Never Skip These Plant Care Basics

Never Skip These Plant Care Basics

There are endless recommendations on the internet for what’s best for your houseplants. They tell you that you need to add this to your soil, get that moss pole, or use this watering method to take adequate care of your plants. This is not all true. Plant care can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. As long as basic care needs are being met, the rest is up to you. 

Through finding what works by learning a lot about what doesn’t, I’ve narrowed my steps down to four habits that I never skip on any plant day. 

1. Always check the state of the soil before you water.

Generally, the soil should be dry before you pour any water into the pot. Knowing your plant is important here. There are plants like Sansevieria (Snake Plants) that need to go weeks without water and should be skipped for a while even if they feel dry. Then there are plants like ferns that prefer their soil to stay pretty moist and don’t like to dry out completely.

Even so, soil should never be constantly soggy. If you keep watering dirt that’s already wet, the roots never get a chance to receive oxygen. That can lead to a pest infestation or eventually, root rot. Generally it’s best to err on the dry side. Feeling it regularly can help catch soggy soil too, which might prevent these problems. It’s crucial for any plant parent to get to know their soil, and there are a few ways to do that.

My go-to is to physically shove my fingers in the soil and feel it. This is a quick method and it’s fun for me because I really like the feel of dirt in my hands. For large pots with too much soil to get a good feel for the whole container, I stick a wooden kabob in the soil and then check the end to see if it pulled any moisture or wet dirt.

Another thing you can do is feel the weight of the pot. You can usually tell when you pick up a plant if it looks like it should be heavier than it is, and a super light plant indicates dry soil ready for water. 

If you want to get technical, there exists a thing called a moisture meter. These can be helpful for larger plants in big pots that you can’t really lift or feel. You place one end in the soil, and there’s an indicator on the other that will let you know whether the soil is wet or dry. You can usually find these at any local garden center, but generic brands on Amazon have worked well for me in the past.

2. Prune what’s dead. 

Leaves can die for a lot of reasons. If there are multiple dying at one time it can point to a watering, sunlight, or pest issue. Although, if it seems like a one-off, it can simply mean that the plant is shedding its oldest leaves to get ready to grow new, as nature does. 

No matter the reason they’re appearing, you’ll want to get rid of these energy suckers. Dead leaves still leach nutrients and energy from the motherplant, and removing them allows for a couple of things: 1. It frees up those nutrients and energy so they can go towards healthy parts of the plant, helping them flourish even more. 2. Removing what’s dead also promotes new growth (which is not only true for plants).

I’ll do a deeper dive into pruning in another post, but there are a couple key things to remember:

  • Prune as close to the base of the dead part as you can get. A lot of times ,if a leaf is completely dead, it will easily just pull right off of the plant. Which leads to point two…

  • Unless you see pests that could spread, wait to remove the dead leaf until it’s completely dead. Removing leaves that are still partly alive can stress the plant a little more than it’s worth. Waiting another week won’t hurt, and by then the plant may even drop the leaf for you.

3. Check for pests. 

Pest infestations are as gross as they sound and not a fun surprise to find inside your home, but it happens. As your collection grows, you’re more and more likely to encounter a pest problem at some point. Mother nature, baby. 

Worst case scenario, you don’t catch pests until they’ve had a chance to really fester, and before you’re aware of them, the fuzzy, white mealybugs have you severely outnumbered. 

Pests are treatable and do not always mean the imminent death of your plant, but early detection is your best buddy for a couple of reasons. It’s a lot easier to successfully rid a plant of pests the earlier you catch the infestation. If you don’t have time to treat the problem right away, most pests left unchecked will spread to neighboring plants. You’ll definitely want to inspect what’s nearby and treat anything infested like the plague. Godspeed.

4. Rotate anything reaching for the light.

Unless given the exact same amount of light from all directions, plants will start to grow in the direction of their brightest light source. This isn’t a problem initially. After a while, though, the side not receiving the same amount of sunlight won’t grow as quickly and can even start dying.

Rotating the plant so that all sides get the same amount of light will help it grow more evenly, and, in the long run, keep the whole plant healthier and looking more aesthetic.

These four habits are necessary for any plant parent to keep, and adopting them will help make sure that you’re meeting all your green friends’ needs. There will be exceptions to what these basic steps offer, like having to repot your plant or actually treating and preventing pests, situations worthy of posts all by themselves. 

There may be days where you want to dedicate more time and attention to your plants, like adding a specific fertilizer or cleaning your leaves. But, again, outside of basic care, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Remember that it’s supposed to be fun, and if you’re feeling pressured or stressed out about your plant care, try going back to the basics. 

Your indoor jungle might thank you.

May all your plants’ deaths be Slow and Green,




Original post date: July 14, 2022

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