Updated: Dec 7, 2020
All you need are these few easy tips to keep those babies happy!
Look, we've all been there. We fall in love with a plant at the store. We bring it home & find a the perfect spot for it. Then a few weeks later, that lush, beautiful plant is now sad, wilting or possibly even dying.
Many of us in our eagerness to bring a little nature into our homes, have lost a houseplant or two along the way.
Sooo, here are five tips to help your plant live its best life:
1. Find your light Intensity Different light intensities are described as low, medium and bright. This can depend on a bunch of different factors, including the time of year and the direction your windows face. (In the US, south-facing windows will have the strongest light, while north-facing windows will get the weakest.) If you're wondering what you have in your home, here's a quick test: Hold your hand about a foot above where you want to put your plant. If it casts a shadow with crisp, clear lines, you're working with bright light. If the silhouette of your hand looks a little fuzzy, that's medium light. Low light is essentially just enough light for you to read a book. Direct vs. indirect light If there's a straight line from the sun to your plant, that's direct light. Indirect light is diffused by something such as clouds, curtains or trees outside your window. Plants such as succulents and cactuses will appreciate some direct light, but be careful about burning the leaves on more tropical types. Overall, most houseplants are going to do well in medium or bright indirect light. If you're working with lower light, pothos, snake plants, some philodendrons and ZZ plants will tolerate low light. Low light is not no light An important clarification here: Low light is not the same thing as no light. If you have zero natural sunlight coming in, you'll need to consider getting grow lights. If your plant is starting to look "leggy" or stretched out, that's a sign it isn't getting enough light. It might also start putting out smaller leaves or stop growing altogether.
2. Remember your roots If your plant is rootbound — where the roots have wrapped around the inside of the pot and are outgrowing it — it might be time to upgrade to a bigger pot. You'll also need to choose the proper pot and soil mix for your specific plant. It starts with soil Plants need a balance of water, air and nutrients in order to do their best. Most ready-made soil mixes at the store are just fine. Plants need pockets of oxygen in the soil to survive, so proper drainage is critical. This is why potting mixes will often include bigger chunks, such as perlite or orchid bark, to help extra water pass through more quickly. Root rot When soil doesn't have proper drainage — and when you overwater — you risk your plant contracting root rot. This is when those tiny air pockets in your soil become waterlogged for too long. Your plant will essentially drown, and fungus takes hold in the roots. Check for this by gently lifting your plant out of its pot and taking a look at its roots. It's easiest to do this when the soil is dry. "Normal, healthy roots are white to cream-colored," Conrad says. "A plant that is ... experiencing root rot is going to have roots that are dark-colored. They're going to be chocolate brown or almost sometimes black. The coating of the roots will sometimes slip off as you touch them." Picking a pot The right pot can also help with drainage. When you bring a new plant home, give it at least a month to settle in before you repot it. When it is time for a new container, make sure it has a drainage hole in the bottom. From there, there are a few other factors to consider. Clay and terra-cotta pots are porous, so they'll help wick extra moisture out of the soil. That makes them great for things such as snake plants and hoyas, which like to dry out a little between waterings. Pots that are glazed or made of plastic will keep the soil moist, for things such as ferns and prayer plants. The big move Over time, you might notice roots growing out of that drainage hole. That's your cue to check and see if your plant is rootbound — where the roots have wrapped around the inside of the pot and are outgrowing it. When you are upsizing your pot, a good rule of thumb is to increase the diameter by 2 inches each time.
3. Ditch that strict watering schedule Overwatering is one of the most common ways people kill their houseplants. So, how do you know when to give it a drink? The finger test One of the simplest ways is the finger test. Stick your index finger a couple inches into the soil and feel if it's still moist. Different houseplants have different needs, but a general guideline is to water when the top 2 inches of soil are dry. Your soil might dry out at different intervals from one week to the next. Never, just never stick to a 'every Monday I water my plants' schedule. It should be whenever the soil itself is ready to be watered. When you do water your plants, make sure you do so thoroughly — you should see water trickle out of the drainage hole. Too much water? Not enough? Sometimes, it can be tricky to tell whether a plant is looking sad because it's been underwatered, or because it's gotten too much water and developed root rot. If your plant is underwatered, it will probably try to tell you. A peace lily will droop if it dries out. A pothos might curl its leaves in or start to crisp up. Some signs that a plant has been overwatered are when you see yellowing leaves, the soil is staying consistently wet or you find root rot. If you've gone overboard on the water, put that watering can down. Let the soil dry out. If your plant has root rot, use sterilized scissors to carefully trim off the rotted portions. Also be sure to clean out the pot and give your plant fresh soil.
4. Be proactive Look closely at your plants, often! This can prevent a lot of problems before they happen. Pests There are a few common pests to watch out for. Spider mites are these tiny arachnids that leave thin webbing on the undersides of leaves. Mealybugs are white, cottony-looking insects. You may also run into scale, thrips or aphids — all of which feed on your plant and can do serious damage if left unchecked. One way to help, particularly with spider mites, is to make sure your plants have enough humidity. You can use a humidifier or keep your plant on a tray filled with pebbles and water. If you do notice pests, isolate that plant from any others. Rinse it off in the shower or with a hose outside. You can then treat the plant by spraying it with a diluted mix of water and either an insecticidal dish soap or neem oil. I have also had very good luck treating mealybugs with hand sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol. Sometimes it might take two or three treatments, but you'll want to give yourself a week to two weeks in between applications to see if it's taken effect."
5. No one has a green thumb There is no such thing as a green thumb. Taking care of plants is a skill you can learn. People who consider themselves having green thumbs are just people who understand the work that needs to be done to take care of a plant. Mistakes happen. What's important is that you learn from them, do your homework and take the time. So if you consider yourself having a brown thumb, you can easily have a green thumb tomorrow. All it takes is a change of attitude! Consider each and every fail a victory.
The above photos are my house plants! I sure have fun with them. I have had plenty of plants die on me but these ones all seem to be happy right now! Check out the new blooms on my lemon tree. They smell like heaven! I have gotten ONE, big, juicy lemon off of it so far!