Photography: Unsplash, iStockPhoto
Even if you don’t have a green thumb, keeping houseplants healthy and happy is easy. With these tips, you can soon have an envy-worthy urban jungle.
One of the important requirements for healthy plants is light. So look around your rooms before you commit to a particular species. Does your space have strong or weak light? Is the light direct or filtered? Although all plants need light, some, like cacti and succulents, prefer more than others, so the amount of light available will guide to you in choosing plants that are right for your surroundings.
Another factor to consider before you buy is the presence of young children or pets in your home. If you have kids, kittens or pups in the house, you need to be sure that what you place at their level isn’t sharp or toxic. Also pay attention to the level of care your chosen plants need. If you tend to be away for long periods of time and your species requires daily care, you need to make sure that there’s someone available to tend to your plants. Do your research and due diligence before you make a trip to the garden centre.
When you’ve picked out the plants you want to buy, check the state of what’s in the pot. Make sure leaves are hydrated, not dry, and that the plant’s roots are covered by soil. If the roots are making their way through the drainage holes you will need to transplant your specimen to a bigger pot. Ensure the soil is damp and that there are no insects present.
Generally, plants like to be placed by east- or south-facing windows. To make sure your plants stay healthy during winter’s darker days, you may want to invest in a plant stand fitted with artificial lights. Incandescent lights are not recommended, as they give off too much heat and not as energy efficient as LED or cool bulb versions. Place the lights about three feet above the plants and install a timer so the lights mimic the cycle of a natural spring or summer day.
One of the most common mistakes plant owners make is to only give plants a little drink of water when what they really need is a good soak (most plants can be watered until liquid comes out of the drainage holes in the pot). Empty any residual water gathered in the saucer after a few minutes to ensure the plant has taken up as much as it needs. Between waterings, a good rule of thumb is to wait until the soil is dry to the touch before rewatering. When in doubt, poke your index finger into the soil: if it’s dry at least one to two inches down, your plant is thirsty! Certain species that have sandy soil in their natural environments, like succulents and cacti, require the soil to be completely dry before getting another drink. Tip: Every time you water, turn your pot a quarter around to help it reach for the sun from every direction and maintain its symmetry.
Plants like 40 to 60 percent humidity, as a general rule, which can be hard to maintain in wintertime when our heating is on. A humidifier placed near your plants and far from your heat vents will undoubtedly help. It’s also possible to increase humidity levels by making a pebble tray. Place pebbles in a dish filled with water and sit your plant on top. The stones keep the pot from sitting right in the water and humidity is created as the water evaporates.
Plant pots are available in virtually any size, shape, colour and material—the one thing to remember when choosing a vessel is to make sure the bottom has proper drainage holes.
Plants that have outgrown their pots are not happy, and they show it. Watch for roots that are coming out of the holes in the drainage pot, signs that the plant is no longer stable in its pot, if it wilts only a couple days after watering, or if a white crust (an accumulation of mineral salts) forms on the sides of the container. If these signs are evident,
it’s time for repotting.
Select a new pot that’s a size bigger than the old one, which means about an inch or more in diameter. To prep plants for being transferred, water them the night before so the soil is moist and easier to work with. On the day of, lay down some soil in the new pot as a base for your plant and add some water to moisten it. Carefully lift and move plants to their new homes, disturbing the roots as little as possible. Tuck in more soil around the plant to about an inch below the lip of the pot. Tip: If you’ve discovered a white crust of mineral deposits on your plant, proceed with a “soil leaching” before repotting: Place the pot in the sink and give the plant lots of water. Continue watering until the liquid running out of the drainage holes is clear, not discoloured, before moving the plant to another vessel.
Natural fertilizers like liquid seaweed or soluble feed help your plants grow. Add them to the soil during the plants’ active period (March to October) every two months, or every month for those with fast growth spurts. Avoid fertilizing sick plants, those with dry soil, or specimens that have just been repotted, as new soil usually already contains fertilizer—wait at least a month.
Dusty houseplants are a nono. Gently clean large leaves with a soft cloth or place small plants in the bathtub and wash them with soapy water before rinsing clean. Use a tooth brush or paintbrush on plants with fluffy leaves. Regular care is the best preventive treatment for insect pests, so inspect your plants regularly and treat them with the proper care.
Easy-Care Plant Choices
- Chinese evergreens (which can be toxic) can thrive in environments with low or dappled light.
- Aspidistras thrive in dappled to bright light, but don’t like direct sun.
- Snake plants are very easy to take care of, but are potentially toxic.
- Ponytail palms enjoy bright light, but can also live in medium light surroundings.
- Dracaena is not a demanding species, but it prefers warm temperatures. Place it in front of a west- or south- facing window.
- Spider plants are tolerant of a variety of environmental conditions. Their discreet flowers are beautiful but not long-lasting.