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Top Tips for Keeping Plants Alive

Are you a serial plant killer? Do you struggle to keep plants alive? Or are you afraid to even buy a plant because you know you’ll kill it?

Please don’t give up! All hope is not lost.

Keep reading to find out my fool-proof ways to keep your house plants alive and thriving.

Thai Constellation Monstera basking in the afternoon sun.

Location, Location, Location

TOP TIP: Think about where the plant grows naturally outdoors, and mimic those conditions indoors.

Location is the most important factor when considering the health and longevity of your house plants. Knowing the light requirements of your plant is crucial to keeping it happy. Most house plants are from tropical regions and require bright, filtered sunlight.

Hoya hanging in an eastern window.

What does bright, indirect light mean?

The amount of light in a room is determined by the size and orientation of the window. The best light for house plants comes from an Easterly facing window. The east side of homes get bright morning sunlight which is not as harsh as the setting sun. Then have bright natural light through the day. This is ideal for most houseplants.

Here’s how each orientation affects the light in a room:

North Facing Window – low natural light, no direct light from the sun. If you have plants in this type of room, place them as close to the window as possible. The wider the view of the sky, the better light they will get, and the happier they will be.

East Facing Window – Bright, soft light from the sunrise and bright, indirect light for the rest of the day. In my experience, this has been the best orientation for most of my houseplants.

South Facing Window – Harsh direct light and heat. Best for desert plants like succulents and cactus. Other plants should be placed further away from the window, along the back wall (see in the picture below).

West Facing Window – moderate to bright, indirect light throughout the day and harsh direct light in the evening. Good for most houseplants. Place plants that love the sun closer to the window, and those that like bright, indirect light toward the back of the room (see picture below)

Philodendron and Bird of Paradise in Westerly facing room. Plants are placed along the back wall and still receive bright, indirect light.

Watering

TOP TIP: It’s always better to ere on the side of under-watering than over-watering.

The health of a plant is determined by the health of its roots. The biggest detriment to plant roots is improper watering. As a general rule of thumb, always feel the soil of the plant before you water. If it feels wet to the touch, your plant likely does not need more water.

Improper watering can occur in a few ways:

Watering too often – by not allowing the soil to dry between waterings, roots become saturated and start to rot. You’ll know you’ve overwatered your plants if they are showing yellow, or soft and mushy leaves. Once a plant has been overwatered, it’s difficult, but not impossible, to bring it back.

How to bring back a plant that’s been overwatered:

  • Remove plant from pot and shake off/ wash off all soil. Rotting roots encourage growth of bacteria that live in the soil so it’s important to remove this.
  • Remove any rotted roots. They will be mushy, or even black. Simply pull them off with clean hands.
  • Remove any yellow or dead leaves.
  • Wash the plant again to clear any residual bacteria.
  • Place plant in a cup of fresh water to regenerate roots if there are only a few left, or repot into fresh soil.
  • If repotting into the same pot, make sure you also wash the pot to give the plant a fresh start and the best chance for survival.

Not watering enough – plants are showing signs of crispy, dry leaves. It could be the plant is getting too much sunlight. But if the soil is hard and dry, it’s sure the plant is thirsty and needs more moisture. If there is still green on the plant, there’s a chance you can bring it back to life.

How to bring back a plant that’s been underwatered:

  • Water the plant thoroughly until water drains from the bottom.
  • Do not let plant sit in water. Dump any excess water remaining in the bottom by tipping the plant over the sink.
  • Mist plant regularly if it requires a humid environment (palms and ferns need regular watering and misting).

Not watering the whole plant – it is important to water the whole plant. When you water, ensure the water covers the whole top of the soil and there are no dry spots. Roots are hidden beneath the soil. If there are dry patches of soil, the roots within will whither and dry.

Please Note: it’s normal for a plant to shed its old leaves to generate energy for new growth. You may notice your plant’s oldest leaves occasionally turn yellow and fall off. The plant is taking energy and nutrients from this leaf, to use in growing a bigger, newer leaf. This is by no means a problem and should not be mistaken for under or over watering.

Hanging and Trailing Plants

TOP TIP: Hanging and trailing plants require sunlight to hit the top of the plant.

It’s one thing to find a nice place for your plant to hang, but if the light only touches the middle-bottom of the plant, it will not stay healthy. It’s important to ensure the plant is hanging low enough that the top of the plant is in the sunlight. This allows the plant to generate growth from its roots and ensures the base of the plant, where the stems come from, is healthy and can support its lower hanging growth.

Light hitting the top of my string of pearls

In the picture below is my string of pearls, a plant from the succulent family that requires a lot of sunlight. I hung this plant in a south-west facing window so the top of the plant was basking in sunlight, which encouraged the roots and base of the plant to grow. This plant was so happy it actually bloomed! Something you rarely see outside of a greenhouse.

String of pearls in bloom

Remember to Fertilize

TOP TIP: Regular fertilizing and repotting is crucial to support new and bigger growth from your plant.

There is a finite amount of nutrients in the soil of your houseplant. When you see new growth, it’s time to fertilize your plant. Using a balanced fertilizer, diluted to half strength will encourage strong, healthy new growth and provide the plant with essential nutrients. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to only fertilize your plant when it is actively growing because it is using more nutrients.

There are three nutrients a plant needs to be healthy. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. All fertilizers have them in different ratios. Each one benefits a different function. Pick the right fertilizer for your plant and what it needs based on how it’s growing at the time.

Here’s how each nutrient affects plant growth:

Nitrogen: encourages strong healthy leaves.

Phosphorus: encourages blooming and healthy roots.

Potassium: helps plants fight pests and disease.

A fertilizer high in phosphorus will encourage more blooms in flowering plants.

Repot as Necessary

TOP TIP: Repotting plants is only required every 2-3 years and maybe not even then, it all depends on the type of plant.

As your plant grows, it will also outgrow its pot. People often repot their plants too soon, or place them in pots that are too big and have too much soil. When the ratio of soil to roots is off, there will either be excess moisture remaining in the soil that the roots cannot absorb, causing root rot. Or, if there is not enough soil, the water will drain too fast from the pots for the roots to be able to absorb it, hurting the plant.

Keep in mind some plants like to be pot bound and it will actually encourage them to flower, like hoyas for example. Make sure you look up the specific potting requirements of your plant before you repot it.

When is it time to repot my plant?

  • You can see the soil pulling away from the sides of the pot. There will be a gap of a few centimetres, indicating the soil level is declining in the pot.
  • Leaf growth is stagnant. You aren’t seeing any new growth under proper light and watering conditions.
  • You can see roots popping out from the bottom of the pot, or fully covering bottom of the soil when plant is removed from its pot.

How big of a pot should I use to re-plant?

  • Generally when repotting, you should only increase the pot size by 1″ diameter. So, if your pot currently measures 6″ diameter across the middle, you should move up to a 7″ pot only.

How to repot a plant:

  1. Remove plant from old pot and inspect the roots. If they are showing and covering the bottom of the soil, it’s time to repot.
  2. Prepare a pot 1″ larger in diameter with fresh soil on the bottom 1/3 of the pot.
  3. Loosen the bound roots of the plant with your fingers to encourage it to grow out of its current shape and into the new soil.
  4. Place in new pot with fresh soil, fill in any remaining space with more soil as needed. Avoid air pockets as they will cause harm to the roots. Gently press down soil to make sure the plant is secure in its new home.
  5. Ensure there is about 1/2″ to 1″ space from the top of the pot to the soil level to prevent soil from rising and spilling over when watered.

I hope these tips help you to keep your houseplants alive and thriving!

Please reach out to me via email at blackpinefloral@gmail.com if you have any plant related questions that were not answered here.

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