Gardening 101: How not to kill your indoor plants
At Flower Power, we believe there's no such thing as a black thumb. At the end of the day, it's knowledge, and not some innate ability, that separates the successful plant parents from the hapless plant killers. So if you're not sure how to care for your new indoor plant baby, or you just can't seem to keep them alive, fear not - here's your indoor plant care bible. At Flower Power, we're the indoor plant people for a reason, and we know how to raise them right - after all, we've cared for millions of them!
Where they're from
First off, it's important to remember that indoor plants didn't just spring up inside someone's house one day. All plants come from somewhere in the outdoor environment, and for many plants that we now classify as "indoors", they actually originated in rainforests. This means their natural environment is one that's sheltered, with indirect or filtered sunlight and a humid feel. Armed with this piece of knowledge, many of their care needs will start to make a lot more sense.
When to water
The biggest killer of indoor plants is too much water. Yep, that's right - you may have killed your previous indoor foliage friends by being too much of a helicopter plant-parent! So, how do you know when your plant actually needs water? The potting mix will tell you all you need to know.
You should only water your plant when it is dry. Some plants (for example, Spathiphyllum) will put on a dramatic show of drooping leaves when they're thirsty, but the best way to tell if your indoor plant actually needs a drink is to stick your finger in the soil, up to the first knuckle. If the soil's dry, it's time to water - but if it's damp, leave it be for a day or two before checking again. If you're not confident, a moisture meter is a really handy investment that will leave you in no doubt.
Don't think that you can set-and-forget a single watering schedule for all of your plants, either. Different varieties of plants require different watering frequencies, plus factors like potting mix, positioning, season, humidity levels and proximity to appliances like heaters and air conditioners will also affect a plant's water needs. As a general rule, however, we advise that most indoor plants living in Sydney will need a drink roughly once a week during warmer weather, and fortnightly or less in the winter months.
How to water
Nope, the remnants of your forgotten glass of water are not going to cut it. Regular "sips" of water encourage shallow root development which is not beneficial for your plant. Instead, your plant needs a thorough drenching. This is best done outdoors - or, if you're in an apartment, the bath or shower is perfect. Slip your nursery-potted plant out of its decorative cover pot and water the root zone until you can see the water coming out through the drainage holes at the base of the pot - if there's no water coming through, you haven't watered enough. Allow the potting mix to drain, and once the pot has stopped dripping, you can return it to the decorative pot and put it back where it belongs. Watering in this manner helps encourage your plant's roots to grow stronger, healthier and deeper toward the bottom of the pot, resulting in a larger, happier, healthier plant!
Potting mixes and drainage
Even if you've got the watering thing down pat, it's not going to help if your plant hasn't got the right drainage. A lot of this comes down to potting mix - choose a quality potting mix that is specially formulated for indoor plants to get the best results. These potting mixes tend to be free-draining, which means the soil won't become boggy and your plant's roots are far less likely to suffer rot. We swear by Supersoil Professional Indoor, Balcony and Hanging Basket Mix. Every plant you purchase from Flower Power comes potted up with a quality mix.
The other factor here is ensuring your plant's pot has drainage holes. The vast majority of decorative indoor planters and hanging baskets are designed without drainage, to stop any leakage or staining on your furniture, floors or surfaces. So how do you get the best of both worlds? The answer is more obvious than you think, and it doesn't require you to spend an extra cent! Always (and we mean ALWAYS!) leave your indoor plant inside its plastic nursery pot (the one you took it home in) and slip that pot inside your decorative planter. They'll be happy like that for quite some time - they've got all the potting mix, nutrients and drainage they need. This makes it really easy for you to remove the plant for watering, while preventing any stray drips once it's back in the cover pot. It also makes it easy to switch planters out if you change your decorating scheme. We see a lot of people potting up their indoor plants directly into decorative planters, and because of the lack of drainage, the plants never stay happy for long.
In addition, for those of you who like to use a saucer under your plants, make sure you check the saucer regularly to ensure the plant's drainage holes are not constantly sitting in water, as this can lead to root rot. Generally speaking, if you water your plant as outlined above and allow it to drain fully before replacing in its saucer or cover pot this shouldn't be an issue, but it's always worth checking, just in case.
Potting mixes are designed to slowly release nutrients to your plants over the course of one to two years. This means that every year or two in early spring, you can and should repot. This doesn't have to mean changing pot sizes if your plant doesn't need it yet - even simply swapping out the potting mix for a fresh batch will keep your plant thriving.
If, however, your plant has outgrown its nursery pot and needs a new home, simply repot it into a plastic pot in the next size up. You might have one hanging around from a previous plant purchase that you can recycle, or if not, you can pop in to your local Flower Power and purchase a new one. You'll know your plant needs to go up a size if you spot roots curling around the base of the pot or poking out the drainage holes, or if you've noticed more frequent wilting and increased water needs.
When you are transplanting your indoor baby to a larger pot, it's really important that you don't skip levels. It might seem counterintuitive, but bigger isn't always better when it comes to pots, and a much-larger pot will not encourage faster or larger growth for your plant. In fact, using a pot that's too large can result in the potting mix becoming too damp and too cold - not a healthy environment for your plants! Using a pot that's just one size up allows a better balance between roots and potting mix, which means that the water you give it is able to be used effectively.
Make light of the situation
While some indoor plants will tolerate low light (see this article for examples), the reality is that virtually all indoor plants are best suited to bright but indirect light. What does this actually mean? Your plant will be happiest in a room which has a window that receives plenty of natural sunlight, which is vital for photosynthesis (the process by which your plants grow) - but they should never be placed too close to your window in the direct path of sunlight, as the sun shining through the glass can result in burnt foliage. You may also notice your plant leaning towards the light source after a little while - you're not imagining things, plants actually do grow towards the light! To keep your plant centered and straight, get in the habit of turning it it by a quarter (90 degrees) once a month. Also, keeping your plant's leaves clean and free from dust will help it make the most of the light in the room - wipe it down regularly with a damp, soft microfibre cloth. Once every couple of weeks should do the trick while keeping it looking shiny and fresh.
Remember how we told you that your indoor plant likely came from a rainforest? Humidity is an essential ingredient for these plants - but it's something that our homes often lack, particularly with the common use of air conditioners and heaters which strip moisture from the air, alongside draughts that occasionally play havoc with your plants. If your plant looks healthy overall but you're starting to notice brown tips on the leaves, chances are a lack of humidity is the problem.
To keep your plant at its humid happiest, keep it out of the path of draughts, heaters or coolers, and make a conscious effort to create a microclimate around your plants. This can be as elaborate as purchasing a humidifier or indoor greenhouse, or as simple as misting foliage with water. You could also pop a container of water next to your plant's pot but beneath its foliage, or place your plant on a pebble-filled tray of water. As the water evaporates it will create humidity around your plant, keeping it happy!
Give them a feed
Just like humans, plants need to eat! There are plenty of fertiliser options for indoor plants, and all of them work really well when you stick to the packet instructions, so really, it comes down to what method suits you best and a little bit of experimentation. The best thing? None of these fertilisers have a strong smell like some outdoor formulations do, so you won't mind using them in your home.
Slow-release granuar fertilisers are ideal if you can't commit to more regular maintenance or if you're on the forgetful side. Simply sprinkle the granules around the base of your plant - the nutrients will be released over time as you water, and should last anywhere from 2-4 months before they need to be replenished. We love Osmocote for this purpose.
Foliar fertiliser sprays are a newer formula and are designed to both feed your plant and offer increased humidity - two birds, one stone! As these formulas tend to be a lower concentration than traditional fertilisers (they have to be, in order to prevent leaf burn), you can use them more frequently. Once every two weeks is ideal. Try our Living Trends Indoor Plant Food.
More help for plant parents
Something not looking right with your beloved indoor plant? We can help with that. Check out this article which is full of common problems and quick fixes - and if you're still struggling to work your issues out, here are a few other ways we can help: