Plant Care

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

For a guide to the basic needs of Interior plants see our links to each specific area.

At a snapshot, the best way to take care of your plants is to meet their needs by replicating their natural environment.

The majority of the plants we sell are tropical and sub-tropical. They come from hot climates, typically with high humidity, short periods of extreme rainfall, fertile soil and plenty of biodiversity. While it's impossible to replicate this environment exactly, the British home has the potential to keep almost any plant alive with the right preparation and knowledge. 

It's also worth knowing that (almost) no plant is ever perfect, and even in the ideal conditions all plants will undergo periods of browning, drooping or wilting at some point or another. 

As a very quick tip the most common cause for a high percentage of plants failing is not allow most plants to adequately dry out between watering and not soaking the compost correctly when watering.

 

Lighting

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.. As a very general rule flowering plants need a small amount of direct sun, foliage plants don't need (or want sometimes) 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.

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 surprising.

If you can think of light as water being thrown through your windows into a room. South facing windows are a deluge, North facing a few buckets The water will mostly fall near the window and drop away into the room. The drier it is the less light your plant will get. The corners next to windows would be very dry for instance.

For a guide to houseplants and their preferred light levels go to our index of plants, where there is a light guide next to each plant.

Your house plants are not getting enough light!

Your houseplants are getting too much light, most will not tolerate direct sun!

Feeding

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.

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 repotted 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 more 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).

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.

Your plant needs a feed. It is 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.

Watering

Unfortunately, there is no magical answer to this as it completely depends on a large number of factors.

An easier question would be 'when shouldn't I water my plants' and the answer would be whenever they're cold or already wet.

It's crucially important to allow most plants to dry out.

A hotter, drier environment, more light, plenty of growth and generally favourable conditions means your plant can take on more water.

The best thing you can do is collect rainwater. You may read that distilled water is best, but this actually removes a lot of the salts that are vital to the plant's health.

The trouble is that the symptoms can be very similar looking.

As a general rule, blackening near the base of the stems or the bottom of the leaves means over-watering. Yellowing of the tips of the leaves usually means it's thirsty.

Humidity

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.

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.

If so your interior plant is suffering from dry air. Some are better than others in a dry environment but as a general rule increasing the humidity around a plant will improve its vigour tremendously.

House plant care greenhouse

Pests

Pests are unfortunately a common issue with tropical plants. They sometimes arrive in the country carrying tropical pests, or attract pests native to Britain. 

Pests harm your plants by feeding on them and sometimes pass on harmful bacteria or viruses.

Certain plants are more susceptible to pests than others, and some pests absolutely adore certain plants. For example, Beaucarnea recurvata is so attractive to mealy bugs that shipping them via mail order is no longer permitted! 

Most pests can be treated using commercially available house plant insecticide, which works through a foaming agent that blocks the airways of the insects and suffocates them. You can also introduce predatory insects, which will feed on the pests but will not eat your plant.

The most common types of pests are as follows. Each one is a large family of insects, rather than a single species. 

Looking distinctly similar to cotton wool, these pesky unarmoured scale insects release a waxy secretion that gives them their woolly appearance. Luckily, they're pretty easy to spot. Unluckily, they often hide in the crevices and crannies of plants meaning they can go unnoticed before breeding. A single mother can release up to 600 young in one birthing, so they can quickly spiral out of control if ignored. They also stick to clothing, skin and hair, as well as carried through the air by wind, and can be easily transferred between plants. 

Treat using standard house plant insecticide or introduce green lacewings to hunt them. Individual mealybugs can be destroyed using physical pressure or isopropyl alcohol on the end of a cotton bud.

Also known as greenfly (but also can be black or grey), these are a native insect that can devastate plants if left untreated. They use their special jaws to suck the juices out of a plant and leave behind harmful pathogens, which will turn leaves into a patchy yellow mess that spreads across the entire plant. They can generally be found on the underside of leaves and because of their rapid reproduction, are often gathered in clumps that make them easily visible to the naked eye, even though each individual is less than 1mm long. 

Easily treatable through the use of a foaming insecticide or even soapy water applied through the gentle wipe of a sponge or spray bottle. Alternatively, introduce ladybugs

Not the worst pest for the damage they cause, but probably the most persistent! These pesky arachnids are distinguishable by the silky webbing that they spin around your plant, as well as the bright colouration in the common Red spider mite. They can be a real nuisance to get rid of and can really affect the appearance of your plant. When they pierce the leaves with their fangs to feed on the juices in the plant, they destroy the cells which leaves a speckled brown appearance. They tend to be more prevalent in dry places.

They can be treated in simpler ways than most pests. They hate water and humidity, so misting your plant does wonders to keep them at bay. Putting your plant under the shower once every few days will slowly eradicate them. They will also suffocate under foaming insecticide. Introduce the predatory mite Phytosielulus persimilis which see them off with minimal fuss. 

Brown scale insects are the most common, and look a bit like a tiny beige discs on the underside of the plant. They exude a sticky honey like substance that can appear mouldy after a while and will stick to nearby walls, windows and furnishings. Their exoskeleton is remarkably strong, and can actually repel a single dose of insecticide, but they will crumble after a second hit. 

They can also be treated by simply removing the insects with a damp or soapy cloth, or by dabbing the insects with alcohol to literally dissolve them. 

Also known and sciarid flies, these tiny critters spend a lot of their time with their eggs just underneath the surface of the soil, or running just on the surface. But they also buzz around indoors and it often goes unnoticed that it's a house plant problem. Uncovering the top layer of soil from your plant can often reveal a vast colony of gnats and their wormy larvae.

Treatment involves keeping your plant as dry as possible. If the larvae do not have moisture, they will die. You can also introduce nematodes, which are tiny worms that feed on the larvae and can be added to the water you pour into the soil. 

Probably the worst pest. They're tough to spot, and even when you do spot them they look relatively harmless. They blend into the colour of most plants and are not particularly numerous. You'll see the issue start to take place and the symptoms will seem like a watering issue. But they can be devastating and eventually kill the plant completely and spread rapidly to nearby plants. If you confirm a case of thrips on one of your plants and you have lots of plants, the best idea is to throw the infected plant away as soon as possible. 

They can be treated with pesticides, but you'll need the strong stuff.

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