- I have many plants in my home, and use half-gallon and gallon jugs to...

Asked April 6, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT

- I have many plants in my home, and use half-gallon and gallon jugs to dissipate chlorine for a few days. I mark the jugs "water" & "Miracle Gro". One of the jugs is a vinegar gallon. I also have a gallon of vinegar, unmarked. You see where I'm going with this. I used up my four water jugs, and still needed more water to top off the plants, and I grabbed the wrong jug to fill my watering can, and vinegared almost all my plants. Three days later, a light grey cotton candy like mold was on several of the plants. On inspection of my large parent Peperomia Obtusifolia, the many stems that were upright in the center of the pot had collapsed to one side, and four healthy leaves had fallen off: which I have momentarily put in saucers with other leaf drops. I immediately flushed and drained almost all the plants, twice (and I always thoroughly drain the excess). The water drained from the topsoil unusually slow (when they always drain fairly fast - the potting media has sunk through the years to half full) , thinking the vinegar had also collapsed and further compacted the soil/root structure. My thought is to repot by finger crumbling the rooball, but in doing so with an A. Violet, to separate a double neck plant caused the rootball to disintegrate! - leaving virtually no roots attached to the neck bottoms. I repotted into two pots, and looking at the leaves, soft and completely collapsed and almost rootless, thought they were goners. Incredibly, by God, they are now healthy. This is why I don't think I should break down the root ball. One alternative might be to add soil mix to the bottom. What do you recommend? Also, I'm not sure I put vinegar in my Euphorbia Cactus and Amaryllis, (which is four feet tall, and just recently had three large blossoms, (but that's another story), they were last watered on April 1st. I could play safe, and water (flush) again. Thank you for any help. Sincerely, Ed Meissner

Onondaga County New York indoor plants horticulture

3 Responses

Dear Ed,

Before you do anything else, get a waterproof marking pen and put permanent labels on those jugs.

Vinegar kills plants by dehydration, but that usually refers to applying it to the foliage. I suspect the same thing may happen to the roots if the concentration was high enough. But vinegar will not compact the soil any more than water will.

Rinse the foliage on each plant several times. The most effective way to do this is dunking, unless the plants are too large. I would then lift each plant, rinse as much soil off as possible in tepid water, and replant in fresh potting soil. Since the plants are already stressed, don't try dividing them, and don't fertilize them. If a large amount of root has died, you should cut the foliage back accordingly (percentage of the total.)

Aside from the vinegar, if your potting medium has shrunk it is probably time to lift and re-pot your plants. Plants eventually use up what little organic matter and nutrients are in potting soil, and the remainder compresses so there is insufficient air and water spaces for the roots to grow. Upsize pots only one size at a time, and keep the plant crown at the same level in the new soil as it was before... do not bury the crown deeper.

That's a very devastating accident, but hopefully most if not all of the plant should survive. I hope this information is helpful.

Thank you for your reply re accidentally grabbing a vinegar gal. bottle among my other water bottles, and using it to water my plants. I did what you said, but was days late. The roots were virtually destroyed, except 1 inch or less at the root top.
How many leaves on Peperomia Obtusifolias can I leave on for a stem cutting? Is this a correct next step: horizontal razor cut, the bottom inch dipped in rooting hormone, using Fafarb GroMix 2 - is that too strong? - or a mix of peat moss, vermiculite & perlite. Do I dampen the soil before I put it in pots?
Would it best to cut two bottom leaves off for rooting from the nodes? What about nutrients for them?
I am trying to save every leaf; this is my fault, and I will give them my best shot to propagate; then give almost all of them away when they are healthy. To propagate the leaves, I have been putting them in the above mix with hormone on what is left of their petioles. Is covering with bags necessary? I suspect I should buy propagating trays with covers, vents & heating elements, or I will have no room left in my 2BR apt if I potted all of them!
What is your advice on stem cuttings and leaf cuttings? Thank you for your help and time. Ed Meissner
addendum: I would have paid someone with Horticulture/Botany expertise (some from Cornell) to come and help, but they all refused, even just taking a look and advising at $180 an hour!
That is sad.

Hi Ed, I am sorry we we're too late to help your plants. I am no expert on tropical or cuttings, so I suggest you copy your questions and submit them as a new question. Use tags for tropical, houseplants, and cuttings. It should get assigned to the right experts.

Best of luck,