• The Plant Den

Plant Care: The Ten Golden Rules.

For those who might not have heard of him, Dr Hessayon is an English Author and Botanist whose writings on plant-care are considered indispensable.

His best selling book, The Houseplant Expert, first published in 1960 has never been out of print. There was a copy in my mother's bookcase when I was growing up, there are two now in my own bookcase. It's no exaggeration to call it the plant Bible and if you buy no other book on plant-care, make it this one. There's no need to buy a brand new edition, this book has had a print run every year for the past 60 years, so there are plenty of second-hand copies to be found online (thank you Abe Books) which means you can own the writings of the World's foremost authority on houseplants for the price of a takeaway coffee.

In the introductory pages of The Houseplant Expert, Hessayon sets out his 'Ten Golden Rules of Plant Care', and these are the practices and principals I want to share with you today. Here they are:

1) DON'T DROWN THEM. The easiest way to kill a houseplant is to over-water it. Hessayon reminds us that roots need air as well as water, and that perpetually damp compost will lead to certain death for almost all plants.

2) GIVE THEM A REST. Those still learning plant care are surprised to discover that most plants require a Winter rest period, where they require less water, less feeding and less heat than during the active growth period.

3) ACCEPT THE LOSS OF TEMPORARY PLANTS. Here he reminds us that some popular gift plants (Cyclamen, Chrysanthemum and Gloxina) will die down in a matter of weeks. This shouldn't be considered a failure on the part of the carer, these types of flowering pot plants are just 'temporary residents'.

4) GIVE THEM EXTRA HUMIDITY. For plants preferring increased levels of humidity (tropical foliage plants such as Calatheas for example) Dr Hessayon suggests misting and grouping plants together to encourage a moist micro-climate around the plants.

5)TREAT PROBLEMS PROMPTLY. A reminder that whether you're a novice or an expert, problems at some point are inevitable. "One or two scale insects or mealy bugs are easily picked off, an infestation may be incurable. Over-watering is not fatal at first, but kills when prolonged. Learn to recognise the early signs of trouble."

6) GROUP THEM TOGETHER. We can consider this early plant-gang advocacy! "Plants look better and grow better when grouped together". Amen.

7)LEARN TO REPOT. Two years is about the length of time you can allow to pass before needing to repot your plants, thereby giving them a new lease of life.

8) CHOOSE WISELY. This is such an important principal and the reason for a great many plant related failures. You must try to use the conditions you're able to provide as a guide when selecting a plant. It's no use picking a plant for looks alone if the conditions within your home won't allow it to flourish. "Even the expert can't make a shade-lover survive in a sunny window."

9) HAVE THE PROPER TOOLS. Here Hessayon suggests buying a watering can suitable for houseplant use - with a long, narrow spout for directional watering. Also a mister, which will increase humidity and reduce dusty leaves. He also adds a decent brand of compost, a collection of pots, stakes and plant ties, drip trays, liquid fertiliser and small secateurs to the list.

10) CHECK THE PLANT'S SPECIFIC NEEDS. All plant care is individual and there is no such thing as 'one size fits all'. So temperature, humidity, light and watering requirements will need to be adapted accordingly. Learn about your plants. Where do they grow in the wild? If you can replicate the conditions there you stand an excellent chance of keeping your houseplants happy for years to come.

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