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 tips that can help keep them healthy and alive. So many people tell us that they struggle to keep potted plants happy! Often there are basic things such as position, light, temperature and water, that are the problem. However there are other key things that can help ensure you keep your latest addition to the potted plant family happy.
When selecting indoor plants, remember that 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. So, when choosing your plants, be sure to 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 your best choices. Buying in person is best. I have my favourite plant places in Adelaide such as Barrow and Bench and Heyne’s Nursery. There are often lots of lovely plants to be found in op shops 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, who are on our Hub, and Vintage Earth. Locate the best options 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. I have often picked up plants that just need a water, a trim and some TLC to bring them back to life.
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 tend to have a couple of rooms where plants do really well and others where I avoid having them. 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 tend to move them outside for a holiday if they are struggling inside, and refresh them before bringing them back inside to an alternative spot. 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.
Some plants that will 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.
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 that 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. I like the idea of them getting out into the fresh air and sunshine. Just be careful not to pop usually indoor plants into the hot sun for the day as they may have more tender leaves and could burn or wilt. I tend to do this 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.
Get Into a Routine
So many people tell me that they forget to water or feed their plants. It is normal! 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 them, it can be trickier depending 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 (like me) 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 do not find forgetting the fertilising as much as an issue as the water. I tend to use it each season, except winter when many plants are dormant. Be careful not to over-fertilise your potted plants as this can burn or even kill them.
I also use Seasol on them every month or so, and always when repotting or potting a new plant or cutting – it is one of my go-to products. It 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.
Let Them Breathe
Plants are vital to our lives. Without plants and trees we would not be here. They give you clean air to breathe and likewise, they need your help to be at their best. This includes wiping down dusty leaves or giving them a good misting outside. I love to sprinkle mine with a misting when giving them their water and a wipe down for the big leaved babes such as the Fiddle Leaf Fig. This also includes their feet. Nobody wants foot rot! You need to make sure your pots have good drainage. A beautiful pot enhances the beauty of a plant but if you water it inside a pot with no drainage you are basically drowning it. A great way to avoid this is to leave you plant inside its priginal container which has drainage holes, and then place your decorative pot on the outside. You can then take it out for its watering. Some plants such as the 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 also. A pot that leaks out and onto the floor can cause some real damage. This is another great reason to shift plants before watering them. Also keep an eye on repotting need. 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 as well.
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 just copy this and the position is not right at your place, your plants will stop thriving very quickly. With some planning and research about what houseplants are best for you, your personality, time available to care for them, the light and air quality in your house and learning the watering and feeding needs, you can have happy plants that will greatly enhance your quality of life and bring you years of pleasure. If you have any questions about potted plants feel free to drop us some questions and we will endeavour to answer or find out for you!