• Katy Gardener

A guide to houseplants - Part 1

You CAN have success in your urban garden if you follow these green rules:

1. Have a plan before you buy

Think about your lifestyle before you spend. If in ‘pre-Covid times’ you were travelling every weekend, then it might be better to opt for undemanding plants such as Cacti or a Golden Pothos. If in normal life you have plenty of time on your hands, you have the luxury to make bolder choices like a Boston Fern or an Orchid.

2. Select the right container

Try to find the best possible match for your selected plant(s). If you’re planning on growing tall plants, choose a deep pot so you won’t grow a leaning Tower of Pisa. If you’re growing succulents, put them in a shallow container so their textures can shine for all to see.

3. Think about drainage

Plant pots NEED drainage holes. It’s a disaster if plant roots sit in stale water. The roots will rot away causing the plants to starve. Not all decorative pots come with drainage holes, so either drill some holes yourself or, sneakily, hide a smaller pot that does have drainage holes within your super stylish (less practical) pot. Remember to check that the smaller pot isn’t sitting in the water.

4. Opt for compost mix rather than garden soil when potting

When transferring a plant from the garden into a pot, or if you are simply repotting, you should use compost mix. Garden soil doesn’t offer enough air, water, drainage, or nutrients for plants. Compost is specially formulated to overcome these problems and it will help to anchor the plant roots and provide lots of healthy nutrients.

5. Remember a fertiliser

Potted plants are completely reliant on you for a dose of much needed nutrients and minerals. Give your plants a regular feed of all-purpose fertiliser to keep them happy, healthy, and productive (each fertiliser will have its own instructions so follow them!). Try to use organic fertilisers where possible.

6. Select the right spot for your plant

If your plants rely on sunshine to grow, make sure you give them the best chance of success by giving them direct access to the sun. They’ll only whither away if they stay hidden in a windowless bathroom. Similarly, some plants burn if they are exposed to too much sunlight so take care.

7. Read and save the plant tags

Plant tags are so useful. Not only do they prevent you from forgetting the plant name, but they also give you an idea of how big the plant will grow, and how best to care for it. If the info is there, use it!

8. Do clean your plants

Plants need a good wash, just as much as they need to be watered. Dust and dirt gathering on leaves creates a barrier that reduces the amount of sun reaching your plant and decreases the level of photosynthesis. Dirt also attracts nasty insects and makes it hard for your plant to breath. To prevent a plant asthma attack, use a damp cloth to wash large-leaved plants and opt for a small spray for the more delicate plants. Remember to use water at room temperature as you don’t want to shock the plants.

9. Do experiment

If this is the start of your urban garden journey, remember it’s normal to make mistakes! Keep experimenting and learn what works best for your plants and your lifestyle. The great thing about potted plants is that they’re portable. Sun-loving balcony plants may languish at the sign of the first frost, so bring them in for the winter months.

10. Propagate

Share and spread the plant love by taking cuttings and planting them. Propagating is surprisingly simple and will give you such a buzz when you get to share it with your friends at the end of lockdown! The best chance of success is to propagate during the Spring and Summer when plants are in their active growth period. Snip the roots (or leaves for succulents) with a clean, sharp knife and place in some nutrient filled soil and then plant. Like any new baby, a newly propagated plant need lots of attention. Keep feeding and water well to help give it the best start in life! Recommended plants to get you started include: the Chinese Money Plant, Golden Pothos; or any type of succulent.

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