Spider Plant Production Guide

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CFREC-Apopka Foliage Plant Research Note RH-91-33
R.T. Poole, A.R. Chase and L.S. Osborne

University of Florida, IFAS
Central Florida Research and Education Center, Apopka
2807 Binion Rd., Apopka, FL 32703-8504


SPIDER PLANT

Chlorophytum comosum (Spider Plant) and its cultivars provides an attractive hanging plant for bright locations. The species, Chlorophytum comosum, has medium to dark-green satiny leaves, but only accounts for about 10% of spider plant sales. Chlorophytum comosum `Vittatum' is the most commonly grown spider plant and has long recurved medium green leaves with a broad central white stripe. This cultivar, when allowed to grow, is the larger sized plant often sold in hanging baskets. Chlorophytum comosum `Variegatum' is a somewhat smaller cultivar than `Vittatum' and has medium to dark-green leaves margined with white bands. Other common names for Spider Plant include Airplane Plant, St. Bernard's Lily, Spider Ivy and Ribbon Plant.


PRODUCTION

The commonly grown `Vittatum' and `Variegatum' cultivars will grow under a wide range of light intensities, but appearance can be strongly influenced by light levels. Plants grown in 1000 to 2500 ft-c are usually best adapted to interior use and have medium to dark-green leaves with white stripes. Plants grown under higher light intensities often have light to medium-green leaves with white to yellowish stripes and may have increased incidence of necrotic spotting. When light levels are lower than 1000 ft-c, plants often have somewhat drooping leaves without the normal graceful arch. Blooming of plants and subsequent production of "spiders" (offsets growing on blooming spikes) is dependent on both light intensity and day length. The largest number of blooming offsets occur on plants receiving light for 12 hours/day or longer at intensities of 1500 to 2500 ft-c. Interrupting the night with 100 watt incandescent light also stimulated stolon formation.

Proper fertilization of spider plants is important, but nutrient demand is not as great as many other foliage plants. Excellent quality plants can be produced with a fertilizer program that provides 1500 lb nitrogen/acre/yr from a 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer source (equivalent to approximately 3 lb N, 1 lb P2O5 and 2 lb K2O/1000 ft2-month or 4 grams of 19-6-12 per 6 inch pot-3 months). Fertilizer source selected should not contain fluoride and boron content should be very low. Fluoride damage is much more severe when plants are grown at high light levels and high fertilizer levels, but boron toxicity symptoms were not affected by variations in temperature. Good quality Chlorophytum comosum `Vittatum' have been analyzed and found to contain 1.5 to 2.5% N, 0.10 to 0.20% P, 3.5 to 5.0% K, 1.0 to 2.0% Ca and 0.5 to 1.5% Mg. Micronutrient content ranges were 10-60 ppm Cu, 50-300 ppm Fe, 50-300 ppm Mn and 25 to 300 ppm Zn. Leaves with fluoride toxicity symptoms were found to contain 70 parts per million (ppm) fluoride percent dry weight, while healthy leaves contained only 25 ppm. Leaves with boron toxicity had 82 ppm boron, those with no toxicity contained 35 ppm.

A wide range of potting media are accept for production of spider plant. Best media appear to be those with excellent aeration and high cation exchange and water holding capacities, such as prepared artificial mixes, combinations of peat (at least 50%) and pine bark, vermiculite, perlite and styrofoam beads. Media should be amended if necessary with sufficient dolomite or limestone to raise the pH to a range of 6.0 to 6.5, and micronutrients should be added only if they will not be present in the fertilizer program. Be careful to use components that do not add significant levels of fluoride or boron to the medium. Suggested air temperatures for best growth range between 70 and 90F. Spider plant will tolerate temperatures as low as 35F without damage, but plants will not grow much at temperatures below 65F. Temperatures above 90F will not directly damage spider plants, but will increase transpiration rate and increase uptake of potentially toxic micronutrients.

Spider plant is one of the easier foliage plants to grow because it tolerates wide changes in media, fertilization, light and temperature without serious loss of quality. It is also relatively free of serious disease, insect and mite pests.


PHYSIOLOGICAL PROBLEMS

1. Tipburn

Symptoms -
Leaves have necrotic tips or necrotic areas within the white areas. Sometimes chlorotic areas appear between the necrotic spots and green areas. Tipburn is most common and is reddish in color between the necrotic tissue and sound tissue for fluoride toxicity and tan to grey in color for boron toxicity.

Control -
Use irrigation water free of boron and fluoride and select medium components without these contaminants. Be sure fertilizers are free of fluoride where possible and use no more than the equivalent of 0.5 lbs boron per acre per year (0.43 g/1000 ft2/month). Maintain a medium pH of 6.0 to 6.5 to reduce availability of boron and fluoride.

2. Bleached foliage

Symptoms -
Leaves have bleached out areas (whitish, yellowish or grayish) at the surface, especially near the center point of the reflexed leaf.

Control -
This symptom is caused by either excessive light intensity, excessive leaf temperature or both. Most often this symptom occurs in spring or summer when greenhouses are in need of shade and plants are hung high in the greenhouse where heat is excessive. Maintain proper light intensities and temperature to prevent occurrence of the problem.


PATHOGEN PROBLEMS

Reference Pest Control Guides Here

Although there are a great many diseases listed in The Index of Plant Diseases in Florida for Chlorophytum comosum, little, if any, information has been published on diseases of this foliage plant. Fungal leaf spots caused by Alternaria, Cercospora, Fusarium, and Phyllosticta spp. have been listed as well as fungal root diseases caused by Pythium splendens, Rhizoctonia solani and Sclerotium rolfsii (Southern blight). Bacterial pathogens are also listed and include Erwinia carotovora and Pseudomonas cichorii. These organisms are each known to cause serious diseases of other foliage crops, but their roles in diseases of C. comosum have not been established. In addition, during the past 20 years spent in studying foliage plant diseases at the CFREC-Apopka, we have not encountered any serious diseases of this plant. Tipburn problems associated with this plant have been shown to be caused by fertility factors (see Physiological Problems).


INSECT AND MITE PROBLEMS

Reference Pest Control Guides Here

The major arthropod pests of Chlorophytum include caterpillars, root mealybugs and scales. Mealybug and scale infestations are typically the result of introducing infested plant material into the greenhouse. Moths, (adult stage of caterpillars) have the ability to fly and thus invade the greenhouse from weeds and other infested plants outside. In the control section for each pest, a few of the many registered and effective pesticides will be listed. For a complete listing, please consult the references at the end of this note.

1) Caterpillars (worms)

Symptoms -
Infestations are easy to detect because worms, their excrement and the damage they cause, are usually quite visible to the unaided eye. Damage appears as holes in the center or along the edges of leaves. Old damage can be distinguished from new by the calloused appearance of the older damaged areas (worms are usually gone by this time).

Control -

2) Mealybugs

Symptoms -
Mealybugs appear as white, cottony masses in leaf axils, on the lower surfaces of leaves and on the roots. Honeydew and sooty mold are often present and infested plants become stunted, and with severe infestations, plant parts begin to die.

Control -
Systemic materials are preferred. Control of root mealybugs is accomplished with soil drenches with an insecticide. When pesticides are applied to the soil, care must be taken to assure that the pots have good drainage and that no saucers are attached, or phytotoxicity may result.

3) Scales

Symptoms -
Infested plants become weakened or stunted and begin to die. Scales can be found feeding on leaves, petioles, or stems. They are usually distinct from the plant material on which they are feeding. Their shape (round to oval), size (pinpoint to 2 mm long), and color (light to dark brown) are quite variable and many scales are hard to distinguish from the plant material on which they are feeding.

Control -
See Mealybugs

4) Thrips

Symptoms -
Thrips are small (less than 1/20), thin insects. Adult thrips can be identified by a long fringe of hair around the margins of both pairs of wings. Color varies between species with western and other flower thrips being yellow to light brown and banded greenhouse thrips and a few other thrips that feed mainly on leaves being dark brown to black. Feeding takes place with rasping type mouth parts. Infested leaves become curled or distorted, with silver-gray scars or calloused areas where feeding has occurred. Thrips can transmit the tomato spotted wilt virus to many different ornamentals. Any unusual symptoms should be investigated.

Control -
Many materials are registered and effective at controlling thrips.


PHYTOTOXICITY PROBLEMS

Phytotoxicity data for this plant are very limited. If a pesticide is required, a small group of plants should be tested for phytotoxicity prior to treating the entire crop. (See Chase et al. 1981).

Reference Pest Control Guides Here


Pesticides should be applied according to label directions.

Regardless of the pesticide or mixture of pesticides used, it is
strongly recommended that the effects be evaluated on a few
plants, under your particular conditions before treating all plants.

Mention of a commercial or proprietary product in this paper
does not constitute a recommendation by the authors,
nor does it imply registration under FIFRA as amended.


REFERENCES

1. Anonymous. 1984-85 Florida Foliage Locator. Florida Foliage Association. 160 pp.

2. ben-Jaacov, J., R.T. Poole and C.A. Conover. 1984. Tipburn of Chlorophytum comosum `Vittatum'. HortScience 19(3):445-447.

3. Chase, A.R., T.J. Armstrong and L.S. Osborne. 1981. Why should you test pesticides on your plants? ARC-Apopka Research Report, RH-81-6.

4. Conover, C.A. and R.T. Poole. 1990. Light and fertilizer recommendations for production of acclimatized potted foliage plants. CFREC-Apopka Research Report RH-90-1.

5. Hammer, P.A. 1976. Stolon formation in Chlorophytum. HortScience 11(6):570-572.

6. Heins, R.D. and H.F. Wilkins. 1978. Influence of photoperiod and light quality on stolon formation and flowering of Chlorophytum comosum (Thunb.) Jacques. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 103(5):687-689.

7. Moorman, G.W. and R.A. Klemmer. 1981. Light intensity influences spider-plant quality. Florists' Review 167(4338):22.

8. Poole, R.T., A.R. Chase and C.A. Conover. 1988. Chemical composition of good quality tropical plants. Revision. CFREC-Apopka Research Report RH-88-6.

9. Poole, R.T. and C.A. Conover. 1985. Boron and fluoride toxicity of foliage plants. CFREC- Apopka Research Report RH-85-19.

10. Sheely, J.C. and J.W. White. 1980. Factors affecting laminar necrosis of Chlorophytum comosum Thunb. HortScience 15(4):502-504.

11. Short, D.E., L.S. Osborne and R.W. Henley. 1984. Phytotoxicity of insecticides and miticides to foliage and woody ornamental plants. Extension Entomology Report # 57.

12. Short, D.E., L.S. Osborne and R.W. Henley. 1991. 1991-1992 Insect and related arthropod management guide for commercial foliage plants in Florida. Extension Entomology Report #52.13 pp.

13. Simone, G.W. and A.R. Chase. 1989. Disease control pesticides for foliage production (Revision #4). Plant Protection Pointer. Extension Plant Pathology Report #30. [also in Foliage Digest 12(9):1-8]