A Crash Course on Taking Care of Houseplants
I once killed a cactus. If you didn’t know that was possible, I’m here to tell you, it absolutely is. You might wonder why after such an incident I would even bother again with flora ever again, and honestly, it’s because I really believe that having something alive and growing in your house really adds to your overall happiness and well-being. Plus, according to NASA research, houseplants can be incredibly effecient at cleaning indoor air of certain toxins like formaldehyde, octane, benzene, trichloroethylene, and more. They also state, “Research has also suggested that plants play a psychological role in welfare, and that people actually recover from illness faster in the presence of plants.”
The cactus killing incident was years ago. As much as I wish I could say I was born a plant whisperer, I simply wasn’t, but I’ve since acquired a few new skills in plant care. Everything I know about tending for the greenery in my apartment, I learned from the pros and through trial and error. Namely, I did a super helpful interview once upon a time during my former life as an editor at a women’s lifestyle site with the Plants and Gifts Category Manager of UrbanStems, Tugce Menguc.
Here are my top tips about how to keep your houseplants alive for total beginners.
Pick the right plant for your environment. Things to ask yourself when you’re picking out plants is how much light do you get and what’s the temperature like in your home? I recall in my previous interview, I learned that while succulents are trendy and have a reputation for being easy to care for, that’s actually a total fallacy. Succulents are desert plants, so they require a rather extreme environment in order to thrive. Unless you live somewhere warm, dry with ample bright, bright sunlight, your succulent won’t likely survive. If you already have a succulent — be sure to keep it on the sunniest sill in your home. Personally, in our apartment, we only have one room that gets enough sunlight for our succulents, so that’s where they all live. The rest of the plants in our house are all ones that do better in indirect sunlight or low light conditions. Also, love your fluffy, curious pets? Be aware that there are several kinds of houseplants that are toxic to animals. Effects from ingesting these plants can run from upset stomach to kidney failure to worse, so be sure to do your research before you buy.
Check maintenance levels. Some plants are simply more high-maintenance than others. Some require constant moisture and watering. Some need a constant temperature or need to face a specific cardinal direction (yes, really). Some grow rapidly and require lots of repotting and space. Unless you love a challenge and are advanced in the plant-caretaking sphere, look for slow-growing low-light plants that don’t need too much watering. Some recommendations you might want to look into are Pothos plants, snake plants, money trees, dracaenas, and ZZ plants. One thing I learned was that dark green, leafy species do better in low-light conditions than pale green ones because they are highly efficient at photosynthesizing. I usually water these plants once every two weeks or so, and I water my succulents and cactus (I got another one) just once a month. For most plants, you want to allow the soil to dry up completely between waterings. Just put your finger on the soil to check the dryness.
It’s better to under water than the overwater. One of the primary reasons why houseplants die is due to root rot, which is actually caused by overwatering and poor drainage in your pot. Since all of the plants in my home are mostly ones that actually do better with a little bit of neglect, I only water my plants twice a week. As for poor drainage, that leads me to my next point.
Make sure your potted plants have proper drainage. You don’t want to pack the potting soil super dense in your pots. And before you even put in any soil, you’ll want to lay down a layer or pebbles or gravel at the base of your pot that will allow excess water to easily run through. This might go without saying, but be sure to have a container to catch this excess water.
Learn how to water properly. I used to never know how much water my plants needed or how quickly I ought to water. Tip number one is water slowly and in spurts. I usually fill up my watering can and give each plant a small drink. Then, I refill and rewater each plant again. Taking a break in between allows the plant to absorb more liquid, rather than just having the water run through the pot. For plants that have a draining pot, you want to saturate the soil completely. For non-draining pots, you want the soil to be moisturized just enough (usually no more than a quarter of the pot’s size). Also, watch the water temps. Plants like tepid water rather than hot or cold.
Watch the seasons. Plants need different things during different seasons, like they might need more water in the summer since they dry out more quickly in hot temperatures. Also, spring is growth season. Spring is also the best time to repot your plants, which is my next point.
Fertilizer isn’t necessary but having the right sized pot is. I’ve actually to date, never fertilized my plants, and they seem to be doing just fine. What you do want to be careful of is that your plants aren’t outgrowing their pots. Luckily, since my plants are all really slow-growing, I haven’t had to repot them since originally putting them into their permanent homes. If you see roots poking through the drainage hole at the bottom of your planter planter or pushing out of the the top, or is even growing imbalanced in the pot, it might be time to repot.