Expert Advice: A Plant Professional Shares Tips for Success

Expert Advice: A Plant Professional Shares Tips for Success

Claire Bock
Mar 18, 2014
(Image credit: Claire Bock)

A great houseplant can help add a finished look to a room and breathe fresh air into a stale space, but if the plant starts to die it can look worse than not having any plants at all. I turned to Newport Beach-based landscape designer Bridget Skinner for a few tips on caring for houseplants so they look their best all year round.

What is the fastest way to bring plant life into the home?
Tabletop/centerpiece plants are a great and easy way to bring plant life indoors. They are easy to pick up at the neighborhood nursery and transport home, and are a long-term, affordable alternative to cut flowers. And, because they are usually front and center in our day-to-day lives they seem to get the attention that they need.

Succulents and fiddle-leaf figs are trending heavily on social media right now. What plants do you predict are going to be filling our Pinterest feeds next?
I am a big fan of Ficus triangularis and Ficus Iyrata for large indoor plants. And I think moss and moss-like plants will be nudging some of the succulents out of their photo ops.

Any tips for remembering to water your plants before they are half dead?
Technology! Put it on the calendar as a recurring event! Also, if you don't feel confident, use a moisture meter.

What are a few common mistakes people make when selecting plants for their space?
Wrong light exposure is the most common error, but also recognizing your personal commitment level. Plants are living and require some attention. Using a container with a water reservoir can also allow for a little neglect.

Are there any plants that you can recommend for someone with a low light space?

1. Cast Iron Plant- Aspidistra elatior

2. Chinese Evergreen- Aglaonema

3. Philodendron varieties

4. Peace Lily- Spathiphyllum

5. Snake Plant- Sansevieria trifasciata

Herb gardens seem to be everywhere. Are these easy to maintain, or do they require additional maintenance?
Some herbs can be brought indoors from the outside garden during the cold months that normally cause them to die back and go dormant. It is critical that they have adequate light, which means 8 hours a day of SOUTHERN exposure. Just a sunny window will not be enough for the herbs to survive, much less thrive. Once you determine that you have the proper location, herbs grow very well indoors, and they take no more time and effort than a regular house plant.

(Image credit: Claire Bock)

How much space should a plant have in its container?
Sooner or later a healthy houseplant is going to outgrow its container. When a plant gets too large for its pot, the roots circle around inside the pot and begin to constrict themselves. If your plant seems healthy but starts to dry out more quickly than it used to, it is probably root bound.

You can re-pot the plant in a pot that's bigger by an inch or two. Don't go too big, as too much soil means the roots will be in damp conditions and can rot. If you don't have room for a larger pot, you can maintain the plant's size by pruning back the top and roots by about a third and re-potting with fresh soil in the same pot.

How do you know when to prune a house plant?
There are several reasons to prune a house plant. Whether it is eliminating dead branches and leaves, encouraging more balanced growth, or just controlling size, sooner or later you will have to prune your houseplants. Plants should typically be pruned in the beginning of the growth season. In general, it isn't a good idea to prune more than 25% of the foliage at once.

Some plants should never be pruned, such as palms. Many orchids fall into this category (with the exception of dead heading the flower spikes).

Do you have any secrets that you can share with us for keeping healthy and happy plants?
Location, location, location. Choosing the right plant for the light exposure is the best "secret."

Thanks Bridget!

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