If your plant’s roots are circling and trying to escape through the drainage holes… take the hint! Roots should be within soil, not surrounding it; your plant has outgrown its home and is ready to upsize into a bigger pot. Even without this telltale signal, your plant will need to be repotted every year or two with spanking new soil for a nutrient boost. Try to do this in the spring.
Tropical plants, ferns, palms, and orchids like it steamy and should steer clear of heating contraptions that will dry them out. These plants will love hanging out in more humid rooms such as the kitchen or bathroom. You can add pebbles and a little water to their saucer to boost humidity. Replace the water with a fresh batch from time to time and don't let pots sit in the water... prop them up so that they are above the water level. They will also enjoy a daily spritz from a mister.
There is no need to mist cacti and succulents in-between waterings… nothing will make them more homesick for the desert. Like all plants in your home, consider where they come from and aim to emulate their natural habitat.
Know yourself and what sort of plant you are looking for. There’s a plant out there for everyone. Some plants can be needy, insisting that you cuddle up every night together; they will delight in your sweet nothings and pampering. Others like sansevieria (snake plant) or zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant) are low maintenance, happy to keep things casual, meeting up occasionally for a quick drink.
What’s your schedule like? How often are you away? Research them beforehand, consider their profile against yours… how compatible would you really be together in the long run?
Fertilizer is a good idea, but if you are starting out and your main concern is simply keeping your plant alive you don’t need to get worked up about it. Fertilizer can transform your houseplant from weedy to wonderful, but too much will cause your plant to overdose and die.
If you decide to fertilize, it is best to do so in the warmer months when the plant is growing. Dilute fertilizer with water and administer in small doses. It is comparable to vitamin supplements. Plants are good at producing their own food but most will need a boost from time to time. Another way to restore your plant’s nutrients is by repotting it with a batch of fresh soil.
Falling head over heels in love with a plant is easily done. It is tempting to purchase a plant based purely on its handsomeness, then proudly walk it home and position it in a spot that needs cheering. However, I recommend picking a plant based on your light levels. Contemplate the position you have in mind for a plant; is it sunny or shady? Direct sunlight can cause sunburn and singed leaves; most plants need bright but indirect light, so should be positioned a few feet away from a south-facing window.
If your plant is looking a little limp, pale and shedding leaves it may need more light. Plants getting too much sun will have soil that is baked dry and their leaves may be crisp.
Do your homework, search online for, ‘plants that like a north facing, bathroom window’ for example. Figure out which direction your windows face using a compass and learn what will thrive there, then make a shortlist of suitable plants. From this list, you can make a decision based on what you find most aesthetically pleasing.
Rotate plants monthly to stop them becomming lopsided as they will grow towards the light.
Plants wilt when they are over-watered and they wilt when they are under-watered, so it can be hard to tell what’s wrong. Overwatering is the surest way to kill a plant, causing root rot and a nasty pong, so try to use pots with drainage holes; no one wants to lie in a cold bath for weeks and roots need time to breathe and dry off in-between waterings. Since terrariums don’t have drainage holes you will need to be very careful not to overwater them.
City water is not good for plants and can slow down growth. If you have space, install a rain barrel and use the captured rainwater to water your plants. Another option is to let tap water sit in buckets for a couple of days before watering, leaving the water purer, as the chlorine evaporates, and a better temperature. Watering at room temperature is a good rule of thumb as cold water can shock the system. If these options don’t appeal, you could consider investing in a water purification system for your home, such as a reverse osmosis water filter.
To decide whether your pot plants need a drink, touch the soil. If it feels sticky and looks dark, skip on the watering. If the soil feels dry, water plants with confidence ensuring the soil is soaked through. Use saucers under pots whenever possible and allow excess water to drain out of pots before placing them back on their saucers
On average, I water plants once a week in the summer and once a fortnight in the winter. Of course, each plant has different needs, so this is just a rough guide for plants in pots, not in terrariums (more about those later). It’s tempting to stick to a schedule, but I’d advise observing your plants and feeling the soil instead.