How to Care for Houseplants: General Info and Specific Examples


Houseplants have become quite popular over the years. Aside from being able to add aesthetic value to your home through its colorful flowers and foliage, plants are quite healthy to have around. In fact, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was able to conduct a study on the benefits of having indoor plants in your home. In this article you will learn the basics from choosing your houseplant and how to take care of it in an indoor environment. You will also learn about the problem most houseplants have and how to solve them.

Like any other living thing, plants would have a set of basic needs in order to survive. However, unlike humans and animals, plants rely on their caretakers to provide them with their needs such as soil, water, lighting, and supplements to thrive. Knowing the basics can definitely make a difference.

The Basics of Houseplant Care

There is a wide range of houseplants in the market today. You can practically get anything from a flowering and foliage type as well as mini-trees, ferns, cacti, and more. Each of these plants would have a different set of needs and it would always be best to research more into the species you are interested in before actually buying one. This way you can make sure you are providing it with the proper care it needs. The key to helping your plant thrive indoors, is to be able to mimic the conditions they are accustomed to, it may not be that easy, but a little effort can definitely go a long way.

Buying Your Houseplant

As we have mentioned, the first thing you should do is research. Take a look at what’s available in the market and look for plants that would fit your lifestyle. If your apartment is not as bright, you would need to look in the low-lit thriving plants. If you are extremely busy, and would not have time to water your plants in a routine, you need to get plants that tolerate a bit of neglect. At the end of the day, it all boils down to your preference and flexibility.

Tips for Buying Houseplants

  • Buy Your Houseplants from a Reputable Nursery. It is important that the nursery or plant supplier you purchase your plants from are actually legitimate source. Buying from sketchy shops will only cost more in the end especially when your plants would die in a few weeks compared to those grown and nurtured under professional care.
  • Never Buy a Plant Displayed Outside. This should be avoided especially during extreme weather conditions such as summer or winter. Too much direct sunlight would cause leaf burns due to the heat from the sun. Cold weather would cause the plant’s cells to deteriorate and would eventually hinder the nutrients or water from flowing through the plant. Plants that flower would be the most sensitive to excessive temperatures.
  • Check for Pests or Disease. Do a thorough inspection of the plant before buying them. Check for signs of any pests, fungal, bacterial, or viral disease. This step is vital especially when you are planning to bring more than one plant or you may have other plants at home. Most pests and diseases are easily distributed among plant population and it would be difficult to control in excess once it has spread throughout your garden.
  • Avoid Buying Plants with Overgrown Roots. Plants that have masses of roots growing out of the drain holes or out of the pot indicate neglect. A good gardener would know to repot plants that have outgrown their current pots. If plants are not repotted, their growth is hindered and the roots would outgrow their pots.
  • For Flowering Plants, Choose the Ones That Have Lots of Bud. It may be enticing to buy flowering plants in full bloom, but the fact of the matter is, plants that are already in full bloom would have a shorter life. Check for those with multiple buds, this way you can be sure that the plant you buy would last long under your care. Most of the time, plants die because they have already lived through their life cycles.
  • Avoid Getting Wilting Plants. As much as you would want to save a plant from dying, buying a wilting plant may not be the best idea. Wilted plants mean that there was neglect at some point in their lives. There is a high chance that the plants may not recover from it.
  • Check for Evenly Moist Soil. Plants in evenly moist soil would be one of the healthiest in the bunch. With excessive watering, plants would wilt due to possible root rots, or fungi. In other cases, the soil may be too dry which doesn’t really allow the plant to absorb any nutrition and go through photosynthesis.
  • Avoid Plants That Have Greenish Mold. Tinge of green mold or moss growing on the surface of your soil indicates excessive watering. By seeing this sign, we can assume that there may be damage on the roots or fungus growing. It would be best to choose plants with moist soil.
  • Buy Plants That Are Clearly Labeled. Plants that are labelled correctly will definitely be easier to identify. Most nurseries would even include care instructions for your plant to make sure you know what you are doing. If you are still not sure of the plant you are buying, keep a photo of the plant you want on your mobile device for easy identification. There are thousands of resources online complete with photos and care instructions.
  • Do Not Buy Large Plants That Grow in Very Small Pots and Vice Versa. Aside from the obvious imbalance in the physical sense, large plants that grow in small pots would need constantly watering and aerating. This is in order to promote oxygen circulation within the soil for your plant. Small plants in large pots would be difficult to maintain in terms of soil moisture, they might end up being too wet. The size of the plants and their pots should be in perfect balance.

Bringing Your Plant Home

When you have finally chosen the plant you would want for your home the next thing you would want to keep in mind is how to bring them home safely. Here are a few reminders you may want to consider.

Buy your plant as the last stop during your shopping day or on a totally separate occasion. This way you will not subject it to stress by moving it around with you the entire day or leaving it in the car over a long period.

If you bought your plant during winter or summer, do not place them in trunk of your car. This part of your car is subject to excessive heat and cold, which would stress out your plants.

When you get home, place your new plant in an area that is free from cold or hot drafts. Avoid placing them near air conditioning units or open windows.

Acclimatization

When we talk about acclimatization, we pertain to the process by which an organism, in this case, the plants would adjust to the change in environment. In cases of houseplants they come from nurseries and are given the best care at optimal conditions, when you bring them to your home their environment would be quite different. In order for them to adjust better, here is what you need to keep in mind.

Keep your plant in a moderately warm room out of direct sunlight and harsh temperatures. After a few days, you can move your plant to the location you would prefer them to be in.

Avoid bumping into your plants. Keep them away from foot traffic, pets, and small children. This is especially stressful for flowering plants. The buds would fall off, and eventually disturb the plant’s normal growth rhythm.

If you have accidentally purchased a plant with pests or diseases, it is important to isolate it from the rest of your garden first. Treat it separately with the proper medication and once it is better, you may place it back within the group.

Gardening
Once you have your plant at home, you would need to know a few more details to effectively care for them. Like we have mentioned, plants have needs and houseplants will only be able to get these needs from their caretaker, you.

Light
The most important thing a plant would need is light. Light is essential for your plant to grow since it is the main factor in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the plant’s way of producing food and energy, without light they will not be able to do so.

Ideally, all houseplants would need at least 4 to 6 hours of indirect sunlight. Keeping them in a brightly lit room would be the best choice. If your home does not have any bright spaces, you should invest in grow lights that would specifically focus on color spectrums that would encourage floral or foliage growth.

You may also notice that there are plants that thrive in low-light, although it is possible for some plants to prefer darker or shadier spaces, remember that they actually need some amount of light in order to for them to produce food. Without light, they would starve and eventually die.

There is a big difference between light and heat. There is no such thing as plants being exposed to too much light, but there is such a thing as plants being exposed to too much sunlight which is basically heat and light. The heat dries out the plant and would also cause leaf burns. Indoor plants are more accustomed to shady spaces and full sunlight would be lethal for them.

Soil

One big mistake new gardeners make is use gardening soil for indoor plants. Gardening soil is particularly used for outdoor gardens. This kind of soil may contain pests, diseases, or weeds. It is best to buy special compost mixtures for houseplants. The ideal type of soil to use for indoor plants would be potting soil. It has all the organic and inorganic material that is vital for your plant’s growth.

What is in Potting Soil
Standard potting soil is generally composed of three main ingredients: composted tree barks, peat moss, and vermiculite or perlite. The role of these ingredients is to hold the moisture and nutrients for your plants, and allowing air to circulate around your roots. Good potting soil would have four main characteristics:

Aeration
Potting soil of high quality will be fluffy and light. It will not be compacted easily. This allows the roots to have access to oxygen in order to reach optimal growth capacity.

Nutrient Content
Good potting soil will contain all the nutrients that your plants need to survive. This would often include compost filled with micronutrients that will aid in your plant’s growth.

Moisture Retention
A good balance between aeration and moisture is definitely the best potting soil for any houseplant. It is important that the soil you choose would be able to retain moisture up to a certain point but allow easy drainage to avoid fungal growths or root rot.

Structure
Good soil would be easy for plants to anchor onto. This provides a firm and stable structure for the plant and its root system.

Pots

Houseplants need pots and they are a fundamental part of their growth. Choosing the best pot for you plant isn’t really that complicated, but it is important to know that each type of pot type has its own benefits and disadvantages.

Types of Pots
There are two types of pots available in the market, you have your traditionally made clay pots, and plastic pots. Plastic pots have gained popularity over the years.

Clay Pots Advantages

  • Heavier than plastic pots. This makes a firm base for larger plants.
  • Their porous nature allows the salts from excessive use of fertilizers to escape.
  • The material keeps the soil cool in the summer and warm during winter.
  • Very absorbent, it must be soaked in clean water for a few hours in between uses, especially when repotting plants.

Disadvantages

  • Clay pots break easier. If you drop them, you would need to buy a new one.
  • They are much more expensive compared to plastic pots.

Plastic Pots Advantages

  • Light and easy to handle
  • Plants need less watering since the material is not really absorbent.
  • Wide range of colors to choose from.
  • Do not break easily.
  • More affordable than clay pots.

Disadvantages

  • Sensitive to weather. When exposed to extreme cold, the material tends to become brittle and break.
  • Since the material is not absorbent, the chances of you over watering your plant may be higher.

Sizes
Pots are typically measured by diameter. The sizes for house plants range from 2 inches up to 15 inches. It is important to choose the pot size that would best fit your plant, depending on the root growth. Plants with larger roots would need more room to grow. If the pot they are placed in are small, their growth is restricted.

Additional Accessories

  • Saucers These are placed under plant pots to prevent water from draining directly onto the floor or furniture it is placed on. Nowadays, these are completely made out of plastic than clay. It comes in a wide variety of colors. It is typically larger than the plant’s base.
  • Cachepots These are also known as cover pots. The main purpose of these are for pure aesthetics. It complements the decor around your home. You can purchase them in a various designs and shapes. The plant is placed within the cachepot. Ideally the rim of the growing pot must be at the same level of the cachepot or slightly below it. One major disadvantage of using these is that you would not realize that you are overwatering your plant since the water collects inside the cache pot.

Watering

Most living things in earth are composed of water. Same is true for plants. When they are deprived of water, they eventually die. Plants like cacti or succulents have water-storing features that allow them to keep enough moisture to survive droughts, but most plants would need a routine watering schedule to stay healthy.

When Does your Plant Need Water?

One common cause of plant death is related to over or under watering the plants. It is very important to know when is the right time to water them. Here are some ways to know when your plants need to be watered.

Check the color of your soil. Potting soil will be dark when it is sufficiently moist. Light colored soil would be an indication of dryness.

Use your finger to test the soil surface of your plant. When it feels dry to the touch, it is time to water your plant.

You can purchase devices like moisture meters to tell when your plants need to be watered. These devices are highly accurate, but can be quite invasive. It requires you to insert a probe through your potting soil which may damage roots over time.

What to Do If Your Soil is Too Dry, or Too Wet?

In the event your soil has become too dry due to neglect or extreme weather conditions, there are some ways you can still save your plant.

If the dryness was caused by temporary neglect like a week or two without watering, all you need to do is water the soil thoroughly around 2 to 3 times. Make sure to keep your pot in a sink or on a well-draining surface because water would be running through the soil.

If the plant has already started wilting, the first thing you need to do is remove all the dead leaves and flowers. Place the plant in a bowl with shallow water and once the water has gone through, up to the surface, you can remove your pot and allow the extra moisture to drain out.

Too much of anything can be harmful. Even if water is a necessity, providing your plant with too much can be quite a problem. Overwatering would cause root rot, and encourage fungal growth. Which is why you would need to water indoor plants only when it is needed.

If the soil of your plant has not yet been completely saturated, you can definitely save it. All you need to do is remove the plant from the pot, and place in a absorbent towel or cloth. Allow the material to soak the excess moisture. Keep the cloth wrapped around the area until it feels dry.

Root Rot

In cases where you may suspect the beginning of root rot, you can remove the plant from the pot and clean it thoroughly with clean water. Remove parts that may be infected with rot, and soak the roots in a Hydrogen Peroxide solution. This will allow the roots to absorb the extra oxygen molecule in the Hydrogen Peroxide. After a few hours, you can re-pot your plant in a clean pot and new soil.

What type of water to use?
Most gardeners would say that tap water would be fine for any house plant as long as it is clean and within room temperature. However, there are some houseplants that would do better with distilled water due to the chemicals that may be present in tap water.

Some plants are sensitive to soil pH levels, and in order for you to control the pH of your soil, you would need to use certain add-ons like tea or alkaline water to adjust this level accordingly.

Fertilizer

Fertilizers are the plant’s food. In order for them to remain healthy, they would need a balanced amount of food throughout their lifetime. Most of the nutrients are readily available in their soil but with additional feeding we can promote more flowering or a lusher foliage.

Using fertilizers can really make a difference in the appearance of your plant, if you are looking for a booster of some sort, using fertilizers in moderation would be your best bet. It is essential that you do not drown your plant in fertilizers as the salt in these mixtures can kill your plant.

There are a variety of fertilizer types to choose from:

  • Liquid Fertilizer These are traditionally used and is the most effective. These often come in high concentrations, and depending on the type of plant you have, you can dilute it in water and then apply onto your potting soil.
  • Fertilizer Sticks Although more convenient to use, the even distribution of the fertilizer may be an issue for this type. These sticks are basically pushed into the soil and serve as the food for your plant for several months. They are often used during springtime when your plant is actively growing.
  • Foliar Feeds For plants that have absorbent leaves, you can choose to use foliar feeds. Air plants, being a true epiphyte, absorb their nutrients and water through their leaves that having soil is not really necessary. Using foliar feeds is quite effective for these kinds of plants.

Pruning and Grooming

The importance of pruning and grooming plants is often overlooked. Most people would just wait for the leaves completely brown and fall off. What they did not realize is that these dead leaves or flowers still get nutrients and energy from the plants. The plant system would be sending signals to deliver all nutrients and food to the specific area where certain parts are dead or dying. By keeping those parts there, the nutrition is completely focused on that part and cannot be distributed evenly with the other parts that may need it.

By pruning and trimming your plants, you are able to keep them attractive throughout their entire lives. One important thing to remember is; dead leaves and flowers should not be allowed to decay within your potting soil. This will encourage bacterial and fungal growth which would lead to diseases.

Common Houseplant Problems`

You be surprised to know, that like humans and animals, plants get sick too. There are a variety of physiological disorders that are often caused by pests, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. In order for your plant to avoid getting these diseases, you must:

  • Purchase all your plants from a reputable supplier.
  • Inspect the plant for any signs of infection. If it is infected, do not buy it.
  • Check all your plants for possible infestations.
  • Avoid using gardening soil. Be sure you are using potting soil.
  • Do not allow dead leaves or flowers to decay on your top soil.

Pests
Some common pests include:

  • Aphids
  • Cyclamen Mites
  • Mealy Bugs
  • Red Spider Mites
  • Scale Insects
  • Thrips
  • Vine Weevils
  • White Fly

Diseases

Plant diseases are often caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. When your plant is infected with a virus, you must get rid of the plant immediately since it can contaminate other plants. Viral diseases cannot be treated and is completely a loss cause. Fungal and bacterial diseases can still be treated with the use of plant medication or certain techniques. Some diseases include:

  • Black Leg
  • Botrytis
  • Damping Off
  • Powdery Mildew
  • Rusts
  • Sooty Mold

How to Control Pests and Diseases

In this day and age, we are able to effective rid our plants of pests, fungal and bacterial infestations with store-bought solutions or home remedies. Depending on the extent of damage, you would need to make a thorough assessment first and follow the instructions accordingly. The most important step would be to isolate your infected plant during treatment.

It does not take much to be a good plant parent, all you need to do is research and be equipped with the right knowledge for your plant and its needs. Through this article, you would have enough information on how to care for your houseplant.

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