As you may already know, I am a proud plant mama to wonderful green babies such as N Joy Pothos, Golden Pothos, Dieffenbachia Picta, Dieffenbachia Camilla, Pink Chinese Evergreen, Variegated English Ivy, Marble Queen Pothos, Satin Pothos, Dischidia, Arabian Jasmine, and Peace Lily.
Like many people who try to grow houseplants, my first batch of plants either died or was too languid to keep. I had overwatered all of them and killed them with kindness.
So the second time around, I did my research on every single type of plant I wanted to own, and it’s a lot more enjoyable to look at the indoor garden these days. Gone are the days of stressing over why that leaf drooped or had brown spots on it. Now I am armed with wonderful knowledge that YouTube and blogs have given me.
I belong to a bunch of plant-lover facebook groups, and people kept posting questions about common issues with container plants. It made me realize that most people who own houseplants don’t do any research on it other than what their plant shops told them about plant care.
In an effort to help humanity take wonderful care of houseplants, here are the most valuable things to know about their care:
Depending on the humidity level in the air where you live, houseplants may not need as much water as you may think. Most people kill their plants by watering too much and too often.
For all of the houseplants that I’ve listed above, the ideal moisture level for the plants is a light layer of moisture in the soil instead of soggy soil. The thing that makes it tricky is that you can’t always tell the moisture level at the roots just by looking at the top of the soil.
An easy way to get around this is to stick your whole finger into the soil as deep as it’ll go. If a lot of soil sticks to your finger when you take it out, refrain from watering and wait a few days to test the soil again.
Also check the bottom of the pot and poke through the drainage holes to check the moisture level there. If there is a lot of moisture at the bottom but the top one to four inches of soil is dry, then you can wait a few days until the bottom of the soil is less moist before you water.
This helps to prevent root rot from overwatering because the top layer of the soil may be dry, but if the root system is still moist, then it has enough water and should be left alone until the water dries up a bit more.
If the bottom of the soil is not moist or is lightly moist, and the top one to four inches is dry without soil sticking to your finger, then it’s a good sign for watering.
Some blogs will suggest watering it thoroughly, but I have found that this advice can lead to overwatering the plant and making the soil way too moist for the roots to breathe properly. Roots need to breathe in order to grow.
It’s a lot easier to fix the underwatering issue than the overwatering one, and most houseplants can recover nicely from underwatering as long as you give it some water if you see that the soil is too dry. If you overwater the plant though, you might have to change the soil for the plant to recover, and it’s a lot more work to fix since you’d have to buy new soil, displace your plants, risk hurting the root system, then plant it into a new pot. So in short, avoid overwatering.
The safest way to water is to wait until the top layer of the soil is completely dry, and when you stick your finger deep into the soil, its moisture level at the deeper level is only ten to forty percent moist. Each plant has a different set of needs depending on how much heat, humidity, light, airflow, drainage, and nutrients it is getting. So there isn’t a set answer to how much to water and how often.
Some plants will need for the soil to dry out considerably, while others need a light drink once the top half-inch is dry.
You will get to know your plant over time by watching how the leaves react to your watering amount and frequency and by testing the soil moisture each time.
Stay on the safe side by watering one-fourth to one cup of water each time, erring on the side of less water for smaller pots and more water for larger pots. Remember that larger pots hold water for a longer time if there’s still a lot of soil left in it (and the root system hasn’t grown so much that it has taken over the soil in the pot).
For bigger pots with a lot of soil in them, the roots will stay moist longer because there is more moist soil in it. So bigger pots in general will need to wait longer for another drink of water.
The frequency and amount of water you use will also depend on the type of soil you plant in, as well as the amount of humidity in the air.
Typically all houseplants do well with a soilless potting mix that consists of pine bark (already treated and soaked in water), coconut coir (already treated and expanded in water), and a draining material such as pumice.
The mix should be two to five parts pine bark, one part coconut coir, and one part drainage such as pumice. The size of the pine bark and pumice will depend on whether you want to drain the water faster or not.
For plants that are out in the open with exposure to rain, you can err on the side of bigger chunks from one-half to several centimeters for pine bark and pumice. Bigger chunks will help it drain faster, so choose the size according to how much rain the plants are likely to receive. For plants that are indoor where you have more control over the watering levels, the best size of pine bark and pumice is around two to six millimeters. You want something that drains well, yet retains enough moisture to keep the roots hydrated. Get smaller particles of pine bark, pumice, or even use pearlite if you want to retain more moisture. Get bigger chunks if you want the water to drain out faster. Pearlite often floats to the top of the potting mix due to its light weight, so it is best to keep the pearlite use minimal if you use it. Pumice tends to stay in place better, so it is a better alternative to pearlite when it comes to drainage.
Houseplants typically don’t need a ton of fertilizer if the potting mix contains good nutrients, but fertilizing lightly will give your plants much better growth and vitality.
You can start with an organic fertilizer such as worm castings spread on top of the soil around the base of the plant. Each time you water, a bit of the fertilizer seeps into the soil, effectively acting as a slow-release fertilizer.
To prevent the nutrients from evaporating from the fertilizer, you can dig up a small crevice around the base of the plant at the top of the soil, put in the worm castings, then spread some of the potting mix over the worm castings to seal it in.
It’s good to refresh the worm castings every month or so if your plant is still growing new leaves, even if it’s not the “official” growing season.
For plants that have a bushy plant head which makes it hard to place dry worm castings at the top of the soil, you’ll want to make a liquid mixture of one teaspoon castings per cup of water. Soak it for twenty-four hours to let the castings seep into the water. Water the plant once a month with this mixture.
It’s better to under-fertilize than to over-fertilize, so start with a modest amount of worm castings and you can add a bit more if you think the plant lacks nutrients.
This one was a hard lesson to learn, but most houseplants will wither in direct sunlight because the light will burn your leaves and weaken your plant!
They thrive in places where there’s a lot of natural sunlight that bounced off of a surface first before reaching the plant. So keep those houseplants away from direct rays.
East-facing windows are the best location if you want to place your plants right next to the window because the sunlight coming from this direction is just right for your plants to thrive. Some plants might need a bit of distance even from an East-facing window if their leaves are delicate, so watch for the leaves’ reaction if you place it close to the East-facing window. Move it a bit further away if the leaves show signs of weakening or drying up even though your watering level and the soil is fine.
If your plants are facing a South- or West-facing window, then you’ll want to keep the plants away from the direct rays of the sun because the sunlight coming from this direction is too harsh to be experienced directly by houseplants. However, Arabian Jasmine plants and other flowers do well in full sun exposure, so flowering plants that do well with full sun should go right next to South- and West-facing windows.
If your plants start getting holes on leaves or show other indications of pest issues, cut away the infected leaves and stems, then spray the plant with a mixture of Neem oil and water every three days. Water with the mixture once every few weeks until the issue goes away.
If the pest issue doesn’t go away, you can move on to a Wood Vinegar mixture to cure your plants of bugs and pests. I haven’t tried this one yet, but have heard that it does wonders for restoring health to plants. Its usage is similar to Neem oil, where you can both spray and water a diluted mixture of it.
Sometimes you can run into root rot issues even if your watering level is not excessive. This can happen if the existing root system of your plant is too shallow to take in enough nutrients or absorb the water fast enough. When this happens, there is excess water in the soil that isn’t being absorbed and used by the roots, so the water is just sitting there and the roots eventually rot due to this excess water.
The issue of a weak and shallow root system typically happens if you buy a plant that is in its very beginning stages of life, or if you buy it online where its root system gets disturbed in the shipping process.
Cutting stems from your plants will help to boost the overall growth of the plant, so you’ll want to prune away any stems that don’t look good to you.
When pruning, cut between the leaf nodes. Leaf nodes are the places where the leaves grow outward from the stem. You’ll want to go vertically down the stem from the leaf node and cut it just before the next leaf node.
If there are any dead leaves or stems, remove them from your pot to protect your soil from developing mold.
It’s important to have some airflow near your plants to help the air circulate throughout the plant area and help your plants absorb the oxygen they need to live.
However, if the air is too humid, this will cause some plants grow moldy and weak, so close that window if the air outside is too moist. Turn on the AC on dry or cool setting, or a dehumidifier if the air is too humid where you live. Remember to open up the windows again for oxygen whenever the air is not as humid, such as in the morning.
The last part of plant care is patience. Sometimes amid excitement over the plants, people end up watering or fertilizing way too much, and this over-enthusiasm ends up killing the plant.
Water modestly, fertilize modestly, give it the right amount of sunlight, nutrients, humidity, and air.
Then when all of that has been done, be patient and allow your plants to communicate with you through its state. You can adjust the water, air, light, humidity, and nutrient level as needed.
When you’ve done all of the above, go do something else and every so often, stop to enjoy your plant!