Understanding Black Cardinal: A Plant Profile
The care black cardinal houseplant, native to Mexico and Central America, is treasured for its lush green foliage and bright red flowers. Requiring warm temperatures, medium light, and moderate humidity, black cardinal can live for several years when given proper care.
Black cardinal [Pentas lanceolata] grows quickly up to 3 to 6 feet tall with woody stems and produces clusters of star-shaped flowers in shades of pink, red, lavender or white. It has opposite, lance-shaped leaves that emit an aromatic scent when crushed.
To care for black cardinal, plant it in well-draining, organic potting mix with a slightly acidic pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Water when the top inch of soil is dry, and mist with a spray bottle to increase humidity. Fertilize monthly during the growing season. Prune after flowering to shape the plant. Black cardinal can be propagated from 4- to 6-inch stem cuttings rooted in moist soil or perlite.
Monitor black cardinal for common pests like mealybugs, aphids, spider mites and scale insects. Treat with insecticidal soap or spray. Also watch for fungal leaf spot disease if the environment is too damp. With the right conditions, black cardinal will reward you with its scarlet blooms and brighten your indoor space.
Choosing the Right Soil and Pot for Your Black Cardinal
To grow black cardinal indoors, choosing the proper potting mix and container is key. A well-draining soil is essential, as black cardinal will suffer root rot in soggy conditions. A mix of equal parts peat moss, perlite, and compost or potting soil works well. The preferred soil pH is slightly acidic, between 6 and 7.5.
For container choice, select one with multiple drainage holes and a tray to catch excess water. The size depends on your plant’s age and size. As a rule of thumb, go up one size when roots start circling the sides and bottom of the pot. Repotting in spring before the growing season is ideal.
When potting or repotting, fill one-third of the pot with soil and place the black cardinal on top. Add soil around the sides, gently firming as you go to ensure even coverage and prevent air pockets. Leave one or two inches from the rim of the pot to allow space for watering. Water thoroughly after potting and place the plant in its normal environment.
- For a small black cardinal (6 inches or less in height), choose a pot 6 to 8 inches in diameter.
- For a medium-sized plant (1 to 2 feet tall), select a 10- to 14-inch pot.
- For a large specimen, consider a 14-inch pot or bigger, up to 18 or 20 inches for a black cardinal 3 feet or taller.
While black cardinal can live for years, mature plants may become lanky over time. For the best appearance, consider propagating new cuttings every 2-3 years to replace the original plant. The fresh, bushy new growth will reward you with abundant flowering.
[Peat moss] and perlite both help aerate the soil and prevent compaction, which could lead to root rot in the humid conditions black cardinal prefers. Never leave a black cardinal sitting in water, and empty excess from the drainage tray after irrigation to keep the roots healthy. Providing the proper potting environment is key to success with this popular flowering houseplant.
Watering and Fertilizing Your Black Cardinal
Black cardinal needs moderate moisture to thrive. Water when the top inch or so of soil is dry to the touch. During the growing season in spring and summer, this may be every 5 to 7 days. In the fall and winter, reduce watering to about half, allowing the top few inches of soil to dry out between irrigations.
Never leave a black cardinal sitting in water, as this can lead to root rot. Empty the drainage saucer under the pot after watering. Misting the leaves with a spray bottle can help increase humidity, especially in hot or dry weather.
Black cardinal also benefits from regular fertilizer during the growing season. Use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer once a month, diluted to 1/2 the recommended strength. Discontinue feeding in the fall and winter when growth slows down. A fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (such as 10-10-10) works well for black cardinal.
To calculate how much fertilizer to add, follow the directions on the product packaging based on the size of your pot. Never add more than the recommended amount, as this can burn the roots. Fertilize after watering so the plant can absorb the nutrients when the soil is moist. Always water with plain water between feedings to prevent salt buildup.
Key tips for watering and fertilizing black cardinal:
• Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Reduce water in fall and winter.
• Never leave black cardinal sitting in water. Empty excess from the drainage tray.
• Mist with a spray bottle to increase humidity, especially in dry weather.
• Fertilize monthly during the growing season with a balanced, diluted fertilizer. Discontinue in fall and winter.
• Always follow the directions on the fertilizer packaging and never add more than recommended.
• Water with plain water between feedings to prevent salt buildup.
By providing consistent moisture and nutrition, you’ll keep your black cardinal healthy and flowering. But be careful not to overwater or overfertilize, as this can damage the roots. With the right balance, your black cardinal will thrive for many years.
Black Cardinal Pruning and Propagation
Pruning a black cardinal plant helps keep it looking tidy and promotes healthy new growth. Prune black cardinal after flowering to shape the plant and pinching back new stems. Use sharp, clean pruning shears and cut stems at their point of origin.
To pinch back new stems, use your fingertips to remove the soft, new growth at the tip of each stem. Pinching [black cardinal] causes it to produce two new stems from the node below the pinch, resulting in a fuller, bushier plant. Keep it pinched back as needed when new stems get 4 to 6 inches long.
Black cardinal can also be propagated from stem cuttings to produce new plants. Take 4- to 6-inch cuttings from healthy stem tips in spring or summer. Remove leaves from the bottom half of each cutting. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone (optional) and plant in well-draining rooting medium such as perlite or potting mix.
Place the cuttings in a warm area with humidity and indirect light. Keep the rooting medium moderately moist while the cuttings develop roots over 2 to 4 weeks. Tug gently on the cuttings to check for root formation–if resistance is felt, roots have formed. Once rooted, treat the new cuttings as young black cardinal plants by potting in well-draining soil and placing in bright light.
Key points for pruning and propagating black cardinal:
• Prune after flowering to shape the plant and remove spent blooms.
• Pinch back new stems by 4 to 6 inches to promote full, bushy growth.
• Take 4- to 6-inch stem tip cuttings in spring or summer. Remove leaves from the bottom half of each cutting.
• Root cuttings in well-draining medium under warm, humid conditions out of direct sun.
• Check for rooting after 2 to 4 weeks. Pot up rooted cuttings and care for as young black cardinal plants.
• Sterilize pruning shears before use to avoid spreading disease. Make cuts at a 45-degree angle just outside a node.
With regular pruning and propagation, a black cardinal plant can provide beauty in your home for many years while producing offspring to share with friends and family. Kept at an optimal size for its container, a black cardinal will continue to bloom abundantly.
Common Pests and Diseases of Black Cardinal
Like many houseplants, black cardinal can be susceptible to certain insect pests and diseases. Monitor your plant regularly for signs of infestation or infection and treat promptly to avoid damage. Some potential issues include:
Mealybugs – Cottony white masses, usually in leaf axils or stem crevices. Remove with alcohol-soaked cotton swabs.
Aphids – Green, red or black soft-bodied insects, often on new growth. Wipe off with soapy water or spray with insecticidal soap.
Spider Mites – Fine webbing and mottled, stippling leaves. Increase humidity and spray with insecticidal soap.
Scale – Hard or soft brown bumps on leaves and stems. Remove with alcohol-soaked cotton swab or prune infested stems.
Fungal leaf spot – Angular brown spots on leaves. Increase air circulation, avoid overwatering, and spray with copper-based fungicide.
Root rot – Drooping, wilting plant and dark, mushy roots. Repot immediately in fresh well-draining mix and reduce watering frequency.
For insect pests, try natural pest control methods like wiping leaves with alcohol, applying insecticidal soap, or increasing humidity before bringing out heavy-duty chemicals. For disease, improve conditions by increasing ventilation, avoiding excess moisture, and allowing soil to dry out between waterings. Only use commercial fungicides if natural methods fail.
Some common pesticides and fungicides for black cardinal include:
• Insecticidal soap – Fatty acid soap that kills common insects. Safe and natural.
• Neem oil – Botanical extract that repels and kills many insects. Also natural.
• Pyrethrin – Natural extract from chrysanthemums, kills many insects.
• Copper fungicide – Helps control fungal leaf spot disease. Apply according to directions.
• Systemic insecticide with imidacloprid- For persistent infestations, kills insects and provides residual control. Use carefully and avoid overuse.
By monitoring your black cardinal regularly, pest and disease problems can be caught early. Try natural and organic methods first before moving on to chemical controls, especially on houseplants. Maintaining proper light, water and humidity conditions will also help your black cardinal stay in good health.