Coaxing a stephanotis plant to flower

(Question)

I have the plant in a sunny window in Etobicoke. I bought it last April when it was full of blooms and hope it will bloom again this year. It does have plenty of new growth and is growing. I wonder if the bumps on some stems are a problem. I sprayed with a solution of Green Earth garden sulphur a few days ago.

The soil is organic potting soil. I sprinkle neem leaf on it to control a tiny bug like a sand fly that somtimes crawls the soil and flys around….haven’t seen any lately. I fed the plant for spring yesterday with a sprinkle of fertilizer nuggets that contain dehydrated hen manure, feather meal, potash sulphate and seaweed.

Thanks for your time.

(Answer)

Stephanotis is native to Madagascar where it thrives in humus rich soil and high humidity. The lack of flowering may be caused by low humidity, unsuitable winter treatment or lack of feeding. During the winter, plants should be kept at temperatures between 13-16C and watered sparingly. Stephanotis will benefit from a  high potassium (last number on fertilizer) liquid houseplant food every two weeks between the months of April- October. The following is a link with more detailed instructions to the care of this beautiful plant: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/Profile.aspx?pid=623

The sandfly type bugs that you describe could be thrips. Thrips are tiny slender insects with fringed wings. These insects feed on plants by puncturing the plant and sucking out the cell contents. Mist plant frequently, high humidity is detrimental to many thrips. Sulphur is also an effective treatment against thrips. Sulphur is somewhat toxic to us, so wear protective gear to keep it out of your eyes and lungs.The following link provides additional information on thrip identification and management : http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/cropprot/thrips.pdf

The bumps that you describe on some stems could be scale. Scale insects are hard to spot on indoor houseplants because they are immobile for most of their life cycle. Right after they hatch, scale are called “crawlers” and briefly have the ability to move around. But soon they attach themselves to a plant by means of their sucking mouth parts and begin to do damage, causing the plant to lose leaves and reducing its vigor. At this stage, the scale develop a hard, waxy shell and lose the ability to move. This insect excretes a clear, sticky liquid called honeydew, which can drip onto the floor, the edge of the pot or any nearby household surface. It’s especially visible on leaf surfaces. When things get really advanced, black mold will grow on the honeydew.  Scales can be rubbed off plants by hand using garden gloves, a soft old toothbrush or a dry or alcohol-dipped cottonswab. Plants should then be washed with soapy water (2 tsp. mild detergent/ 3.84 liter water) and a soft brush. Prune out any heavily invested plants parts making sure to sterilize your pruners afterwards. The following is a useful link on how to manage a number of indoor pests: http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G7273

Good Luck!