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Hortiscope: Houseplants will survive candle burns, even sunburns

Q: I stumbled upon your houseplant Web site today. I've been looking for information on spider plants for years! My plant used to flower beautifully but hasn't for about three years. I haven't always taken good care of it. In fact, once it was too close to a candle and most of it turned brown and wilted within 24 hours!

It looks like the plant was split in two. Half of it has died, but the stem part of the dead half is still there and is brown and unattractive. Can I separate the growing plant from the dead stem? Should I wait until spring? Is there a specific time of year that babies tend to grow? Thanks for the wonderful spider plant tips!

A: Like human babies, spider plant babies arrive when they are ready to do so. Clean the plant up for the winter by getting rid of anything dead, diseased or damaged. We just brought our spider plants indoors for the winter. They are loaded with both babies and flowers. They apparently got enough sunlight energy to go into their reproductive cycle. Yours also will when that point is reached. You might try locating it in a sunnier window or providing additional lighting to give it a little more vigor. Enjoy this fantastically durable plant.

Q: I rescued a Christmas cactus about three years ago. It was a little spindly thing covered with aphids. With some tender loving neglect, it has grown to overflow a typical hanging basket pot and grown gorgeous blooms.

However, this year, after I put the plant outside for its summer vacation, my grandmother became ill and the neglect became not so tender. Many of my other plants ended up dead, but my aloe got huge and my Christmas cactus grew immensely.

However, it got too much sun and now the leaves have a bleached yellow color. The plant is back inside in her regular wintertime spot. Is there anything else I can do for her? Yes, it is a she, but don't ask me how to tell.

A: Of course the plant is a female. I never doubted it! Unfortunately, I have no magic remedy for this sunburned plant. Hopefully, she will have enough gumption to recover on her own and re-green during the next few weeks. Don't despair because worse things have happened to plants that made a full recovery.

Q: My Christmas cactus is turning pink. I have it on a windowsill that faces west. It is exposed to inconsistent temperatures because I live in an old apartment building with drafty windows. Outside of obviously moving it to a place with a more consistent temperature, is there anything I can do to promote chlorophyll production? It does need to be repotted. Is there something that I could add to the potting soil that would help?

A: This lack of chlorophyll is not fatal to the plant, so worrying too much is not warranted. You might try adding supplemental lighting with a plant light to see if that brings about the expression of greener leaf tissue.

Mother Nature produces many plants that are visibly lacking chlorophyll in the leaves without hurting the plants. As long as this aberration is not resulting in the decline in plant quality, I wouldn't worry too much about this discoloration. Most houseplants suffer from insufficient light and being overwatered.

To contact Ron Smith for answers to your questions, write to Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or e-mail