Plant Care Manual
Hey, you! Thanks for visiting our site and showing your interest in owning a houseplant! We know, owning a houseplant can seem difficult and stressful – yes, we've been there too! But we want to assure you that you'll quickly get the hang of it and, before you know it, you will be surrounded with a healthy family of plants!
Before you dive deep into our A–Z Care Guide for your houseplant, we recommend everyone to read our Plant Care Manual to get a general sense of how to approach being a plant parent. Not every plant requires the same attention and care, but knowing the basics from the beginning will undoubtedly help you progress quickly. We've compiled general things that we wished people told us from the beginning, and categorized them into 4 main sections for you:
How to Water Your Houseplants
How to Determine Sunlight Levels
How to Fertilize Your Houseplants
How to Prune Houseplants
How to Water Your Houseplants
Situate the Plant and Pot Properly
Leave room for water in the pot. When you're repotting your plants, don't fill the pot up the rim with potting soil. This makes it much harder to water as you'll have to dribble water over the soil and wait until it seeps in. Leave enough room that you can pour in some water and let it soak in on its own.
Importantly, never let your plants sit in water! Unless they are bog plants, make sure to empty the plant trays after you're done watering so the plants aren't sitting in water. Sitting in water is a good way to get root rot, which is frequently lethal.
Use the Right Technique
Learn to water from the bottom. Bottom watering is a very effective method for many plants whose leaves don't like to get wet. Use a long-necked watering can. This will allow you to apply water precisely at the soil level, without wetting the leaves. Fungal disorders are encouraged by wet foliage.
Provide drinks, not sips. Shallow and insufficient watering encourages weak root systems and makes the plant more vulnerable to collapse. When you water, make sure you do it thoroughly, so water runs through the container. This also helps flush out fertilizer salts, which can be dangerous if they accumulate.
Choose the Right Location
Aside from choosing the right location for your plant based on light, there are choices you make for location based on watering needs. Keep like with like. If it's possible, grow similar plants next to each other, so you won't have to thread your way among various plants while watering. Keep your succulents with your succulents and your aroids with your aroids.
Time it Right
Be consistent. Even if this means marking days on your calendar to remind yourself to check if your plant needs watering, make sure your watering habits are consistent, so the plants don't suffer through debilitating cycles of drought and plenty. Although each species is different, in general plants, prefer even moisture.
Water in the morning. Watering at night encourages dampness, which is a prerequisite for fungal attack. Instead, water during the day, when the evaporation and transpiration rates are at their best.
How to Determine Sunlight Levels
Too much or too little light can quickly stress a plant, which makes them more prone to disease, pests, and premature death. Fortunately, most plants come labeled with information about their sunlight preferences, such as full sun or partial shade. However, finding optimal lighting for your plant can take some trial and error, so you'll have to monitor it closely.
It's often easier to determine the amount of sun in your yard as opposed to inside. Outdoors you can clearly see where it's shady and where the sun is hitting directly. Light is more subtle indoors. To figure out if a houseplant will be happy in your space, it's helpful to know the different types of light you have in your home.
Determining Indoor Plant Lighting
There are three main types of interior plant lighting:
- Bright Light: Bright light means a sunny southern or western facing window that receives direct light all day long. It should get a minimum of five to six hours of sunlight each day, preferably more. Plant care can sometimes be harder during the winter; resist the temptation to move your plant closer to the window. Most plants that need bright light will not be able to handle the cold drafts that increase the closer you move toward a window.
- Indirect Light: Indirect light can be found in places with an east-facing window, or in an interior of a room that receives full light from a south- or west-facing window. This can also mean there's a sheer curtain between the light source and your plant, for instance.
- Low Light: Many rooms qualify as low light, especially in winter. Rooms with north-facing or partially shaded windows would qualify as low-light situations. If you can't easily read a newspaper, it's probably low light. Plants can still grow in low-light rooms with the addition of artificial light.
Other Indoor Plant Needs
When you're determining how much light your houseplant will require, you'll also need to consider the rest of the environment. Finding the right lighting level for houseplants is not an exact science, but keep these factors in mind when choosing a spot to place your plant.
- Temperature: Plants positioned near a source of heat, such as a heating vent, may not be able to handle as much bright light as a similar plant in a cooler spot. If your plant often looks like it's wilting, even though you give it regular water, the heat source may be part of the issue.
- Humidity: As with temperature, a low level or lack of moisture in the air can cause plants to wilt and stress. If that happens, you can usually leave the plant in its optimum light conditions if you also mist the plant regularly or provide a nearby humidifier.
- Duration of Sunlight: Most plants need a full day's worth of sunlight. You may need to provide some supplemental lamp lighting, especially if you can't offer a spot with ideal light conditions for your plant.
- Seasonal Changes: It's not just day length that varies as the seasons change. The angle of the sun is also different. When the days are long and the sun is high in the sky, your western-facing window may get full sun for the entire day. When the days shorten, and the low sun only comes in at an angle, even a western facing window will not be enough light for a plant that craves full sun.
How to Fertilize Houseplants
Too many people overlook the importance of fertilizing indoor plants. However, proper feedings are essential to grow healthy, beautiful plants. Unlike an outdoor garden, where nature provides rain and plants can send new roots searching for food, the nutrients available to a houseplant are strictly limited by the amount of soil in the pot and what you provide for supplemental feeding.
Think of fertilizer as the second half of your potting soil. When potting soil is fresh, your plants won't need much, if any, fertilizer. This is especially true of modern, fortified potting soils, which often have fertilizer and other enhancements mixed in. After about two months, though, the plant will have consumed the nutrients in the soil, so you'll have to fertilize if you want continued, healthy growth.
Types of Fertilizers
Fertilizers come in several different varieties: liquids, sticks, tablets, granules, and slow-release forms.2 Of these, the two best suited for indoor use are liquid and slow-release fertilizers. Sticks and granules seem convenient, but they don't distribute nutrients very well through the soil, and once you've inserted a fertilizer stick into your pot, you have no control over its release. Granular fertilizers are designed for outdoor use.
Use Liquid Fertilizer
Liquid fertilizers are diluted into water and applied with a watering can. Depending on label instructions, you might fertilize every time you water or every other time. The type of plant will also impact the frequency, as some—especially those with dramatic large blooms—may require more frequent feeding.3 Always research plant requirements to learn about their specific nutritional needs. Liquid fertilizer provides a steady supply of nutrients that you can precisely control. It's easy to suspend feeding when the plant is dormant during the winter months, for example, or to increase feeding when the plant is sending up new growth. The disadvantage, however, is that you need to remember to do it every time.
Slow Release Fertilizer
These products have quickly become favorites for many gardeners and professional growers, both for indoor and outdoor plants. Slow-release fertilizers are coated in time-release shells that slowly leach nutrients into the soil. The individual pellets have coatings of different thicknesses that dissolve at different rates, so the actual release of the fertilizer is staggered over time. A single application can last between four and ninth months. The main drawback is the higher cost of slow-release fertilizer, but because it lasts so long, the cost balances out.
Dry pellets of pure fertilizer can be mixed into the potting soil by hand. Although more commonly used in outdoor gardens, they can also be used for indoor containers—although it can be tricky. Granular fertilizer dumps all of its nutrients at once when the pot is watered, making it hard to control how much the plants are receiving at once. This type of fertilizer is quite inexpensive, but not a great choice for feeding houseplants.
How to Prune Houseplants
While you don't have to worry about regularly pruning indoor plants like you would many outdoor plants, at some point you'll have to get out your shears for some cleanup. Maybe you need to cut away dead leaves or branches to keep the plant presentable. Or perhaps you'd like to encourage a more balanced growth pattern. Some runaway plants might be eating up your living room while others might look spindly and in need of a trim. Whatever the reason, it's important to know how to properly prune your houseplants, so you don't create undue stress for your windowsill companions.
When to Prune Houseplants
Houseplants should typically be pruned at the beginning of the growing season, which is late winter or early spring for many varieties. However, woody indoor plants are an exception to this seasonal rule, requiring year-round pruning to remove dead leaves and branches.
A good rule of thumb for flowering species is to prune them just after they have finished flowering. If you prune right before they bloom, you'll be removing unopened buds that would otherwise turn into flowers.
Houseplant Pruning Tips
Proper pruning requires an understanding of the plant's growth pattern. Plants grow from the tip down, meaning new growth emerges from the dominant bud at the end of a branch or stem.
To prune a plant to encourage bushy new growth, snip off the dominant buds on select stems, staggering the cuts to encourage varied growth. Trim some branches back by a quarter, others by a half, and still others all the way back to their base. This way, when the plant leafs out again, the random growth pattern will fill it out.
Deadheading is a type of pruning that simply involves removing any dead flowers. As a plant blooms, it puts energy into its flowers at the expense of new growth. Even as a flower is dying, it still consumes energy from the plant. So to prolong the blooming period and encourage healthy growth, deadheading is often necessary.
When pruning, cleanliness is important. Any cut made to a plant's tissue can expose it to disease. So keep your pruning instruments sharp, and clean and disinfect them between each use with a mild bleach-and-water solution.
Most houseplant cuttings can be saved, rooted in a cup of water, and then planted to form new houseplants. Succulent clippings can even be propagated by planting them directly in a pot of soil and keeping it moist. After a few weeks, you should have new plants growing.