Beginner Plant Care Tips - Houseplant Edition

Beginner Plant Care Tips - Houseplant Edition

7 minute read

Plant Pros aren’t born with green thumbs. Like all hobbies, indoor gardening requires patience, practice, and sometimes killing a few plants in the beginning. For that reason, I always suggest new plant parents start with one or two inexpensive, low-maintenance plants. It is a lot easier on the soul and wallet when the plant you just overwatered to death wasn’t the price of a car payment. Also, it is surprisingly easy to go from zero to thirty plants in one quick trip to the garden center, but I urge caution. Too many plants at once will turn into a job, defeating the purpose of an enjoyable hobby.

How do you pick the perfect plant? Location, Location, Location, it's not just a real estate mantra. Does your home office desk need a little greenery to make those Zoom Meetings bearable? Were you gifted a plant stand currently used for anything but foliage? Think about where you want to display your plant and start there. Take note of how much space you have to work with and the lighting conditions. Speaking of lighting, have you heard the term bright indirect light and wondered what that means? Here is a handy little graphic that explains indoor light for plants.

Now that you know where you want to place your plant and what kind of light it will live in, it is time to go shopping. Good news, with the renewed interest in gardening (thanks to Pinterest, Instagram & Covid), you have many options. Garden centers, boutique plant shops, and online retailers are all fine choices. If you are unsure where to buy, look for online reviews and ask friends for recommendations. I also suggest shopping local and supporting small businesses when possible.

Time to pick your plant. Look for helpful signs in shops and filters online that say easy-care or low-maintenance to guide you. Understandably it is still easy to be overwhelmed by all the pretty choices. If you want to go shopping with some plants in mind, this graphic has a few suggestions.

Whether your new plant was purchased locally or arrived via #plantmail, getting it accustomed to the new surroundings is the next step. FYI, it is not unusual for shipped plants to have a broken leaf or dry soil. Sickly or bug-infested plants, however, are not okay. Contact the seller immediately if you encounter those problems, and always inspect store-purchased plants carefully.

The aforementioned pre-plant care activities will set you up for success. Now it is time to take care of that new plant baby following the
8 Keys to Happy Houseplants. Check out this summarized graphic and keep reading for a detailed explanation.

Select high-quality soil with the right characteristics for your plant (fast-draining, chunky, etc.). Garden centers and online retailers have many options for soil blends. Look at the label to find products made for your new plant. Choices include orchid potting mix, tropical houseplant soil, succulent soil, and others. Feeling fancy? Some boutique shops offer custom soil blends made with high-quality ingredients and fertilizer already mixed in.

Use the correct size pots for your plants with adequate drainage. Most plants arrive in plastic nursery pots. They may not be aesthetically pleasing but usually have excellent built-in drainage. If you decide to change the nursery pot select something with good drainage. The size should be the same or slightly larger than the current pot your plant is living in. I will admit to having a semi-large collection of ceramic pots with no drainage (cachepots), but they are purely for decoration. Most of my houseplants are in plastic nursery pots. I water them outside or over a bucket to collect the excess water before putting them back in their decorative homes.

Place your plants where they will receive the perfect amount of light. If you saw the graphic on indoor light above, you will remember terms like bright indirect light, and low light. Most nurseries and garden centers make it easy by writing the light requirements on the plant tag or the website description. When in doubt, use Google! Unless your plant is a rare undescribed species from some remote island, the answer is just one internet search away. Simply write the name of the plant + care, and the info will magically appear. I will stress the importance of the light requirements. You may get away with putting a moderate light-loving plant in a low-light area for a while, but it won't thrive.

Water your plants regularly, but not too much. Overwatering is a common cause of houseplant deaths. Too much water can lead to rotting roots, fungal disease, and pests. Weekly watering schedules are a guide, but not perfect. Watering depends on the type of plant, root size, and environmental factors. Your once-a-week routine may not be enough, and sometimes too much. Get dirty (pun intended) and try the finger test! Place your finger in the soil, and if the top 1-2 inches feel dry, it is time to water. If the soil is very wet a week after watering, look for drainage problems. Common issues are decorative pots collecting water and obstructions in the drainage holes. Unless you are growing hydroponic plants, a pool of water is not good.

Feed your plants using the appropriate fertilizer. Without food, plants start to revolt #relateable. Nutrition is what keeps your plant healthy and growing. You do not have to do this often, but you still have to do it. Natural fertilizers will do the trick, but if we are being honest, they smell pretty terrible and don't last as long. I use organic matter and natural fertilizers for vegetable gardening, but that is outside and downwind, a topic for another day. I choose slow-release, continuous feed fertilizers for my houseplants. Select products made for your specific type of plant (succulent, orchid, houseplant, etc.) and remember a few basic rules. Use the recommended amount and frequency. Too much fertilizer will burn your plant. Do not put fertilizer directly on the base of the plant. Spread the product a few inches away from the main stem. Lastly, water the fertilizer in well to activate it.

Wipe down your plants often and remove any dead leaves or dying flowers. Removing rotting plant parts is self-explanatory. Wiping leaves, however, is something you may not have heard of. Like all things in our home, untouched surfaces collect dust, and plants that gather dust attract pests. A necessary step to preventing spider mite soirees is wiping down your plant, top to bottom. Use a paper towel or soft cloth with a small amount of water to clean the leaves and stem. It is a simple but important step that is well worth the time.

Inspect plants for pests or fungus and treat them immediately. So you have gone to the trouble of wiping down your plants, but you still have pests. Why? Don't be too upset, bugs happen. Whether the problem came with the plant or was acquired in your home does not matter. Luckily there are many safe houseplant treatments available online and in garden centers. Look for broad-spectrum houseplant fungicides and insecticides that target several pests and fungal issues. I will take a deep dive into plant problems and how to fix them in another blog.

Repot and trim back overgrown plants. It may be hard to imagine cutting back something that took you several months or years to grow, but it is part of gardening life. As painful as it may be, cutting gangly vines or top-heavy stems can help your plant grow better. And as a bonus, you can, in some cases, propagate those cuttings to create new plants #futureblogpost. The other thing to think about is repotting. If your plant always looks thirsty and has tons of roots popping out of the drainage holes, it may have outgrown its current pot. Repotting sounds more daunting than it actually is. Give it room to grow, but not too much. A new pot should have a couple of extra inches in diameter. Lay some good soil at the bottom and place your plant in the middle. Fill in the sides with more soil, and water it well to remove any air pockets.

You made it!  What sounds like a lot of information with practice becomes second nature. Once you feel confident taking care of one plant you can get wild and buy a few more. Stick to these basics and your home will become a plant paradise in no time.  Thanks for reading!

Happy Gardening,

Joan 🌱


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