The crown of thorns plant, also known as Christ plant or Christ thorn, is a spiny succulent shrub native to Madagascar. With its sharp thorns and striking red flowers, this plant makes for an unusual houseplant. However, crown of thorns can be prone to problems like pests, diseases, and environmental stress, leading to wilting and dying leaves. Don’t give up hope if your crown of thorns starts to decline – with some troubleshooting and TLC, you can nurse it back to health.
Assess the Damage to Your Crown of Thorns Plant
The first step is to take a close look at your plant and identify where things have started to go wrong. Here are some common signs of a struggling crown of thorns:
- Wilting or drooping leaves and stems
- Leaves turning yellow or brown
- Dry, shriveled leaves
- Few or no flowers blooming
- Evidence of pests like spider mites or mealybugs
Try to pinpoint the source of the damage. Are the oldest leaves near the base of the plant deteriorating while newer growth looks fine? That indicates natural aging. Are the leaves developing spots or turning colors? That could signal a fungal or bacterial disease. Examine both the leaves and soil to get the full picture.
Rule Out Under or Overwatering
An abnormal watering schedule is one of the most common killers of houseplants. Crown of thorns plants should be watered only when the soil has fully dried out. Depending on factors like sunlight, temperature, humidity, and container size, this can mean watering as infrequently as every 2-3 weeks.
Check the moisture level of the soil before watering. If the plant is in soggy soil, stop watering and let it dry out completely before resuming a cautious watering routine. If the soil is bone dry, give the plant a thorough soaking immediately.
Underwatering is indicated by drooping, wrinkling leaves and dry soil. Overwatering causes yellowing leaves, mushy stems, and soil that stays wet for days. Adjust your watering practices to get the plant on track.
Provide Bright, Direct Sunlight
Native to the stark environments of Madagascar, crown of thorns thrives in very bright light. It does best with at least 6 hours of direct sun daily. Insufficient light leads to sparse, lackluster foliage growth.
Give Warm Temperatures
Use Fast-Draining Soil
This desert-dwelling plant needs soil that drains rapidly. Use a cactus or succulent potting mix. You can also amend regular potting soil with perlite, gravel, or sand to improve drainage. Make sure the container you plant it in has holes on the bottom for excess water to escape.
Watch for Pests
Crown of thorns is prone to infestations of common houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scale. Check the leaves, stems, and undersides regularly for signs like webbing, sticky residue, bumps on the leaves, or scale shells. Treat infestations early with horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps. You can also use neem oil or releases of beneficial insects to control pests naturally.
Various fungal diseases can attack crown of thorns, leading to issues like leaf spot, root rot, and botrytis blight. Bacterial infections like crown gall are also possible. These manifest as spots on leaves, decay at the base, unusual growths, and other abnormal symptoms.
Don’t Forget to Fertilize Your Crown of Thorns Plant
Crown of thorns needs nutrients from fertilizer to thrive. During the active growing season in spring and summer, feed every 2-4 weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. In fall and winter, reduce application to once a month.
Repot in Fresh Soil
Over time, potting mix can become depleted of nutrients and organic matter. After 2-3 years, repotting in fresh soil can revive an ailing plant. Carefully remove the plant and trim any diseased roots. Repot in a container one size larger using a well-draining soil blend.
Prune for Better Growth
As your revived crown of thorns regains vigor, prune it to remove dead or damaged growth and improve shape. Pruning away dead wood redirects the plant’s resources toward new, healthy growth. Remove tangled branches to open up the plant’s interior to light and air.
Be Patient During Your Crown of Thorns Plant Recovery
With attentive care tailored to its needs, many struggling crown of thorns can make a comeback. But the recovery process takes time and patience. Don’t give up too soon. Continue adjusting care to find the right balance of sun, temperature, water, and humidity. Rule out and address underlying issues like pests, disease, or poor soil.
With attentive troubleshooting and care, crown of thorns can rebound from decline. Don’t hesitate to enlist help from experts if needed. Stay vigilant, and you can nurse this unusual succulent back to vibrant good health.