Common Mistakes with Houseplant Care and Cultivation

You don’t need to be a professionally trained botanist to become a houseplant expert, but there are a handful of rules you should know about. This information can help you avoid common houseplant mistakes, but it also provides perspective. Even if you still end up making mistakes, knowing what went wrong can help you determine whether you simply need to try again or whether you need to make significant changes when choosing and caring for your new houseplants.

Houseplant Selection and Placement

You can’t just pick whatever plant looks good to you, find any spot in the house, and expect the plant to thrive by following the basic care instructions. You may get lucky with some plants, and you can always experiment with plants in less than ideal conditions. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to know the difference between plants that prefer full sun and those that prefer indirect light. Reasonable watering access is another thing we like to consider. For hard-to-reach plants with a thick base of stems, it’s nice to have a watering can with a long, narrow stem.

Over-Watering and Under-Watering

This is a big one. Even if you’ve owned houseplants for years, it’s easy to get fooled. If you’ve been watering a plant a lot or if you’ve ignored it for a couple weeks, it’s easy to think that the first signs of stress have something to do with your watering schedule. Sometimes, this is the case, but not always. If you’re not sure, it’s usually a good idea to err in favor of the plant’s natural tolerance. A thirsty variety of fern can dry out in less than a week. Drought-tolerant plants may not need water yet even if they’ve been neglected for weeks. More than just how often you water, you need to be mindful of how much you’re watering. Even if you do it every day, misting does not provide sufficient water for healthy root growth for most types of houseplants. For even better watering practices, it’s a great idea to buy a tool that can measure the moisture level underneath the soil’s surface.

Mistakes with Pots and Soil Selection

Pot and soil selections can be a real asset or a real hindrance for watering and moisture control. You want to match the pot and soil to the plant. Most drought-resistant plants do best in sand or sandier soil that does not retain water. Many of these plants can be seriously hurt if their roots get too wet. Soil aerators can also help make sure your plants are getting enough air, as well as enough water. Drainage pots are another way to control moisture level, increase air flow, and protect these types of plants. In contrast, clay soils are better at retaining water and are preferred for thirstier plants. Some soils and plants are also more sensitive to imbalances in pH level. All in all, there are just a few tips and tricks you need to know to make smart pot and soil choices for your houseplants.

Not Having a Plan for Success

Some houseplants may struggle, others may quickly reach a stable size, but there are also plenty of popular houseplants that will take off given the right conditions. Some houseplants will show incremental growth during the summer season, while staying dormant during the winter. Some plants won’t just expand on its current design but will also grow offshoots that can be trimmed and repotted—or otherwise propagated. This should be something that you can take pride in. Maybe it provides a daily source of modest joy in your life, but you should also be mindful of what you’re going to do if the plant continues to get bigger. Will the plant stay healthy once it reaches the maximum growth in its current pot? You may need to repot the plant in a container that allows room for growth, and this can mean finding a slightly different place or angle for the pot and plant. You should also look at whether the plant can be propagated: New growth in some plants can be trimmed in specific ways that allow it to flourish as its own plant. Don’t have the space for another houseplant? It’s time to reach out to friends and family who may appreciate a free houseplant.  

Assuming a Dead Houseplant is a Personal Failure

Yes, sometimes we make mistakes with houseplant care that end up cutting the plant’s life short. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes plants were just weak and ill-fated from the start. You’re not a bad person just because you want to live in a place with cats and houseplants at the same time. Moreover, we reject the idea that some people just aren’t born with a green thumb. We’ve marshalled houseplants to their early demise despite our best efforts. We’ve had resilient pests attack our plants when we least expect it. Don’t let one dead plant ruin a lifetime of enjoyment and home decoration.

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