Houseplant Care and Maintenance Tips

Care and maintenance tips for each plant can be found within their descriptions.

For a guide to the basic needs of Interior plants see below.

Lighting

light Image

Pale and small leaves, slow weak growth with long gaps imbetween leaves and lower leaves yellowing and dropping off?
Your house plants are not getting enough light!

Washed out leaves, brown scorch marks on leaves exposed, shrivelled dry leaves, dead crispy plant?
Your houseplants are getting too much light, most will not tolerate direct sun!

How much light?
Light is THE food of plants enabling photosynthesis (Light+Water+Carbon dioxide into Sugars and Oxygen) it is not surprising then that this is one of the most important factors in getting your houseplants to thrive and one of the hardest questions to answer. The environments the plants came from differ as much as the look of the plants themselves, therefore every plant has slightly different light requirements some are fussy and some will grow just about anywhere (click here for lists based on light levels). As a very general rule flowering plants need a small amount of direct sun, foliage plants don't want any direct sun and will survive in less light (Variegated plants will need more light or the variegation will fade) and cacti and succulents need lots of light (remember that most interior palms hate direct sun and have nothing in common with cacti or sun loving palms).

How to measure the Light intensity
As one looks around a room your pupils will dilate and constrict letting more or less light in, this makes the human eye rubbish for assessing light intensity! The drop in light levels from a window to 3m away is quite suprising.

For a guide to houseplants and thier prefered light levels go to our index of plants page there is a light guide next to each plant.

Humidity

Brown leaf tips, yellow edged wilting leaves, leaf drop, flowers shriveling?
If so your interior plant is suffering from dry air. Some are better than others in a dry environment (e.g. Sansieveria, Beaucarnea, Ficus elastica and most palms) but as a rule increasing the humidity around a plant will improve its vigour tremendously.

How humid is it?
All rooms in the house can differ massively in their humidity levels, Bathrooms and kitchens are generally the most humid rooms with living rooms and bedrooms being drier. In our experience hallways are the driest. Simply put warm air can hold more water than cold air so more moisture is needed over the winter in a heated room to increase the relative humidity (between leaf and air) this is why steam rises from water when the temperature rises by a few degrees on a cold morning. On a cold winters day in Britain in a centrally heated room the humidity levels can drop to the same level as the Sahara, no wonder the plants get a little upset! Spring and summer are no exception where dry conditions can lead to water being sucked out of your plants (and compost) at a terrific rate. How quickly the compost dries out is a good measure of how dry the air is.

How do I increase humidity?
There are three main ways to help your house plants with this-

  • Misting - This is best done with tepid water in the morning. Rain water or water that has been boiled is best as it will not leave white deposits over your plants leaves. Remember to mist the upper and lower sides. The benefits of misting is that it cools the whole plant down in the summer, it cleans the leaves and it will deter red spider mite
  • Grouping - Pot up your interior plants together or place the pots in a group. This will increase the humidity around the group as moisture is evaporated from the compost and transpired from the leaves. Watch for fungal attacks in the center of the group especially over winter as ventilation may be limited.
  • Pebble Tray - This is a great way to allow you to grow high humidity tropical houseplants (e.g. Alocasia, Philodendron, Anthurium) in a dry environment.
    The trick is to have a reservoir of water or damp compost/sand at the base of the plant without the pot touching it. Pebbles, marbles or anything non soluble! placed in a tray with the plant pot on top and water below the base level will work a treat with all those hard to grow interior tropicals.

Remember that having plants in a room will create a much healthier environment for you by increasing the humidity and using the methods above will increase this effect.

Feeding

Pale leaves, slow weak growth and lower leaves dropping off?
Your plant needs a feed. It is an essential for a healthy plant. Years can go by without feeding but the plant will slowly shrink away and be prone to disease. Many a plant is not looked after because it looks rubbish causing an even worse looking plant which is one step closer to the bin. Within a month you can turn around the demise and bring your plants back to life.

What is in plant food?
There are three major constituents of plant food:

  • Nitrogen (N) - For leaf growth and 'greening' up yellowing plants
  • Phosphates (P2O5) - For root growth
  • Potash (K2O) - For flowers

Other elements of plant food will be the Trace elements, these are generally present in most compound fertilisers but not all, remember to look at the ingredients they must be stated by law.

When should I feed?
If your plant is in a very poor condition then now. If not then feeding is only generally carried out over the growing season when watering frequency is high. If you have just reppoted your plant then you have a couple of months before the food within the compost runs out. Most plants will benefit from a feed one every two to four weeks. The tip is not to miss a few and then give it loads as this will cause more problems such as wilting leaves and contorted new leaves. Only feed as much as is stated on the feed. Less is better less often than lots infrequently. Some plants such as ferns will need the feed diluted even further and some will not tolerate lime which is present in some granular fertilisers (e.g. azaleas, begonias and saintpaulias).

How should I feed?

  • Slow release fertiliser - Generally used for outside plants these will slowly release nutrients over a long period of time. It can be mixed with the compost when potting up. This is a very easy way to fertiliser but there is no control over the feeding regime so winter can be a problem when the plant should be dormant.
  • Pellets and sticks - A very convenient way of feeding if you find it difficult to remember. The sticks (or pellets) are pushed into the top of the soil and are released over a month or so. The down side of these is that the feed is not distributed evenly across the root system and sometimes its easy to forget about a plant after application leaving it long after the food supply has run out.
  • Liquid feed - Probably the best method of feeding as it supplies the right amount of food over the whole of the root system, and it can be regulated over the growing/dormant season. A good tip is to water the plant as normal before watering in the feed a better distribution of feed is then given. Soluble powders can also be used in the same way. If your plant is looking very sad soluble feed is the best way to give it that instant pick me up.

For Care of Conservatory plants click here

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