Everyone loves an indoor plant. Known for their health benefits and mood enhancing properties, they clearly do a lot to help us, so why are we so bad at returning the favour?
It’s a common misconception that hardy, indoor plants can thrive on their own and survive with very little care or attention. All plants need a bit of TLC, and the type of care you give them will determine how well they do and how long they last.
Whether your indoor plants are small or large, tall, hanging or climbing, they will all require occasional watering, feeding, pruning and cleaning, no matter what species they are or whereabouts in the house you put them.
So, stay on this page for our 6 essential tips for keeping your indoor plants alive and well…
One of the first things to consider when bringing a new plant back home from the nursery is where you’ll be putting it. All plants need light to photosynthesise, and indoor house plants are no exception.
The label on your plant will advise you on what type of conditions it prefers, but generally speaking, ambient and indirect light is ideal. Exposure to full sunlight through glass can bleach a plant’s leaves and dry out its soil. North facing windows in particular get too much sun.
If your plant has dark green leaves, it’s considered a low–light indoor plant and can tolerate shady spaces well. Two good examples are the Sansevieria (aka Mother-in-Law’s Tongue or the Snake Plant) and the Rubber Fig. If your plant has pale, coloured or patterned leaves, it will need more light, like the Spider plant and ZZ plant.
When it comes to temperature, whatever’s comfortable for you will be comfortable for your indoor plants too. Don’t put them too close to any draughty areas or heating / cooling vents, as a fluctuating climate will suck moisture out of the air and stunt their growth.
Now it’s time to choose a decorative pot. The general rule of thumb is that the new pot should be a few centimetres larger in diameter than the original pot.
Height wise, it’s best to match the sizes up. A tall indoor plant = a tall pot. If you have a lot of pots together, plant stands are a great way to compose them in an aesthetically pleasing way.
It’s always best to get pots with drainage holes, and if you want your plants to hold their water for longer, plastic is best. Clay and ceramic pots are great, but they do lose water quicker.
To repot, gently remove the plant and tease out its roots. Place the plant in the new pot and backfill around the roots with fresh potting mix. Now, when it comes to potting mixes and potting soil, you don’t have to be a major green thumb to be able to get the right one for your plants.
A premium–quality potting mix and sandy, free–draining soils (available at all good gardening centres) are appropriate for many different types of indoor plants, and will often contain enough nutrients to last for up to 6 months.
The most common killers of indoor plants is overwatering and underwatering. When you water them too much, their leaves become yellow and they are at risk of getting root rot. When you don’t water them enough, they wilt and eventually die.
The information tag that came with your indoor plant would have indicated the moisture levels your plant prefers, but there are tips you can use that apply to all plant varieties.
Cacti and succulents, for example, don’t need much water because their thick stems will store it. Flowering plants, on the other hand, need regular attention.
But, before you douse your plant with a watering can, check first to see if it actually needs a drink. Push your finger approx. 5cm down into the potting mix. If it feels dry, your plant needs watering, and you can safely saturate the soil and let the overflow drain freely.
And remember – never leave standing water in the saucer. Tip the excess out into the sink about 30 minutes after watering and then put the saucer back under the pot.
Because plants absorb all their nutrients from soil, potted plants rely solely on what we give them and add to their potting mix. If you want a healthy plant, the right fertiliser is paramount.
Plants tend to do most of their growing in Spring and Summer, so it makes sense to give them a boost during these months.
The best method is to add a controlled–release fertiliser that has been specially designed for indoor plants to your plant’s mix twice a year and no more (as too much fertiliser will burn a plant’s roots).
In Autumn and Winter, you can use a water–soluble or liquid plant food once a month for an extra boost. Be sure to buy a plant food brand that contains a balanced NPK blend for optimal nourishment and to stimulate growth (N for nitrogen, P for phosphorus and K for potassium).
Nitrogen will keep your plant’s leaves looking luscious and vivid green, phosphorus will help with flowering and root development, and potassium is great for regulating water intake and fighting off diseases.
Outdoor plants require regular pruning, but indoor varieties don’t – though that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from a trim every now and then. Indoor gardening usually involves just cutting back plants to keep them in tip–top shape and stop them from outgrowing their surroundings.
Cutting off dead leaves, flowerheads and branches will encourage healthy, new growth, and pruning is also a great way to correct any structural issues that may have started developing.
If your plants have grown tall, cutting them down by 4 or 6 inches is ideal. Make your cuts just above the side shoots and buds showing on a stem, as this is where the new growth will come from and you don’t want to lose that. If your plant has some dead or diseased looking leaves, cut them off too to stop the sickness from spreading.
The best time to prune is in late Winter or early Spring, as the longer hours of daylight will give the plant more time to regenerate and recover.
You can also “pinch” your indoor plants, which involves getting rid of the top/end of a plant just above the node and any top leaves that might be impairing the growth of buds. This technique prompts the plant to grow two new shoots in its place, creating a thicker, fuller plant. It’s a great tip to use on fast growing indoor house plants that might need a bit more maintenance than most.
The final form of plant care you should undertake is cleaning. It’s easy for pollutants like dust, smoke, mould and chemicals used in household cleaning products to settle on the leaves and in the pots of an indoor plant.
Keeping your plant’s leaves clean doesn’t just help them to look at their best, it will help them absorb more light too. This is why regular wiping and spraying is handy, and actually pretty easy.
You can just use a regular household dusting brush to get rid of any lightweight build–up sitting on top of the leaves. If your indoor plant is smooth, use a damn cloth to wipe down each leaf. If your plant is very delicate, a gentle shower of room–temperature water from a watering will do the trick too.
If you’re having problems with pests like spider mites or aphids – and the diseases they can cause – a wash with insecticidal soap is another low–maintenance treatment option. To get rid of pesky scale, dabbing on rubbing alcohol with a ball of cotton wool is popular quick fix.Here at Matilda’s Flowers, our range of indoor plants includes orchids, monsteras, rubber figs, snake plants, peace lilies and more. Visit us in–store or contact us online for more information.