Keeping an indoor plant alive means providing it with what it needs on a long-term basis. Keeping an indoor plant alive means no forgetting about its existence for months at a time. Keeping an indoor plant alive is a sign that you’ve managed to cross the threshold into competent adulthood.
So how do you keep an indoor plant alive?
Sunlight, water and soil keep plants happy
Keeping a plant alive requires giving it the appropriate amount of sunlight and water, as well as the right soil and nutrients. How much of each will depend on the particular plant, and too much or too little will lead to yet another death. The key to is to research what your particular plant needs and figure out the right way to provide it and how to recognise the warning signs that something is out of whack if you’re doing it wrong. Although this sounds simple, it does take a bit of practice to get right (sorry, starter plants).
How to tell if a plant is getting too much or too little sunlight
Plants require light for photosynthesis, which is how they are able to produce energy. Each type of plant requires different amounts of light.
Too much light and plants become scorched, bleached and limp. Too little light and they become pale and wilted, their leaves growing long and thin in order to stretch toward a light source—or alternatively, dropping their leaves altogether.
Different plants will require low, medium or high light conditions, which is why it’s important to figure out what an individual plant needs and what place in your home might be able to provide it. Low light plants should be placed away from direct sunlight, medium light plants should be in a well-lit part of the house and high light plants should be in the sunniest spots in your home.
If you don’t know what the sunlight requirements for your plant are, one useful metric is to search out its foot-candle estimate, which is a measure of light intensity or brightness. A low light plant needs between 50-250 foot-candles, a medium-light plant needs between 250-1000 foot-candles, while a high light plant needs more than 1000.
How to tell if a plant is being over- or under-watered
Too much water is just as bad as not enough. If a plant is over-watered, the tips of its leaves turn brown, the stem’s base turns soft and mushy, and it develops yellow leaves which drop off. If a plant is under-watered, the leaves start to curl and get brown and crispy.
That’s why it’s important to water your plant at the right intervals and in the right amount. Each plant will have different requirements, but a good measure of whether a plant needs more water is to feel the soil. If the soil is wet or damp, it doesn’t need to be watered. If the soil is dry, then, depending on the plant, it might need more water.
When it comes to ensuring your plants get the right amount of water, drainage is critical. For example, if the soil in the pot is constantly damp, that’s a sign that the water isn’t draining, and can lead to moulding roots.
Two hacks for ensuring proper drainage would be to either fill the bottom half of the pot with packing peanuts, or to line your pot with coffee filters, which will encourage proper drainage. It’s also important to dump any water that accumulates in the drainage tray, as letting it sit there isn’t good for the roots either.
Most house plants should be planted in regular potting soil. The exceptions would be orchids, which need more drainage and for which special orchid mixes are available, and cacti and succulents, which need more drainage, for which adding in sand will help.
You’ll want to fertilise your plants periodically to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need. A general indoor plant fertiliser will usually be enough, as long as it has a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These fertilisers can be bought in liquid, stick and tablet forms, as well as slow release or granular. A good rule of thumb is to fertilize when the plant is actively growing—usually during the spring—and remember that, like water, too much fertiliser is just as bad as too little.
Easy plants for beginners
Some beginner-friendly indoor plants include aloe vera, chinese evergreen, christmas cactus, dumb cane, jade plant, lucky bamboo, snake plant and peace lily. Although these names may sound unfamiliar to plant newbies, you’ve probably seen them in the homes and apartments of people you know. These types of plants could probably thrive in your home as well—as long as you do a little bit of research to figure out what they need and how to give it to them. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be well on your way to keeping your plant friend alive. And just think how satisfying that will be.