By Karen Espig

If you are reading this, you (like me) have probably experienced many failures and disappointments in growing houseplants. It seems like no matter how hard we try, eventually, they stop thriving. We are then faced with their grim, brown, mouldy, or dropped leaves taunting us for the losers we are in their curated pots. 

Well, I refuse to give up on the concept of an indoor garden. So, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop my murderous tendencies and see if I can develop strategies to turn my plant-killing habit around! Here’s what I have learned so far…

Let The Research Begin…

We’ve all bought that elegant potted orchid or adorable bonsai in the irresistible clay pot…but how long did it last? Firstly, purchasing plants suitable for the environment and climate they will live in is essential. There is a wealth of information on the net, and you should tap into it to help ensure success.

Buying The Right Types

It is best to buy from a garden centre or florist as you can be assured the plant has been appropriately cared for, plus they can answer any questions you may have.

If buying from a grocery or big-box store, be picky. Look carefully at the plant’s condition and the pot’s soil. Cheaper isn’t always better.

A good starting strategy is to pick low-maintenance and hardy varieties; luckily, there are plenty to choose from. Another consideration is to select plants with a reputation for air purification.

Another critical point is to select plants that are not toxic to animals or humans particularly if you have little ones about (furry or not furry). If you do have dangerous plants, be sure they are safely out of reach.

Light, Food, And Water

Of course, you know plants have basic needs, but those needs vary. Generally, when you purchase a plant, ideal conditions are indicated on the label or can be found out from the seller. If you inherit plants from a friend or neighbour, ask them for tips on keeping your new housemate happy.

There are four basic categories for sunlight needs: direct sun, bright indirect, light shade, and full shade. You can tell if your plant is not getting enough light if the new leaves are smaller or lighter in colour than the mature ones.

Plants need to eat, too! Those purchased from a shop rarely need fertiliser for the first few months. After that, the amount and frequency will depend on how actively the plant grows and the time of year. During the summer months, when light levels increase, so does the growth and need for fertiliser. 

To begin with, use less than the package’s indicated amount of indoor plant fertiliser. If you see that the new foliage is light in colour, increase the amount slightly. Monitor this every two weeks, increasing as needed.

Next up is water! This is probably where most of us take a wrong turn in keeping our indoor garden happy. It is easier to kill a plant by overwatering than by underwatering. Try to use room temperature water. Tap water is fine unless you have a water softener installed–in this case, use rainwater or untreated water.

To make it more complicated, some plants like water coming from above, others from the roots. Plants like African violets don’t like water on the leaves, and tropical plants prefer a good misting! Do your research.

Location, Location, Location

Until you’ve got the green thumb of your dreams, keep your plants in your line of sight. If most of your time is spent in your living room, start building your plant collection there. Once you feel confident, add some to a secondary (high-use) room. You are more likely to see any plants that are taking a turn for the worse if they are in your visual field. 

Plants that are tucked away onto a window sill or behind a curtain are easy to forget until it’s too late. Plus, you can benefit from the full enjoyment of your plants if they are easy to see.

Building A Collection

While discussing location, group your plants together according to similar needs. If you have several plant babies that need full sun, keep them close to each other. Follow this same strategy for your low-light and low-water plants. Distributing them around your house according to aesthetics might look nicer, but it is risky if you are still learning the ropes in terms of maintenance.

I love having plants in my home, adding beauty and also purifying the air, but it does take some know-how. I suggest starting slow with a few plants with a reputation for being low-maintenance and that have similar needs. Once they begin to thrive, learn how to propagate new plants from those and maybe add a new one, slowly building your collection of leafy companions. 

Happy New Year of indoor gardening!