We’ve all done it, I’m sure. You went to the garden centre, got excited by the beautiful plants on offer and bought yourself a cheeky-looking Monkey Mask plant.
You decided you can figure out how to care for houseplants later. You just have to have that plant now!
Then, a couple of months later, a few leaves start turning yellow. You keep passing the Monkey Mask and thinking “Oh yes, I really do need to water him.” and then completely forgetting.
The honeymoon period has worn off, you still love your plant but whatever you do you just can’t make it grow well.
Ok, so maybe you’re not that bad, but do you really know how to look after your houseplants properly? Be honest. It’s OK, most people don’t.
It’s time to make the care of houseplants clearer, simpler and more enjoyable.
What Do Houseplants Need To Thrive?
Really, there are only four things a houseplant wants in order to be healthy, happy and vibrant.
These are listed in order of importance, but my aim is to make it easy for you to get all of these aspects of houseplant care right.
Most of this is about getting things right at the start. The ongoing maintenance isn’t actually hard at all.
The Right Lighting For Your Plant
Light is the one thing you simply have to get right if you want your houseplant to thrive.
All those articles about the ‘best plants for low light’ are picking out the plants that won’t die quickly in low light. But the plants aren’t happy. They’re slowly getting less and less healthy until you find that they are beyond help.
I want you to be proud of the way you look after your plants, not just proud of how they look sitting on your dressing table.
This means you should be thinking about the levels of light in your home first, then choosing your plants to fit what you have.
If that goes against what you want from your houseplants then it’s my job to try and encourage you to see the benefits of looking after a plant in your home, rather than just the benefits of how a plant looks in your home. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive!
The one piece of equipment you need most in your houseplant care kit is a light meter.
I bet you didn’t expect that!
It doesn’t have to be expensive. The one I recommend is the URCERI Handheld Digital Light Meter. This should be around $50/£30. But, by owning this, you will save a lot of money on plants that just weren’t right for the conditions you have.
The reason light is so important is that plants use it, along with water, to photosynthesise. This is how plants feed themselves and grow strong. The more light you have, the more energy a plant can produce, the stronger it will grow and the more water it will use.
When people talk about ‘overwatering being the number one plant killer’ the main reason is that there is not enough light, so the plant does not use as much water in photosynthesis. Subsequently, the plant’s roots are sitting in moisture longer than they should and tend to rot.
So, when you start by knowing the light levels in your home and the places where you get enough light to allow a plant to thrive, then you can be sure that your plants will do well.
Providing the Right Soil For Your Houseplants
This is often a subject that new plant parents fear the most.
But I encourage you to get your hands dirty and get more intimate with your plants! It’s all part of the enjoyment of caring for a plant.
There are two things to consider here:
- Soil mix.
- Size and type of pot.
When you buy a plant, wherever you get it from, it will usually be in a pot that is already too small for it, or it soon will be too small.
It’s important to get it into the right sized pot and at this point, you can take the opportunity to make sure the soil is perfect too.
You should keep your plants in a pot with drainage holes (a container pot), which can be a no-frills plastic pot. You can then place it either on a tray or in a larger pot (a cover pot) which will prevent the bottom of the container pot damaging the surface it sits on.
The ‘perfect’ soil mix for each plant varies. This is perhaps what makes everyone apprehensive about getting involved in potting plants. But ultimately, most plants will do well in a general-purpose, but specifically developed for houseplants, soil mix called a ‘potting mix’.
The only exceptions are for cacti and succulents, which need more sand to drain quicker.
Drainage is key for all houseplants and repotting your plant every year or so will keep the soil loose. Over time soil will compact, so if you leave it too long it will start to retain more water and prevent your plant’s roots growing properly.
Make it a yearly ritual to check if your plants need a bigger pot (the roots will be collecting at the bottom of the pot) while repotting them with some fresh potting mix.
In the meantime, every now and then, you can loosen the soil by poking it gently with a chopstick!
Watering Your Houseplants
After getting the lighting and soil right, watering your houseplants in the right way is the next most important part of how you look after them.
As we’ve seen, this is heavily linked to the light levels, but it is also very dependant on the soil too. A lot of these factors are interdependant.
Ideally, your houseplant should be watered so that it’s soil is evenly saturated, but is moist rather than wet.
In practical terms, this means watering so that all of the soil gets wet but any excess water is drained away.
By getting the soil (and containers) right, you will ensure that this happens every time.
Are you starting to see how all the pieces work together to make up a robust houseplant care system?
The best way to water a houseplant is to take the plant and it’s container pot out of the cover pot and hold it over a bucket or sink while you soak the soil. Let all the excess water drain out, then put it back in it’s cover pot.
Plants Need Air Too
That leaves us with air. Actually, a combination of air, temperature and humidity.
Plants like fresh air as much as we do. In fact, a good way of thinking about the air around a plant is that if it’s good enough for us then it’s good enough for them.
The same goes for temperature. If the temperature is comfortable for you then it’s usually comfortable for your houseplants.
Humidity is a little bit different, because some plants do come from naturally high-humidity regions. All these plants will need is a misting every week. So another piece of equipment you can add to your houseplant care kit is a misting spray bottle. But these are incredibly cheap!
If you have satisfied the light, soil and water requirements for a plant, then the air requirement is an added bonus.
Your plants are after carbon dioxide in the most part, so talking to your plants can actually work! As you talk, you expel carbon dioxide as well as moving the air around the plant.
Air movement is not only important to the leaves of your plant, it also helps keep the soil, and therefore the roots of the plant healthy too.
You’ve got to find a happy middle ground when it comes to looking after houseplants.
If you’re put off by the amount of work you think it takes to look after them, then you might not get any houseplants in the first place. But if you think it’s a breeze looking after them then you might end up with some unhealthy plants, which could put you off keeping them even more!
With a simple care routine, as well as getting them set up in the right way to begin with, you can become a confident houseplant gardener in no time.
A bit of knowledge goes a long way, as long as it’s the right knowledge. Here at House Planty I aim to give you the knowledge that matters, so it would be great to help you out on your houseplant gardening journey!