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:
Typically all houseplants do well with a soilless potting mix that consists of pine bark, coconut coir, and compost or worm castings. The pine bark allows air pockets in the soil, which helps the roots to breathe. It also drains water and prevents the soil from becoming too soggy.
Before I learned about the importance of using pine bark in the potting mix, plant care was full of guesswork. Most nurseries will recommend a potting mix that is primarily coir- or peat-based. I adhered to this until I saw Tapla’s post on the Dave’s Garden forum which talked about the importance of using bigger and more rigid particles in the pot.
It opened my eyes to the reason why my plants suffered in the past—and why many people have issues with their houseplants: Coir and peat tend to turn mushy in the pot and doesn’t allow the water to drain thoroughly enough. The result is that water ends up sitting at the bottom of the pot, and it suffocates the roots of the plants because the soggy soil blocks oxygen flow to the roots.
Both oxygen and water are vital for root health. So it follows that a lack of oxygen to the roots will cause it to decay. Without healthy roots drawing in nutrients from the soil, the plant will wither and die. This was what I had been missing all along!
There should be roughly twice as much pine bark in the mix as everything else combined, so the ratio would be 5-1-1 for bark, coir, and worm castings or compost. The pine bark allows the oxygen and drainage while the other parts of the mix hold in water to supply it to the roots.
For plants that are indoors where you have more control over the watering levels, the best size of pine bark 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 if you want to retain more moisture. Get bigger chunks if you want the water to drain out faster. This will depend on the plant’s liking for moisture as well as where you place it. For plants that are exposed to rain, use bigger chunks of pine bark from one-half to several centimeters. Choose the size according to how much rain the plants are likely to receive.
Two weeks before planting, get some garden lime fine powder and thoroughly mix in one tablespoon of lime per gallon of potting mix. Remember that the smaller particles of the worm castings will fill in the gaps between the pine bark bits, so the extra castings don’t add to a whole lot of extra volume to the overall mix. After liming, cover the top of the pot to retain the moisture of the mix and leave it there for two weeks so the lime can be soaked into the mix and the Calcium in the lime can be made available for use by the plants. I actually don’t wait the full two weeks and usually soak it for at least one day before potting.
Liming the mix will reduce the acidity, which is important if you use pine bark because it is more acidic. Most houseplants like a slightly acidic-to-neutral pH level of soil, so neutralizing the acidity of the pine bark is essential for your plants to do well.
You can use 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 uncovered for twenty-four hours to let the castings seep into the water and the air activate the microbial life in the castings. 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!