If you’re a novice gardener, then chances are that you’ve tried to care for a houseplant. You did a quick internet search for an easy variety, you looked for one that met your aesthetics, and you happily adopted your new plant child. The care instructions seemed straight forward and all seemed to go well for the first few weeks… but that’s when it all went downhill.
The leaves start to wilt or turn yellow so you water it and put it into the sunlight, but that makes it worse. You now start doubting yourself and do a quick search online for common plant problems which doesn’t fill you with confidence. Eventually, after you’ve spent more time than you intended on caring for this plant (which was supposed to be enjoyable), you start coming to the conclusion that it’s going to die; this has yet again become another plant for the bin. At this point, whenever the topic of houseplants comes up and your friends recommend or gift you one, your response is ‘Oh no, I can’t keep plants alive for my life. I kill all houseplants!’.
You’re not alone.
I’m here to tell you that there is hope and caring for houseplants is easier than you think. You don’t have to have years of experience or have a green thumb and it requires a few key factors to remember. The most important thing to remember that any experienced gardener can tell you is that failing is just as important to succeeding. Taking notes (mental or physical) and learning from experience is how gardeners get to be so good at what they do.
6 Keys Factors for Houseplants If you’re willing to take a few extra minutes to note these factors whenever caring for your houseplant, then you’ll have a much higher chance for success. Remember that plants are just like people with different needs and personalities (oh yes, some of them can be complete divas).
Before buying your plant, look at its light requirements and then visualise your home. Any spaces come to mind? Also, look online for where the plant is normally grown in the wild as this is a good indicator for how much light it needs.
In-direct light: direct sun might scorch the leaves, so place your plant off to the side of a brightly lit room.
Direct light: this plant will normally need a minimum amount of bright direct sunlight to survive.
Shade-loving: a corner of a room away from a window is fine; they're not fussy. However, this mean placing them in complete darkness.
2. Water Over-watering is the #1 killer for houseplants. Surprisingly, it’s one the easiest aspects of plant care to master and just needs a few simple considerations.
Stick your finger in about 1 inch into the soil. If it’s dry, then add some water. If it’s wet, then leave it to dry. If you’re not sure whether to water or not, it’s always safer to wait longer between watering. Plants are surprisingly resilient and can bounce back much quicker than you think.
Always check your plant’s watering requirements. In fact, some plants require hardly any water at all since their natural environments are arid climates. For example, I have a Mother-In-Laws Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) and it only requires watering once per month.
Pick one day of the week as your dedicated watering day so that you remember to ‘make your rounds’. I, personally, pick Sundays as it’s a great way to end the week, wind down, and check on how my plants are doing.
Watering changes with the seasons. I stick with the following schedule since it seems to work for me. However, do what works best for you (again, use the fingertip method and you should be fine).
Spring = once every 2 weeks Summer = once per week Autumn = once every 2–3 weeks Winter = once every 3–4 weeks
Higher temperature equals higher evaporation rate which means more watering. Lower temperatures equal lower evaporation rates which means less watering and higher chance for root rot.
3. Temperature/Humidity Houseplants like a certain temperature range since that’s the native climate they’re use to, and because of this they have developed certain adaptations. For example, consider the common fern and where it comes from. Ferns are most abundant in the tropics which normally has hot and humid weather, so a dry and cold room with indirect light won’t be ideal. Therefore, consider putting your fern in the bathroom by a bright window. Alternatively, giving it a daily mist of water will work fine.
4. Food This factor often gets missed since we assume that watering is equivalent to ‘feeding’ the houseplant. Again, remember that plants are just like humans which also need food. Therefore, check the plant’s instructions for how often you need to feed them with a liquid fertiliser. This will vary from plant to plant: some may need it once a week during the growing season (i.e., spring/summer) and others may only need it only once or twice per year.
5. Pests For the untrained eye, this is slightly more difficult to identify if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. Some of the telltale signs of pest damage can come from inspecting the leaves. Are they discoloured, curling, wilting, unusual dots on the underside of the leaves? While this isn’t a definitive list, I would recommend searching for common pests for your chosen plant and keeping an eye out.
6. Drainage I can’t tell you how much I cringe when I walk through stores that sell plants pots without a drainage hole on the bottom. It’s almost as if retail stores want people to kill their plants and buy more. Truthfully, they’re doing a disservice by not including drainage as it deters new plant parents from wanting to grow more. Drainage is hugely important to houseplants since the water you give them needs to have a place to escape. If you’re stuck with a pot with no drainage hole on the bottom, then you’re opening your plant up to root rot. On the up-chance that your pot has a drainage hole, then simply add a small tray with (or without) small pebbles from your backyard on the bottom to lift the pot off the tray since this will add an airflow.
This is where where over watering and no drainage are a death wish for houseplants. If you’ve watered your plants in this scenario, the water sits on the roots with no way to evaporate. Since you can’t see this happening from above, you assume it’s dry beneath the surface since you’ve performed the finger test. Eventually, the roots are going to get soggy and rot away causing irreversible damage to your plant. Root rot isn’t entirely untreatable, but you have to immediately recognise signs from the leaves so that you know to act.
If you’ve made it this far, then I congratulate you on taking the time to understand houseplants a little better. While this isn’t a comprehensive guide, it’s a good foundation that should lead you to exploring the topic further. I hope that I’ve given you that little bit of extra confidence to give houseplants another try because it’s highly rewarding.
You can do it!