Here is my 10 point checklist for novices and seasoned houseplant aficionados alike!
1. Choose plants that you like. This seems rather obvious but sometimes in the haste to buy an indoor plant, it really wasn’t the right match for you. Fortunately, there are many choices in houseplants. Do a little shopping before you settle on a plant or plants.
2. Know your sunlight. Sunlight duration and intensity declines from summer to winter in different spots in your home. Some plants can endure the change while others can’t. For example, an orange tree might look great in the living room during the summer only to, literally, fall apart in the same spot in the winter.
3. Keep grow lights handy. Grow lights are the great equalizer if you have very little sunlight. They are also great for getting houseplants through the short, dark days of winter. Good grow lights are one of the best investments you can make.
4. Select the best potting soils. The additional few dollars spent on high quality potting soils are worth it. The correct blend of coarse-fibred peatmoss, coarse perlite, lime, wetting agent and fertilizer will help to keep the plants in great shape. Never skimp on potting soils.
5. Choose only pest free plants. A $10 “bargain” plant that requires $40 worth of sprays to control insect pests really isn’t much of a bargain. In fact, some of the nastier pests are not only extremely difficult to control on the bargain plant, but they can often spread to others in your home.
6. Choose the right pot. Pot sizes and shape have a large impact on plant health. Shallow pots drain poorly. Tall pots drain best. It’s pure science. Water is held in shallow pots due to capillary action of the mix on water whereas water in tall pots is less affected by capillary action and is pulled down and out of the pot by gravity.
7. Ensure pots have drainage. Water must move out of the soil mixture to prevent roots from drowning and to allow movement of excessive salts out of the root zone.
8. Pick an attractive pot. There’s no point in buying an expensive dress and then wearing rubber boots to the ball. A gorgeous houseplant in a poor-quality plastic pot is no different so always choose attractive pots to complement your plants.
9. Fertilize—but only when necessary. A little fertilizer is great but more is not better. I use nothing but Nature’s Source 10-4-3 on all of my houseplants. It’s oilseed based and won’t burn provided the soil is not really overdosed. Fertilizer should only be applied when houseplants are actively producing new foliage.
10. Don’t expect a houseplant to last forever. You don’t expect your car to last forever so don’t expect every houseplant to last forever. I know of one person who has a Christmas cacti that is over 100 years old but each plant is different and when they lose their aesthetic value, it’s time to replace them. When your fig tree is down to a handful of leaves, it’s time for it to hit the compost heap.