Plants: My Newbie Top Tips and Starter Kit Must-Haves for Houseplants!
A few weeks ago, I shared my first post on becoming a (proper) houseplant mama, and after doing so a few of you got in touch to ask what I have in my “toolkit” when it comes to houseplant care. Whilst I’m no expert, I do have some experience based on my own trials and errors. I’m pretty pleased with the fact that over the past few years I’ve probably only killed in the region of two plants!
I really enjoy gardening and looking after houseplants, but it’s only over the past year or so that I’ve been able to get back into it properly. Our house is now full of houseplants, although I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a jungle (much to Sharon’s disagreement!). It’s looking so lovely. At least one positive thing from lockdown is that we’ve made our house a little greener and more oxygenated!
With this in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my top tips, as well as some of my favourite tools and gadgets that make my life a bit easier when it comes to houseplant care. If you have any suggestions or tips of your own, please do not hesitate to let me know!
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It goes without saying that if you’re on a tight budget, or if you just so happened to have been donated a houseplant, you don’t really need *that* much “stuff”. Unless a houseplant is completely pot-bound or unwell, you can just leave a plant in it’s nursery pot for a while. But, some houseplants are naturally temperamental and do require a bit of TLC to get going, therefore it’s good to have some basics in stock so you don’t kill it before it’s had a chance to flourish.
Each houseplant requires a different soil based on how moist it prefers to be and the nutrients it requires. Therefore, you will need a variety of soils if you’re planning on re-potting. Cacti and succulents will require one type of soil, Orchids another, and your general houseplant will have something completely different.
Tip: I often mix my soils with something extra like perlite, moss, bark or sand, depending on the plant. This will often mimic their natural habitat – but make sure you research this first!
Whether you’re planning on propagating or needing to separate plant babies from the main plant, it’s good to have a variety of plant pots on hand. Over time, you’re bound to collect a few when you re-pot your plant into a bigger pot, but it’s good to have variety of sizes in stock.
Tip: Cutting a plastic pot in half and turning it upside down is a quick and easy way to create draining space if your decorative pot doesn’t have any drainage holes! It’s not a long term fix, but it’s perfect for last minute job.
Obviously you can still test whether your plant needs watering by sticking a finger or two in the soil, but there are certain plants that look quite dry on top and will trick you into thinking it needs a drink. Even a few centimetres down they can actually be quite moist still, so it’s good to properly test so you don’t over water!
This is where a water gauge comes in handy as you can stick it all the way down to the root ball (although be careful!) and see whether your plant needs a drink.
Tip: Some meters even test the pH Levels in soil, as well as the light in a room, and can be used for outdoor plants also.
One of the best purchases I’ve made recently is a planting tray, as no matter how hard I tried, I always got soil mix on the table (or carpet!). If the weather was nice I would go outside, but more often than not it was too cold (for both me and the plant!) and the bathroom was too much hassle.
This tray was found at my local garden centre and slips nicely into our under-stair cupboard. It gives me plenty of room to re-pot plants as well as make my own soil mixes mess-free.
It is inevitable that some time in your plant-loving life that bugs will make their way into your home. It is no criticism of you or your care, they just find their way in. Even the most experienced of plant people experience bugs.
I was unlucky in that a bag of soil I left outside became contaminated and in no time a few plants were infected with gnats. But there’s lots of ways you can combat these! The important thing is to deal with it as soon as you notice them!
Sticky Pads / Traps
If you’re suffering with gnats or other flying / jumping creatures, an immediate halt to this is to stick some sticky pads (aka traps) around the infected plant(s). It WILL NOT stop the issue completely (you have to deal with the eggs located in the soil), but it will cut the numbers down whilst you’re treating the plant
Tip: If you can, make sure you let your plants dry out between watering. Bugs often like quite moist / damp conditions before laying their eggs.
If you walk around a garden centre, you will see a variety of pest killers that say they treat houseplants too. However, from experience, the best treatment has been more natural remedies.
In my plant medicine cabinet, I have the following bottles that I will apply to poorly plants, depending on the issue:
- Neem Oil – Perfect for dealing with gnats and other pests. You can buy this ready mixed, or “pure” and make your own solution.
- Surgical Spirit – Great for wiping down leaves when treating mealy bugs and aphids once mixed with water.
- Hydrogen Peroxide – Brilliant for offering extra oxygen to roots as well as killing pests.
It goes without saying that you should always research this beforehand so you get the correct ratios, and so that you’re offering the right treatment.
When we had a particularly nasty outbreak of gnats in the bathroom, we put a carnivorous plant in there and in no time the numbers went down (again, alongside treatment). Plus, it meant we got a new plant!
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with having a variety of plastic pots dotted around the home – but who doesn’t like to zhoozh it up a bit? Plus, placing nursery pots inside a decorative pot means that the plant will have perfect drainage after watering.
My favourite place for plant accessories is Etsy, and over the past few months I’ve purchased belly baskets, hanging accessories and plant stands, and it makes a huge difference. If you’re buying houseplants online, why not take a look to see what pot is featured with the plant? Some online stores offer a discount if you buy the featured pot with the plant!
Tip: If you’re stuck for light in your home, why not raise a few plants up by hanging them from the ceiling or sitting their pot in a stand.
Not urgent, but still handy!
I have no issue getting my hands dirty, but if you’re in a rush or have large quantities of soil to put in the pot then it might be handy to purchase a few different sized trowls.
I recently purchased some that had measurement gauges on them, which was useful for when I was creating a mix of perlite, bark and soil.
Twine & “Bras”
If you have a particularly tall plant like a Monstera, it is likely you will need to train it to grow on twine or a moss stick. Therefore, having some natural string will help tame your plant as well as support it.
Likewise, for “bushier” houseplants like a Peace Lilly, where their leaves sometimes droop, something like a support ring will help give your plant a helping hand. You can remove it once it stands tall.
Tip: Both of these come with their own caveats. Firstly, with string, make sure you don’t suffocate your plant by tying string too tight. If your plant is drooping, make sure you test to see if it needs a drink first before applying any supports.
Propagation across the Nation!
As soon as your houseplant starts to thrive, you’ll very quickly start to see “nodes” on plants like Pathos, Monkey Masks and Monstera, and roots on Ivy’s. This is a huge compliment as it means your houseplant is happy.
With this, if you want to get some free plants (or donate some!) why not start to propagate them? You don’t have to, of course, but why not? Quite often more leaves will grow from where you’ve cut anyway!
To do this, cut a few centimetres down from the node and then stick the plant in some water. After a few weeks, new roots will start to grow from the node. You don’t have to buy anything fancy, a shot glass or jar will do. Just make sure it’s placed somewhere nice and bright.
Tip: If you’re propagating quite a “leafy” plant like a string of hearts, make sure you remove any leaves from the stalk that you’re sticking in water. Otherwise, they’ll just rot in the water.
So there are my top tips and must-haves for houseplant care. Do you have any tips? What are your must-haves for houseplant care? Got any horror stories? Share them below!