Tips for looking after house plants

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

There has been a remarkable rise in the popularity of house plants over the past few years, with trendy new shops popping up all over the country selling every kind of leafy ornament you can imagine. Looking after house plants isn’t always as straightforward as some think, but follow a few basic tips and you’ll soon get the hang of it—allowing you to bathe your room in every shade of green imaginable

1. Choosing your plant

It’s a common mistake to wander into a shop and grab the plant that you first fall for, but it’s important to understand what type of environment you’re introducing it to before picking one out. For example, some plants are better suited to maximum light and heat, while others prefer cooler, shadier spots. A bit of research before buying will save you a lot of fuss when you get your plants home.

 

2. Potting your plant

It can be tempting, and often necessary, to whip your new houseplant out of the pot it came into and plonk it into a bigger container. But moving pots can be a stressful time for your plant so only upsize if it’s genuinely too large for its current container, and only move it into a new home a size or two bigger than the last one. Give it a bit of water first, carefully slide it out, loosen the roots a touch and place into a pot with fresh houseplant compost—making sure its new home has ample drainage holes.

 

3. Watering your plant 

One of the most common reasons for houseplant killing is overwatering. You might think it has a constant thirst but, chances are, it won't take kindly to spending extended periods sitting in saturated soil. Every plant is different, so research is once more key, but generally home-dwellers like watering most when they’re growing most vigorously (spring and summer) and prefer an occasional water when the soil is dry, rather than as a daily ritual. And always use water that has been brought up to room temperature—ice-cold water from the tap will be a shock to their roots. 

 

4. Feeding your plant 

While some house plants don’t need many nutrients to grow (think of a cactus in a barren landscape), others are greedy for extra nutritional goodness (especially those that display extravagant flowers and fruits). As with watering, they’ll need more food during their growing season than during winter dormancy, and you’ll also need to check what type of fertiliser each variety requires and how much to use each time. 

 

5. Loving your houseplant 

Finally, houseplants do like a bit of extra love and attention. Aerate the soil by poking a thin stick or skewer into the soil to help the water get to all of its roots; clean its leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust and help it breathe; and even give it the occasional bath or shower for a thorough scrub and healthy soaking. Love your houseplant and it will love you back. 

 

Five of our favourite houseplants 

Still not sure what plant to choose? These are some of the easiest to care for… 

 

Spider plant:
A hugely popular houseplant because it’s one of the simplest to look after and, once you get the hang of its ways, it will grow quickly and may even produce "spiderettes"—mini-plants—that can be kept on the plant or snipped off and potted up to multiply your stock. 

Cactus:
A very low maintenance plant—apart from the dangers of overwatering you have to be pretty poor at care to kill. Keep it in good condition and you might even see it flower after a few years. 

String of hearts:
Patterned heart-shaped leaves trail on long vines, making it a good plant to drape over shelves and picture frames. Semi-succulent, it’s another easy plant to care for providing you can afford it sufficient light. 

Money tree:
A heat-loving succulent that can be propagated by planting a single leaf. It will grow slowly over a long period of time, eventually becoming a magnificent indoor tree. 

Chilli:
A handy windowsill dweller that not only adds colour but also provides you with fiery fruits for your kitchen. Some varieties, such as Numex Twilight, will produce chillis in a wide range of hues from yellows and reds to purples. 

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