Whether you have recently discovered a passion for potted plants in your home, or like me, have always been a lover of the indoor plant, there are some simple tips that can help keep them healthy and alive. So many people tell me they struggle to keep potted plants happy! Often there are basic things that need attention, such as position, light, temperature and water. However there are other key things that can help ensure you keep your latest addition to the potted plant family happy.
First of all, I want to say:
- Having a go is better than avoiding plants altogether! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Don’t over-invest. Buy a couple of plants or ask a friend or a local Buy Nothing group if they have a couple you could start with. That way, if they don’t thrive, you have not lost a lot of money.
- Time is the best investment you can make in your potted plants and caring for them will lift your spirits, especially in the current difficult world we are living in.
- Nobody really has a black thumb. It’s just knowing which plants work well in your home and taking time to get the balance of water, air and light correct.
- Sometimes it’s a combination of a sprinkle of luck and the background health of the plant when it arrives in your home.
So, Here are 5 Ways To Care For Indoor Plants.
1. Choose Wisely
When selecting indoor plants, remember there is no such thing as indoor plants. I repeat – there is no such thing as indoor plants! Plants are meant to be outdoors. They are also meant to be in the ground. You will be creating and nurturing their entire world, in a pot, in a room, or on a patio or deck.
When choosing plants, always buy from people who know what they are talking about. Look for local nurseries or plant specialists who care for their plant stock and can help you in advising you in the best choices. There are also often lots of lovely plants to be found in op shops, garage sales and at markets.
In addition, there are some great specialist plant sellers popping up online, who will deliver plants to your door, and if you know their work and can trust their quality, then it is a great way to go. Three of my favourites are Potted Thoughts and Fleurieu Gifts and Vintage Earth.
Locate the best plant stores in your region and be sure to ask questions about what you are looking for. Also look at the plants you are selecting to make sure there are no signs of insects or disease. However don’t walk past the discounted section in the garden shop. I have often picked up plants that just need a water, a trim and some TLC to bring them back to life.
2. Sure It’s Great, But Look at the Location!
Where you place your indoor plants makes a big difference! Most plants will want to be in a room with enough light. There are some that do ok in low light, but in general, no plant is happy in a room devoid of all natural light. Likewise, placing some plants right by a window in the heat of summer can burn their leaves.
Finding the right place will depend on your house and this will vary at different times of the year. I have a couple of rooms where plants do really well and others where I avoid having them altogether. Don’t get sucked in by television shows where someone has a million plants all over their house and it looks like a jungle. Usually those people have lofty rooms with plenty of natural light. It’s a full time job keeping that many plants healthy. Decide how much time you have to care for them before going overboard! Keep an eye on them each week and look for signs of stress such as brown spots or drooping leaves. If a plant looks unhappy, move it ASAP.
I take my indoor plants outside for a holiday every now and then and refresh them before bringing them back inside. On the flipside, if you have a very happy houseplant don’t upset the apple cart by moving it somewhere else! If you are lucky enough to have a covered outdoor area like us, creating a feature deck or blacony can increase your indoor/outdoor living, and create a haven for your potted plants, rather than having too many inside.
Some plants that do well in lower light include Snake plant or Mother in Law’s Tongue, Peace Lily, which is also brilliant for cleansing the air in your home, Maidenhair Ferns, Philodendron and Devil’s Ivy. The air quality is also important. Most plants will not enjoy being blasted by air conditioning or cooked by the heater. You might need to remove plants in rooms with artificial heating and cooling when you are using these often. I would love to have plants in our lounge room but it’s where we spend most of our time and the heater and air conditioner are not good for them.
3. Not Too Much, Not Too Little, Just Right
Just like Goldilocks you need to get the water JUST right for each plant. Most plants hate wet feet. This can lead to rotting roots and other issues. I also found on one occasion where I went away during summer for a few days and overwatered my pants to compensate, that I ended up with Fungus Gnat, which spread from one plant to a couple of others. After this I got into a routine of taking all the plants onto the deck for their weekly watering. This also gives them a holiday and gives you the chance to check them for any leaves that need trimming and so on.
Just be careful not to pop usually indoor plants directly into hot sunlight, because they may have more tender leaves and could burn or wilt. I leave mine under the cover of the deck, which they enjoy. For most plants, the soil should be kept moist but not soggy – use your finger as a guide; if it feels dry an inch or so down, give it a drink. Grouping plants together that like similar watering routines is helpful. I keep succulents generally in the same area on our deck and they get less water than the rest of the plants.
4. Get into a Routine
So many people tell me that they forget to water or feed their plants and in a busy life that is easy to do. The best way to avoid this is to have a routine. Just like anything, developing a routine around your potted plant care will help avoid the dreaded death by neglect. I use Saturday morning as my anchor for the watering routine for my plants. Sometimes this varies – in heat waves I can be watering the plants out on the deck daily. Generally it is weekly, sometimes less for the plants such as String of Pearls, who do not like to be wet.
When it comes to feeding, it depends on your choice of fertiliser and the type of plant. A slow release fertiliser is a great option because they are designed specifically to work with potting mixes. Many potting mixes come with a soil wetting agent and fertiliser in them, which will keep the plants going for a few months after potting. A small amount of fertiliser is automatically released each day, keeping the plant growing well.
If not using a slow release fertiliser, many plants need to be fertilised only when they are actively growing. Most indoor plants will not need to be fertilised more than once every 1 – 3 months. I like to use a liquid fertiliser. Read the instructions on the fertiliser and the particular plant, and then try to write this in a calendar or set reminders on your phone to alert you. I use Seasol and Powerfeed each change of season. Be careful not to over-fertilise your potted plants as this can burn or even kill them.
Seasol is not a fertiliser but is made from two species of seaweed – Bull Kelp (Durvillaea potatorum), Chile Bull Kelp (Durvillaea Antarctica) and Knotted Kelp (Ascophyllum nodosum). It contains only marginal nitrogen and phosphorus levels and is a complete garden health treatment that contains plant nutrients, trace elements, alginic acid and other bioactive compounds. Seasol promotes healthy roots, encourages beneficial soil micro-organisms, stimulates flowering and fruiting and helps plants to cope with stresses like heat, drought, frost and pest and disease attack.
5. Keep Them Clean and Happy
Nobody likes to breathe through dust! Regularly wipe down dusty leaves and give your plants a good misting with a spray bottle. Pay attention to their feet. Make sure your pots have good drainage. A ceramic or brass pot enhances the beauty of a plant, but if you water a plant when inside a closed pot with no drainage, you are basically drowning it.
A great way to avoid this is to leave plants in their original container, or plant into a larger one with drainage holes, and place your decorative pot on the outside. You can then take it out for watering. Some plants such as Moth Orchids, appreciate being dunked into a bucket of water, rather than being watered from above. Most plants will need to be drained before being popped back into a closed pot.
Be aware of damage to floors from leakage. This is another great reason to shift plants outside before watering them. Keep an eye on the need for repotting. Plants that are outgrowing their pots will need an upgrade to a bigger pot. In most cases the potting mix will also need either partially or fully replacing after a couple of years or so, especially is staying in the same pot for a long time.
Avoid taking on trends in indoor plants, both in types of plants and placement. They may look gorgeous trailing down from the bathroom shelf, or fireplace on someone elses instagram feed, but if you copy this and the position is not right, your plants will stop thriving very quickly.
With some planning and research about what houseplants are best for you, your personality and time available to care for them, the light and air quality in your house, and developing regular watering and feeding routines, you can have happy plants that will greatly enhance your quality of life and bring you years of pleasure.
**Updated from a post in 2018