How to Care for Potted Plants

1. Choose the pots.
Make certain there are one or more holes in the bottom of your container to allow water to flow out freely. Insufficient drainage can cause roots to drown, and the plant to die prematurely.

Almost anything can be used as a container for plants, so what type of pot you choose depends upon your style preference and budget. If you prefer lightweight containers, which are easy to move around and can weather winter temperatures, look for resin, fiberglass, and plastic. Bonus: These materials are not porous, so they absorb less moisture than unglazed clay or wood―leaving more for the plant.

2. Choose the potting mix.
Do not use soil from the yard or garden. It can be filled with weed seeds, insects, and fungal diseases.

Buy potting soil at your local garden center. It is a loose and light mixture of materials like peat moss, vermiculite, and, often, decomposed organic matter. If you are planting succulents or cacti, use a mix especially formulated for them.

To reduce plant maintenance, buy potting mix containing a time-release fertilizer and moisture-retaining polymer crystals. If that type of mix is not available, buy a time-release fertilizer (such as Cockadoodle Doo) and a jar of water-retaining crystals (like Soil Moist) and follow the package directions for adding to the potting mix.

3. Choose the plants.
Make “Right plant, right place” your motto. You must take into consideration the conditions of your space. Don’t try to grow a flower like a rose―which requires six hours of full sun―on a porch that gets only an hour in the early morning. Do your homework (read books and plant tags), ask for advice at the garden center, and determine which plants will thrive in the available sun or shade.

When deciding what to buy, the simplest approach is to use one kind of plant per pot. If you choose to combine multiple types of plants, make sure they all like the same light and moisture conditions. Don’t put a cactus and a pansy together in one pot and expect them to get along.

4. Prepare the pots.
If your containers are large, place them where they’ll ultimately go before filling them. Once they are full and watered, they may be too heavy to move.

Put a basket-type coffee filter or a shard of broken pot over the hole(s) in the bottom of the empty pot. This will prevent the potting mix from washing out but will still allow water to escape.

Before pouring in the soil, check its moisture content. Read directions on the bag for wetting it properly. Generally, you need to add water a little at a time and knead the mixture with your hands. A good rule of thumb is to wet the mix until it feels like a damp sponge.

Fill the container with the soil. Put in enough potting mix so the base of the plant (where the stem sprouts from the soil’s surface) is about 1 inch from the top of the pot (to help visually estimate, position your plant while it’s still in its nursery container). Before planting, pat down the soil lightly with your fingers to eliminate any big air pockets. Don’t pack it down too hard.

5. Pot the plant.
Remove the plant from its nursery container. (It’s a good practice to water plants in their original containers at least an hour before transplanting. This will ease their removal and diminish transplant shock.) Support the top of the “root ball” (the semisolid mass of soil and roots) by placing a finger on each side of the stem; then tip the pot and let the plant fall gently into your hand. Never pull a plant out by its stem. If it is stuck, tap the sides of the pot to loosen it.

If the roots are circling around and around, the plant is “root-bound.” Gently tease the ends of the roots free before planting.

Set the plant on top of the mix. If you are potting more than one plant, leave at least an inch or so around each root ball so you can add mix in between them. Carefully fill in with small handfuls of soil. Pat gently to eliminate air pockets. Do not pile soil on top of the plant―make sure the stem is completely above the surface. Leave about an inch between the soil surface and the rim of the pot.

Water the container. This will settle the roots into their new home. If the soil level drops below the top of the root ball, add additional mix to bring it back up.

Watering

If you plant in the spring and the weather is mild, you can probably get away with watering about once a week. As the summer continues, plants need more water. Not only is the warm weather evaporating the moisture before the plant can use it, the plants need more water as they grow larger. Hanging plants and small pots may need watering twice a day (best times are morning and evening); once a day is enough for large pots.

Water your plants until the water comes out of the drainage holes. That way you know the soil is getting moisture all the way to the bottom.

Water the soil, not the leaves and flowers. Wetting the foliage can lead to fungal diseases and sometimes scorched spots on leaves.

Don’t worry if plants and flowers look wilted in the hottest time of the day. As long as the top of the soil is moist, you probably don’t need to water. Wilting is a self-protective mechanism to prevent too much moisture loss from the root area. Wait and see if the plants perk up after the sun goes down.

Don’t let pots sit in water; this can cause root rot and death. If you are using saucers, empty them after you water and after it rains.

Feeding

Plants growing in containers need more fertilizing than those in the ground. The more you water, the more quickly you flush the nutrients out of the soil. It’s good to use a time-release fertilizer when planting (see “Step 2: Choose the Potting Mix”), but it’s the bare minimum. If you want really healthy and happy plants, feed them a liquid or water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks according to package directions.

Deadheading

Pinching or cutting off faded blooms, known as deadheading, is essential. It encourages a plant to keep producing more flowers.

Some plants have so many tiny flowers and stems, it would be too time-consuming to snip or pick off individual flower heads. For those types, it’s best to shear the whole plant back to about one-third of its size. It will look “whacked” for about a week, but you will soon be rewarded with a flush of new buds and blooms.

Some flowering plants are “self-cleaning,” meaning they don’t generally require deadheading or shearing. These are usually prolific bloomers covered in smallish flowers, which just shrivel up and almost disappear on their own. Some examples are impatiens, mini petunias, diascia, and browalia. If they start to flag late in the summer, cut back the plant by one-third to rejuvenate blooming.

Good Container Flowers for Sun

  • Angelonia
  • African daisy (Arctotis)
  • Dahlia
  • Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)
  • Lantana
  • Verbena
  • Zinnia
  • Tuberous Begonia

Good Container Flowers for Shade

  • Fuchsia
  • Impatiens
  • Browallia
  • Torenia

Good, Colorful Foliage Plants for Sun and Shade

  • Caladium (shade)
  • Coleus (sun and shade, depending on variety)
  • Phormium (full sun to part shade)
  • Canna (full sun to part shade)
  • Ferns (various types, filtered sun to shade)
  • Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus, full sun/part shade)
  • Ornamental sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas, full sun/part shade)
  • Ornamental grass (various types, full sun)

Good Container Flowers for Sun and Shade

Note: Where only one name is listed, the botanical and common names are the same.

When gardening indoors it’s important to take into consideration the following points:

1. Do I have the right light? Different pot plants thrive in different light, so make sure you tailor your indoor garden to the right lighting needs.

2. Some plants are poisonous to animals (such as peace lilies) – so check these details about your chosen plants before bringing them into the home.

3. Your plant’s needs. A lot of plants are seasonal, so your greenthumb work needs to extend into the off-season. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what is required to care for your plant.

Tips on looking after indoor plants

Make sure you position pot plants around the home according to their necessary light levels and temperatures. Some plants thrive in the colder temperatures, whereas some need light.

Do not over-water your plants. While you think you might be doing them a favour, some pot plants only require a small amount of water and too much can drown them.

Be aware of the types of diseases your indoor plants can catch. For example, indoor palms can catch mealy bugs. To avoid this, wipe down the palm leaves and spray a palm safe insecticide.

5 tips to keep your plants healthy

  1. Keep soil moist with regular but light watering. Keep a tray to catch any excess water below to avoid over-watering them.
  2. 
Make sure your plants have the right air supply, especially if they are kept inside. They not only need fresh air to grow but it also helps reduce disease.
  3. 
Fertilise every one to two months depending on your plant. Always make sure you have information about your plant as so many indoor plants vary. 

  4. Keep an eye out for bugs. If you notice any bugs on your plants, remove them. Get rid of any dead leaves to prevent disease. 

  5. Repot your plants every one to two years depending on how quickly they grow. This will help your plants thriving and growing.

10 Indoor Plants That Are So Easy To Take Care Of

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

Why You Need a Vision

Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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How to Create Your Life Vision

Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

What Do You Want?

The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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Some tips to guide you:

  • Remember to ask why you want certain things
  • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
  • Give yourself permission to dream.
  • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
  • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

Some questions to start your exploration:

  • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
  • What would you like to have more of in your life?
  • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
  • What are your secret passions and dreams?
  • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
  • What do you want your relationships to be like?
  • What qualities would you like to develop?
  • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
  • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
  • What would you most like to accomplish?
  • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

A few prompts to get you started:

  • What will you have accomplished already?
  • How will you feel about yourself?
  • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
  • What does your ideal day look like?
  • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
  • What would you be doing?
  • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
  • How are you dressed?
  • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
  • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
  • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next step. Give yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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Plan Backwards

It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

  • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
  • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
  • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
  • What important actions would you have had to take?
  • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
  • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
  • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
  • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
  • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

When the ground thaws and the first crocuses appear, so do the garden plans and seed packets. Gloves, shovels, buckets, and watering cans draw a child’s attention like bees to honey. Kids love to get out in the dirt and help with growing plants, so teach them these 5 tips to teach kids how to care for plants, from our Blog Ambassador Julie of Happy Strong Home.

5 Tips to Teach Kids How to Care for Plants


1. Letting dirt breathe. Kids love to dig in the dirt. From their experiences with sandboxes and beaches, they’ll be likely to pack dirt into a pot or garden bed a bit too firmly. Talk about how plants and seeds need a little air in their dirt, so they can breathe. Use a small garden cultivator to allow them to break up the dirt gently before depositing seeds or inserted a seedling.


2. Seed spacing. Each kind of flower or vegetable will have different spacing needs ranging from an inch to a foot. Check your packets and then give children a visual at their level for what that looks like. An inch is about two or three fingers apart. A foot might be the length of their arm. Whatever is handy for them to use as a guide will work.


3. Proper watering. Watering cans can be so fun for kids, but there’s often the danger of over-watering. Plants that are directly in the ground can usually handle it, because there’s enough area for the water to run off quickly. But plants in a container or pot can get drowned and soggy. Teach kids to test the soil before watering and then only water until soil is “sticky.” (Here’s a handy plant watering activity that teaches kids to know the different between dry, over-watered, and “just right” soil).


4. Learn about indoor plant care. Indoor plants usually come already planted and full-grown, so this can be a great way to start for little ones who can’t wait for those seeds to sprout. With a small indoor plant, young children can learn how to water properly, and how to place the plants in good light so they can grow. Give children a spray bottle to help them not over-water the plants, and avoid spills. Plus squirting a spray bottle or mister is good fun, and excellent motor skill action!


5. Give them ownership. Include watering plants on their to-do or daily chores list so they remember to keep an eye on their growing plant friends. Set kids up with their own kid-sized garden tools and gardening tote, so they take ownership over their plot of land or plant pots. A themed watering can that is just their size is easier for them to handle, and easy to spot in the backyard as well!

Taking some time to teach kids how to care for plants gives kids skills to enjoy gardening and growing plants for their whole life! These five tips for helping kids care for plants also helps keep those green leafy friends healthy and fruitful as well!

Be sure to check out my related post, How to Make a Simple Sun Catcher Terrarium!

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Do you love plants, but find that gardening stresses you out? Do you cringe every time someone hands you a plant and tell them you’re “sure to kill it within a week?” Do you envy the green thumbs of your neighbors, friends and relatives, while struggling to keep even one houseplant yourself?

If this sounds like you, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Plenty of people struggle to keep plants alive at first, but with time, practice and a little instruction, anyone can learn to do it. Just because it isn’t something that comes naturally to you doesn’t mean you have to accept that you’ll never be able to do it.

Keeping potted plants alive is a learned skill, and there is no reason you can’t learn to do it, too. To help you out and get you started on your plant-care journey, we’ve put together this tutorial on everything you need to know about how to take care of potted plants. By the time we’re finished here, you’ll be ready to put these skills into practice. So grab your gardening gloves and potting soil and let’s get started.

Tips to Keep Potted Houseplants Alive

While the rules for all plants are fairly similar, they will differ slightly depending on the environment your plant is going to be living in. If you’re mostly wondering how to take care of potted indoor plants, then this is the section for you. Here are our best tips to keep houseplants alive:

1. Choose the Correct Pot

Drainage is extremely important for your plant. Ideally, a pot should have a hole in the bottom so that excess water can drain out of the soil and collect in a tray underneath the pot. If there is no such hole, all the extra water is trapped in the soil. Often, this is more water than the plant can successfully absorb, and this will result in a plant “drowning.” If you notice your plant looks wilted and droopy, but the soil is still damp, the odds are good that you have a drainage problem, and the plant is too wet.

In the same way, plants need plenty of space to grow. If the roots run out of room to stretch out, the plant will become top-heavy, and the roots won’t be able to support the amount of foliage on your plant. This will cause it to wither and die.

While it’s easiest to simply leave the plant in the pot or basket you got it in, this isn’t always the best way to keep your plant healthy and strong. For your plant to stay healthy, it needs to be in a pot that gives it room to grow and stretch its roots. It will also require a pot that allows for adequate drainage.

2. Use Good Potting Soil

If you’re repotting your houseplant from the container it came in and putting it in a better pot, you’ll also need to think about what type of potting soil you’re using. It isn’t enough to just scoop some dirt out of your backyard. Instead, buy a bag of potting soil. These mixes often contain extra nutrients or fertilizers that will help your houseplant stay strong and healthy.

Depending on what type of plant you’re working with, you may be able to find a potting mix designed specifically for that species. If you’re planting a cactus or succulent, for example, there are often potting soils that are crafted with just the right nutrients for these types of plants.

3. Watering: Not Too Much and Not Too Little

Watering can be a little bit tricky, especially if you’re new to plant care. Water too much, and your plant can easily drown. Water too little, and the plant will dry up and die. For happy and healthy plants, you’ll need to find a delicate balance between these two extremes. While some plants prefer to live in moist soil, the vast majority of plants do best when you allow the soil to dry out between watering.

To tell whether or not your plant needs water, feel the soil, preferably near the edge of the pot. If the dirt feels dry and crumbly, it’s time to water. If it still feels damp, it probably doesn’t need more just yet. After a few weeks of this practice, you should begin to get the hang of knowing when your plants need water.

Of course, you’ll also be able to tell if your plants are dying of thirst. If you notice the leaves are turning dry, brown and shriveled, your plant is in desperate need of water. Hopefully, however, you’ll water your plant long before it gets to this point.

When giving your plant a drink, water it until the water begins to run out the hole in the bottom of the pot, or until the soil no longer absorbs any water. If the water begins to pool on top of the soil refusing to soak in any more, then it’s time to stop watering.

It’s difficult to prescribe exactly how often you should water your plant because every plant and every plant species is different. You can read up on your specific plant to gain more information, but in general, it’s better to let your plant tell you when it needs water. Learn to read the soil and the leaves of a plant, and recognize when it’s asking you for some water.

4. Give Them Plenty of Light

While every plant has different preferences in terms of shade versus sun, no plant will grow with absolutely no light whatsoever. If you put your plant in the closet, high on a dark shelf or backed into a shadowy corner, it is not going to do well.

Your plant needs at least some sun to thrive. For this reason, windowsills are great places to put plants. If you don’t have a windowsill large enough, though, there are other options. Put them on a table or a cart in front of a window, or in some place that experiences plenty of sunlight.

5. Keep Your Pet Away

This should go without saying, but it’s something you might not have thought of if you’re new to houseplants. Animals may love your plants, but unfortunately, this often translates into loving them to death. Specifically, your pet might eat your plant, or tear it up in their enthusiasm.

To fix this problem, try placing your houseplants in places your pet can’t access. Maybe put them high up on the counter, or on top of a cabinet. Just be sure to balance the need to keep the plant out of harm’s way with the need to place it in an area that still gets sun.

Another thing to note is many plants can be poisonous to animals, so there is some extra incentive to keep plants and pets separate.

6. Learn About Your Plant

This is a fundamental rule of plant care whether you’re dealing with indoor houseplants, hanging outdoor baskets, garden plants or something else altogether. Take the time to learn about the type of plant you’re caring for. Learn how much sun it likes, or how much shade. Learn if it needs to be watered every day, or if it can go as long as two weeks without water.

Every plant has its own unique set of requirements. While there are plenty of across-the-board rules that apply to most plants, you will have the best results and the greatest rate of success when you take the time to learn about each species of plant individually.

Keep Outside Potted Plants Alive

When learning how to take care of outdoor potted plants, some of the concerns are the same as they are with indoor plants. You’ll still want to take care to use a good potting soil mix. You’ll still want a pot that gives the plant room to grow and has plenty of drainage. However, there are a few additional concerns that will come into play when caring for outdoor plants.

Here are our best tips to keep outdoor potted plants alive:

1. Watch for Shade vs. Sun

This is something you’ll need to be especially careful with when it comes to outdoor plants. Your plant should come with a tag that will tell you whether the plant prefers full sun, full shade or a combination of the two. If you can’t find such a tag, ask at your local garden center or do a quick Google search.

Once you figure out what type of lighting your plant will do best in, it’s up to you to find a place that suits these needs. That might be the side of your house that gets sun for half the day, or it might be your porch that gets sun all day long. Whatever it is, your plant will thrive once you get it in the right place.

2. Keep an Eye on the Temperature

With outdoor plants, one of the biggest considerations is the weather. It can be tempting to experience a sunny March day where temperatures soar to the high 50s and assume it’s safe to put your plants outside. Next thing you know, the temperature plummets again, and your plants are irreparably damaged.

While some plants are exceptions, most annuals and many perennials can’t be left outside until the temperature no longer dips below freezing at night. To find out when it’s okay to begin taking your plants outside, look up the approximate last frost for your area. Keep in mind, however, that this is an approximate last frost. To be safe, wait until slightly past this date. The plant tag may even provide specific instructions along these lines.

Remember to also think about the first frost in the fall. If your plants are not winter-hardy, you’ll need to remember to bring them in before the temperatures drop in the fall as well.

3. Think About the Rain

Since your plant is going to be an outdoor plant, you’ll also have to think about things like rain, and how this will affect your watering schedule.

If your area has been receiving lots of rain, be aware that you won’t need to water your plant for quite a while, or at least until the soil dries out again. If the rains are extremely heavy, to the extent that your plant is at risk of being damaged, you might even want to consider bringing your plant indoors. If this isn’t a possibility, at least bring it under some level of shelter to protect it from drowning.

4. Deadheading

This might apply to both indoor and outdoor plants, but since outdoor plants more often tend to be of the flowering varieties, we’ve included it in this section.

If you’re never deadheaded before, don’t worry. It’s much less complicated than it sounds. This is simply a process of pinching off dead blossoms that are hanging limply on their stems. Of course, this isn’t something that you absolutely have to do. These dead blossoms will eventually fall off on their own. However, there are many benefits to pre-empting this natural process of the blossoms falling off and doing the deadheading yourself.

First, it’s an aesthetic bonus. Your plant looks better without dead blossoms clinging to it. And since the main purpose of many plants is to look beautiful, this is a good reason to do it. Second, and arguably more important, however, is that deadheading encourages new growth. When you pinch off the dead growth, this helps push new blossoms out and causes your plant to grow bigger and healthier.

5. Keep Pests Away

Once you put your plant outdoors, realize that you are at risk for rabbits, squirrels, deer and all other kinds of animals who would just love to get a taste of your outdoor plant.

To combat this, think of ways you can keep your potted plant safe. Do you have a screened-in porch? If so, this is the perfect place for an outdoor plant. If this isn’t an option, a fenced-in garden is also better than nothing. Hanging baskets are also good, as they are out of reach of most animals other than squirrels.

Learn More About Caring for Your Potted Plants

Are you determined that this time, you’re going to be successful and keep your potted plants alive? Reading this is a great place to start. But what’s the next step? How can you keep learning about how to care for your beautiful plants?

A great next step to take is to talk to an expert. If you have more questions about what you can be doing to keep your plants happy and healthy, then we’d love to chat with you. Here at Patuxent Nursery, we have years of experience in caring for plants of all shapes, sizes and varieties, and we’d love to share that knowledge with you.

If you live in or near Bowie, MD, we invite you to stop in and continue this conversation in person. And if you can’t make the trip, that’s alright, too. We’re available if you’d like to contact us online, and we can be reached by phone. Just give us a call at (301) 218-4769.

Indoor plants add color, texture and warmth to the home. They allow year-round access to gardening and can even improve air quality. Many houseplants are easy to grow, but they must be given appropriate care in order to thrive. Since your plants were probably started in a greenhouse — grown under ideal conditions — moving them into your home takes a bit of adjustment on their part.

Proper watering and lighting are the most important components of indoor plant care, but humidity and temperatures also play a role. The trick is to try to mimic the climate of the place that plant came from.

Tropical plants thrive in warm, humid environments, while cacti and succulents prefer hot, dry climes. Of course, your home can’t be everything to every plant, but you can take plant needs into consideration when choosing plants. And, with a few tricks, you can convince your green friends that they are living in their ideal environment.

BIGGER BLOOMS

With the right equipment, growing beautiful house plants is easy! At Planet Natural we have everything you need: pots, soils and fertilizers to get started, plus grow lights to bring the green-giving magic of the sun indoors. Now, let’s grow!

Plant Selection

The first thing to consider when selecting a houseplant is where you want to put it. Then match the space and lighting with the plant’s requirements. Do you have a big spot by a sunny window or a small space with moderate light?

Next ask yourself if you are looking for a plant with beautiful green leaves or would prefer a flowering plant. Some flowering houseplants are seasonal while others will bloom year after year (see Top Choices for Easy Care Flowering Houseplants).

A third consideration is how much time you can devote to a particular plant. A spider plant will take almost any amount of care (or neglect), while an orchid requires significant tender, loving care.

Indoor Plant Care

Water

Potting soil should be kept moist, but not wet. Of course, there are always exceptions — succulents, and other thick-leafed plants do best when the soil dries out between watering. If the soil is kept too dry or too damp the plant’s roots will begin to die, which can lead to inadequate growth or even death of the plant.

There are several methods to determine when a plant needs water. If the potting soil becomes lighter in color or cracked, it’s probably time to water. Pick up your plant and gauge the weight after watering. After a few practice lifts, you’ll be able to tell if the plant needs water just by picking it up. Of course, you can always stick a finger in the soil to determine how moist it is below the surface. For large plants, a hand-held moisture meter may be your best bet to determine how much water is present around the plant’s root mass.

Dehydration

Do NOT let plants get to the point where they are wilting or the soil is pulling away from the edge of the container. These symptoms indicate dehydration and at this point the plant is already seriously stressed and the roots may be damaged.

Signs of underwatering include:

  • Slow leaf growth
  • Translucent leaves
  • Premature dropping of flowers or leaves
  • Brown, yellow or curled leaf edges

A BESTSELLER!

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Overwatering

Too much water is just as detrimental as too little. Frequent watering forces air from the soil and opens the door for root-killing bacteria and fungus to move in. Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants.

  • Signs of overwatering include:
  • Fungus or mold on the soil surface
  • Mushy brown (maybe stinky) roots at the bottom of the pot
  • Standing water in the bottom of the container
  • Young and old leaves falling off at the same time
  • Leaves with brown rotten patches

Watering on Demand

Plants requiring more water Plants requiring less water
– Flowering plants
– Plants potted in clay pots
– Plants grown in small pots
– Actively growing plants
– Plants located in direct sunlight
– Large-leaved or thin-leaved plants
– Plants that are native to wet areas.
– Resting or dormant plants
– Recently repotted plant
– Plants grown in high humidity
– A plant located in a cool room
– Plants potted in non-porous containers
– Plants with thick or rubbery leaves
– Plants grown in a water retentive mix

For those who are too busy to keep up with a regular watering schedule, which requires checking individual plants every 3-4 days, there are several self-watering devices available. A moisture wick draws water from a dish of water into the root ball of your plant. Capillary mats and moisture tents also keep plants watered. You can always make your own self-watering plant container out of a 2-liter pop bottle.

Water Quality

Room temperature tap water should be fine for most indoor plants, even if there is chlorine or fluoride added to your city’s water. Plants especially love rainwater or melted snow (unless you live in a region with acid rain). Avoid continuous use of softened water, which may contain sodium.

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How to Water

Plants can be watered from the top down or bottom up. When watering from the top, try not to wet the foliage, while ensuring the entire soil mass is moistened. Water should be coming out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.

If you prefer to let your plants do the work, set the plant in a dish of water and the roots (and capillary action in the soil) will pull up whatever they need. This method, known as bottom-watering, is a more thorough, if time-consuming, way to water plants.

Tip: Be sure to dump any standing water from the saucer one hour after watering.

Drainage

Good drainage is essential to healthy houseplants. Start with a good, organic potting soil (not regular soil) that has been mixed specifically for indoor gardening.

Choose a container with drainage holes, or put a layer of pebbles in the bottom of a container without holes. The point is to not let the plant stand in water. From time to time, check that the drainage holes have not been clogged. And always empty standing water (don’t run it back through the plant’s soil).

Light

As with watering, every plant has different light requirements. Many plants prefer direct sunlight, but this may be hard to get inside a house. Placing a plant in a window might offer enough light, but some houseplants will need supplementing from a grow light (see Lighting Indoor Houseplants).

Flowering Plants

Flowering plants generally do best in moderately bright light and for this reason windows located on the south, east or west side of the house are best for potted flowering plants. (African violets prefer north-facing windows.)

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Foliage Plants

Foliage plants can be divided into three categories: those requiring low light, moderate light and high light.

A dimly lit room should suffice for those few plants willing to survive in low light areas. Moderate light-needing plants will prefer a north-facing window, light diffused through a thin curtain or daylight without direct sun. Indoor plants that prefer high light will need to be in a south-facing window or under a grow light.

Some plants will benefit from being moved outside in the summer to get a little extra light. Read about Moving Plants Indoors & Outdoors here.

Temperature

Many houseplants thrive in temperatures between 65-75° during the day and 55-60° at night. Of course, temperature preferences vary from plant to plant with tropical plants liking temperatures around 90° (or higher) and other plants growing better in cooler temperatures.

Humidity

Most plants thrive in high humidity — around 80%. Unfortunately, most homes are much drier, especially in the winter when forced heat can even further drop the humidity.

Using a humidifier can help, but there are other ways to increase the moisture in the air near your plants. A small tray containing pebbles and water can boost local humidity as can grouping plants more closely together. Daily misting of the plant’s leaves can help as well. For some plants, such as gardenias and orchids, keeping them in a bathroom or the kitchen (both usually have a higher humidity) can help.

Fertilizer

Every time a plant is watered nutrients leach out of the soil. Even if that didn’t happen, plants would quickly deplete the nutrients in their soil. Unlike plants living outside, houseplants don’t have a regular source of nutrient replenishment unless you fertilize them regularly. (Newly purchased plants have been heavily fertilized in the greenhouse and can wait a few weeks before getting started on a fertilizing regime.)

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Fertilize once a month when plants are flowering or growing. During the winter, when plants are dormant or generally not growing much, fertilizer can be withheld.

If a plant is dropping its lower leaves, showing weak growth or an overall yellow-green color, it may need more fertilizer. It might also need more light or less water, so take the time to analyze all conditions before pouring on more plant food. Adding fertilizer when a plant does not need it can be worse than doing nothing at all.

Tip: If a plant is wilted, water well first then apply a fertilizer later — after it has recovered.

Fertilizer Types

Choose an organic fertilizer specific to houseplants and read the instructions carefully. While natural fertilizers are less likely to burn or harm your plants than a synthetic fertilizer, it is important to apply the correct amount. In general, plants grown in low light will not require as much fertilizer as plants grown outside or in bright light.

To start, use about 1/4 the amount of fertilizer recommended on the label once a month. Then, if overall plant color becomes lighter, increase fertilizer applications to every 2 weeks. On the other hand, if the new growth is dark green, but the leaves are small and the space between the leaves seems longer than on the older growth, fertilize less often.

Tip: Soluble salts from synthetic fertilizers can build up over time and create a crusty layer of salt deposits on the soil surface. Remove this layer and leach the soil every 4-6 weeks with generous amounts of water to help avoid toxic salt build up. Excessive salts can damage roots and make the plant more susceptible to disease and insect attack.

Repotting

If your plants are thriving and growing the way you want them to, eventually they will need a bigger pot — or some fresh potting mix. Repot plants in the spring when they are just starting to grow. Vigorous root growth will allow the plant to adjust to its new container quickly.

When it comes time to repot, choose an organic soilless medium made specifically for potting houseplants (maybe even specific to your species of houseplant). There are many to chose from, or you can make your own (see Potting Mixes for Certified Organic Production).

Choose a pot that is bigger than the current container, but not huge. A pot that is too-big can encourage root rot and other problems because the soil will remain wet for days, or even weeks before it can be used by the plant.

Take care with the root system when repotting to avoid damage. Carefully firm the soil around the root ball without compacting the soil. Leave enough space at the top of the new container for water and water thoroughly. (Click on Repotting Houseplants for step-by-step instructions.)

How to help your plants beat the heat in summer

QUESTION: We’re midway through the summer holidays and I’ve finally got some time to spend in my garden, but it’s struggling because of the heat. Do you have any tips to help me look after my plants and help them survive the hot weather?

ANSWER: Summer may not seem like an ideal season for plants but with a little extra care they can still do well at this time of year.

Veteran gardening expert Judy Horton (pictured) says as long as there is plenty of water, most plants will still grow well in summer.

“Where the problems come in is when you get those really hot days,” she says. “Once it gets over 40C then plants fry really quickly.”

Judy, who still presents gardening shows on radio and edits Garden Clubs Of Australia’s quarterly magazine, Our Gardens, says plants can get sunburnt on very hot days.

“On the other hand it’s maximum growth time so it can be a lovely time in the garden,” she says. “You’ve just got to be a bit wary, particularly on those hot days.”

media_camera If hot weather is forecast get out into the garden with the hose first thing in the morning or late in the evening.

BEAT THE HEAT

If hot weather is forecast get out into the garden with the hose first thing in the morning or late in the evening.

“I think the best time is in the evening,” Judy says. “Although you need to be a little bit careful with plants you know suffer from diseases.

“If you’re going to water plants like roses in the evening, keep the leaves dry because otherwise they stay wet all night and it’s absolutely prime breeding ground for fungus.

“Watering at night is good because you’ve got the whole night for the plant to take up moisture out of the soil.”

media_camera Line the insides of potted plants with some bubble wrap, it makes a really good insulator.

POT POTENTIAL

Potted plants are particularly vulnerable in summer because they can dry out more quickly than plants sitting in garden beds.

“It’s important to look after pots because they sit in a limited area of potting mix and should be reasonably well drained — they don’t hold moisture as well and they dry out much more quickly,” Judy says.

“If you see a plant that regularly flags on warmer days, then consider what you can do to help it survive. It may need to go into a bigger pot, or it might need to go somewhere to get more shelter from really hot sun.”

“If you can, move potted plants somewhere else so they get a little bit more protection, for example morning sun and afternoon shade.

“And another good tip with pots is to group them together — a pot sitting next to another pot is not going to get as hot as a pot on its own.

“Also, because pots can get hot and dry out, if you’ve got a pot that’s going to be in a warmish spot, I often suggest lining the insides — not the bottom, don’t interfere with their drainage — but line the insides with some bubble wrap, it makes a really good insulator.

“If the sides of the pot get hot, it doesn’t so readily transfer the heat through to the potting mix.”

Soil wetters, available at nurseries and hardware stories, are also a valuable weapon in the fight against heat.

media_camera It is possible to successfully plant in summer and choosing drought-tolerant plants is a good start. Photographer: Nicholas Watt

PLANTING POWER

While spring and autumn are recognised as the best season to get long-term plants established, Judy says it is possible to successfully plant in summer as well and choosing drought-tolerant plants is a good start.

“Even if it’s a drought-tolerant plant, it’s very important to regularly water for at least the first six weeks, until the roots get established,” she says.

“Succulents are good, certainly local natives, hard-leafed plants, and plants with hairy leaves such as lavender, because the hairs on the leaves help to protect them from the sun.

“Plants from other
hot and dry areas of the world, such as South Africa, California, and the Medi-terranean, are often the best ones to choose, parti-cularly if you are trying to establish them in the summertime.”

TIPS FOR SUMMER GARDENING

Do

● Water at night or in the morning

● Keep a close eye on your pot plants and move out of the heat if they are struggling

● Invest in a quality soil wetter product

● Group pots together

● Select drought-tolerant plants

● Choose plants from other hot and dry areas
of the world

Don’t

● Let water get on the leaves of plants such as roses, which are vulnerable to disease

● Leave a pot struggling in a hot spot on its own. Grouping pots together will help them stay cooler and make watering easier

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