29 Plant Hacks to Upgrade Your Green Thumb, Practically for Free
Taking care of your houseplants also means taking care of yourself. Gardening, even if it’s of the indoor variety, is soothing and therapeutic for many, and having plants around can further improve your mood, productivity, and stress levels.
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Whether your thumb is green or…not so green, whether you have one plant or a jungle’s worth, here are some plant-care tips that can help keep your greenery not only alive, but lush.
Cut a corner off a sponge and designate it as your plant duster
Dusting leaves can help them photosynthesize to the best of their ability and also makes them look fresh and clean. You just dampen the sponge slightly and brush it over each leaf to make them shine. Cut a corner off your plant sponge to keep it distinguishable from the ones you use on the dishes and bathtub.
Use a banana peel to dust your plants’ leaves
You can also use a banana peel to dust your leaves. We tried it: It definitely gets the dust off, but may leave behind some banana gunk. If you don’t mind that (supposedly banana can help repel aphids), it’s a great reuse tip for when you’re done with your snack.
Water plants with your overnight drinking water in the morning
Another reuse tip: Use the drinking water you left on your nightstand overnight to water some of your plants each morning. This built-in, no-waste routine will prevent sporadic watering for thirsty plants.
Use hard-boiled egg water to water your plants
Eggshells are rich in calcium, which helps to neutralize the pH in soil. When you hard-boil eggs, a bit of the calcium ends up in the water, so your plants might love it. Plus, you’re doing something useful with water you’d just be throwing down the drain.
Water plants with bathwater
As long as your plants aren’t edible (and no pets or kids are snacking on them either), there’s little harm in stealing a scoop of water from the bath to water your plants. They’ll love it if you used Epsom salt in the water (more on that below), but you’ll want to avoid it if there’s anything in the water with additives like dyes or fragrances (i.e. skip this tip on bath bomb day). Plants can handle a bit of diluted soap water, though.
Water with an Epsom-salt solution
About that Epsom salt: Plants need magnesium and sulfur, and luckily both of those nutrients are available in it. Mix two tablespoons of Epsom salt into a gallon of water and use that to water your houseplants to encourage bushier, happier, more flowery plants.
….Or just use it as a mist
You can also mist your plants with an Epsom salt solution for another way to deliver a nutrient boost.
Use a chopstick to support leaning plants
If your plants need a little help as they grow, you can use the wooden chopsticks from your takeout like small plant stakes: Secure them in the soil and use twine or plant tape to string up your droopy stems.
Make a vertical garden from an IKEA bag holder
Think you have no space for plants? Think again. IKEA’s VARIERA bag dispenser can be repurposed as a wall garden—you just need some moss and soil.
Use eggshell halves to start seedlings
You don’t need to buy tiny pots to start your seedlings. Save your eggshells for a while—crack them carefully!—and fill them with soil to get your seeds started off right.
…Or use an empty cardboard egg carton to start seedlings
Similarly, you don’t really need the eggshells at all, if they came in a cardboard carton—just start the seeds right inside.
Start seedlings in citrus halves
You can also use half-peels from oranges, grapefruits, or other citrus fruits as starter pots for seeds or propagated plants. Just hollow out the peel until just the rind remains, and fill it with soil.
Mix some cinnamon into your seedling soil
Many seedlings die due to fungal diseases, or “damping off.” The antifungal properties of cinnamon can help keep those problems at bay.
Sprinkle eggshells on the soil.
You can scatter crushed eggshells on your plant’s soil for another way to add calcium to the soil to balance the pH. The eggshells will also help to deter pests like snails and slugs.
Make propagated plant babies to give as gifts
Learning to propagate means you have gifts to give for any small “yay, you!” occasion. Every plant is different, so you’ll want to search the name of your plant to learn if and how to propagate it.
Use the upside-down water bottle trick to water plants while you’re on vacation
Fill a water bottle with water, leave the cap off, and quickly turn it upside down and push it a few inches into the soil. The water will slowly seep into the soil and keep it moist. You can also buy terracotta plant spikes—they’ll offer more control for finicky plants.
…Or try the water-wicking method
It’s another way to keep your thirsty plants hydrated while you’re gone. Use a cotton rope with one end tucked into your plant’s soil and the other end hanging down to the bottom of a container full of water. Martha Stewart loves this tip and included it in her most recent book.
Use ice cubes to water your plants
Leave three-ish ice cubes on top of the soil once a week, and let the ice melt down and nourish your plants. The benefits: You won’t risk a leak, it will help keep you from over watering, and it’s a great way to keep delicate leaves (like those of African violets) from getting wet. It also makes watering hanging plants so much easier. The caveat: Cold water can shock the roots of tropical plants, so maybe only use this tip for vacations.
Add your used coffee grounds to soil
Rinse your used coffee grounds, and rake a bit of it into the top soil of your plants. (Or, without rinsing them, use them to provide an acidic boost to plants that love a lower pH, like maidenhair ferns, azaleas, and blueberries.) The coffee will also help deter some pests and attract earthworms.
Group humidity-loving plants together
Plants need friends too. But more importantly, your humidity-loving plants will all be giving off moisture, which nearby plants can benefit from.
Cut open a diaper to help your plants retain moisture
You can tear open a diaper to source your own “water retention crystals” instead of buying them from the nursery.
Give your plants drinks of your club soda
Club soda contains minerals plants love, like phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, and sodium, to help them grow bigger and greener.
Add cat litter to your soil mix for succulents and cacti
Cacti and succulents prefer a fast-draining soil. You can buy the special stuff from the store, or mix your own with half regular soil and half cat litter—just make sure the litter is an unfragranced clay-based variety.
Use honey to root plant cuttings
If you’re trying to root a new plant from a cutting, dipping the stem in honey (raw honey is best) before you place it into soil can help protect against fungal or bacterial problems.
Use water from boiling vegetables to water your plants
You’re reusing water and the nutrients that have leeched from the veggies will feed your plants. Just let it cool first to avoid shocking the roots. Water from cooking pasta and potatoes can also be beneficial to plants.
Aerate soil with a chopstick
Plant soil gets compacted over time. To loosen the soil back up and give room for roots, water and oxygen to each do their thing, gently poke a chopstick or pencil into the soil. A good rule of thumb is two pokes per inch of pot diameter. You’ll know it’s time to aerate when the soil isn’t holding water as well as it used to.
Fill large planters with crushed soda cans
They will provide air circulation, help with drainage, and save on the cost of soil. Just make sure they’re clean before you start.
Place a coffee filter in the bottom of your pot
If you’re concerned about dirt flowing out of the drainage hole, a well-placed coffee filter will calm your fears.
…Or use a drill to add drainage holes to a pot without them
Plants definitely do better with proper drainage. If you’ve fallen in love with a cute planter which doesn’t drain, you can add drainage holes. Use a regular drill bit for plastic pots, a masonry drill bit for stone or terracotta, or diamond tipped bits for glazed ceramics.