Houseplant Triage?

Forlorn ficusI’ve been struggling with letting go lately.

Fall is a difficult time for me anyway. Here in most of the US we’ve just changed our clocks back to Standard Time. That at least gives me some temporary daylight in the morning, although only for a few more weeks. There’s nothing more unnatural to me than crawling out of bed in the morning to darkness and chill.

And yes, we do have those programmable thermostats that raises the temperature for us before we get out of bed. But for those of you who have followed this blog for awhile, you know that in winter we keep the house chilly. So “raising” the temperature is only relative.

What I’m struggling with is that big ficus you see at the top of the post. It’s been infested with scale for more years than I can count. I’m going to guess it’s been more than 10 years–perhaps at least 15 years. And for several years, I’ve been able to drag it outside in the summer and hose it down, or let the wasps and ants denude it. It’s now way too big and heavy to give it that treatment. So the scale just gets worse. In some ways, it’s a miracle it’s still living.

My treatments of horticultural oil slow the scale down for awhile, but it comes roaring back. And in order to do that, I have to drag the plant from where it is, tarp the floor and everything in sight near it, lie the plant over on its side, and spray, while rolling the plant back and forth to make sure I get every surface. Then I have to let the plant dry before dragging it back so I don’t get the oil all over everything. It’s quite cumbersome. This is at least a 24 hour process, if not longer, in the chilly house.

Meanwhile, the plant is infesting all the other plants around it, and dropping honeydew on my rug and furniture.

So, why am I having trouble letting go of this monstrosity? I never have trouble tossing out other infested plants. That’s what plant triage is all about, right?

The plant was my Grandmother’s. I inherited it before her death, roughly in 1991. It’s one of my oldest plants. To just compost the thing seems cruel.

On the other hand, to let it infest my entire houseplant collection–and ruin my rugs and furniture–is also not a great result.

So this is my plan. It is a fig tree after all. And like the gardener in the Bible story, I’ll give it one more year. After Christmas, I’m going to relocate it (and it being a ficus, it will lose half its leaves, of course!) That will make it easier to spray (sigh) and move and perhaps prune a bit to shape a little better.

But if by next summer I have not managed to get rid of the scale, it will become compost. I’ll have no other choice.

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