The people I meet at Succulence pop-ups and events often say that they can kill a (insert hard to kill plant name such as cactus here) so therefore they can’t possibly look after a plant as they must just be botanically challenged. Then after a bit of probing I get to the real reason their plants didn’t make it. Here are the issues that come up time and time again ....
1. Too. Much. Water
This is one of the biggest indoor plant killers going. Overwatering your house plants drowns the roots and can cause root rot, un-sightly brown splodges on the leaves and can kill your plant. Make sure when you buy a plant that you check in with what it is called and any care tips so that you don’t get home and care for it too much.
House plants generally need less water than outdoor plants as the water has no where to go (it can't drain away into the ground). If you own a cactus, succulent, snake plant or a ZZ plant then you can over water these by watering them too regularly. In fact they prefer to be on the dry side and I recommend being a bit mean with these guys and only watering once a fortnight unless we are in the middle of a heatwave.
So check in with your local plant shop when you buy a plant to make sure you know what the best water levels are for your plant, or check out our blog for more info on how to care for your plant.
2. Not enough water
This is definitely a rarer occasion than the above but can sometimes follow when a plant owner has lost a plant due to over-watering and then goes completely the other way. It can also be an issue when the weather changes and the sunshine comes out. More often than not your plant will let you know when it needs a drink – its leaves will droop, it will start to fade in colour and it will look a bit sad. But before it gets to that I give the soil a bit of a poke too to test how dry it feels- generally if the top few inches feel dry then give it a water, unless your plant is a succulent and wants the soil to be totally dry before each water.
Another good tip is to make sure you don't let the grower pot (the plastic pot the plant comes in) sit in water buy just watering the plant still inside its planter. I recommend watering plants over the sink so that the excess can drip out and your plant roots don't get waterlogged.
3. Choosing a plant by its looks alone.
This is a tricky one as we all like to be surrounded by aesthetically pleasing things. When shopping for plants make sure you check in with the store staff what conditions the plants need. String of pearls is a very cool looking succulent that needs bright light and a small amount of watering (preferably from underneath) and even then can be a tough plant to keep alive. However, I meet lots of people who buy it just because it looks good, for a gloomy spot or a soggy bathroom and then are upset that it didn’t survive even with warnings from me about how fussy it can be.
Likewise, ferns are no good for bright and dry spaces, they need humidity and to have a nice level of moistness on the soil as well as light shade. So although they look incredible if you haven't got the time to dedicate for caring for them, or you are planning them for a dry place in the home, then step away and pick something easier!
4. Light levels
All plants need light to photosynthesise but I still get asked a lot what plants would survive in a dark, windowless, soggy bathroom. The answer is none. If you want to have plants in a room with no windows then you need to be moving the plant to a lit room regularly. (Warning; I must add here that plants can be really fussy and don't like to be moved around lots as they get happy in certain spots). Likewise don't put a plant which prefers shadier spots in your sunniest brightest window. I killed a prayer plant by treating it like a succulent and drying it out and giving it loads of light before I knew what I was doing. Turns out they like a more jungly, humid atmosphere and indirect light!
5. Too many plant parents.
I once got called back to an office installation in a panic as 'all of our plants are dying'. They weren't. One succulent had been overwatered and had died but the other plants were looking parched and a bit peaky but still alive. After a good chat it transpired that the plants had been being watered vigorously by all of the team as they wanted to ensure that they survived. The only problem was that most of these plants only wanted to be watered once a week or less and they were being watered daily by lots of different team members! In February. When it was dark and cold and the plants didn't need it. The team then panicked and stopped watering them all together as no one wanted the responsibility for destroying the plants. So when I arrived, the plants had been through an ordeal. We sorted it out and one person on the team took charge and they are thriving again. So make sure if you share a space with people that you know who is in charge of the plant care so that plants don't get too much or too little care to keep them going!
And most of all enjoy your plant care adventure. Use it as an opportunity to learn. You may make mistakes, (we all have - see my admission re my first ever prayer plant) but we soon learn from them and often plants are tougher that you think.
We'll be sharing plenty of tips on here including some of our favourite plant blogs/ instagram accounts and more.