Indoor PlantCare Guide
Let’s put it out there, indoor plants are good for you. For starters they look attractive, but did you know they can improve your mood and reduce stress levels. That’s just for starters, scientific research has shown that they can also increase productivity, reduce blood pressure, fatigue, and even get rid of headaches.
Your little houseplant will also absorb carbon dioxide from the air and in turn release oxygen (basically the opposite of what we do when we breathe). This freshens up the air around us and helps to reduce harmful toxins in the atmosphere. Not bad!!
If you want to create a luscious green oasis indoors but, like a lot of Brits, you’ve struggled to keep your indoor plants alive then we’re here to guide you through the dos and don’ts. We’ll cover how to look after indoor plants, house plants that like direct sunlight and how often to water.
COMMON INDOOR PLANTS
It’s very likely that your house plant has originally come from a tropical or semi-tropical climate. This means they like a warmer environment – that’s why they’re ideal for growing in our homes.
If you’re looking for a new plant, there are a wide range of sizes, leaf shapes and colours for you to choose from. Not every plant will be suited to the conditions of your house, and they will vary on how easy or difficult they are to look after.
Some of the most common plants include traditional ones like the Boston Fern or the delicate flowers of the African Violet. Maybe you fancy the dramatic Dragon Tree with its sword shaped leaves which is ideal for beginners or something more elegant like the Moth Orchid. Finally, you could opt for something a little bit more unusual like the String of Pearls plant which has tiny pea-shaped leaves.
INDOOR LIGHT CONDITIONS
Light is incredibly important for your houseplant. To stay healthy, it needs three key elements – oxygen, water, and light. When delivered in the correct combination your plant will cleverly covert them into carbohydrates (some might argue that technically they are making glucose, but we won’t go there) which then helps them to grow and look healthy.
Now, we all know that each house, flat or apartment is different and it goes without saying that the light conditions in your room are going to be different. Too much light and your plant could get its leaves burnt, too little light and it could develop brown patches on the leaves and stop growing.
Here’s what you need to look out for:
Low light indoor plants
If your room is a bit dark during the day then it’s probably north facing (get hold of a compass app on your phone if you’re not sure). These rooms receive little direct sunlight, and you’ll need a low light houseplant that’s up to the job (they also work well in a dark corner of a room). Go for an incredibly tough houseplant that can adapt to darker conditions like the Aspidistra, Peace Lily, ZZ Plant or Spider Plant.
Plants that like medium light conditions
If you’re room is East or West facing then it’s going to get an even amount of sunlight throughout the day. Most plants like these conditions especially if the light is indirect. Be careful that they don’t end up sitting in too much direct sunlight (especially in west facing rooms when the intensity of the sun will still be strong). Go for plants like the popular Calathea, the Swiss Cheese Plant, the Umbrella Tree or maybe something a bit more dramatic like the Blue Star Fern.
Plants that like direct sunlight
If you’ve got a brightly lit room that captures the sun for most of the day, then you’ve probably got a South facing room. Like us humans, most plants can only take so much sunbathing and you may need to provide some shade from the midday sun. However, hardy plants like Aloe Vera, Panda Plant and, unsurprisingly considering they live naturally in the desert, the Cacti and Succulents love the sun.
HOW OFTEN TO WATER
How much to water your plant is all about being observant. Every plant is different, some need regular top ups while others can go for weeks without a drink. Generally, plants in small pots which can’t hold as much water will dry out quicker than those in larger containers. Plants in a warm room (think of the South and West facing areas here) will also need checking more frequently. Finally, in winter there is less light and your plant isn’t growing season. It shouldn’t need as much water although be careful that the central heating doesn’t dry it out too quickly.
To check if your plant needs watering touch the top of the soil in the pot to see if it is dry. If it is, then its ready for a drink but if it still feels wet then come back in a few days and check again. If you’ve a tendency to be a bit forgetful then you might want to choose a plant that positively thrives on being neglected, for example the Snake Plant (or Mother-In-Law’s Tongue as it is also known) or a Jade Plant.
There are two ways to apply the water. You can either go in at the top and add water directly to the soil (just avoid splashing the leaves while you’re doing it). Don’t worry about giving it too much, you need to add enough water so that it starts to come out at the bottom. Just make sure your pot has holes in the bottom so that the water can escape! After watering, sit your plant in a bowl for 10 minutes so that the plant can soak any water back up.
Another option is to fill a bowl with water and sit your plant in it. Your plant will slowly soak up as much water as it needs. Keep topping up the water until it no longer gets absorbed.
REPOTTING YOUR PLANT
You’ve got your plant in the right position and you’re watering like a superstar. To keep everything going along smoothly you’re going to need to give it some new soil every year – after all that’s where your houseplant gets all its nutrients.
That means it’ll need repotting. If you fancy growing the size of your plant or, if the roots are coming out the bottom of the pot, then you’ll need a bigger container. Increase the size by about 5cm for small plants and 10cm bigger for your larger ones. Make sure you choose a pot that has holes in the bottom for drainage!
Repotting is easy, here's how:
- Always do it in spring before you plant reaches its peak growing period.
- Turn the pot on its side and, holding the plant at the stem, ease it out of the pot
- Remove a third of the old soil from around the plant and very gently loosen the roots
- Put new soil into the pot (about a third of the way up) and place your plant on top. Make sure the base of the plant stem is sitting about a centimetre below the rim. Add more soil around the plant base until its sitting securely in the pot
- Water well!
Your plant will behave differently depending on the time of year. Here are a few tips to remember:
is the start of the growing season for the house plant. With all this hard work your plants are going to need a bit of a helping hand. Maximise their energy by giving them a feed once a month with a houseplant fertilizer and check their water more regularly.
During the summer months keep up with the watering and feeding. If you’ve got a flowering plant, make sure you remove the dead flowers so it can use all its energy on the new blooms. Again, water and feed regularly.
is when the growing season ends and you can ease up a little on the amount of watering and feeding. As the light levels get lower your plant might need to change position to keep it healthy.
During winter your plant really slows down and, with less light available, it doesn’t create as much energy and probably won’t need watering much. As the central heating kicks in it can dry out the air and you may need give your plant a regular mist. Cut off any dying leaves and don’t let your plant end up somewhere draughty – it won’t thank you for it!
GENERAL CARE TIPS
Plants will generally live between two and five years although it’s not unheard of for them to live for decades. It goes without saying, the more you look after your plant the longer it will live.
Apart from your watering regime your plant will also like a little bit of misting now and again! A lot of house plants originate from tropical climates which are naturally humid and you need to recreate this environment. It also helps clean their leaves and remove dust that might stop light getting into their system. About once a week spray the leaves of the plant with some room temperature water from a mister (basically a bottle with a nozzle on the top that sprays out a fine mist). Just be careful not to overdo it.
Give your house plants an extra bit of TLC by giving them a polish now and again. The main reason for this is to enable the plant to absorb as much sunlight as possible. Simply run a damp cloth over the leaves or, if you plant has fuzzy or hairy leaves, use a soft brush. If you’re plant is big with far too many leaves to count, try putting it in the shower and giving it a gentle hose down with the shower!
Don’t forget bugs. Just as our gardens outside attract pests, so do our indoor plants and you will need to check the leaves to see if any are lurking. The most common bugs are aphids, spider mites, fungus gnats, mealybugs, scale, thrips, and whiteflies. So how do you get rid of them? First isolate the plant, then deep clean the leaves with soapy water (use a natural soap) and a damp cloth. Remove any eggs you find with some cotton wool soaked in alcohol. Keep checking until the bugs are gone.
PET FRIENDLY HOUSEPLANTS
Ok, so we know that plants look amazing in the home, but you might need to be a bit careful if you own a dog or cat - some of them can be dangerous.
If you have a pet that likes to nibble it’s worth doing your research first. The list of plants is incredibly long and how ill your pet gets will depend on the type of plant and how much they eat. Some particularly toxic plants include Aloe Vera, Dumbcane, Dracaena, Lilies, and Poinsettia.
You can also try and deter your pet from getting too close by putting some lemon peel on the soil in the pots and spraying it with diluted lemon juice. If you’ve got a particularly curious pet, or you don’t want to take the risk, then you could create a pet free room or put the plants high out of reach (not always possible with a cat). If you want to be extra cautious choose from one of the many dog and cat safe indoor plants which include Haworthia, Chinese Money Plant or the Jade Necklace.
With these helpful tips you should have a happy and healthy house plant – now sit back and enjoy!