How to transform from plant killer to crazy plant person
If you’re an interiors lover and have ever turned to Instagram or Pinterest for design inspiration, then you’ve no doubt come across all those lush indoor gardens and #jungalows populated by hundreds of house plants. Indoor gardening has been growing into a serious movement: it’s a decor trend and lifestyle, and the new breed of statement planters of all shapes and sizes provide a serious outlet for pattern lovers and maximalists to indulge in. Next time you visit your favourite homewares store, don’t be surprised to see books such as Wild at Home, Urban Jungle, Plant Society and yes, Boys with Plants: 50 Boys and the Plants They Love on the shelves.
But before you start splurging on monsteras and those iconic Pop and Scott pots, you need to learn how to keep your indoor plants alive. Take it from this reformed plant killer: there are many rookie mistakes to be made. But you aren’t alone. When we needed an intervention, we turned to Denise Law, founder of Singapore’s most gorgeous plant store Tumbleweed (which has two lovely branches in Joo Chiat and Tiong Bahru). Here she shares some tips that will help you realise your #crazyplantlady dreams…
Plan the location of your plants
This is so important: natural daylight in the full sun to semi-shade is essential. Avoid a spot that’s in the scorching sun all day, or a position that’s in full aim of the air conditioner.
Overwatering is the number one cause of plant death
Yes, you can give your plant too much love: don’t just go around watering everything at once. Touch the soil of your plant: if it’s still moist, don’t water; if it’s dry, it’s time to give your plant a drink. Yellowing, brown rotten patches on leaves or fungus on the surface are sure signs of overwatering. Denise also warns that when soil is very wet, you can attract pests such as mealy bugs.
Know the signs of a thirsty plant
If the leaves are wilting, translucent, curling at the edges or if the soil is pulling away from the pot, your plant needs to be watered more regularly.
Know the name of the plant you’re buying: find out if it’s a thirsty plant. Flowering plants and plants in terracotta pots tend to need more water, while cacti and succulents won’t need as much watering. Plants that need humidity should live in the bathroom, or you’ll have to mist the leaves regularly.
Check your plants!
Healthy plants are shiny and perky – check the leaves, touch the soil to see if you need to water your pets, and monitor every week for pests (see below). Keep an eye out for the following:
- Older leaves turning yellow: signs of a nitrogen deficiency
- Small dead areas on the leaves: signs of a phosphorus deficiency
- Pale yellow leaves: signs of an iron deficiency
- Leaves with pale edges: signs of a magnesium deficiency
- Leaves with yellow or brown edges: signs of a potassium deficiency
Which leads us to…
Yes you need to fertilise your house plants
Indoor plants don’t receive any nutrient input into the soil, so treat your plants with a good fertiliser every two to three months (Tumbleweed carries the Nutrigrower brand).
How to deal with pests
Two main offenders will try to destroy your #jungalowvibes: spider mites and mealy bugs.
Both will need early intervention.
- Spider mites: these will appear as tiny black sprinklings, usually behind leaves. Use cold water to wash them off, or trim the infested leaf.
- Mealy bugs: these are fluffy white bugs, which appear on stems and leaves and spread like wildfire. Quarantine the plant and keep it separate while you treat it with neem oil, dishwashing liquid or rubbing alcohol (be gentle with the latter as it can damage leaves).
And one day, you’ll need to re-pot those plants
A one-inch border of soil is enough room for your plant, but like kids, they’re going to outgrow their outfits. You’ll know it’s time if you see roots poking out or if the leaves are going limp – your plant is too tightly packed and the roots need a bigger home. Generally you’ll have to re-pot once a year: another excuse to buy fantastic pots!
Loosen up the soil, add new soil to introduce different nutrients, and fertilise. Remember, potting mix alone isn’t enough. Add pebbles, husk, or pearlite to help with drainage. Give your plant two to three days in its new home before you water it.
Are there fool-proof house plants?
For the time-crunched (we won’t say neglectful), succulents are strong survivors and perfect for those who don’t have much attention to spare. But Denise says the easiest tropical plant to keep alive indoors is the Philodendron Brasil. Other good plants to get you started are snake plants, monstera, spider plants and palms.
You can do this.