Even those of us not lucky enough to have a green thumb, know that plants around the home are proven to improve air quality and improve mental wellbeing. But taking care of indoor plants isn’t always simple. Sure, they need water and sun, but how much and how often is important, and getting it wrong can leave you with a miserable looking collection of brown, stringy plants. Luckily there are plenty of experts out there who can help you keep your plants happy and long-lived by explaining some common mistakes people make.
Buying the wrong plants
Indoor plants are living beings, and need the right environment in which to grow and thrive. Before you invest in a load of potted plants it’s best to consider your living space, specifically do you have sunny spots? Are there shady, cool areas? Are you limited to windowsills? Is the house or apartment draughty? All these factors should determine what kinds of plants you bring into your home. There are plenty of online resources to help you, or ask at your local garden centre.
Not enough water
Underwatering is pretty easy to identify, and quite easy to remedy if you catch it early enough. Always check the soil before you water your plants. This may sound basic, but you’d be surprised how many plant owners don’t do it. If your plant is wilting, the soil is dry and the ends of the leaves have gone crispy and discoloured, the chances are it needs watering. Remedy this by giving it a good soak, until some water comes out of the bottom of the container, then leave it for several hours. When you check it again, if the soil is still dry give it a bit more. Check it until the soil is still moist, and you should have revived it.
Too much water
We all know plants need water, but more does not equal better. Different plant species have different needs, for example cacti and succulents will die if watered daily, and tropical origin plants need much more. There are some tell-tale signs that you’ve overwatered your plants, so if you notice them you might be able to keep the plant alive. But you probably won’t, so just take it as a lesson for next time. Signs include yellow and brown foliage, or the plant wilting even though the soil is wet – this generally means you have mould or root rot, where your plant is literally drowning in its own wet soil. If you need to, buy a moisture meter to keep track and prevent overwatering.
Again, this is a question of too much or too little. You know that little label stuck in the soil when you bought your plant? Read it, and more importantly, follow the instructions for both watering and sunlight. If you place a plant that needs a lot of sunlight, like a cactus or a succulent, in a shady spot you won’t have a healthy, happy or attractive plant. Natural light from the sun is the best of course, but if you have a home office with artificial lights (white / blue lighting) this can provide enough to keep your plants stimulated.
Moving, fiddling, repotting
Once you’ve found the right environment for your plants, with the right amount of sunlight and a good watering regime, one rule of thumb is to leave them alone! Moving a plant around isn’t good for it, it needs stability to thrive and get the most out of its environment. If your plant’s growth slows and the soil dries easily it may need repotting. But many plant owners re pot as a matter of course every few months – when a plant shows no sign of dissatisfaction its best to leave it alone. Repotting when you don’t need to can be disruptive to the plant’s health.
Leaving plants in draughts
Lots of plants don’t like cold, draughty rooms. If you have species that don’t tolerate cold breezes make sure you don’t keep them next to old windows or near doors that let in draughts. If you live in a warm climate and whenever a door opens you get a gust of hot wind this can also be problematic, although some species of tropical plants love it. There are many draught resistant plants out there though. These include dracaena marginata, geraniums and – the clue is in the name – cast iron plant. Many plants that don’t mind cold breezy air also don’t need a lot of sunlight – make sure they are placed where they won’t get harmed by too much – some need as little as four hours exposure a day.
Looking after house plants isn’t difficult – if you know what you’re doing. With a bit of know-how and some trial and error, your indoor plant collection will prosper and thrive.