Plant Prep & Care
The first thing to consider when selecting a houseplant is where you want to put it. Then match the space and lighting with the plant’s requirements. Do you have a big spot by a sunny window or a small space with moderate light?
Next ask yourself if you are looking for a plant with beautiful green leaves or would prefer a flowering plant. Some flowering houseplants are seasonal while others will bloom year after year.
A third consideration is how much time you can devote to a particular plant. A spider plant will take almost any amount of care (or neglect), while an orchid requires significant tender, loving care.
Not everyone is born with a green thumb but thankfully there are tips, hacks, and tricks to keep your plants alive and thriving. Understanding the needs of your plants will lead to reduced stress, cleaner air, and a happier environment.
Potting soil should be kept moist, but not wet. Of course, there are always exceptions — succulents, and other thick-leafed plants do best when the soil dries out between watering. If the soil is kept too dry or too damp the plant’s roots will begin to die, which can lead to inadequate growth or even death of the plant.
DO NOT let plants get to the point where they are wilting or the soil is pulling away from the edge of the container. These symptoms indicate dehydration and at this point the plant is already seriously stressed and the roots may be damaged.
Water Quality: Room temperature tap water should be fine for most indoor plants, even if there is chlorine or fluoride added to your city’s water. Plants especially love rainwater.
Too much water is just as detrimental as too little. Frequent watering forces air from the soil and opens the door for root-killing bacteria and fungus to move in. Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants.
Signs of overwatering include:
• Fungus or mold on the soil surface
• Mushy brown (maybe stinky) roots at the bottom of the pot
• Standing water in the bottom of the container
• Young and old leaves falling off at the same time
• Leaves with brown rotten patches
How to water
Plants can be watered from the top down or bottom up. When watering from the top, try not to wet the foliage, while ensuring the entire soil mass is moistened. Water should be coming out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
If you prefer to let your plants do the work, set the plant in a dish of water and the roots will pull up whatever they need. This method, known as bottom-watering.
Tip: Be sure to dump any standing water from the saucer one hour after watering.
Most plants thrive in high humidity — around 80%.Using a humidifier can help, but there are other ways to increase the moisture in the air near your plants. A small tray containing pebbles and water can boost local humidity as can grouping plants more closely together. Daily misting of the plant’s leaves can help as well. For some plants, such as gardenias and orchids, keeping them in a bathroom or the kitchen (both usually have a higher humidity) can help.
Many houseplants thrive in temperatures between 19-24° during the day. Of course, temperature preferences vary from plant to plant with tropical plants liking temperatures around 32° or higher and other plants growing better in cooler temperatures.
As with watering, every plant has different light requirements. Many plants prefer direct sunlight, but this may be hard to get inside a house. Placing a plant in a window might offer enough light, but some houseplants will need supplementing from a grow light.
Good drainage is essential to healthy houseplants. Start with a good, organic potting soil that has been mixed specifically for indoor gardening.
Choose a container with drainage holes, or put a layer of pebbles in the bottom of a container without holes. The point is to not let the plant stand in water. From time to time, check that the drainage holes have not been clogged. And always empty standing water.
Fertilize once a month when plants are flowering or growing. If a plant is dropping its lower leaves, showing weak growth or an overall yellow-green color, it may need more fertilizer. It might also need more light or less water, so take the time to analyze all conditions before pouring on more plant food. Adding fertilizer when a plant does not need it can be worse than doing nothing at all.
Tip: If a plant is wilted, water well first then apply a fertilizer later — after it has recovered.
If your plants are thriving and growing the way you want them to, eventually they will need a bigger pot — or some fresh potting mix. Repot plants in the spring when they are just starting to grow. Vigorous root growth will allow the plant to adjust to its new container quickly.
When it comes time to repot, choose an organic soilless medium made specifically for potting houseplants. Choose a pot that is bigger than the current container, but not huge. A pot that is too-big can encourage root rot and other problems because the soil will remain wet for days, or even weeks before it can be used by the plant.
Take care with the root system when repotting to avoid damage. Carefully firm the soil around the root ball without compacting the soil. Leave enough space at the top of the new container for water and water thoroughly.
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