The Ultimate Guide to Plant Care

Over 45 years of plant care expertise compressed into one simple guide.

Water

When should I water my plant?

One of the biggest problems with traditional plant care guides is that they suggest watering on a schedule.

There are hundreds of factors that impact how much water a plant requires including humidity levels, temperature, light levels, plant species, type of soil, use of fertiliser, plant size and growth cycle stage.

These variables all make scheduled watering recommendations redundant. The only way a schedule can work optimally is if every single variable is held constant which is unachievable for the average house plant owner.

Luckily, there’s a really easy way to decide when to water your plants. Introducing the finger dip test…

 

 

What type of water should I use for my plant?

Rain Water: Free from hard elements and the correct PH for the majority of plants – a clear winner for your more delicate plants.

Tap Water: 90% of the time, perfectly suitable for plant maintenance. Although, some extremely delicate plants may struggle with it.

Distilled / Deionised Water: Once again, a perfectly suitable option for all but a few extremely delicate plants.

Boiled Water: Expensive and can scorch or even kill your plant if insufficiently cooled.

Softened Tap Water: The softener salts will be absorbed by the soil and the excess sodium may subsequently damage or kill your plant.

What is the best way to water my plant?

To water your plant simply place it in a sink in its drainage pot and water the soil slowly and evenly. As a result of watering evenly, every inch of the soil of your plant should be moist.

Following this, it is time to let any excess water drain out the bottom of the holes of the drainage pot. This is done as excess water at the bottom of a pot can lead to root rot. 

When your plant is fully drained, simply place it back in its original pot.

Is humidity important?

We’d suggest ignoring humidity as a concept for plant maintenance but it’s a complicated issue. It is easier for water to evaporate into drier air than humid air. 

Therefore, if humidity is low – your plant will lose water more quickly. Unfortunately, this means it will wilt if it gets to the point where it doesn’t have sufficient water.

On the other hand, if you’re doing the finger dip test daily & providing sufficient water to the roots then humidity quickly becomes a redundant issue.

The same can’t be said the other way round – even super high humidity cannot compensate for a lack of proper watering. 

Therefore we’d suggest ignoring humidity as a factor because monitoring & optimising it for a varied selection of plants in the same space can be incredibly costly, time-intensive, and frustrating. 

It’s a lot easier to just focus on watering your plants correctly, which you’ll have to do regardless of your humidifying efforts.

Is misting important?

Scientific literature has shown that misting is a very ineffective & short-lived way of humidifying plants (even if the humidity were deemed important).

On top of that, misting plants with hairy leaves (the moisture will get trapped, leading to rot) or succulents (they are adapted to a dry environment so excessive moisture may cause rot) can be incredibly counter-productive.

It can be a useful way to help unfurl leaves. Additionally, if you enjoy misting then it’s not like it is likely to cause any damage to plants with waxy leaves.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an essential part of plant care maintenance.

My soil is clumpy, is this a problem?

As you water your plant – the soil becomes gradually more compact.

In areas where the soil becomes more compact, there is less space for water to seep in through, which as a result leads to dry patches of soil even if you’re watering your plant frequently.

When plants are outdoors, insects crawl through the soil naturally breaking it apart. Unfortunately, indoors this won’t happen. Therefore, you may need to compensate for the lack of insects. 

Simply piercing the soil with a small sharp implement such as a chopstick is a brilliant way to break up the soil. Consequently, allowing water to flow freely and evenly throughout.

Light

How do I pick a spot for my plant?

A bit like with water, each plant requires a specific amount of light to thrive. 

Unfortunately, though, there is no clear rule of thumb to know when your plant is in a good position or bad position.

Traditional plant maintenance guides are notorious for using terminology for lighting such as “bright indirect light”. Unfortunately, this language is fairly ambiguous and it often leaves plant owners incredibly confused.

A better way to decide where to place your plant is by evaluating the foot candles (FC) of a specific location. 

Measuring light in foot candles helps to give a tangible & accurate picture of how much light a plant gets on average over 24 hours. It is also incredibly easy to calculate and track.

How do I tell how much light that spot gets?

 

Although there are many expensive, professional tools on the market, for plant hobbyists, downloading and using the free Photone app is probably the easiest and most cost-effective way to measure the light in your space

It’s fairly simple to use but there are a few things to think about when using the app:

1. It isn’t immediately clear where to point the camera – the most effective way to measure is by holding your phone above your plant and pointing your camera towards the light source (in the case of most plant owners this will be the sun)

2. It only allows a front-facing camera, this is intentional to increase accuracy – it doesn’t mean the app is broken.

3. If you’re an iPhone user then placing a strip of transparent tape over the camera will help increase the accuracy of your reading

How much light does my (insert plant species) need?

Below are the light levels needed for the good growth of each plant, which we hope makes  plant maintenance a little bit easier for you.

 

 

Aglaonema Silver Bay200 foot candles 

Air Plant – 400 foot candles

Anthurium Ellipticum400 foot candles

Alocasia Zabrina400 foot candles

Aloe Vera800 foot candles

Areca Palm400 foot candles

Aspidistra Elatior200 foot candles

Begonia Maculata – 400 foot candles

Birds Nest Fern – 200 foot candles

Boston Fern – 200 foot candles

Croton – 800 foot candles

Dracaena Marginata – 200 foot candles

Dracaena Reflexa – 200 foot candles

Echeveria800 foot candles

Euphorbia – 800 foot candles

Ficus Benjamina – 800 foot candles

Ficus Cyathistipula – 800 foot candles

Ficus Elastica – 800 foot candles

Ficus Lyrata – 800 foot candles 

Ficus Robusta – 800 foot candles

Hoya Kerii200 foot candles

Nerve Plant – 200 foot candles

Hedera Helix – 400 foot candles

Jade Plant – 400 foot candles

Maidenhair Fern – 200 foot candles

Monstera – 400 foot candles

Norfolk Island Pine – 400 foot candles

Prayer Plant – 200 foot candles

Parlour Palm – 400 foot candles  

Peace Lily – 200 foot candles

Peperomia200 foot candles

Philodendron Scandens – 200 foot candles

Pothos – 200 foot candles

Sanseveria – 200 foot candles

Schefflera Arboricola – 200 foot candles

Spider Plant – 400 foot candles

Staghorn Fern400 foot candles

Strelitzia Reginae – 800 foot candles

Yucca Elephantipes800 foot candles

ZZ Plant200 foot candles

Why is dusting important for light?

Dust is a vital component of plant maintenance. It’s not uncommon for the average plant to gather dust at some point in its lifespan.

Although may seem harmless, a layer of dust can actually block sunlight from reaching your plant and prevent photosynthesis from taking place.

Therefore, it’s best to dust your plants very lightly with a soft paintbrush or duster whenever you see it forming on your plants.

Dusting your plants by misting them and/or wiping them down with a damp cloth is of course an option. Although, the excess moisture can often lead to rot.

As a result – it’s best to avoid using this method on plants with hairy leaves and succulents. 

What temperature should I keep my plant at?

Temperature is another key factor when it comes to plant maintenance. Unfortunately, however, the optimal temperature of each plant species varies.

Simultaneously, it’s very difficult to provide different levels of heat to plants in the same space. 

Although it may not possible to deliver the optimal temperature for multiple, individual plant species in the same space. 

However, keeping your plants within 15C-25C will help ensure that your plants don’t scorch or freeze.

Nutrition

Why should I fertilise my plant?

Besides water & light, the other variable that is vital for plant maintenance is nutrition. 

The three main nutrients that plants require are Nitrogen (which serves to support foliage & stem growth), Phosphorus (which serves to support root growth) and Potassium (which serves to support cellular function) e.g. temperature tolerance, pest resistance and water usage efficiency.

In addition to the above, there are a whole host of nutrients that support a number of other functions including Calcium, Sulphur, Magnesium, Iron, Nickel, Molybdenum, Boron, Chlorine, Manganese, Zinc, and Copper. 

Over time, all of these nutrients get depleted if they’re not replenished – in the exact same way the water in a plant’s soil gets depleted over time.

So, how do you combat this loss of nutrients? Although there are a few methods – the most common and efficient route is to replenish key nutrients with fertiliser.

What should I fertilise my plant with?

 

 

The large majority of fertilisers are differentiated by their N (Nitrogen), P (Phosphorous), K (Potassium) ratio. Unfortunately, what was set up to be a helpful guide for plant enthusiasts has become a confusing set of parameters exploited by marketers.

Many companies claim you need different fertilisers for different plants but most actually have very similar needs.

Although agricultural crops & outdoor plants have varying requirements, the literature seems to indicate that choosing a fertiliser with an NPK ratio of 3-1-2 is an optimal choice for plant maintenance.

It’s important to remember when searching for a fertiliser that, as it’s a ratio, the fertiliser bottle may say something like 6:2:4 or 18:6:12. Don’t be deterred – they all fit under the category of 3-1-2. 

Beyond recommendations on nutrient ratio, we’d also suggest using liquid fertiliser as it’s easier to blend & apply.

How should I fertilise my plant?

One of the trickiest parts of plant maintenance is figuring out how to fertilise your plants. 

Most fertilisers will come with specific instructions on how to apply. Therefore we’d suggest following this guide as all fertilisers vary in strength and what could be too little of one fertiliser, maybe too much of another.

One piece of advice we will give is that it’s best to under-fertilise rather than over-fertilise if the guidance on your bottle is unclear. Over fertilisation will eventually kill your plant.

When should I fertilise my plant?

This is another factor that comes down to the individual characteristics of your plant. The individual fertiliser instructions will tell you how frequently to fertilise your plant based on its strength. 

However, deciding when to start and stop fertilising, will depend on your plant.

If your plant is in an active growth phase and is producing new leaves (usually during spring and summer) then continue to fertilise it. 

Alternatively, if it appears that your plant has stopped growing and is in a dormant phase (usually during late autumn and winter) then you can stop fertilising.

Will pruning help my plant get more nutrients?

Pruning plants definitely has an aesthetic benefit but it also serves a very practical function too. 

Pruning dead or damaged leaves allows a plant to put all of its resources (nutrition, water & light) into growing new leaves and supporting the function of its existing, healthy leaves.

As a result, it wastes less energy & nutrients trying to revive unhealthy leaves. If you notice your plant has dead or dying leaves – there are two ways to prune your plants:

One way to deadhead your plants involves simply trimming off an individual leaf to ensure dying leaves aren’t consuming any more energy. Alternatively, you can remove the terminal bud by pruning, pinching, or breaking it off. 

The supply of resources is then redirected to the other buds which quickly grow and branch out, resulting in a bushier look to the plant instead of a long spirally growth.

It’s important to note that some plants should never be pruned at all. If you trim the buds of a Norfolk Pine or a Palm it will kill the plant. 

Equally, some variations of Orchids cannot be pruned beyond the dead flower heads.

Will repotting help my plant get more nutrients?

Perfecting the nutrition side of plant maintenance doesn’t begin and end with fertilising your plants.

Adding fertiliser isn’t the only way to increase the amount of nutrients in your plants’ soil. 

Repotting your plant and adding in new soil is another simple route to increase your plants’ nutrition supply.

On top of this, repotting is also a useful strategy if your plant grows too big for its pot and becomes root-bound. This is unhealthy as the tangled knots of roots will lose access to the nutrients and water in the soil. 

It’s easy to identify if your plant needs repotting or is rootbound. 

Simply check whether the roots have visibly grown down through the holes in the drainage pot. If they have grown through the holes – it’s time to repot.

How to repot:

1. Pick a new pot similar to the size of your old pot – moving up in pot size too quickly can result in your plant going into shock.

2. Following this, it’s time to loosen the roots of the plant from your old potting mix and dispose of it.

3. Finally, add your new potting mix into the pot – secure your plant into the new mix and that’s it – you’re finished repotting!

How do I stop pests feeding on my plant?

One of the largest & most common threats to plants are pests who seek to live and slowly feed off your plant. 

Pests are the absolute bain of plant maintenance and infestations are a lot more common than most people realise. However, they can be combatted with the right tools.

How to identify pests: Most common pests such as Mealybugs and Thrips are barely visible even when you’re standing right next to your plant. 

Therefore, a magnifying glass can be an incredibly useful tool in the fight against indoor plant pests.

How to stop pests: The best way to address your indoor plant pest problem is to spray them down with insecticidal soap and prune off any infected leaves.

In addition, it is important to isolate any plant that is infected from other plants in your collection so that pests don’t have any chance to spread between them.