Although all plants have certain specific needs,
there are general rules that apply to all plants.
More house plants are killed by improper watering than by anything else. Test the soil for moisture with your finger. If you cannot tell by this method, start noticing the weight of a plant when first watered, and the weight when almost wilting. After a while, you will be able to pick up pots to tell if they need water! Most plants should dry out somewhat, allowing air circulation in the root ball. If plants sit in water, or are watered too often, the roots will rot and the plant will die. A plant dying from overwatering and root rot will wilt, the same as a plant that is bone dry! Be sure you have accurate information on the water needs of each plant you have. Overwatering does NOT mean adding too much water at a time; overwatering means you have watered a plant too frequently.
Make watering easy for yourself by avoiding boobytraps. It is best to use pots that have drainage holes and good, sturdy saucers. Be careful with hanging plants. Take them down to the sink to insure a good soaking of the plant, not your floor, or put a good size saucer under the plant and hang it with a rope hanger. If you’re using wicker baskets, leave enough room between the basket and pot to see what’s going on when you water.
All plants are watered the same way: thoroughly drench the soil until water runs out the drainage holes, then empty the saucer after a few minutes. Don’t forget—plants standing in water will develop root rot from the water-logged soil. If your plant is potbound, be sure to soak it well, as water tends to run right through a potbound plant and the roots don’t get a good drink even though water flows out the bottom.
If using decorative planters without drainage holes, keep the plants in their original growers pots and put them into the planter so you can empty excess water after each watering. If you must plant directly, be sure to use stones in the bottom of the planter. You must be very careful not to add too much water because it will not be able to drain out.
Remember: Proper watering means healthy roots, which means healthy plants!
All plants must have some light to live, but needs vary. Know what your plant needs.
Full sun means a window or skylight where the rays of the sun fall directly onto the plant. A southern exposure, with no awnings, overhangs, curtains or outdoor trees to block the light, provides full sun all day. An eastern exposure provides direct sun in the morning and the intensity is less than in a southern exposure. A west window gives direct afternoon sun, along with a strong heat buildup.
Bright light, or indirect light is often a “catch-all” term that merely confuses the new plant owner. It refers to a spot that offers very bright light conditions without direct sun and is found in a sunny window with filtering curtains; a few feet back from a sunny window; or up to 10 feet into a room with white or light color walls and floor that reflect light. Often an eastern exposure offers very bright light most of the day with a bit of direct sun in the morning that is not very strong. Office light from fluorescent ceiling fixtures can usually be considered bright indirect light.
Low light is not the same as darkness. Low light is bright enough for you to sit and read during the day without turning on a lamp. A northern exposure offers very little or no direct sun, which is what is meant by low light. The inner recesses or corners of a room with a few sunny windows may provide enough light for low light plants.
As a general rule, low light plants need less frequent watering than others
Most plants do well in regular household humidity of 30%. If your plant needs more humidity, you have several options. Take advantage of the natural humid air in the bathroom or kitchen or use a humidity tray. Put a large saucer of pebbles under your plant; and add water to the saucer below the top of the pebbles. As the water evaporates, it surrounds the leaves with humid air. Misting is good for plants but does little to increase humidity in the long run. When the mist evaporates, the air is dry again. Mist often for best effect.
At Natureworks, our motto is “feed the soil, not the plant”. We recommend using a high quality potting mix that contains real soil and compost. Avoid “soil-less mixes”, those made only of peat moss, perlite, bark, and chemical fertilizers. Treat the soil in your potted plants the same way you would your garden soil. Topdress the soil with worm castings between repotting sessions. Use organic houseplant fertilizers such as fish emulsion, fish combined with liquid seaweed, or Daniels, a liquid fertilizer that is made from soybeans. An excellent alternative to liquid fertilizers are Organic Plant Nutrition Tabs. They are large, soluble organic fertilizer tablets that you simply insert in the soil. In the growing season (spring and summer) you should fertilize bi-weekly, or at least monthly to sustain healthy growth. As the light levels lower in fall and early winter, back down on your feeding to every 6-8 weeks, unless you are using supplemental grow lights.
Examine your plants carefully each time you water them. Look for stickiness, webs, mottling, distorted growth or any other signs of a problem. Healthy plants are less susceptible to insects and diseases, but early detection and accurate diagnosis are the keys to proper treatment. If you’re not sure what the problem is, take a sample to the Agricultural Experiment station in New Haven, 1.877.855.2237, for help. Often simple remedies like soap and hot water will do, but there are many safe, organic insecticides available if that’s what you need. Refer to our handout Ecological Pest Control for organic pest and disease products and solutions.
Plants are sold by pot size and, to give you the best value, often are at the maximum size for the container when you buy them. A new pot should be 2-4” larger in diameter than the old one. Always use a pot with a drainage hole. When you take the plant out of its old container, keep the root ball intact to protect the vital feeder roots, but if the root system is very dense and circling around the inside of the pot, score the root ball using a sharp knife to break up the root ball a bit and encourage a dense, fibrous root system. Use good quality potting soil and water thoroughly. The new, larger pot should dry out slower than the old one, so the plant may need to be watered less often.
In an effort to provide horticultural information, these educational documents are written by Nancy DuBrule-Clemente and are the property of Natureworks Horticultural Services, LLC. You are granted permission to print/photocopy this educational information free of charge as long as you clearly show that these are Natureworks documents.