8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Parent of 100+ Plants
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“How do you care for your plants?” is a question I am asked consistently, but I still don’t have a succinct answer. In my ongoing role as plant mom of @cubehousejungle (with 100+ plants), I’ve learned a lot through hands-on experience, with much of it being trial and error. Here are several plant care tips I discovered along the way that I wish I had known earlier on.
1. There is a such thing as too much fertilizing.
Yes, it’s possible to love your plants a little too much! Excessive fertilization can damage the leaves by causing nutrient burn and creating buildup in the soil. I recommend only fertilizing during the growing season (spring and summer) and holding off during the colder months, when plants are dormant. I like to use an all-purpose, water-soluble plant food like Shultz or a vitamin solution like SuperThrive. I also use orchid spray on my hoyas.
2. It takes a little bit of time to figure out the right watering schedule.
Overwatering is another common mistake new plant parents make. Figuring out the watering schedule is very important to a plant’s overall health. Factors like humidity, soil type, and pot size all affect how often it will need to be watered. Monsteras and hoyas do better if their soil dries out a bit between watering, which in my home is about every 7-10 days. Snake plants and succulents are very drought-tolerant and only need to be watered once or twice per month.
I personally water my plants using a watering can and let the water drain to the catch tray. Sometimes I’ll bring smaller pots to the sink for watering. A lot of people prefer the latter method, but I have a lot of larger plants, so I am accustomed to their water needs. When in doubt, you can stick your finger or a wooden chopstick into the soil to check it it’s dry.
3. There’s a way to decrease your chances of root rot.
I’ve found that planting in terra cotta (which is a porous material that will help water evaporate faster) will decrease the chance of root rot from excessive watering. You can also keep your plants in their plastic nursery pots — that way you can lift them up easily; if they feel light, that means it’s time to water. I use decorative pots as catch pots to hide the nursery pots.
If you’re planting directly into ceramic pots, make sure they have drainage and are the proper size for the plant. Planting in a pot that’s too large can cause problems because in a too-large container, the soil will take much longer to dry out. When repotting, I will usually choose a pot that’s one to two inches larger than the previous pot.
4. You have to plan out your plant placement according to their lighting needs.
When I first started collecting, I purchased a bunch of plants with no plan for where they would be placed or what lighting conditions they needed. This was a rookie mistake. You should always consider your available lighting! The brightest and most optimal light will be from south-facing and west-facing windows. East-facing windows receive some morning sun, but north-facing windows will get the least amount of light.
A great approach is to first assess how the sunlight enters your home. Determine whether your window provides direct sunlight, filtered sunlight, or indirect sunlight. Does it remain shady throughout the day? Remember, unless you’re using grow lights, most artificial lighting in a home does not provide the strong, full-spectrum light your plants need. Once you know the quality of light you have, you’re ready shop for plants accordingly.
5. Some plants will let you know when they’re not getting enough light.
Proper light will ensure your plant’s healthy growth and maturity. If you ever see branches getting thin and leggy, this can be a sign of “stretching” — the plant is reaching and searching for more light. Move the plant closer to a window or add a grow light to alleviate this issue.
6. Different plants = Different light needs
Some popular high/bright light plants include monsteras, birds of paradise, rubber plants, hoyas, and succulents. Medium to low-light plants include Chinese evergreens, snake plants, pothos, and ZZ plants. If you’re not sure what kind of light a plant needs, the staff at the nursery should be able to help.
7. Before buying, you should inspect for pests and other plant issues.
This was something that could have saved me a lot of stress early on. Always inspect new plants, and make sure they don’t have any visible pests. Common pests include: spider mites, mealy bugs, and scale. Look under the leaves to see if anything is moving. Check the stems to see if there are any strange bumps. Are there any unhealthy or damaged leaves? All of those symptoms can be tell-tale signs of larger issues. If you see these signs on a plant, don’t buy it unless you’re ready for some extra work!
8. And you’ll have to check for pests on the regular.
Even if your plants appear to be free of pests when you bring them home, there’s still a possibility they will develop pests later on. I check for pests when I water my plants on the weekends, and it’s good to catch them early so there’s less risk of cross-contamination. If you spot a pest, quarantine the plant away from the others! Identify and look up treatments for the pest.
Nurturing your plants is the gift that keeps on giving — the satisfaction of watching a tiny plant become a massive specimen; the tranquility of cultivating nature inside your home. I hope these tips will help you prepare for better plant parenthood. So many factors go into plant care and maintenance, and it’s an ongoing learning process. With patience and persistence, your plants will reward you with a lifetime of growth.