I am one of those people who started buying plants over lock down and then decided to make it their entire personality but, since I don’t have a natural green thumb, I have murdered plenty of plants before I ended up with my current menagerie. Therefore, I feel super qualified to offer my very simplified idiots guide to houseplants.
This is number one for a reason.
I know the ceramic pots are pretty but if you want one of them, then you gotta put the plant in a plastic pot, with drainage holes at the bottom, and then put that inside the pretty pot. Better yet, plant that bad boy straight into a plant pot with decent sized drainage holes (itty bitty ones just won’t cut it).
These ‘self watering’ ones are bullshit for the most part and are the fastest way to rot your plants.
Plastic pots are a pretty good option but in a warm house, plants can sweat (condensation) that = damp = rot
Terracotta pots are also a pretty good option, some terracotta pots are very porous, so this might equal more frequent watering but they are the easiest option for the most part.
But have pots with holes isn’t enough. You don’t need to buy fancy ‘house plant’ soil, for the majority of plants, the ‘mixed’, ‘general’ potting soil will do but you must mixed it with stuff that will allow the water to drain through, get some perlite, vermiculite, activated charcoal or with some plants orchid bark is a good shout (anything climbing and/ or jungly could possibly benefit from orchid bark).
-you do this to mimic the rocks and shit that would be natural soil, so there’s space in the soil for water to run through. Water sitting in soil= damp, boggy, rot. You can’t use actual rocks or gravel as spacer though because the soil gets too compact in pots, you need something the water can permeate through/ around easily.
Tip 1: If you notice the water running straight through too quickly and/ or your plant needing watering again super frequently (more than your quick google search said), this is a sign there’s too much drainage and you need to re-evaluate the ratio of soil-spacer.
Tip 2: If the water runs off into the bottom of a ceramic pot or a little dish, make sure you throw that run off water away. It will go manky and manky and infect your plant.
2. Over watering = death
I would say this is the easiest way for novice house plant parents to kill their plants. Over watering can look like: yellow leaves, wrinkled leaves, curling leaves etc, which to someone less experienced, looks like they need more water.
How can I tell if I over-watered?
Basic rule of thumb to judge if over or under-watered: edge of leaves crispy? Mostly likely under-watered. Floppy, listless or squishy? Most likely over watered. It is easier to get most plants to recover from being under-watered than over.
The soil trick
Stick your finger about two inches into the soil:
If the soil clings to your finger, feels damp or cold- then it most likely doesn’t need watering.
If the soil feels dry and crumbly, brushes off your finger easily and doesn’t feel at all squishy- then you most likely need to water.
How often do I water?
I’m going to controversially say that you can water on a routine (i.e. once a week, once a fortnight etc) but don’t just blindly do it, check the soil as you go. If ones not ready, try to remember to come back to it in a day or so.
How often is very dependant on the type of plant and then the light and heat levels of its location. Anything in direct sun for prolonged periods, will need more frequent watering.
Anything jungly, that likes humidity, will appreciate more frequent watering unless it’s a location with very high humidity already like a bathroom, in which case, water in the air will permeate the soil.
Any plants in low light areas, will need less water (usually the darker the natural green of the plant, the less often it needs watering, unless it’s in a sunny spot.)
Anything cactusy or succulenty will want infrequent watering and essentially thrive on abuse.
The best thing to do for most plants is to give them a big drink (i.e. until you see it drain through the bottom) and then leave it the hell alone until the top two-three inches are dry again.
Top or bottom watering?
Most trailing plants: pothos, monstera, transcendia, string of banana, dolphins, pearl, hearts etc, orchids and most succulents, do better with being set in some water and then left for a bit to soak it up. Then you take them out, letting the drips drain out before popping them back in their dish or pot.
When doing this, you want the pot to feel a little heavier, with the water seeping into at least the bottom third of the soil (this is where the old figure trick comes in handy). This encourages longer, downward root growth in plants that like to create tough little root balls, or grow shallow roots like succulents will if they can get away with it. It’s also an easy way to stop any leaf rot happening from sensitive leafs sitting on damp soil.
Same principle applies for knowing when it needs more water, just stick your finger through the drainage holes at the bottom.
Give your plant a quick google to check what kind of humidity it likes, a good rule of thumb is its from a humid country or environment, it’ll need more humidity.
So how can you ensure this?
Put it in a humid room
Number 1 cheapest way to keep a humid plant happy? Put it in the bathroom. Even the kitchen will do in a pinch.
– make sure that room gets the right light levels though, most bathroom in the uk don’t get much sun.
Water dish and rocks
Set the pot above or near a dish of water with some rocks in it. Do not sit the plant in the dish of water, that’ll rot it.
This option gets messy really fast and isn’t that practical with limited space.
Group the plants
Plants grouped tightly together naturally end up creating their own little environment. It’s not 100% effective but I have noticed the soil in the grouped plants is a higher temperature than those standing alone.
Con of this method: pests spread fast.
By far the easiest cop out option and you can get them super cheap on amazon (especially if you search for cool mist aromatherapy humidifiers… they are generally cheaper than the plant ones and do the same job…)
If you want those pretty calatheas or prayer plants without crispy edges, a humidifier is a must.
Misting does not work- come fight me plant people, I’m calling you on your bullshit. All it does is make the leaves damp and cause rot and pests.
4. Light levels
Just spend a couple minutes googling the plant. You can even download a compass app on your phone to figure out what cardinal point your room faces. Pay attention to the leaves of your plant, they will soon tell you if it’s okay where it is.
Generally, anything jungly, would be used to canopy cover, so will not like light hot, direct, sun light but could possibly tolerate low light, or artificial light.
-bear in mind, the darker the spot it’s in, the less growth you’ll get.
Anything dessert-y, like a cactus, will be happy in bright, direct sun.
‘direct sun’ means sun that shines directly on that spot, so right in the sun beam.
‘Indirect sun’ as a rule of advice is a bit tricky, as this could mean a bright spot, where the sun does not directly shine on but gets light most of the day, to a spot that gets bright light for some of the day, to a spot several feat from a window, which the sun shines on for some of the day but doesn’t reach far into the room.
-best way to figure it out is go by what environment that plant would naturally grow in.
Again, just five mins on google will save your plant. If you’ve bought it from any supermarket, or superstore of any kind (especially b&q for UK people) ignore what advice they give about the temperature the plant likes.
Remember to factor in things like radiators, fans, AC or drafts from open windows.
Hope that helped? This was just some very general advice, as a jumping off point to further googling if you care enough!
Final tip: I use an app called ‘picture this’ which is a plant identifying app that’s free, it’s really useful for quick reading on the conditions a plant needs and common problems. It also identifies type fo trees, bushes, as well as flowers and house plants! (not even affiliated, its just a really cool app)
Most plants in retails shops are literally labelled useless shit like ‘green foliage plant’ so this is helpful to check what something is, just in case.