUSE WE TRAVEL A LOT I THOUGHT IT WOULD HOLD MOSTURE A LOT LONGER) ALL OF A SUDDEN WE WERE SITTING AND EATTING DINNER AND KNATS WERE ATTACKING OUR FOOD AND BUZZING OUR FACES EVEN DIVING INTO BOILING POTS OF WATER ON THE STOVE. I THOUGHT I HAD MAYBE BAD POTATOES OR ONIONS SOMEWHERE OR EVEN MAYBE SOMETHING CRAWLED INTO OUR CRAWLSPACE AND DIED (FOR GOD’S SAKE!) NEVER DID I THINK IT COULD BE THE POTTING SOIL! WHAAAAT!! WE CAN’T SIT AND WATCH TV WITHOUT THOSE LIL BUGGERS SNEAKING UP AND BUZZING YOUR NOSE RIGHT WHEN YOUR READY TO BREATH IN OR DRIVING ME CRAZY WITH FLYING IN FRONT OF MY EYES WHILE I WATCH TV, OH AND GOD FORBID IF YOU DOZE OFF… YIKES IT SEEMS LIKE ONE CALLS ALL HIS LIL FRIENDS TO HAVE A PARTAY AT YOUR MOUTH, NOSE AND EARS! AND YOU SWEAR WHEN YOU SWAT THEM OFF THEY THINK IT’S A GAME BECAUSE WHATEVER HAND YOU DO IT WITH THEY GO TO THE OPPOSITE SIDE TO BUZZ AT UNTIL YOU ARE 100% AWAKE…
    I SPENT $5. A PLANT FOR SINGLE PETALED PRIMROSES AND $6.50 FOR THE DOUBLE PETALED ONES. I LOST ALL BUT 3 OUT OF 8 PRIMROSES AND MY FROSTY FERN I THINK IS DONE. THE LEAVES FEEL BURNT AND WHEN I TOUCH THEM THEY FALL OFF THE STEM. THE CENTER OF THE PLANT STILL HAS A FEW GREEN LEAVES OR BRANCHES ON IT. I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT A NAME THAT I HAVE TRUSTED FOR SO MANY YEARS HAS GONE TO POT!
    YOU SAY TO USE ORGANIC SOIL FOR THE FAIRY GARDENS, IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INDOORS AND OUTDOOR SOIL THEN FOR CONTAINER GARDENS?WHAT BRAND SHOULD WE USE AND WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO FIND IT? AND I’M TRYING TO DEVOUR ALL YOUR BLOGS TONIGHT BUT I AM REALLY HAVING A HECK OF A TIME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT EVEN WHAT TO USE TO PLANT IN. I HAVE A FAIRY GARDEN TEAPOT HOUSE AND A KIT THAT WAS BOUGHT FROM LOWES WITH A DOOR A RESIN WOODEN TABLE AND BENCH CHAIRS, A WIRE BIKE, SOME BROWNISH GREY GRAVEL AN ARBOR AND SOME WHITE WOODEN PICKET FENCE. I ALSO BOUGHT SOME GARDEN TOOLS, AND A PACK OF BROWN WIRE LOW EDGING FENCE. I CAN’T FIND A NURSERY CLOSE TO US THAT CARRIES THE PLANTS, AND OF COURSE HOME DEPOT, LOWES AND THOSE TYPES OF STORES DON’T CARRY ANY OF THOSE TYPES OF PLANTS.
    I THINK IT’S TIME TO BUY YOUR BOOK AND READ BEFORE I BUY ANYTHING MORE EH? AGAIN THANK YOU FOR ALL OF YOUR INFORMATION THAT YOU DO WRITE ABOUT FOR DUMMIES LIKE ME! YOU HAVE TAKEN SOMEONE WHO WAS ALMOST TO THE POINT OF GIVING UP AND I’M NOT A QUITER USUALLY! BUT I WAS THAT FRUSTRATED. MY GARDENS MAKE ME RELAXED AND PROUD I DON’T WANT ONE TO MAKE ME FRUSTRATED OR REGRET THAT I AM GETTING INTO IT. ;P I WANT TO HAVE A REALLY CUTE FAIRY GARDEN THAT I CAN LET MY 4 GRANDCHILDREN PLAY IN AND SOMETHING THAT CAN BE A CONVERSATION PIECE WHEN COMPANY COMES.

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    • Hi Deborah, I’m sorry you had that nasty-gnat experience but I’m so glad I helped solve it and saved you from giving up completely. It’s too fun of a hobby, especially if you have grandchildren – they will remember doing this with you forever! Yes, for indoors, I always check the bag of organic potting soil and make sure it says for indoor plants. Email us through our main website: http://www.TwoGreenThumbs.com if you would like any help with the plants (don’t want to leave it here because of spammers.) We usually have a nice variety of miniature and dwarf trees, shrubs and plants up in our online Miniature Garden Center linked through our website. Anything we can help with, just let us know. Thank you for sharing your story with us! – J.

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