Living With Houseplants

Recently I had a consultation with a client who was struggling with keeping her houseplants healthy… and the plants were clearly struggling, too. So I thought I’d write a few words about houseplant basics.

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Healthy houseplants


Watering  When and how much? Basically, when you touch the soil and it feels really dry, the plant needs water. Better to stick your finger down 1/2 inch into the soil. If it’s dry, water the plant. Water generously. When water comes out the bottom of the pot (all pots should have drainage holes in the bottom) then that’s enough. It’s better to water the plant well and infrequently, than give it frequent dribbles of water. In the winter, my plants need water once a week – the ones in the sunny windows more often than the ones on the north side of the house.

Potting  The rule of thumb is that the pot should be 1/3 the height of the plant.  (In the picture above, a smaller pot is resting inside the umbrella stand – it’s not all full of soil!) For very large plants this becomes impractical, and the diameter of the pot increases more than the height. Basically, if there are roots growing out of the bottom of the pot, it’s too small. If you loosen the plant and pull it from the pot, and there are roots growing around the perimeter of the soil, it’s too small. Get one that’s slightly larger and deeper – like an inch or two wider at the top and an inch deeper. Make sure it has a drainage hole. Cover the hole with a clean stone or some broken pot shards to prevent the potting soil from coming out the bottom. It will still allow excess water to drain out. Fill the bottom with an inch or so of new potting soil, then place the root ball and plant on top, centering it in the pot. Holding the plant upright, fill in around the edges with additional soil until you’ve gotten to the level of the original soil ball. Tamp down the new soil, as it will sink once it’s watered, and fill a little more.

Place the newly potted plant into a saucer and water well. The soil should be uniformly wet; again, once it’s coming out of the bottom of the pot, that’s enough.

Pruning  Just cut off dead and withered branches, and yellow leaves. It will improve the look of your plants considerably. Also don’t be afraid to give your plants haircuts, especially the vining types. I have seen so many long straggly pothos plants and they are not an asset this way! Once the strands get too long, or lose a few leaves in the middle, cut them off at the soil. This will encourage more growth from the middle of the plant. In the picture above, I would not let the vines get any longer than they are before cutting them back. It will keep the plant fuller and more vibrant looking – kind of like getting regular haircuts and not having straggly ends.

Good luck! Healthy houseplants clean the air in your home and add life to your surroundings. Have fun with them.