Written by Kara M.
Pothos, and crotons, and snake plants, oh my! Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have at least one houseplant growing somewhere in your home. And it’s easy to see why! They add beauty, color, and a touch of the outdoors to any room. They can improve moods and air quality. And did we mention that they just look cool?
However, the calm, Zen feeling that many of us yearn for when working with our plants can quickly be shattered if your plants fail to thrive. If your plants keep trying to off themselves, it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. You water them, you check in on them daily, but nothing you do seems to help. Trust us, we’ve been there.
Never fear! There are some basic steps and measures you can take to ensure that your plants are getting everything they need to survive. Here are just a few:
Potting your plant
Setting up your houseplant for success begins, well, at the beginning. When you bring your plant home, it’s important that you repot it in a way that will best help it grow. There are a few factors that should be considered here.
First, make sure to use a well-balanced potting soil that is specifically formulated for indoor use. Depending on your plant, you may want to look for or consider adding certain ingredients. You can look up exactly what type of soil your plant desires by visiting the Green Thumb Nursery plant library. For plants that do best in well-draining soil, like succulents and cacti, consider adding perlite to your soil to ensure regular aeration and easy drainage. On the other hand, to retain moisture, look for mixes that include coir fiber or peat moss.
When repotting your plant, either initially, or once it has outgrown its current vessel, it’s important to choose a pot that is appropriately sized for your plant. When transplanting a houseplant, choose a pot that is just one size larger than its current pot. Expanding to too large a pot can cause excess moisture to be trapped in the soil, making it hard for the plant to access if its roots aren’t big enough. Transplanting into too small of a pot, on the other hand, can limit the space roots have to grow, and can ultimately stunt the plants growth.
Always make sure the pots you use for indoor houseplants have some kind of drainage system. For most plants, this can be as simple as ensuring there’s a hole on the bottom of the pot to ensure excess water has a place to escape. Without this, stale water can pool in the bottom of the pot, creating the potential for root rot.
Let There Be Light
If you’ve ever taken an elementary school science class, you probably know that all plants need light in order to complete photosynthesis, the process that allows plants to turn light (and water, and oxygen) into energy.
However, not all plants are created equal when it comes to light. And indications like “partial sun,” “full sun to partial shade,” and “bright, indirect sunlight” can seem confusing, rather than helpful. Let’s breakdown what the different shade levels actually mean, and how you can achieve them in your home.
Plants that require bright light should get a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day. These plants do best when placed in western- or southern-facing windows and should be unobstructed by larger plants.
Many houseplants are described as needing “ bright, indirect light.” If you’ve ever wondered what on earth this actually means, we promise you aren’t alone. This simply means that your plant enjoys lots of sunlight, but can’t tolerate the intense, direct rays of the sun without some kind of protection. Think of these plants like humans on the beach – many of us love the sun, but we still need to protect ourselves with sunscreen.
Instead of dousing your houseplants in sunscreen (we highly discourage this!), consider positioning your plant near an east facing window, placing it near, but far back from a brighter light source, or placing it in front of a window covered by a sheer curtain.
Not many plants require low light, but several are able to survive low light environments. When it comes to plants, low light means a room that is dark enough that it’s not easy to read a book in the room. If you find that your plants must be in a low light room and are not thriving, there are ways to supplement the limited sunshine. Grow lights, or in some cases, even fluorescent lights can help a plant get the sunlight it needs to thrive.
Water: When less is more
It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. You bring home a beautiful new houseplant, and you throw everything you’ve got into helping it settle in, grow, and feel loved. You check in on it daily, you make sure it gets plenty of sunlight, and you water it every morning. But somehow, the plant starts to wilt or becomes distressed, and everything you do seems to make it worse.
This may very well be due to the way your plant is being watered. It’s tough to strike a balance between dry and moist soil and figuring out exactly what a new plant needs can take some time. Here are some factors to consider.
The most common faux pas when it comes to caring for houseplants is the human tendency to overwater. As it turns out, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and overwatering a plant can harm it, or if sustained, even kill it. For most plants, the soil should be allowed to dry out before being watered again. To check this, push one finger about one inch down into the soil. If everything is dry, it’s okay to water the plant. If it’s still damp, hold off until it’s given a chance to dry.
Some other signs of overwatering include droopy, wilted, limp leaves that turn yellow or light brown; a plant that begins to lean to one side – this is a sign that the roots and stem have become soft and unstable; a plant that continuously drops a large number of both old and new leaves; fungus or mold growing on top of the soil.
If you notice any of these signs, cut back on your watering frequency, and check for signs of root rot to prevent further problems.
While some houseplants, like succulents, can thrive in very dry soil, other plants need consistent watering. If your plant is thirsty, it may try to alert you with the following signs: brown, wilted leaves; very dry soil that feels either sandy, or hard and packed together; leaves that are crispy and brown; a plant that stops growing.
If you water your plant frequently, and it still doesn’t seem to be getting enough water, you may need to adjust your plant’s soil blend to make sure it’s able to retain enough water to grow.
The round up
Growing houseplants is supposed to be a peaceful, Zen hobby that brings a sense of calm, elegance, and beauty into your home. However, stubborn plants that seem fixated on dying can quickly turn indoor gardening into a source of stress! By making sure they have what they need, from the proper pot to the right amount of sunlight and water, you can help your plants thrive, and restore gardening back to the relaxing pastime it’s supposed to be. Good luck, Green Thumbs, and let us know how it goes!
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