Houseplants have been enjoying a boom in popularity in recent years (hot on the heels of instafamous succulents), and species once resigned to the seventies or art classrooms are now common in homes and workspaces. Great for bringing a bit of the outside in, and with proven positive effects upon air quality (microorganisms in the soil remove VOCs such as benzene, toluene and xylene whilst the plants themselves remove carbon dioxide) to the point that NASA investigated the effect for use in space craft), there are a whole heap of reasons why you might have (or be considering) houseplants in your life.
We know that our side tables, stools and bar stools are often purchased with the intention of being used as plant stands, and because you can barely move in Dave’s house without brushing against some greenery (such is his partner Lou’s love of house plants) we thought we’d ask her for some tips on keeping house plants healthy. Because let’s face it: For many of us it’s one thing heading home from the garden centre with a lush tropical plant, but it’s quite another thing keeping it alive and healthy.
The first key point to remember is that all plants are very different in their needs. Some may require lots of light whilst others really don’t, some need regular watering whereas some should be left to dry out in between watering, some you need to water from the top and other from the bottom. The list goes on. It’s a horticultural minefield out there!
Some General Tips
When you get home with a new plant, google it and find out what will keep it happy and healthy. If you’re starting to collect a lot of plants than there are some good books out there; The House Plant Expert (Dr. D.G.Hessayon) was first published in the seventies and there are millions of copies out there because the information in it is still current today.
Regularly clean the leaves of your plants with a damp cloth to stop dust collecting on them that can encourage spider mites and other pests.
Feed your plants in the summer months when they are growing (you can buy plant food in the supermarket, as well as garden centres).
Water your plants more in the hotter summer months than through the winter.
If you’re repotting, do so in spring.
If your plants are still dying even when you’ve been caring for them correctly, inspect them for signs of pests or disease. Spider mites are a very common problem – if you find them then separate that plant from any others to avoid contamination, and then order a bottle of neem oil online (it’s a plant-based insecticide) and spray the leaves.
If tropical plants are placed in direct sunlight behind glass (such as on a bright window sill) the leaves can get scorched and burnt.
If the leaves of your plant start to become brown or droop then check how often you are watering them (it could be too much or too little). They might also require some plant food.
How to Care For Five Popular Plants
Monstera Deliciosa (a.k.a. Swiss Cheese Plant)
These popular plants are pretty low maintenance. They like plenty of indirect light and regular watering (letting the soil almost dry out between watering). Monsteras grow towards the light and can really spread out, so it’s a good idea to turn your plant a little every few days so that it doesn’t end up growing off to one side in the direction of the light.
String of Pearls (Senecio)
Another plant that likes indirect light, this member of the succulent family likes good drainage and being allowed to dry out between being watered – the eternal search being for the balance of watering, but not too much.
Pilea (a.k.a. Chinese Money Plant)
Like bright but indirect light. Don’t let them sit in wet soil, but also don’t let the soil dry out completely – it’s a fine balance! Feed them regularly (once every three weeks or so during the summer) and keep their leaves free of dust.
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum)
Spider plants are one of the most popular of all houseplants (they’ve been grown as an indoor plant for over 200 years) largely because of how adaptable they are, and because they’re so easy to keep (they’re basically pest-free!). Site in a well lit space out of direct sunlight, and water (and feed) frequently from spring through to autumn but then more sparingly in winter (or the leaves will develop brown streaks). Pale, limp leaves in winter are a sign of too much heat and too little light. You can propagate the little plantlets at the end of the long stalks by pegging them down in compost until they’ve taken root, before cutting the stem.
Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata)
These plants have grown in popularity, probably due to them often being sold in certain German supermarket chains fairly cheaply. They are however fussy and really hard to look after. They require lots of sunshine, and no cold draughts. They should be watered no more than once each week, and the soil needs to be allowed to completely dry out in-between watering as they are very susceptible to root rot. If you do suspect root rot, then one course of action is to take the plant out of its pot completely, hose all of the soil off the roots leaving the stem and roots completely exposed, and then repot.