Are you a new plant parent? Have you fallen in love with plants and have started a collection. Yet, your plants are struggling and you aren’t sure why. Plants should make you happy and if instead, they are inducing anxiety, that isn’t good for you or the plant. So, let’s talk about a few plant problems you may be having that can be easily solved.

1. Don’t Know Your Home? 

First, picking the right plant for the area you have starts your plant journey on the right road. Do a bit of research before purchasing a plant to find out its light and other needs to grow well. Now, that being said, I completely understand the impulse buy, believe me. That’s okay if you have windows facing the four exposures so could find a place for your plant. On the other hand, if you only have one window and it is a north window, I wouldn’t fall in love with cacti and other succulents. (So obviously, you need to know which way your windows face.) And though everyone writes about “bathroom” plants, unless your bathroom has an actual window that isn’t opaque or always covered with blinds, it isn’t the best place for a plant. A bit of research goes a long way. Need more help? Find my four houseplant books here. Below a ‘Tiger’ Boston fern and a cactus are shown. These would probably not do well in the same setting. 

2. Which Pot Should I Pick?

This may seem an easy thing to do, and it can be if you know how to choose one. First, it has to be the right size. Even if you love the pot, if it is too big for the plant, don’t buy it. Or buy a plant that will fit the pot if you are set on using that particular pot. Don’t purchase a plant in a 4″ container and an 8″ pot to plant it in. The large amount of wet potting medium that would surround the original root ball can become a problem and may cause root rot. That isn’t to say it may not work for a root-bound plant that needs a lot more root room. But, as a rule, only go up one size at a time when choosing a new pot and usually when it is actively growing, such as in the spring or summer. I have also talked about down-potting a plant. Some plants are sold in pots that are too large for the amount of roots the plant has. 

ascending sizes of pots

Only go up one pot size at a time, as a rule

containers

There are so many plant pots and saucers to choose from

Maybe Don’t Choose These Pots

The only ones I will steer you away from (even though I keep buying them) are bulbous pots, like the ones below, that are larger in the middle of the pot than the top opening. When trying to repot the plant, it is hard to get the plant out as the roots have filled the bulbous part of the pot and must be pulled out of the smaller opening at the top. They, of course, can be used, but just know you may have to cut the root ball to get the plant out of the pot.

bulbous containers

These containers are bigger in the middle than the top so plants are hard to get out

3. Drainage Hole?

Yes, you can grow plants without a drainage hole and many people do. Yet, as a NEWER plant parent, having a drainage hole in a pot is important. If you don’t have a drainage hole, how do you know you’ve watered enough so the plant’s root ball is getting completely moistened. Or, how do you know you haven’t given the plant too much water? A drainage hole solves that plant problem and adding drainage material isn’t necessary. I use a diamond-tipped drill bit to make a drainage hole. 

Drilling a drainage hole`

Drill a drainage hole in your containers using a masonry or diamond-tipped drill bit

4. To Water or Not?

Watering seems to be the most perplexing area of plant care. I know people hate the word overwatering, but it is a thing. I say you aren’t “overwatering” as much as you are watering “too often.”  Almost all plants need to dry out a bit before they are watered again and some want to be almost completely dry. Usually, a plant does NOT want to completely dry out for any length of time, even cacti and other succulents. They can withstand it though, as their plant parts have water-holding capabilities. The thinner the leaf of a plant, the more often it will need water as it dries out more quickly. A maidenhair fern is a good example of a plant with many small, thin leaves and it NEVER wants to dry out. Thicker leaves and stems hold more water and so may be able to tolerate drying out for a time.

watering can rose

The watering can rose (showerhead) works great

Check for water needs

One should never water on a schedule unless you take care of plants in a commercial setting and have to water on the day you are scheduled. I say CHECK your plants on a schedule, not necessarily watering them at that time. Watering on a schedule doesn’t take into account cloudy days, sunny days, colder days with the heater running more, or hot days with the air conditioner sucking all the humidity out of the house. Use your finger to check the potting medium moisture level or with larger plants, use a stick of some sort to see what is going on at the bottom of the pot. Most often the top of a large pot is at a different moisture level than the bottom. By inserting a stick and leaving it there for a few minutes before pulling it out, you can see what is happening at the bottom. If the stick is wet, don’t water it. 

Watering Practices

Always water until water runs out of the drainage hole, emptying the saucer if too much water has been applied. If you choose, you can bottom water a plant, standing the plant in a bowl of water like above, and leaving it there until the top of the soil is moist, letting you know it has soaked up enough water. If you have given a large plant that is hard to move too much water, use a turkey baster to remove any excess from the saucer as you don’t want your plant standing in water for any length of time.

5. Which Potting Medium?

It is easy to run to any store and buy potting medium. But, is it the best choice for your plant’s health? Root health is so important to your plant. First, never use plain garden soil. It doesn’t work for potted plants. I know because my brother gave me a plant that he had planted in plain garden soil and the soil was like cement. There are plenty of potting mixes to choose from. I add some vermiculite and perlite to those mixes to make them better draining. It also gives the plants more air space around the roots as they need air. 

poting supplies

These few supplies will get you started potting up your houseplants.

6. Do I Need to Clean My Plants?

When I talk about cleanliness, I’m not only talking about the plant but also the windows and screens in your home. What does that mean? Your leaves should be cleaned and dusted because all that dirt is blocking the photosynthesizing ability of the plant, which is its life force. Yet, if your windows and screens are not clean, the light is also blocked. The three dirty things together will cut down on the light collected by the plant. Clean all three, and your plant will thank you!

East window plants

Plants basking in the sun with clean a clean window, screen, and leaves

I hope this helps with a few of the plant problems you could run into as a new plant parent. Choose the right plant, the right spot, the best pot, potting mix, and water when it needs it, not when you want to, and your plant should grow well and make you happy.

Have a great week, plant friends!

 

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