This post has been something I’ve been wanting to share for a long time! I’ve always gotten a lot of questions about our plants, especially since Eric built our backyard greenhouse. We had a ton of plants stuffed into our tiny San Francisco apartment and have always had quite a lot of plants inside our home in Nashville too. Now that the greenhouse plants are inside for the winter, we have 85+ plants inside!
I can’t take any credit for the plants. Eric has the true green thumb and is super deep in the plant game. He spends hours each week watering and caring for our plants and has really learned a lot more about plants this past year. I asked him to compile all of his plant tips and tricks, so without further ado….
First things first…GETTING A NEW PLANT:
- Pick a spot (yes before you buy!) A common mistake is putting a high light plant in a dark room or low light plant on the window sill. Most plants will come with a tag indicating light needs, and the south & west of your house tend to get the most light so plan according!
- Best (and cheapest) spots to find plant deals: Home Depot or Lowes, Kroger and facebook marketplace and keep on the hunt – plants DO go on sale or even free online! when the season changes or someone moves. Take a close look at the plant before you buy – looking under the leaves might reveal some pests like spider mites and plants with small new leaves tend to thrive when you bring them home.
- If you can’t help but kill plants, here are the easiest plants IMHO: snake, ZZ, pothos, spider, or aglaonemas (this last one is our oldest running plant “pre-E” that Andi bought when she moved to SF nine years ago – it has taken a lot of neglect and still thrives!)
- Pick a pot (again, yard sales, Goodwill or Home Depot) that is 1 inch larger than the nursery pot and ideally has a drainage hole at the bottom as this will help prevent overwatering and root rot. For smaller pots, I think Amazon has some of the best deals.
- Once you bring home your new plant baby, immediately spray off the leaves in the shower or with a hose to knock off any potential pests, massage the roots until they break apart from the root ball and re-pot with fresh potting soil. If the weather is nice (70+ degrees) leave outside and isolated from other plants for the first few days in case some pests traveled on the plant.
- Consistency is key. Plants get used to certain amounts of light, water, and food and hate being moved from room to room or infrequent watering habits. Figure out your plant schedule (ie. I water every X days) and stick too it.
- Watering – most plant parents think watering solves all their problems. Looking droopy? Water. Yellow leaves? Water. From personal experience, overwatering is the top killer of houseplants. Most plant experts recommend sticking your finger 2-3 inches deep in the soil to see if the soil is moist and needs more water. First, that is disgusting and second, there are much better options:
- Buy a moisture meter – it will tell how dry the soil is and only water when the soil is <4-5 on the meter (seriously, this is the best tool in my arsenal)
- Use clay plant stakes + old wine bottles – these work great if you don’t have a ton of plants and go out of town a lot! The plant will pull water through the stake as it needs so all you have to do is refill the bottle when empty
- Buy a mister – plants thrive in high humidity (which is why our plants thrive in the greenhouse!).
- Light – if you have avoided the high light / low light issue, congrats! (I wrote that congrats! sarcastically, but take it as an affirmation if you would prefer). Make sure your plants are getting enough light by dusting or hosing down the leaves on a quarterly basis – this knocks the built up layer of dust off the leaves and keeps the light in. Plants will grow toward the light – if you hate the irregular growth that will cause, rotate them in place 90-180 degrees to even out the growth.
- Food – most potting soils are pre-loaded with nutrients to help your plants grow! Re-potting plants (in a larger pot if root bound) with fresh soil every 1-2 years helps to keep your plants growing. I also use some Miracle-Gro Plant Food every 2 weeks in spring/summer to help accelerate growth as well. Most plants go dormant in the winter, so typical recommendation is stop feeding your plants as soon as you flip on the heat in your house in the winter.
- Pruning – this topic merits it’s own full post, but I used to be really scared to cut back any plants for fear of them dying. From personal experience, most plants love selective pruning as it simulates new growth – and what you prune can be occasionally be propagated into new mini plants! Do your research – and only prune in spring/summer – but pruning should be a tool in your plant care arsenal. Invest in a pair of pruning shears and wipe with clorox wipes in-between use to not spread diseases from plant to plant.
Help! MY PLANT IS DYING:
- Watch the signs – look closely at the “dying” plant. An inspection of the underside of the leaves could reveal a pest issue. Yellowing leaves are sometimes a sign of irregular watering or needing to re-pot the plant. Once you identify the symptoms, google “plant issue + name of plant” – there are a ton of online resources to help identify what your problem might be!
- Irregular watering patterns – buy a moisture meter! This will help you get to the right level of watering and avoid any issues.
- Yellow leaves + crispy or brown edges on the leaves can indicates underwatering
- Bright yellow leaves + some leaf loss on lower leaves can indicate overwatering (and potential root rot!)
- Whole plant semi-yellowing can indicate root bound or lack of nutrients for the plant. Size up your pot and get new soil or fertilizer!
- Light / Environmental Changes – One you find a forever home for your plant, try not to move it. More sensitive plants – I’m looking at you fiddle leaf fig – will drop leaves when they are moved. Extreme temperature changes also impact plants. In the winter as the days get shorter and you turn on your heat, plants may drop some leaves due to the lack of light or humidity. Although you can combat this with grow lights and regular misting, you can also just trim the dead leaves off and wait for spring.
- Pests – if your plant just suddenly starts dying, you might have some pests! Check the underside of the leaves and the soil for any unwanted attachments. To treat, I spray down the leaves of any infested plant and apply Neem Oil to both sides of the leaves until the pests go away. This is a great blog on some of the common pests and how to treat as well!
SUPPLIES WE LOVE:
- Water Mister – this is what Eric uses to water a lot of plants! It basically makes the plants feel like they are in a more humid environment.
- Clay Plant Stakes + Old Wine Bottles – the plant will pull water through the stake as it needs so all you have to do is refill the bottle when empty
- Moisture Meter – this $6 tool will tell you how dry the soil is! It’s basically a cheat sheet for knowing when/how much to water a plant.
- SHOP FOR PLANT SUPPLIES (More pots and plant-related items here!)
All photos via Amber Ulmer for A Beautiful Mess