When to repot houseplants

If your plant’s roots are circling and trying to escape through the holes in the bottom of the plastic pot… take the hint! Roots should be within the soil, not surrounding it or coming out of the top of the soil; your plant has outgrown its home and is ready to upsize into a bigger pot with some fresh new compost.

Be warned repotting into a massive pot can cause shock. As a rule plant in a pot that’s maybe just a couple of fingers bigger than the one, you’ve currently got.

To repot, spread your fingers around the top of the plant, before tipping it over and cradling the crown of the plant in your hand.

Try to keep as much of the old soil as possible; some soil will fall away, so it is a good idea to put some newspaper down.

Gently tease out the roots by squeezing the plastic pot.

Put about 5cm of compost in the pot that you're moving the plant into.

Pop the plant into the new pot. You’ll notice a gap of a few centimetres between the brim of the new pot and the crown of the old one.

It’s now a case of filling up the gaps with new compost and patting down.

Give it a huge drink, allowing water to start running out of the holes in the bottom of the plant’s pot. It's important not to let your newly potted plant sits in that runoff.

This plant is going to get a hit of nutrients from the new soil, meaning you won’t need to feed it for a while.

Spring & summer is the best time to repot your plants because that's when they’ll sprout the newest growth.

Getting The Right Humidity Level for Your Houseplants

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. 

Group plants together to create a more humid microclimate as they release moisture through transpiration.

They will also appreciate being misted every few days in addition to their normal watering to imitate a humid environment.

You could also invest in a humidifier. They come with the added bonus of improving your own health, skin and sleep quality.

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.

How compatible are you with your houseplant?

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?

The History of the closed Terrarium

 
Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward

Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward

 

Let’s step back into the choking mists of time. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward’s Victorian London was a suffocating place. Polluted and grimy, this was not the place for Nathaniel, a physician by profession, to indulge his passion for botany. Over the years, he had attempted to grow ferns in this environment with very little success.

Nathaniel lived in London’s East End, on Wellclose Square, a short distance from my current studio in Shoreditch. I imagine him walking the same streets, observing, hypothesizing and pondering the outcome of his botanical experiments.

Nathaniel’s penchant for plants would eventually result in the invention of the Wardian case, a precursor to the terrarium as we know it today. I may be jumping ahead of myself here and perhaps I should describe the incident that sparked this particular discovery.

Nathaniel was out for a stroll in the Kent countryside one day in 1829, when he discovered the pupa of a Hawkmoth. He placed the cocoon; along with the organic matter to which it clung, into a hermetically sealed jar and waited for the moth to pupate. However, little is known about the fate of the moth, as the fern that sprouted and thrived in the jar eclipsed its meager existence.

An uncontaminated atmosphere, moisture, and the appropriate light provided the ideal environment for plant growth. This would prompt Nathaniel to put pen to paper and write to Sir W.J. Hooker, first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, informing him of this discovery.

Nathaniel’s finding was perfectly timed, given the Victorians’ burgeoning interest in exotic plants and ferns, as it would allow them to be protected from city air pollution. This obsession for ferns or Pteridomania invaded all aspects of life. As well as the living species being displayed in homes [in Wardian cases], fern motifs and designs were commonplace on carpets, curtains and wallpaper. Even custard cream biscuits couldn’t escape the design of a fern’s fronds being stamped onto them.

The good doctor’s breakthrough and invention of the Wardian case changed botany and plant exploration. It allowed for explorers to safely transport plants back to Kew and elsewhere from their expeditions. Wardian cases protected plants from salt water and rodents, keeping them sealed and contained in their own biosphere.

Growing plants under glass became fashionable again in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the creation of the Bottle Garden. This new imagining of the terrarium required a skill for wiggling plants through thin bottlenecks and the patience of a saint.

The terrarium remains a beautiful way of bringing the outdoors inside, providing the conditions essential for a moisture-loving, tropical garden to flourish within our dry, centrally heated homes.

 
Image of a horticulturalist packing plants into a Wardian Case ready for transportation.

Image of a horticulturalist packing plants into a Wardian Case ready for transportation.

 

Fertilizing houseplants

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.

Simply put, fertilizer is a product you can add to the soil to top up nutrients that will be naturally replenished in the wild by decomposing stuff.

If you decide to fertilize, most plants prefer a boost in warmer months when the plant is growing, however it is a good idea to google your plant’s prime fertilizing times to confirm this.

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. 

If your plant has been living in the same soil for a long time, another way to restore your plant’s nutrients is by repotting it with a batch of fresh soil. Check the compost packet and information how long its nutrients will last. Most plants live happily in multi-purpose soil except for cacti and succulents which benefit from cacti and succulents composts.

Light and your favourite houseplant

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 becoming lopsided as they will grow towards the light.

I’ve included examples below of easy-to-grow shade lovers.
ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas Zamiifolia)
Rhino Grass (Sansevieria Deserti)
Snake Plant Or Mother-In-Law's Tongue (Sansevieria Trifasciata)
Ruffles (Anthurium Plowmanii)

And now for the sun worshippers
Crown Of Thorns (Euphorbia Milii)
Haworthia (Haworthia Sp.)

How to water your houseplants

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. It’s tempting to stick to a schedule, but I’d advise observing your plants and feeling the soil instead.