Common Plant Questions

by admin

Most plants will display one or more symptoms of thirst; droopy and/or wrinkled leaves is the most common telltale sign your plant is thirsty.

If the soil is beginning to come away from the edge of the pot your plant will be thirsty.

These are the two most common ways to water a plant:

Top watering

This method is suitable for most plants. Pour water directly onto the soil, making sure to pour the water slowly and evenly across the entire surface of soil. Pour the water until the surface is covered, wait for the soil to drink the water then pour some more water onto the soil. Continue to do this several times after water pours from the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.

Tips:

Plants prefer moist soil and will suffer if the soil remains too wet. If your plant is planted in a nursery pot and displayed in a decorative pot without a drainage hole it's best to remove the plant for watering. Place the plant on a tray until the water stops leaking from the drainage hole and then place the plant back into the decorative pot. Alternatively, water the plant in the decorative pot then return in about half hour and pour out excess water in the bottom of the pot. The soil will continue to absorb any water left in the bottom of the pot, this may lead to root rot and other plant disease.

Soil will compact over time making water absorption less efficient. Water is likely to run across the top of the soil and down the inside edge of the pot and out through the drainage holes avoiding the roots altogether. Aerate the soil occasionally by gently poking a chop stick into the surface of the soil about 2/3 down into the pot, be careful not to damage the roots by poking too hard.

Bottom watering:

This method is suitable for all plants and preferable for any plant with delicate, furry or dense foliage. Place the pot into a bowl or tray and fill with water to a height no more than 1/3 of the pot height . The soil will wick the water up to the roots, avoiding the foliage getting wet. After 10 minutes place your finger into the soil up to your middle knuckle, if you can't feel moisture leave the plant to soak longer and keep checking regularly. Drain any excess water from pot.  This method ensures the soil is evenly moist and the water reaches the plants roots.

Tips:

Bottom watering encourages healthy root growth as the roots only grow downwards towards the water.

Bottom watering doesn't wash away excess salt and mineral build up in the soil so every 4-6 weeks flush the soil with the top watering method.

For optimal plant health you would use 20 degree rainwater collected during a thunderstorm. But if that's not really all that practical for you read on to find out a more suitable alternative for you.

Tap water, rain water, distilled water, boiled water, filtered water... it's all a little overwhelming, especially when you consider temperature too! Temperature is a bit more straight forward so we'll start there.

If you really want to get pedantic with this than the optimal water temperature for your plants is 20 degrees celcius. There's a whole lot of scientific jargon about absorption, oxygen, root pump mechanisms and stuff but we're not going to go into all that so you'll just have to trust us on this one. All you need to know is plant roots are sensitive, so temperatures that are too hot or too cold can cause stress or damage to the plant. We won't judge you if you're not getting your thermometer out to check your water is 20 degrees.  As a rule, wherever possible leave your water out on the bench for an hour and let it come to room temperature before watering your plants.

Okay, now for water.

Boiled water is out. Boiling water kills bacteria and removes VOC's and gasses but it actually concentrates the harmful chemicals in the water so boiled water is not good for plant health.

Distilled water is out too. It won't harm your plant like boiled water but it actually lacks all the beneficial minerals and nutrients your plant needs from water. So unless you're adding nutrients to your water just give distilled water a miss. It's also high in pH.

Tap water may be shunned in the rare plant community but if you're just watering common household plants than in most areas using tap water is fine (we won't tell anyone). There's a common belief if you leave your tap water out for 24 hours the chlorine and fluoride will dissolve, however in most cases this process can take up to five days so this is not a particularly valid theory. So what's the harm in using tap water? Basically even though chlorine is an essential micro-nutrient to plant growth a plant can develop chlorine toxicity if it absorbs too much and tap water contains higher than healthy levels. The effect shouldn't be too devastating on most plants and often results in brown leaf tips and edges due to chemical burn. Some plants are more susceptible than others.

There is no doubt filtered water is better than tap water but the effectiveness of removing harmful chemicals comes down to the type of filter being used. Filtering your water does not guarantee all harmful chemicals will be removed from your water.

Spring, mineral and soda water are all nice treats for your plants. Soda water is filled with oxygen and other beneficial minerals so every 2nd or 3rd watering spoil your plant with some fancy water to show it you really care.

If you have access to rainwater your plants will be so grateful if you can share some with them. Rainwater is loaded with beneficial chemicals, minerals and nutrients and doesn't contain any of the nasty stuff. Rainwater is richer in oxygen and nitrogen than any other water source too. The nitrogen levels in rainwater collected during a thunderstorm are even higher (another fancy scientific study we won't bore you with) and even more beneficial for your plants.

So there you have it, watering your plants with tap water is likely to be fine, filtered water is better and rainwater is the best.

Most indoor plants originate in tropical rainforests where they thrive in high humidity (80%-90%) and temperature. Ideally your indoor plants would prefer 60% humidity and 15-32 degree temps but fortunately most plants are very adaptable and can survive in less than perfect conditions.

By all means go ahead and spoil your plants with a humidifier but in most cases it won't be necessary. If you add a humidifier into your plant care routine you must ensure you provide adequate ventilation to prevent pest and disease.

Simply by grouping plants together you increase the humidity in their micro climate. If this is not enough you may choose to sit your plants on a shallow tray of pebbles in water. Ensure the bottom of the pots are not sitting in the water as this can lead to excess moisture in the soil and root rot.

Misting your plants a few times a day can be very beneficial if done correctly. Use a mister and not a spray bottle as the water vapor from a mister is much finer than the droplets from a spray bottle.  It's also important to spray the atmosphere around your plants and not directly onto your foliage (especially in winter). Wet foliage can lead to fungus, pests and other diseases.

The bathroom is commonly the most humid room in the house however, it’s important to take note of other factors such as light and temperature before placing your plant in the bathroom. Bathrooms are often very cold in winter and hot in summer due to the tiles. They also often have low light and lack of light will generally be more detrimental to your plant than a lack of humidity.

Place plants at least 2 metres away from any heating source such as a heater or air conditioner.

Avoid placing plants in doorways where they will catch the air draft.

There is no need to be concerned if you find your plant is dripping water from its leaves. This is a process called guttation.

Guttation occurs when the plant’s roots absorb more moisture than the leaves release during the day through a process called transpiration.

It’s a common misconception that guttation is caused by overwatering, however this is not necessarily the case and you should not cut back on watering your plant unless you notice other symptoms of overwatering.

Guttation generally isn't a problem for plants unless the soil has a high mineral content or has been recently fertilised. Once the water evaporates the minerals may get left behind and can burn the tips of the leaves. This may be aesthetically unpleasing, however it will not cause health problems for your plant.

The simple answer is the brighter the natural light the better! Most indoor plants in their natural environment grow in dappled sunlight under forest canopies and wherever possible it's always best to mimic a plants natural environment for your plant to thrive.

Basically, LIGHT = ENERGY.

Plants use the energy in natural light to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar. They then use this sugar sugar as energy to grow up big and strong. During this process (photosynthesis) they produce oxygen as a waste product and release it into the surrounding atmosphere.

So ideally, as a general rule for most indoor plants, you want to place your plant in a position where it can see the sky for as long as possible throughout the day but without being in direct sunlight. This position is often referred to as BRIGHT INDIRECT light.

LOW light is not ideal and is the least amount of light a plant can survive on. In most cases your plant will not thrive even if it is considered a low light plant. Not enough natural light slows plant growth an often causes dull foliage.

MEDIUM light is usually reflective light. For example, you may have bright light in the centre of your room however, this light may be reflecting off surfaces such as your walls and floor. You may even find the light coming through your window is reflecting off a building next door, in this case you would have medium light and not bright indirect light as described above.

DIRECT light is when sunlight touches the leaves of your plant.

If you want your plant to thrive, yes!

When it comes to feeding your plant you have two common types of fertiliser, slow release granules or a liquid fertiliser. You can find these in both synthetic and natural products.

Slow release fertilisers are generally mixed in with the soil and can be applied every 3-6 months. During this time they provide a controlled release of nutrients to your plants. They generally take a week to start working so if the packet directions say to use once every 3 months it’s best to use every 2.5 months for continuous feeding.

Liquid fertiliser is generally applied every fortnight or every 2nd watering (whichever is less frequent) during the growing season and gives your plant an instant kick.

Both slow release and liquid fertilisers can often be used in conjunction with each other for best results.

ALWAYS follow the packet directions as some plants are sensitive and fertiliser burn is very real! The last thing you want to do is kill your plant with too much love.

Giving your plants a dose of Seasol (or other seaweed solution) every fortnight is a highly beneficial treat for your plants, however Seasol is not a fertiliser. Think of it more like giving your plant a little reassuring hug- your plant will feel all warm and fuzzy but will still be hungry.

Seaweed solution is fantastic for preventing or easing stress and also conditioning the soil, making this wonder product beneficial for your plant. At the first sign of stress, or even at change of season, or whenever you relocate your plant, give it a dose of seaweed solution and your plant will thank you for it.

It's also beneficial to mix in a dose of seaweed solution with your liquid fertiliser.

For a little while your plant will be perfectly happy living off the nutrients in soil, however over time these nutrients deplete and your plant will need some extra love.

In most cases the plants you purchase from the nursery will have fresh soil with lots of good stuff your plants want, and likely some slow release fertiliser for a little extra oomph. It's best to add some more slow release fertiliser every 3 - 6 months and replace the soil (or at least top it up) every 12 - 18 months.

To top up your soil, scrape off the top 3-5cm of soil from the top of the pot and discard. Sprinkle some slow release fertiliser onto the soil and backfill with fresh soil and/or compost. Water in thoroughly with Seasol.

 

There's a few variables here so to make it simple you should repot every 1 to 2 years in Spring or early Summer. You may need to repot earlier if you notice any of the following:

  • The soil is not absorbing water
  • The soil is very compacted
  • Your plant growth has slowed during the growing season
  • Roots are visibly growing out of the pot

It's important to remember that after you repot your plant will put all of its energy into establishing a new root system so you may notice slower than usual foliage growth. You can minimise root stress by only planting up one pot size when repotting. In their natural environment plants break through compacted soil as they grow so they like to be a little snug.

It’s not always necessary to repot, sometimes simply topping up the soil with fresh potting mix and/or compost is more beneficial. To top up your soil, scrape off the top 3-5cm of soil from the top of the pot and discard. Sprinkle some slow release fertiliser onto the soil and backfill with fresh soil and/or compost. Water in thoroughly with Seasol.

Soil is a whole science lesson and for most of you it's going to be pretty boring so let's try to make this as quick and simple as possible.

Soil needs to be nutrient rich, able to absorb water well and well draining. To aid in drainage and air flow around the roots ideally you would use a soil that has an equal blend of fine (compost/peat) and chunky (bark) materials. Most plants will do well in this mix however, some plants such as cactus and succulents prefer a drier soil and will do best in a soil with a high sand content.

You should preferably purchase a potting mix with compost and a slow release fertilser but both of these materials can be added to the mix if need be.

If you find your soil is not draining well you should add perlite, pumice or bark to the mix to assist in drainage.

The pH (potential Hydrogen) of the soil generally gets overlooked when troubleshooting common problems with indoor plants. Soil pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Plants prefer a pH of between 6.5 - 7.5 and nutrient uptake is prohibited at any level outside of this range. Checking the pH is a relatively easy task and altering the soil pH can also be done quite easily if required. If your indoor plant is struggling you should check the pH of the soil, at the very least just to rule it out as the cause of the problem.

pH values:

  • Over 7.5 – alkaline
  • 5.5-7.5 – neutral
  • Less than 6.5 – acidic

Water, fertiliser and a lack of nutrients are all factors that can alter the pH of soil.

The first step in successful plant parenting is to choose the plants best suited to you and your environment. You can do absolutely everything right when it comes to plant care but if your chosen plant isn’t suitable for your environment or your skill level it doesn’t stand a chance at thriving.

People will often choose a plant on aesthetics. Often they will have a particular spot in their home that needs some brightening up with a plant so they will head to the nursery and find a plant they like the look of. Unfortunately, plant selection needs a little more effort than that.

Consider the following before purchasing a new plant?

  • How much light does the space get?
  • How close is the space to an air conditioner or doorway?
  • How much room will the plant have to grow in this space?
  • How much time will I have to care for this plant?
  • Is the plant easy to look after?

Putting a little more thought into your plant selection is the foundation to successful growing.

Pests are an inevitable downside of bringing plants into your home unfortunately. Fortunately though there are things you can do to help prevent and/or treat unwanted pests.

The most common indoor plant pests are mealy bug, spider mites, thrips and fungus gnats. With the exception of fungus gnats they are all relatively easy to get rid of in a few days with some careful treatment. These pests quite literally suck the life out of your plant but can usually be eliminated with a home made solution or a store bought pesticide.

SOLUTION:

  • 1 teaspoon rubbing alcohol
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • 250ml water

METHOD:

Thoroughly spray the entire plant and surface of the soil with solution. Pay careful attention to the petioles where pests are likely hiding. After 30 minutes rinse the solution off, preferably in the shower or with a hose where there is reasonable pressure. Use a wet cloth to wash all the leaves to remove any dead pests that may not have been washed away. It's also beneficial to use an old tooth brush or make up brush for hard to reach delicate areas of the plant. Ensure you wash these utensils thoroughly before using them again to prevent pest transfer to another plant.

FUNGUS GNATS:

The good news about gnats is unless you have an enormous infestation they're actually more annoying than they are harmful to your plants. If you let the population explode out of control the result will be root damage to your plant similar to that of root rot. The bad news is they're reeaally annoying and they take a couple of weeks of persistent treatment to eliminate the infestation. A diligent care routine afterwards can help prevent the little bugs from coming back.

THE ELIMINATION PROCESS:

Consistency, consistency, consistency... did we mention consistency?

Catching the adults is *fairly easy with a combination of yellow sticky traps and apple cider vinegar traps and even a sliced potato thrown in for good measure. The yellow sticky and apple cider vinegar traps kill the adult gnats but if by chance they outsmart the trap they will be more tempted to lay their eggs inside the slice of potato than in the soil. Discard the potato into a sealed bag or container and replace with a fresh piece daily. All these traps work best placed on top of the soil or as close to as possible.

 

You're probably not going to like this answer; no plants thrive on neglect (despite many blog posts claiming otherwise).

Plant care cards will often use the terms ‘prefers’ and ‘tolerates’.  A thriving plant is happy and healthy and living it’s best life. A plant will thrive in preferable conditions and reward you with abundant growth. When a plant is tolerating its surrounding conditions it is simply suffering a little more gracefully than other plants that are deemed “fussy”. The plant will put all of its energy into surviving so don’t expect it to flourish.

Choose plants that are most suited to your home environment and wherever possible provide your plant with the conditions it prefers, not just tolerates.

There are plenty of low maintenance house plants available and our online plant selection is based on our top recommendations.

  • ZZ Plant
  • Rubber Tree
  • Jade Plant
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Snake Plant
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Happy Plant
  • Aloe Vera
  • Peace Lily
  • Devils Ivy

For more information check out our post Plants for the First Time Plant Parents.

The general consensus from veterinarians is, unfortunately, no. Although many plants may only cause a mild reaction, the mildest reaction is still likely to be gastrointestinal upset. This is often not serious and does not require medical attention but may still be uncomfortable for your pet. Plant toxicity ranges from low to very high. If a pet were to digest a highly toxic plant the consequences can be fatal.

Does this mean plants and pets can’t cohabitate? Not necessarily, read more about it here.

We have children and pets so we've done a lot of research on this and have compiled a couple of lists for your reference.

If you have human and fur babies this list covers pet and child friendly plants

If you don't have any pets you have a wider variety of plants to choose from on this list of child friendly plants

Plant breeders who develop unique plant cultivars often spend a lot of time and money doing so. These breeders are protected by Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) and in some cases plant breeders choose to protect their new cultivars by patenting them. You are not allowed to propagate patented plants without the permission of the patent holder. Propagating patented plants is a form of stealing and is against the law. Individuals may be fined up to $50,000 and fines of up to $250,000 may apply for corporations. The breeder may also take Federal Court action to recover losses.
Exceptions: You are allowed to propagate a patented plant for experimental purposes and for breeding other plant varieties. A patented plant can be used for these purposes irrespective of an existing patent, however only for personal use (under no circumstances can you sell a patented plant without express permission from the patent holder).
Not all plants are patented and it is only illegal to propagate patented plants. Often it is legal to propagate, however some of the most common houseplants at the moment are patented and therefore protected.  Before propagating your plant it's best to check the IP Register to ensure your plant is not protected. Visit IP Australia here.

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