• The Plant Den

How to help your houseplant live its best life.

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

So you've brought your new plant home and you're keen to give it a good start. The most important things to get right are:

1) Placement. Where will your plant be happiest? (And here we're mainly talking about light)

2) Watering needs.

The Plant Den send all plants away with a few notes about care, whether you've purchased online or in store, so you'll know already if your plant wants high or low light or is adaptable to something in between. Take a few moments to assess your room and think about where the light falls and how it changes during the day. Bear in mind that whilst a lot of plants will benefit from an hour or two of gentle morning sun, few will tolerate direct afternoon sun, so if you have a South facing aspect, you'll need to place plants a long way from windows to ensure they receive bright but indirect light.

Some plants (Aspidistra, Sansevieria, Cacti) are untroubled by temperature change, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Plants tend to prefer a stable temperature, so be mindful not to place them where they might receive a draught or a chill from a windowpane on a frosty night, or where they'll dry out too quickly from proximity to a heat source.

If you've brought a tropical plant home, you'll want to provide a warm, stable temperature all year round and to do as much as you can to raise localised humidity. E.g. group humidity-loving plants together to enable a microclimate to form, place on a tray of damp gravel, be pro-active with your mister or all of the above. Some people purchase a humidifier, but this may be prioritising your plant's needs over your own! Bathrooms are excellent places for humidity-loving plants providing the light levels are right; so try this room-swap-quick-fix if your tropical plants are looking a little unhappy.

Watering: Just as most plants prefer bright but indirect light, the best general advice on watering is to let the surface of the soil dry out slightly before watering again. The fastest way to kill a plant is to overwater, as it leads directly to root rot and the plant's collapse. Simply feel the compost's surface with your finger to test moisture levels and see if your plant is ready for another watering. Individual plants will have different watering needs and when to water might depend on a range of factors such as: type of plant, time of year, room temperature and potting medium. For this reason, be wary of such general advice as "Water once a week"; it's never quite that simple. Observe their foliage. Some plants (Peace lilies are a great example) will droop considerably through dehydration but can be revived within an hour of a good drink.

Plants do best with room temperature water that's been sat out for 24 hours to allow chlorine and fluoride to dissipate. When watering, it's best to remove the plant from its decorative cache pot and pour water through the soil until it runs out of the holes in the bottom. Then give it a shake and place back in the cache pot. You don't want your plant sitting in water - ever. That's rule 101 again. Overwatering = root rot and plant death.

Other useful tips:

.) Giving pots a quarter turn every time you water will encourage straight, even growth.

.) Using lukewarm water prevents shocking the plant's root system.

.) If fertilizing, do so only in the growing season (Spring to Summer) and put a dash of liquid fertiliser into the watering can with a gallon of water on every third watering round.

.) Remember to reduce watering dramatically (and cease fertilising) October to March as most plants enter their resting phase at this time.

.) Try never to plant directly into a pot without drainage holes. It's a much better practice to keep your plant in it's plastic pot and to put this into a decorative cache pot. This is because the roots need oxygen to survive and will begin to rot when compacted and kept permanently damp. When watering, simply remove from the decorative pot and water until it runs out of the bottom; give it a shake and return it to the pot. This way the plant gets just the right amount of water, no more, no less and you don't need to worry about what's happening with those roots.

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