Selecting Your Plants & Finding the Right Space for Them:
Choose Plants Based on the Light Conditions
- Each plant will have the specific light requirements that it needs to thrive. Some may love direct sun, while others may prefer bright, filtered, or low light. When you have a specific spot in your space that you are looking to add a plant, it is important to ensure that you choose one which will be happy in the available lighting conditions. An aloe plant may love to sit in the window to bask in the sun, while an African violet prefers the protection of filtered light. Consider carefully which type of lighting the space will offer to your plants.
- Bright or full light – Full sun for at least 6 hours a day, usually in a west or south facing window.
- Bright, indirect light – The plant is in a room which has many windows and allows a lot of light in, but the plant is not directly in the sun. This usually includes east-facing windows, though west and south-facing windows are acceptable as long as the plants are in the interior of the room.
- Filtered light – Light which has been obstructed or diffused in some way. The plant may receive sunlight that is dappled through a tree outside the window, filtered through sheer curtain/blinds, etc.
- Low light – No direct light, usually north-facing windows or windows which are obstructed and shaded.
- If you are purchasing the plant without a specific location in mind, it is a good idea to consider the plant’s needs and whether you do have a space that will fulfill them.
Select the Right Pot or Planter
- Not all pots and planters will be suitable for every plant. For instance, you may find the perfect pot and then realize that it does not have drainage in the bottom. This is a key point to consider, as without proper drainage you run a higher risk of overwatering. This can create root rot and attract pests, such as fungus gnats. If your pot does not have drainage there are some options to help, however keeping an eye on the soil moisture and being careful when watering is going to be the biggest component. One common suggestion is adding rocks to the bottom of the pot, which helps by raising the soil from the bottom of the pot, allowing the water to drain out so it can more fully dry. This is especially important if you have plants which do not like too much water and prefer to dry out. Another option is to leave the plant in its plastic nursery pot, which will have holes in the bottom, and simply place this inside of a decorative pot. You can then remove it when you water, allowing it to drain, and then put it back inside of the other pot. This method is more ideal, as it will allow for less chance of overwatering.
- If your pot does have drainage, think about how you will water it. Is it a plant which needs frequent watering? Is it going to be difficult to move it when watering, such as with large, heavy pots? If so, make sure that it has a pot with a built in saucer or purchase a saucer separately which can sit underneath to avoid runoff. You can do this for smaller plants as well, or you can simply carry them to the sink or bathtub to water them.
- The material of the pot matters as well, as this can factor into how quickly the soil dries out. For instance, porous material such as terra cotta will dry out much more quickly and is better suited for plants which don’t need to retain as much moisture (succulents, cacti).
Consider the Other Inhabitants of Your Space
- Like any plants, some houseplants are completely safe while others may be toxic, or even poisonous. If there will be pets in the space, this should factor in to which plants you choose and where they will be placed. Any which are even mildly toxic should be placed in areas that are out of reach from your critter friends. They will not know any better and may rub against or chew on the plants around them, or even just dig into the pot, so it is important to ensure that they will not be severely harmed if this happens. More common signs of toxicity may include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and unresponsiveness. More severe reactions can include tremors or seizures, unconsciousness, organ failure (kidneys, liver), and abnormal heart rates. Call your vet or seek emergency care immediately if any of these occur.
- Something else important to note is that plants do not have to be ingested to be harmful. Some plants may excrete substances that can cause irritation, or worse, to the skin. An example is the beautiful firestick plant, or pencil cactus. This plant is toxic to humans and animals, and can release a milky white sap which will cause severe irritation and burns to the skin, mucosa, and eyes.
- Doing your research beforehand will help to prevent any incidents. If you have specific plants in mind, you can easily find information on their pet safety. Otherwise there are many resources which can provide suggestions for pet-safe plants.
Caring for Your Plants:
- Determining the watering needs of your plants is just as important as their light needs. Some people prefer to go “low maintenance”, as in plants that don’t need a lot of hands-on care. The most common options here would be succulents, cacti, snake plants, and ZZ plants. This may seem limiting, but luckily these still offer a ton of variety!
- If you are planning to be more hands-on then you’ll have more of a selection, based on how often you are willing and wanting to water. However, it is important to note that sometimes being too hands-on can be just as detrimental, if not more. Over-watering can actually occur more easily than under-watering, and it is important to pay attention to the soil moisture before watering again. You’ll eventually get into a rhythm where you know how long in between watering each of your plants prefers, but until then it is better to check manually. Gently dig your fingers into the soil and see how far down it has dried. Knowing the water preferences of each of your plants is key here. Some like to fully dry out, while some only need the top 1-3 inches of soil to be dry before wanting more water. Others may prefer to remain in lightly damp soil.
- If your plant is struggling, how do you determine whether it is over-watered or under-watered? Assuming, of course, that it is a watering issue, first check the soil to see how wet it is. But also looking at where the plant is dying will actually tell you a lot, as will how it feels. Is it soggy, squishy, or deteriorating from the base close to the soil? Are you able to pull the dead pieces out from the soil with no resistance? These are likely signs of over-watering. Is it crispy and browning at the tips and moving inward? Are the leaves curling in? This usually indicates under-watering.
- Either can potentially be remedied and won’t necessarily mean the end for your plant. If you have over-watered once or twice, you can simply let it dry completely out before watering again and it should bounce back. If this is a chronic issue and the roots are already starting to rot (you may even notice a slight smell in this case) then you’ll want to repot with fresh soil. Remove the plant and its soil from the pot, separating as much of the wet soil as you can from the roots. If you notice any roots that look rotten or waterlogged, you may have to trim these off. Repot in fresh soil and wait a few days to water. If the plant has been under-watered, then the quickest fix is obviously going to be to give it some water! You should be able to easily determine whether the plant is completely dried out or not, and if it still has some life then getting the watering back on track should help to revive it. A humidifier can also help to add some moisture, however the leaves which have already died or dried out will need to be removed.
- Helpful tips: Write the type of plant and its light/watering needs on a small plant marker (like those used in the garden for ID) and put that in the pot. This will keep the information readily available until you are more familiar with your plants and their needs. You may also consider purchasing a water meter, to help monitor moisture levels.
Humidity & Temperature Regulation
- The environment in your space can factor greatly into the health of your plants. Here in Colorado we have a very dry, arid environment so we may have to work overtime for certain plants to survive and thrive. Moisture loving plants such as ferns, and those who require more humidity such as Fiddle Leaf Figs, have a tougher time and typically require more effort when it comes to creating the right atmosphere. A humidifier can be used, and is highly encouraged, in regions like ours if you’re growing plants which are used to more moisture in the air (plus, it is good for us too!).
- Temperature can also be a factor in maintaining the right environment. Tropical plants that love heat and moisture will struggle during the cold, dry winters here if we don’t help them out! Regulating the temperature is important, and you can research each plant for its preferred temperature range. For instance, a Peperomia Frost prefers to stay within 60-80 degrees F.
Fertilizing Your Houseplants
- Just as with your plants outside, your indoor plants will need a little food every now and then. Using a houseplant fertilizer can be helpful when your plants are in need of a nutrient boost. And this, of course, can also vary based on the type of plant. Researching your plants is important, as they may have very different needs. There are high-quality generic houseplant fertilizers available, however there are also some formulas created specifically to meet the needs of individual plants. You may find that some plants, such as orchids or fiddle leaf figs, have their own fertilizers on the market due to their more specialized needs.
- Determining when to fertilize can be the more challenging part. Some people suggest fertilizing once the plant growth appears to be stagnant, however many people don’t notice this, or know what is considered stagnant as plants have different growth rates. Other sources recommend a regular fertilization schedule, depending on the plant. It can range from once every few weeks, to once every few months. You will want to start a few months after it has been potted, as the nutrients in the soil should be able to provide what is needed at first. Once these have been used up you can begin to supplement with a fertilizer. In general, you typically do not need to concern yourself with fertilization during the wintertime as plants are likely either dormant or just not pushing much new growth at this time of year. In the spring and summer, when they are flowering or pushing new growth, you can start adding in your fertilizer to help give them a boost.
- Helpful tips: Amending your soil when potting can also provide extra nutrients, reducing the frequency of fertilization. Worm castings are an easy and affordable option, which are gaining popularity due to their wide variety of benefits and the fact that they can be used with indoor and outdoor plants. Some people even enjoy keeping a worm bin at home to have access to fresh castings for their garden or houseplants! Worm castings are digested and processed organic matter which is then left behind, enriching the soil. They contain a variety of beneficial nutrients and minerals, such as concentrated nitrates, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. They offer an organic fertilizer which can boost the plant’s growth and protect the soil and plants from diseases. You can mix the castings directly into the soil, and then top off once a month by sprinkling on the surface of the soil and watering in. Another method of application is watering with a brewed “worm tea”. These formulas can be brewed to different strengths based on what they are being used for, we recommend finding recipes and playing around!
- Repotting, in some instances, can be more about providing fresh soil rather than actually relocating the plant into a different pot. After a while (usually just a few months) the soil in which the plant is living will become depleted, as all of the available nutrients have been utilized. The soil can also become compacted from repeated watering, which can affect its water absorption. When heavily compacted the soil may have trouble soaking up water or allowing it to drain out. Providing fresh soil will offer relief to the roots and let them “breathe”, and allow the plant to receive the proper amount of water.
- Over time your plants will likely need to be moved to slightly larger pots, to avoid getting root bound and to allow more room for growth. Your first instinct may be to give them lots of extra space, thinking that this will allow them more time to grow into it. In actuality, many houseplants prefer to be a tad bit snug in their pots. When upsizing, you typically want to stick with only increasing the size 1-3 inches in diameter. So, if your plant is currently in a 6” pot, you would only want to increase to 7-9”. This can also help to prevent over watering, as there will be less over-saturated soil for the roots to sit in.
- Repotting, whether just freshening up the soil or also moving to a larger pot, in most cases should be done every 6-8 months. However, if your plants are experiencing vigorous growth and want or need to be repotted sooner this is perfectly fine! Try to avoid doing this too often, as consistent disturbances to the roots can stress the plants out.
We hope these tips have been helpful, and you can feel more confident in your houseplant endeavors! As always, please feel free to contact the knowledgeable folks at Pine Lane Nursery with any questions or concerns that you may have. We’re here to help you select the right plants for your space or problem solve any issues you may be experiencing.