This story could be an open letter to me, about a year ago.
It took me years to ‘get’ house plants.
My boyfriend has always loved them, but couldn’t look after them (because he couldn’t be bothered to learn how). So they always looked moments from death and made me hate them.
But then one day something clicked (actually, I watched Jenna Marbles’ house plant tour and got inspired), and I got it.
Plants are living things, but we want them to be decor.
Once I understood that they were on their own schedule and couldn’t fit into the one I had given them, I was away.
Here are a few of the mistakes I made:
I wanted them to look pretty
So I repotted them as I soon as I got home into identical Ikea pots. They didn’t have drainage holes, so I filled the bottom with rocks instead.
My cacti didn’t die, because I watered them so infrequently, but everything else did.
Always put your plant in a pot with at least one hole in the bottom. Keep your plant in the plastic pot it came in for as long as possible. Put the plastic pot in the pretty pot.
Don’t put rocks in the bottom of your plant pots. It doesn’t increase drainage; it creates a perched water table and makes your plant more prone to root rot.
I wanted to keep them on a watering schedule
Yeah, if you water your plants once a week, you’ll kill them. You’ll give them root rot in winter, and they’ll go brown and crispy in summer.
Some plants are good on a weekly watering schedule but very few. The best advice I can give you is to pick up a £7 moisture metre from Amazon and get into the habit of probing your plants every few days.
Living things require more or less water depending on environmental conditions and where they are in their growing cycle. Pot size, the type of soil they’re in, and how big they are will have a big effect on how often you need to water them.
I thought they would self-fertilise
For there is no Miracle-gro in the rainforest.
I was no good at remembering to water them, so I was hardly going to fertilise my plants. I assumed that when they dropped a leaf (a frequent occurrence) the leaf would break down into the soil and provide nutrition for the plant.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of cannibalism, right?
Except rotting leaves attract pests, fungus, and mould. Fungus gnats were EVERYWHERE. Put dead leaves in the compost, people.
I neglected them
I’d buy a maidenhair fern, ignore it for a month and wonder why it died. Everytime my plants looked sickly I’d frantically water them, as if that would help.
Can you imagine giving a glass of water to dying man and assuming that would cure them? Too little, too late, mate.
My neglect would then spark a week or so of missguided nurture, so my plants lived in a perpetual cycle of neglect and then sudden, cloying affection
I overwatered them
Why not water them every day? Plants like water, yes? Hanging baskets outside LOVE being watered every day.
Except outside is different to inside.
For there is no wind inside. Or sun.
Get a moisture meter, and increase the liklihood of your plants staying alive 100-fold.
100 plants later…
I haven’t killed any for a while. A couple have succumbed to aphids, but that’s life. There will always be predators.
Once I realised that once I figured out what a plant needed, and how to give it what it needed, it was…easy.
I mean, the plant will literally come with a piece of card telling you what it wants. It’ll probably say ‘bright, indirect light’ which means it’ll be ok a few feet away from a window.
Quick fire plant tips:
- Let your plants dry out. Few plants like to be kept moist constantly (exceptions are alocasia, ferns, and calathea), and underwatering is easier to recover from than overwatering
- Wet and moist are different. Your moisture meter will sort all that stuff out. After a while you’ll be able to tell if your plant needs watering by how heavy it is. I was sceptical too, but it’s true. You’ll be a nature nymph in no time.
- Don’t repot unless you need to, i.e. when roots start poking through the drainage holes.
- Cut your (house plant specific) potting mix with perlite — about 50/50. A bit of orchid bark is good too.
- Use room temperature water. I keep a tray on the side for bottom watering, but you can always just add in a bit of warm water
- Water thoroughly, until water comes out of the drainage hole, then suck up any excess from the saucer with a turkey baster
- If you need to increase your humidity, bite the bullet and get a humidifier. Misting is not an adequate solution, and you can end up causing fungal infections
- The only time I mist is when I’m cleaning my plants. I add a few drops of neem oil to warm water and spray plants before wiping them
- Fertilise sparingly (dilute it to half of what the manufacturer says) — every six weeks is usually good for most house plants.
- Only fertilise when your plant is growing. If your plant stops growing in winter, stop fertilising, but if it’s still putting out leaves, you can fertilise if you think it needs it
- If fertilising scares you, buy some worm castings online and add them to the soil
- Whilst general plant care is pretty similar across the board, research your plant when you buy it.
- Buy a hygrometer to check your humidity. I have an old, damp, dark house, which means I can keep notoriously fussy Calathea fairly easily.
- Check out Planet House Plant if you have any specific queries. Her email is on the website, so feel free to ask any questions directly.