A guide to keeping your houseplants happy - 10 growing tips and tricks July 30, 2017 10:07

How to look after houseplants Houseplants have never been more fashionable or in demand. They look wonderful in cool, clean scandi styled homes and yet are equally at home against lush, bold hues. Some can literally help clean up the environment; removing formaldehyde and other toxins from the air, while others are just an irresistibly handsome housemate and earn their place in your home and heart for their looks alone. 

Given their popularity and appeal, how is it that so many of us have such a hard time looking after these little plants? Well, I think the term houseplants sets us up for failure. There is no such thing as a plant that prefers a house to live in. They want to be outside, living wild and free. Instead, they begrudgingly take up digs in our homes, throwing the odd strop here and there about the living conditions, which, quite frankly, are a bit below par. Can you imagine living it up in some far flung, tropical hotspot, only to find yourself carted off, stuffed into a concrete pot, and placed on a north facing window sill - with a cold draught blowing in your face morning, noon and night? 

Enough said. Your job is to play the long suffering landlord/lady and pander to their every whim. So, here are ten ways to keep your houseplants happy, enjoying the lifestyle they are accustomed to...

1. Know what you grow. It may sound obvious, but make sure you know what it is you are growing. If you don't want to keep the label on the plant, make a note of it in a journal. Unless you are a bit of a botanical whizz kid, you will find yourself forgetting the some or all of the name of your house plant, which then makes it tricky if you need to google a quick reminder on what to do when the leaves turn brown...!?@!Plant hanger from Denys & Fielding

2. Art imitates life. Or in this case, home imitates jungle / desert / native environment. Whatever plant you have, it has a heritage far beyond a semi in Stockton or a flat in Forest Hill. Find out about the background and natural environment of your plant and then replicate as best you can - for example, opting for free draining composts and soils for a desert dwelling plant such as cacti or succulents. Choosing indirect sunlight for low growing, forest plants. 

3. Keep clean. Washing the dust off of houseplants helps them to function more effectively. Similar to our skin, leaves can get clogged up if they are not kept clean so a quick dust with a damp cloth is normally all that is needed to help them looking and performing at their best.

4. Let water drain away. Because of their natural environment (see point two,) lots of houseplants can't stand sitting in water for too long. Ideally, water with rain water, particularly for succulents and cacti, and allow the water to drain away. Catch any additional drips with a tray

5. Invest in a sprayer / mister. We love a Haws mister. Perfect for creating a little more humidity for plants that dislike our dry, centrally heated homes, such as a Calathea.  

6. Don't be afraid to put houseplants outside, even in the UK! I've a really lovely calamondin orange tree that I've had since it was a wee small thing. As it has grown bigger and bigger, I have had less and less options in terms of where to put it, not just because of the space it takes up, but also because of it's weight. It is not an easy one to move around! So, in the winter, it takes up residence by the back door, a little starved of light, but the best I can do. Once the temperatures go up, we man handle it outside onto our patio to enjoy the full effects of the British summertime...! Even if the temperatures are a little pathetic, it does love the extra light it receives, producing an abundance of flowers and fruit (weirdly at the same time!) as soon as it steps outside. 

7. When it comes to watering, follow the rule of thumb. Avoid feast or famine. Stick your thumb into the soil, down to the crease of your thumb knuckle / joint. If it's dry as dust, give it a water. 

8. Don't assume the bugs and beasties are all on the outside. Pests and diseases can also afflict indoor plants so keep an eye out for signs of suffering - brown or curling leaves, visible eggs or pests hovering around the plant. Which leads us nicely onto...  

9. The more the merrier. Companion planting doesn't have to be just for outside. Plants can support the healthy development of each other inside too. Many herbs are quite happy to sit inside in a sunny spot, and will help deter any pests, just as they do when out in the garden. Basil, Rosemary, Chives and Bay all do a great job at supporting their neighbouring plants whether inside or out.

10. Indirect sunlight is a pretty safe assumption. Lots of houseplants really do not like a lot of sun. Finding a spot that enjoys plenty of light, but not enough sun to scorch, is a safe bet for most. 


Further reading: 

  • If your new to houseplants, we recommend 'How to Grow Stuff' by Alice Vincent. Simple, straight forward advice to add a tinge of green to your fingers. Check out our review of this lovely, helpful book, published earlier this year. 

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