Houseplants: 'Repeat this twice a week and your plant will be happy' – Mark Lane column


Over the last few years, houseplant sales have surged almost 60 percent, with millennials loving houseplants more than ever. Plants in the home give a sense of stability and especially during the pandemic helped many people with both their mental and physical wellbeing.

Caring for a plant, nurturing it, photographing it, and sharing it on social media has opened up indoor gardening to new hearts and new gardeners.

Houseplants have also moved on over the years. During the sixties, the Golden Pothos was popular along with dried Pampas grass. Every household during the seventies had a spider plant.

Jump forward to the 2000s and terrariums and large-leafed tropical plants have taken centre stage.

Houseplants can be relatively cheap to buy and most of them are easy to propagate, so why do houseplants die?

When you bring a new plant home it becomes part of the family. You have the perfect spot for it, and you remember to water and feed it regularly, but then life gets in the way.

Watering becomes more slapdash, you forget to feed your plants and as you buy more (because once you have the bug, you will), the growing conditions may change.

READ MARK LANE’S PREVIOUS COLUMN: ‘Roots will tell you’: Gardener’s World Mark Lane’s secret for your orchid to thrive

During the winter, central heating dries out the soil and the plant very quickly. Humidity might be low, or the number of daylight hours may drop.

The houseplant might have lived in the same pot for years and years and suddenly the human element, your job of caring for your houseplant, has fizzled out.

When you buy a new plant from a garden centre, shop, or online they have already been grown under the perfect conditions by the nurserymen and women in greenhouses, with the correct watering regimen, professional growers to hand, and in several cases forced to grow, so that when you see it on the shelf you instantly fall in love.

But by the time you purchase the houseplant, it may well already be in shock, having moved from the greenhouse to the shop, with not so much light, and not the same amount of care.

It’s simple and clear to say that plants die because of neglect or too much love.

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Most plants need to be watered once a week, so put aside 10 to 15 minutes each week (more if you have a jungle in your house, less if you have a couple of plants on the windowsill).

If you find that you are watering your plants every day, then you are drowning your plant.

Overwatering leads to death either by root rot, mould, yellowing leaves or bugs.

If you stick your first finger into the soil, down to the second knuckle and the soil feels moist then don’t water.

If the soil feels dry, then water but remember when you last watered it. Underwatering is also bad for your houseplants.

Remember, during the winter watering needs to be less frequent – a little often is better than a lot once a week.

Some gardeners leave an ice cube on the surface of the soil and allow it to melt.

Repeat this twice a week and your plant will be happy. This also shows how little water a plant requires.

Of course, for much larger specimens more water will be required.

A good rule of thumb is to water your plant so that the pot fills with a third of water, but ensure you allow the excess water to drain away. If water doesn’t drain then it reduces root oxygenation, which is essential for healthy growth.

Never use cold water when it comes to watering your houseplants.

Water at room temperature or a tap turned very slightly towards hot to fill a watering can is best.

A simple trick is to fill your watering can the night before and then use it the following morning.

When it comes to pouring, ensure you water every centimetre of the soil and remember to allow the water to drain away.

If your houseplant pot has holes in the bottom, which it should, then you can fill up a bowl with water and sit your plant in it. The plant will soak up the water from the bottom and take just the right amount, but again, if there is any excess water let it drain away.


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