Plant Care Basics
You got yourself some lovely, new indoor plants. Now you need to take care of them so they stay lovely. Pull up a seat, LATEBLOOM plants will help cover the basics of caring for houseplants.
Let's get back to basics
Everyone knows that plants need water and light to grow. We all remember learning about those basic principals of biology in preschool as we watched the tiny seed sprout in one of our very first science lessons.
The hard part of keeping houseplants is knowing just the right quantity of water and quality of light to give each plant. When plants are growing in the wild, nature takes care of their water and light needs. But when we bring plants indoors, WE have to figure out what works best for each plant.
Water and light are only indoor plants' basic needs. Additional factors of health include soil composition, humidity, temperature, USDA hardiness zone (for plants outside), pests, and vessel (pot). Here, we will be sticking to the basics.
Now let's go over some of the ways we can figure out what water and light our indoor plants need to survive and grow for years to come.
PLANT CARE BASIC: WATERING
A vast majority of indoor plants are native to tropical environments with ample sources of water.
But surprisingly, overwatering is actually a top cause of houseplant death. A lot of people turn to watering the minute their plant shows any sign of distress. However, it’s usually not lack of water that is to blame. Watering requirements differ from plant to plant but there some fundamental rules and tips that apply to all.
1. GET ON A SCHEDULE
Life gets busy, things get in the way of our routines and sometimes we forget to water our plants. It happens to the best of us! To avoid this, create a watering schedule and friendly reminders for yourself in your phone or on a piece of paper where you'll see it every day. There are even phone apps that can remind you!
2. LESS IS MORE - DON'T OVERWATER
A lot of plants like to dry out completely until they drink again but more water loving plants will only need the top 2 inches of the soil to dry out.
3. WHEN WATERING, DO IT WELL
Don’t give your plants a sip, give them a good drink to make sure that water reaches the roots. Make sure water runs through the drainage hole in your pot.
4. POUR OUT STANDING WATER
If water runs through the drainage hole, do not let it sit in the saucer as it may cause root rot.
5. REPLICATE THE PLANT'S NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
If the plant is native to a rainforest environment, it needs more water and humidity. If the plant comes from dry climate, like cacti and succulents for example, they need dry periods and are tolerable to drought, so you will need to water them much less.
6. ADJUST BASED ON SEASON AND CONDITIONS
The general rule is to water less in the fall and winter and more in the spring and summer as the temperatures get higher. However, if the heat in your home is on high and the humidity is low, you will find your plants drying out faster and therefore, you should water them more. Don't be afraid to buy a spray bottle at a home goods store and mist your plants a few times a week if your home is especially dry. See how they respond and discontinue misting the ones that seem to dislike it (yellow leaves, wilted look).
7. USE ROOM TEMPERATURE WATER
Using cold water can be damaging to the roots, likewise with hot water. Room temperature water is the best for your goldilocks houseplants.
8. WATER IN THE MORNING
If you water in the morning, the plants will dry out faster with the help of sunlight and won’t sit in water overnight.
If you are using tap water, leave it out for a day or two so it can dechlorinate. Empty glass bottles make the perfect vessels for leaving water out to sit and then using them to water your plants. Leaving the water to sit out also helps bring the temperature to meet room temperature, just how they like it.
PLANT CARE BASICS: LIGHT
So we know that watering our houseplants seems simple but a lot of plant people get it wrong. Light seems really complicated but it is actually pretty easy to get right. The trick is to follow your plant's cues. Here are some considerations when giving your indoor plant the light it needs:
1. GET SPECIFIC
When choosing where to put your new plant (let's assume it's in a standard terra cotta clay pot), it's important to know what kind of plant you have, and what kind of light that type of plant naturally thrives in. If you don't know what kind of plant you have, start by narrowing it down. Is it a cactus or succulent? Succulents have big fleshy leaves and are full of sap (what the term 'succulent' means in latin). If not, what does the plant look like? A fern? A tree? A palm? Try and find something similar on our site and narrow it down. In the plant world, plants are grouped into plant families based on similar characteristics and genetic makeup. Big plant families include ficus, peperomia, pilea, begonia, palm, cacti, succulent, calathea, philodendron, and so on. Once you're able to figure out what kind of plant you have, you can start to learn about the preferences of the family in which your plant belongs. While not entirely true across the board, plants of the same family tend to require the same type of care. Remember, plants are alive and have preferences. While plants can survive (like an animal) under conditions that they don't prefer, they would be much happier in an environment that they enjoy, and when they are happier, they give you more new growth (which is the whole reason to collect plants).
2. DIRECT vs INDIRECT LIGHT
Ok, so we've tracked down which family and variety of plant you have. Now it's time to do something with the plant in order to make it happy. Let's start with the basics. Not all light was created equal. People live in lots of different places with more or less light, so it's important to understand what someone means when they say "medium indirect light." Light can be classified as direct or indirect.
Direct light is sunlight that literally touches the space you're thinking about. For example, if your windows get sunlight in the morning during sunrise, and the light shines in your eyes and touches your face, that's direct sunlight. If you see the sun during sunset and it hits your face or shines directly onto your walls, that's direct sunlight. For starters, examine your home at different times of the day and determine if and where you get direct sunlight. Your plant is like an animal, if you put it in direct sunlight, chances are it will get sunburnt and you will kill it.
"Direct light is sunlight that literally touches the space you're thinking about.
Indirect light is reflected light and can be low, medium, or high."
Indirect light is reflected light. The sun lights up the sky and some of that light reflects into your space. Indirect light can be low, medium, or high.
- High indirect light is light that is blindingly bright, despite the fact that no direct sunlight is hitting anything in the space. Think office buildings with windows on all sides, on a high floor of a building. There are no obstructions around to block sunlight, and the interior walls are white which reflect lots of light. Most plants love this type of light. High indirect light is the easiest light in which to grow plants and keep them happy because they can maximize photosynthesis without getting sunburnt. Obviously certain plants grow under direct sun in the wild, but even most tropical plants growing outdoors prefer growing under the partial shade created by a jungle canopy. If you have high indirect light, place ficus, cacti, succulents/aloe, philodendron, palms, and many variegated plants about 2-5 feet from the windows to maximize sun exposure while minimizing the risk of any direct sunlight hitting the plant or drafts coming in through the windows in the colder months and bothering the plants. When placing the plants, be sure to check for any AC or heating vents and avoid putting the plant directly beneath them. Do a quick hand check and feel where the vents blow, and find a place beyond where there is any moving air to place your plant. AC, heat, and moving air in general can dry out soil faster than normal, making it harder to get your watering routine right.
- Medium indirect light is light that is reflected, however the light is maybe 40-70% of the strength of high indirect light. For spaces with brick walls, low windows, and partially obstructed windows, you're generally looking at medium indirect light. If you work in an office where you never need to close the shades and you're always looking at the people in the building across the street (think NYC), you're most likely in a space with medium indirect light. Fear not, because calatheas, pileas, peperomias, begonias, and many other beautiful plants thrive in medium light. As noted above, place these plants near windows with the same considerations towards drafts, heat, AC, and other moving air (including temperature changes between day and night). Also in spaces where the light is predominantly high indirect light, you may get some medium indirect light near the interior of the space where the reflected light is more diffuse. Think desktops and shelves near doorways and interior walls. These areas are also great for the medium indirect light-loving plants mentioned in this paragraph.
- Low indirect light is natural daylight that requires artificial lighting in order to clearly see. You may have windows that get some natural light, but they might be almost completely obstructed by buildings (think interior windows inside an airshaft or North-facing windows blocked by other buildings). These spaces are tough spaces to make plants happy, which is unfortunate because they are prime candidates for using greenery as a way to cheer ourselves up. The good news is that there are a few plants that will tolerate lower light such as sansevieria (snake plants), rubber plants (ficus elastica), ZZ plants, and aglaonema (Chinese evergreen). These plants are the hardiest indoor plants and can often handle a wide range of lighting conditions and still put out new growth. When placing these plants in low indirect light, be sure to put them in areas that maximize the light to give them a better chance of survival. Again, beware of any drafty areas.
Now that you're a pro at determining the lighting in your spaces, you're armed with the information you need to get the right plant for your space.
BONUS TIP: CLEAN THOSE LEAVES
Plants need sunlight to photosynthesize, but did you know that they struggle to do so when their leaves are dirty? In our nurseries, we typically clean leaves with a damp paper towel once a week, and for our larger floor plants, we typically clean the leaves with coconut oil once a month. You can use any food-grade coconut oil - just dab your towel onto the oil and then rub the leaves until they look sparkling clean. Try not to rub too hard, and be sure to get all the veins of the leaves where dirt builds up. The dirt should lift off easily and you'll be surprised how much there is on your towel! Your plants will thank you and look amazing - don't be surprised if you see a little extra new growth in the following days! Don't forget to murmur sweet nothings as well. Every little bit helps.
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