With effortlessly lush centerfolds in home and garden magazines, tending to potted plants can seem like a simple, breezy accessory. So why is it that some of us just can’t seem to hit the nail on the head?
If the cat grass is always greener in someone else’s home, never fear: chances are, it’s not your fault. Plant upkeep of any kind is a science, and, much like cooking or any home science, a learnable one if only you’re given the right information.
Choosing Plants That Thrive In Container Gardening
If you feel like you kill every plant you touch, never fear! It may not be your un-green thumb at all, but rather an unfortunate history of plants that were never designed to thrive in containers, or plants meant to thrive outside brought indoors.
Why does it matter? Plants that need room to spread their roots deep, that build a special interaction with the surrounding ecosystem, or that otherwise need room to grow may suffer when contained to a pot, though there are naturally large plants (even small trees!) that thrive in large pots. Some gardeners recommend a few solid, easy-to-keep-alive starter plants: aloe, snake plants, and ficus, for example, all require little attention and easy-to-learn care.
A plant doesn’t need to be complicated, challenging, or tamed into an environment in which it can never thrive in order to be beautiful. Instead, working indoors only with plants that truly thrive in container gardening shows a respect to nature and to each plant, as well as respect for the time and effort you put in for their care. For all your work, you deserve to choose plants that won’t set your houseplants or container garden up for failure.
Does Climate Matter Indoors?
Yes, but not exactly in the way you might think!
Growing full sun plants anywhere with under 6 sunny hours on its average day will be a challenge. If it’s one you want to take on, bear in mind that the average indoor lightbulb won’t be enough: You’ll want to consider investing in a sun-mimicking lamp to fill your potted plant’s needs. The more sensible route may be to choose a plant which likes the shade or partial sun.
But even if heavy downpours and cold snaps don’t quite make their way inside a well-insulated home, indoor potted plants will continue to have some climate preferences. The bathroom, for example, makes a great location for potted plants that prefer moisture.
Giving Your Plants The Right Soil From The Start
Though it’s easy to pick up “potting soil” and call it a day, the name on the bag is deceptive: there is no one-size-fits-all soil type for every plant you can grow inside a pot. Herbs require rocky soil, and may even benefit from a layer of pebbles laid out in the bottom of their container before adding a mixture of potting soil and pebbles. Some plant types, like orchids, require special pH measures or levels of clay soil content best found, for beginners, in specialized commercial soil mixes. Others can benefit from some DIY adjustments to your average potting soil, like adding pebbles for drainage or peat moss for moisture retention.
Placement, Placement, Placement
Every plant sold at a reputable nursery will come with an information card stuck into the soil around, or sometimes tied around the stem of, the plant. This is for more than reminding you of the plant’s casual and scientific name: most cards contain information on optimal sun exposure, space requirements, and watering.
Take some time to observe various spots in your home and yard through the day, and see how much sun each gets. “Full sun” is generally considered to be 6+ hours, but most potted plants that thrive indoors will prefer “partial sun,” or 3-6 hours. No matter how much sun a plant requires, never place a delicate plant up against a window: the glass acts like a greenhouse wall or a lens and intensifies sunlight, which means that placement too close to a window can leave plants burnt or withering.
A Note on Pet Safe and Child Safe Indoor Gardening
Adding a plant to your home is, always, introducing a new living thing into a small human ecosystem. Always check online, at the library, or with the experts at your local nursery before bringing a plant into the home to make sure it’s non-toxic to any young children or animals. Even common plants can pose a risk, so be thorough!
So what’s the verdict? Green thumb, schmeen thumb. If your potted plant efforts have been foiled no matter what you do, there is always some cause—and no, it isn’t that your hands are cursed to leave healthy plants wilting. Do your research, ask questions, and know that most plant experts at nurseries, hardware and gardening stores, or even just in your neighborhood are delighted to offer advice to an up-and-coming container gardener.