A Beginner’s Guide to House Plants

Taking care of a plant is like taking care of a pet or a kid. I’ve never had either, but you know what I mean? You can’t just leave it alone but you also can’t care for it too much. Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about house plants through trial and error and many hours of googling my problems.

I still have a lot to learn but this post sums up everything I’ve learned so far. I’ve also included a few links to my favourite resources so you can start expanding your plant-care knowledge even more!

  • Basic plant care
  • How to clone (aka Propagate) your plants
  • Where I buy plants for CHEAP
  • My go-to online resources for plant-care tips
  • Q&A; questions submitted by YOU via Instagram

Ready to become the best plant parent on your block?

BASIC PLANT CARE

KNOW (OR FIND OUT) EXACTLY WHAT KIND OF PLANT YOU HAVE

Google was my best friend when I first started collecting house plants a couple years ago. If you don’t know what kind of plant you have, then it’s that much harder to find tips on how to take care of it. Most plants have simplified names like bird of paradise, peace lily, or snake plant so don’t worry too much about learning scientific names unless you’re a total nerd like me.

LIGHTING IS KEY!

I would say light is more important than water when it comes to plant care. Choose the right plants for your space. Most of us don’t have the luxury of huge windows with lots of natural lighting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have beautiful plants!

In general, I would say to stay away from most succulents, especially the rosette kind, unless you live somewhere with LOTS of light throughout the day. They’re supposed to stay compact but instead get really leggy and sad looking because they’re reaching for the light 😦 poor babies.

If your lighting situation is really not the greatest, I suggest plants that can thrive in lower light such as: money trees, peace lilies, lucky bamboo, pothos, english ivy, snake plants. Just like how plants that require lots of light will die in low light, lower light plants can burn if exposed to too much light!

Peace lilies and pothos are really great low-maintenance plants and are pretty forgiving if you accidentally go too long without watering them! Money trees are also beautiful and fairly low-maintenance.

STRATEGIC WATERING

The most common causes of plant fatalities are over and under watering. The general rule of thumb is to let the top 2-3 inches of soil dry out before your next watering. This all depends on the temperature of your home and the temperature outside.

Typically during the Spring and Summer I’ll water my plants about once a week, and once every few weeks during the colder months. I always err on the side of under-watering especially during colder months because it’s a little easier to salvage an under-watered plant than it is to save a mushy and soggy waterlogged one. But we’ll get to plant emergencies later on in this post.

HOW TO WATER YOUR PLANTS WITHOUT KILLING THEM

  1. Make sure the planter it lives in has drainage holes at the bottom. Water them until the water drips out, and NEVER EVER EVERRRRRRRR let it sit in a dish of standing water.
    *If your planter doesn’t have drainage holes, water the plant then carefully tip the pot on it’s side to get rid of excess water. This works best for smaller plants.
  2. Don’t freaking water them everyday (duh)
  3. Set a weekly (or bi-weekly) timer on your phone to remind you to water your plants, or at least check if they need to be watered. Wait until at least the top 2-3 inches of soil are dry before you water your plants again.
  4. Normal tap water is fine, but I like to fill up a huge jug of water and let it sit uncovered overnight to get rid of the chlorine…just to be on the safe side.

HOW TO CLONE YOUR PLANTS // HOW TO TAKE CUTTINGS AND PROPAGATE YOUR PLANTS

The easiest way to grow an urban garden is to propagate your plants. The reason why it looks like I own many plants is because I clone them! Basically what this means is cutting off part of your plant so that it grows new roots. BUT don’t just start snipping away at your plants in hopes that new roots will emerge.

In my experience, this works the best with cacti, succulents, and plants with aerial roots.

WTF IS AN AERIAL ROOT?! See that little brown node on the side of the stem where the scissors are? That’s an aerial root. They are roots that grow above the ground and serve a couple of different purposes: to help support the plant, especially ones that “climb” and stick to walls like like ivy, or to help with extra uptake of moisture and nutrients.

Take a CLEAN and sharp pair of scissors, and snip the stem at a slight angle just below the aerial root. Choose a part of the plant with healthy leaves.

As you can see, this vine has several aerial roots so I’m going to divide it further; cutting just below each node.

Once you’ve taken your cuttings you have two choices: Stick the cuttings back into the soil, or place them in water. Both ways work but I personally prefer the water method because then I get to see the roots emerge. Some websites will tell you to stick the cut end in some “growth hormone” but I honestly have found success without it.

Here are some cuttings I took from another plant a few weeks ago. See all those roots?! This baby is ready for the soil.

To learn about propagating cacti and succulents, click here for a great guide.


WHERE TO BUY PLANTS FOR CHEAP

Plants can get really expensive so if I’m gonna spend upwards of $70 on a plant, it better be growing me some $20 bills!!! I find the best way to save money is to buy from smaller stores rather than huge garden centres, and take cutting from plants I already own. Since you now know how to propagate plants, you can ask a friend nicely to take a cutting of their plant(s).

For all the locals reading, here are my favourite spots in Toronto to get plants without breaking the bank.

  • The Organic Press in Kensington Market
  • small convenience stores/mini marts
  • Finch Station (yeah, as in the subway stop!)
  • Ikea

MY GO-TO ONLINE RESOURCES FOR PLANT-CARE TIPS

  • House Plant Journal – Darryl, a fellow Torontonian is one of my fave IG accounts for my daily plant fix. He also dishes out some really useful plant-care tips!
  • Exotic Tropical Houseplants on Youtube – if you’re more of a visual learner like I am, YouTube videos are a great way to learn about plant care, especially for things like propagation and how to properly repot a plant.
  • SF Gate

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

How do I bring a plant back to life if it’s dying?

The answer isn’t that simple. A lot of plants are very resilient and sometimes the solution is as easy as just giving it a drink of water, clipping off dead ends, and moving it to a better location OR taking some cuttings and starting the plant from new.

If your plant is soggy and has been overwatered, try repotting it with fresh soil and cut off any roots and leaves that are dead.

Taking care of plants if you’re travelling for a few days (or more)?

This also really depends on a few factors; what kind of plants you have, what time of year it is. If you’ll be gone for more than a week, it would probably be best to have someone “plant sit” for you. If you’ll be gone just for a few days, make sure to water the plant thoroughly right before you leave and place it where it’ll get as much light as it needs.

There are bugs flying all over my plants when I water them! WTF?!

This is most likely a fungus gnat infestation due to overwatering, or your plant was already infested when you bought it.  But don’t worry – you can fix this! You can do one or all three of these:

  • re-pot your plant and cut off any roots that have started to rot. Use fresh soil and try to shake off as much of the old soil from the roots.
  • cover the top layer of your soil with pumice rocks to “suffocate” the gnats
  • water your plants with a mixture of water and neem oil – for some reason the pests hate this!

 

J.F

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