Universal plants care guide for green fingers

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Hey there, green thumbs! Are your fingers green enough? Or are you one of the people posting questions like “Why are my plants not doing well?” or “What am I doing wrong?” Keep reading and you’ll find out not only what’s wrong with those questions, but also what you can do to ask the right ones – if it’s even necessary.

It’s never just “a“ plant

Plants have different needs

You don’t treat a dog the same as a cat just because they both are animals and pets. You don’t even treat a Grand Danois and a Chihuahua the same, even though both are dogs. Plants have different needs too. Often radically different.

Pets are different too

One of the most important things to understand about plants care is that each plant has unique needs and requirements. This is why it’s so important to learn about your individual plants and what they need to thrive. The best way to do this is to study the plant’s natural habitat (google it) and try to mimic it as closely as possible in your home. This can mean understanding the right amount of sunlight, the ideal temperature, and the type of soil that’s best for your plant. By paying close attention to these details, you’ll be able to provide the care your plants need to grow strong and healthy. So don’t be afraid to get to know your plants by the name, and to ask questions when you’re not sure what they need with the name and photos included. With a little bit of research and attention, you’ll soon have a lush and thriving collection of green friends.

Right pot or container is like a right home

Choosing right pot or container for your house plant

Let’s start with the beginning, the plant’s own house, the pot. The size, material, and presence of drainage holes are all crucial factors that can impact the health of your plants. For example, choosing a pot that’s too small can lead to root congestion, while choosing one that’s too big can lead to soil that stays too wet for too long. Similarly, the type of material your pot is made of can impact the overall environment for your plant, with plastic retaining moisture better than clay (and both can be an advantage or disadvantage based on the plant and growing conditions). But perhaps the most important make sure your pot has proper drainage holes. Plants need to be able to drain excess water, or they can become waterlogged and develop root rot. So, it’s crucial to make sure you’re choosing a pot that will allow your plants to drain properly and keep them healthy. Pots without the drainage are plants killer number one! Those can only be used as decorative outer pots, and instead of a tray.

It’s also important to note that different plants have different root systems, and this can impact the type of pot they need. Some plants prefer to be root-bound and do well in smaller pots, while others have tap roots that need more room to grow down. And still, others have shallow root systems that need wider, shallower pots. By taking the time to understand the root system of your plants (google it once again), you can make sure you’re providing the right environment for them to thrive.

Choosing the right pot for your plants can sometimes feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But don’t worry, just remember that the perfect pot is out there somewhere – and if you can’t find it, you can always make a planter out of anything… I’ve been using milk cartons and Pringles chips tubes.

The right soil for your plants – the foundation for its thriving

Right soil for house plants

Having the right soil for your plants is just as important as providing them with the right pot. After all, the soil is the foundation for your plants’ health and growth. Most houseplants are essentially tropical plants that come from the understory of wet tropical forests, where the soil is frequently washed through by extensive rains but quickly drained due to its loose consistency.

Commercially available potting soil can be too heavy, depriving the roots of oxygen, and can lead to root rot if it stays too moist for too long. That’s why it’s essential to mix potting soil with perlite or other components that provide good drainage and improve aeration. This will help ensure that the roots of your plants receive the right balance of moisture and air they need to grow strong and healthy.

It’s also important to understand that different plants have different soil needs. Some plants, like succulents and cacti, require well-draining soil that is almost sand-like in consistency, while others, like ferns and African violets, prefer soil that is moist and rich in organic matter. By taking the time to research your plants and understand their soil requirements, you’ll be able to provide them with the foundation they need to thrive.

Don’t underestimate the importance of having the right soil for your plants. A little extra effort to get the right mix of potting soil and perlite can go a long way in ensuring the health and happiness of your green friends.

Watering and humidity: the life source of your plants

Watering and humidity for house plants

Watering is one of the most important aspects of plant care, and it’s essential to get it right if you want your plants to thrive. The watering schedule for each plant will vary depending on the species and its natural habitat, as well as the growing conditions in your home. For example, most plants need more water in the summer when the temperature is high and they are actively growing, while they may require less water in the winter. The pot size and material will also play a role in the watering schedule, as soil in larger pots will stay wet longer than in smaller pots, as well as in plastic pots comparing to clay ones.

To determine the right watering schedule for your plants, it’s essential to do some research and learn about the needs of each species. Some wants to have constantly wet soil, while others need to get on the dry side between waterings. I would say all of them won’t like standing water in the tray and especially in the pot.

It’s also important to consider the quality of the water you’re using to water your plants. Hard water, which contains a high amount of calcium and other minerals and salts, can cause deposits to build up in your pots and can even harm your plants. If you notice a lot of white deposits in your kettle, it’s a sign that your water is too hard. You can soften hard water by letting it sit for a day or two before using it, or you can use distilled water instead.

Salt deposits will still build up in your pots from fertilizers and will eventually start harming the plant’s roots. It can be avoided by taking plants to bathroom sometimes and giving them a good tropical, Monsoon-like shower. It’s called leaching.

Another factor to consider is humidity. While the air humidity level in your home is not a crucial factor for plant health, it’s important to make sure you’re providing your plants with the right amount of water. Many tropical plants from the understory of wet forests are adapted to growing in high humidity environments, but they will still do well if they are provided with adequate watering. For example, many tropical plants are thriving in the harsh environment of Middle Eastern cities as long as they are watered correctly.

Nutrition: feeding your plants for optimal growth

Fertilizing house plants N-P-K value

Just like humans need a balanced diet to stay healthy, plants also need the right nutrients to grow strong and thrive. The three primary nutrients that plants need are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), often referred to as NPK. These nutrients can be found in both organic and synthetic fertilizers and play specific roles in the growth and development of plants.

Nitrogen (N) is essential for the growth of leaves and stems, while phosphorus (P) is important for root growth and the development of flowers and fruit. Potassium (K) helps with overall plant health and helps to strengthen the plant’s cell walls, making them more resistant to disease.

When choosing a fertilizer, it’s important to look at the NPK values on the label. A fertilizer with a high nitrogen value (such as a 20-10-10 fertilizer) is ideal for promoting leafy growth, while a fertilizer with a higher phosphorus value (such as a 10-20-10 fertilizer) is better for promoting flowering and fruiting.

It’s also important to consider the stage of growth your plants are in, as well as the type of plant you’re growing. For example, vegetable plants will need different nutrients than flowering plants, and established plants will have different nutritional needs than seedlings.

In general, it’s a good idea to fertilize your plants every 4-6 weeks during the growing season and less frequently during the winter months when growth is slower. It’s also important to remember that you can over-fertilize, which can damage your plants and even kill them, so always be careful to follow the instructions on the fertilizer label.

In addition to fertilizing, you can also provide your plants with the nutrients they need through composting and mulching. Composting is a great way to provide your plants with slow-release organic nutrients, while mulching helps to retain moisture in the soil and can also add nutrients as it breaks down over time.

Shining a light on plant care – literally

Right light for house plants

Light is a crucial aspect of plant care and growth, but with so many different types of plants out there, it can be a little confusing to know how much sun your green friends need. Let’s take a closer look at what makes light so important for photosynthesis and how you can find the perfect balance for your plants.

Just like people, plants come from all over the world and have different preferences for sunlight. For example, desert plants like the Adenium need plenty of strong sun to thrive, while low-light ferns prefer to stay out of the bright spots. So, when you’re choosing plants, it’s once again important to know their natural habitat and what kind of light they need.

Now, let’s talk about the different types of light you might have in your home or garden. There’s direct light, which is what you get from the sun shining directly on your plants, and indirect light, which is the light that filters through a window or shade. But here’s where it gets tricky: indirect light in Anchorage is absolutely not the same as in Houston! It all depends on your location, so be sure to take it into the account.

So, how much light does your plant need? Well, it all depends on the species, but as a rule, smaller plants need less light, while larger plants like Plumeria and bananas need more. And of course, there are always exceptions to the rule!

But what if you don’t have access to natural light, or if you live in a place with limited daylight hours? Fear not! Artificial light can help you provide the light your plants need to grow. From fluorescent bulbs to LED lights, there are many options available to mimic natural light and keep your plants happy and healthy. You can learn more about it here.

Sizzling or chilly? The importance of temperature

Right temperature for house plants

Temperature plays a crucial role in the growth and survival of plants. Just like humans, plants have their preferred temperature range for optimal growth. Some plants, such as succulents, prefer warm temperatures and thrive in hot climates. On the other hand, ferns and mosses prefer cooler temperatures and are commonly found in temperate rainforests.

It’s also important to consider seasonal temperature fluctuations when growing plants. For some, that means a dormant period during the winter months. During this time, these plants slow down their growth and rest up for the spring ahead.

On the other hand, tropical plants like hibiscus, mandevilla, and bougainvillea require warm temperatures year-round and may struggle in cooler climates.

There are also plants that require specific temperature changes during the day to thrive. For example, cacti and succulents are adapted to desert environments where temperatures can fluctuate greatly from day to night. Some Hoya will need lower night temperatures for flowering. So once again, make sure to do your research and provide your green babies with the temperature conditions they need to thrive!

Habit-forming: how to help your plants grow their best groove

House plants with different growing habit

Plants come in all shapes and sizes, and their growing habits are just as diverse. Some plants love to climb, others do better hanging down, and some simply prefer to stay compact and ground-bound. Understanding these growing habits is crucial to ensuring your plants are happy and healthy.

Climbing plants, such as ivies, jasmines, and bougainvillea, are perfect for adding vertical interest to your garden or home. They can be trained to climb trellises, walls, or other structures, and will grow upward, providing a natural green screen. Some climbing plants, like most aroids, even have aerial roots that can cling to surfaces, making them ideal for growing in terrariums or on windowsills.

Hanging plants, on the other hand, are perfect for adding a touch of greenery to high places or spaces where floor space is limited. Examples of hanging plants include ferns, spider plants, and ivies. These plants love to trail down and will often produce long, slender stems that are perfect for tucking into a hanging basket. Hanging plants are also great for creating a natural, flowing effect in your garden or home.

For those plants that prefer to stay closer to the ground, there are a number of options to choose from. Examples of ground-bound plants include succulents, cacti, and herbs. These plants are perfect for filling in gaps in your garden, or for adding some green interest to a windowsill or tabletop. They are also great for creating natural borders or for planting in pots and containers.

Finally, there are some plants that are more adaptable in their growing habits. For example, ferns and spider plants can be grown in pots, hanging baskets, or as ground-cover. These plants are great for adding versatility to your collection, and can be moved around to suit your changing needs.

In conclusion, whether you’re looking for a climber, a hanger, or a ground-bound plant, there is a wide range of options to choose from. Understanding the growing habits of your plants will help you ensure they are happy and healthy, and will provide you with a diverse and interesting collection of greenery in your home or garden.

Asking the right questions

Finding people with similar interests our days is fortunately very easy, having a plethora of social media groups and forums. There are many groups, which are more specific for some plant species or genera. So it can be more rewording to search for help there instead of general plant growers groups.

And asking questions we all do from time to time, even those with the greenest fingers. So don’t be shy and ask away, but try to be specific. Tell what plant (Latin name) you need help with. Describe in what conditions and were you are growing it. Tell about your care routines.

Asking questions about house plants growing

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of this guide and you’re now equipped with all the knowledge you need to grow a thriving garden, indoors or out! Remember, gardening is not just a hobby, it’s a journey filled with ups and downs, but ultimately a rewarding experience. Don’t be afraid to experiment, get your hands dirty, and have fun with it!

And if all else fails, just remember the age-old saying: “Even the best gardeners have to deal with weeds.” So, don’t worry if things don’t go exactly as planned, just keep on planting and growing, and learning, and you’ll be amazed by the results.

Happy growing!

  1. Reply
    Katharine at

    I wish you had written this basic guide for those of us who began tropical gardening 30 years ago without such information and had to learn by trial and error.

    I have a subtropical garden in Nicosia Cyprus (Mediterranean, inland) , usda zone used to be 9b but now with global warming and developed microclimate 10a.Temps in summer up to 43C winter down to 3C with mild frost maybe 2 nights/yr. I have a massive 28 year old delonix regia growing here which has never flowered whereas down the road there is one blooming right now. Have tried watering/not watering, fertilizing etc but no luck. Searched literature online but no luck. Any ideas?

    • Reply
      TropicsAtHome at

      Thank you for your kind words!
      As for Delonix regia, they are an amazing sight when flowering in group of trees. They are doing so in the beginning of hot and rainy season in their natural environment. Your problem is that your hot season is dry and the cooler one is wet. The opposite to what those trees are used to. I would try to water it excessively starting from end of April and until October, then stop watering until next season.
      They are deciduous, so don’t get alarmed if they lose leaves during winter. The flowering and new foliage normally comes at the same time in May.
      Good luck!

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