How To Take Care Of Indoor Plants

There’s something about the colour green that makes our lives better and having plants in our homes and offices add to our wellbeing.  There is debate in the world of research about the extent to which houseplants actually purify the air.  Some studies say that indoor plants clean the air unlike anything else while others say this is simply untrue.  Wherever the line of reality lies, it’s just good for our souls to have some plants around.

We’d like to invite you to see our blog called “The 5+ Best House Plants Perfect for Alberta” for a few ideas about simple to grow & care for indoor plants.  In it we talk about Spider Plants, Peace Lilies, Areca Palms, Succulents, and a plant called ‘Mother in Law Tongue’.  These five plants are a great springboard for jump starting an indoor plant growing adventure.

Once you have an indoor plant, how can you care for it adequately?  If a plant has been purchased, it should have a care tag with it, or at least a tag that identifies what it is.  There is a lot of information on the web about individual plants, so we encourage you to investigate the nuances of the plants that you have.  If you have been gifted a plant from a friend and they don’t know what it is, there are also plant identification apps to help narrow down its identity.

A Handy Trick For Taking Care Of Indoor Plants

Here at Wallish Greenhouse, we have a general guideline that we use for gardens and outdoor plants that we have adapted to indoor plants.

We use an acronym from the word “CARE”.  ‘C’ is for Check Regularly.  ‘A’ stands for Adequate Hydration.  ‘R is for Replenish Nutrients, and think Encourage Growth when you see the ‘E’.  

Let’s take a deeper dive into this how this handy acronym translates to caring for your indoor plants.

1. Check Indoor Plants Regularly

Since indoor plants are in a very consistent environment – not experiencing wind or rain or other unpredictable weather patterns, they don’t really need a daily head to toe assessment but they do need to be checked regularly. Their world is in a steady state, but they still need to be checked.

Here’s how to check the health of your indoor plants:

  • Examine foliage – The first thing is to examine their foliage. Check them for wilted and discoloured leaves.  If you see anything unusual, like yellowed leaves, turn some over and get a deeper look at them.
  • Check for bugs – Do you see any bugs?  Sometimes leaves just get old and die.  Sometimes they yellow or turn brown from lack of water and sometimes the fluoride in city water causes the leaf tips to turn brown.
  • Check the temperature – Plants near air heating vents or fireplaces tend to dry out quicker than those further away from heating sources.
Related:  The 5+ Best House Plants Perfect for Alberta

Decide how often works best for your plants – does it work to assess them every 2 or 3 days? Every week?  We recommend that you assess them at least weekly.

2. Ensure They’re Getting Adequate Hydration

When taking care of indoor plants, it’s important to be mindful of soil hydration.

With this step, get to know your plants.  Cacti and succulents may only need water every 2-4 weeks or less; and then only a spritz from a water bottle, or a few drops from a watering can where more leafy plants may need more water.

One crucial factor for proper hydration is to have the correct soil for your plant’s needs.

Succulents need a lighter soil with better draining capability as compared to a Spider plant that needs a potting soil that has a good water holding capacity but yet drains well.  We have a video on our website called “Why Soil Matters”  and a blog called “Container Planting: About Soil.” If you would like a more in-depth look at the characteristics of a good quality soil, check those two out.

You can assess the moisture level of the soil a couple of different ways:

  • How heavy is the pot? You can lift the entire pot (if it’s not too big) and see how heavy it is. After you have watered your plant fully, check to see the weight of the pot.  Over the next while, keep checking the weight until you familiarize yourself with how light the pot feels when the soil is dry.
  • Is the soil wet? If the planted container is too heavy to lift, stick you finger into the soil – if it is dry to the second knuckle of your index finger and it’s not a drought hardy cactus or succulent, it could probably use some water.

We like to break up watering into 2 categories:

For smaller containers up to 12” in diameter:

Water the plant until you see dripping from bottom of the pot. This would indicate that the plant is probably adequately watered.  When you water, place the spout of your watering can close to the soil level and gently pour the water in.  If you spread water all over the plant, you could be asking for fungal or other disease problems.  Keeping the leaves dry helps to keep the plant healthy.

Another way to water smaller containers is by bottom watering. Place the pot in a bowl filled with about 2 inches of water and let the roots soak it up for 15 or 20 minutes.

Large containers:

Let’s say that you have a really big container that can’t be lifted. Then just check the soil using the index finger method described above.

Related:  9+ Vegetables That Should Be Started Indoors

If you water this container until the water flows out the bottom, you may wind up over-saturating the soil which could suffocate the roots and start an interesting mix of problems like rotting roots, yellowed & spotted leaves, fungal and bacterial infections. We suggest that you give it a good drink, keeping track of how much you watered you used, and observe your plant.  If it dries out quickly, that will tell you that it could handle more water.  If it takes a long time to get dry, cut back a bit on the water.

3. Replenish Your Plant’s Nutrients

  • Replenishing Nutrients is about fertilizing. Indoor plants don’t usually have the same metabolic demands as annuals growing outside in the garden because of their uniform temperatures and humidity.
  • Fertilize indoor plants no more than every 4-6 weeks, less often like every 2 months will likely be fine too.
  • Classic signs of nutrient deficiencies look like yellow & pale green foliage (unless that is the natural colour of the leaves), and insipid growth with poor flowering.
  • Signs of over fertilization look like brown & burning leaves (not to be confused with just regular aging leaves), and leaves that begin to fall off beginning at the lower branches and continuing upward. Other signs are slowed growth and weak, brittle roots.
  • A good type of fertilizer to use for indoor plants is 20-20-20. All the macronutrients of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium are evenly balanced.  Because of the stable environment of the indoors, plants don’t need high values of any of these nutrients.  For more in detailed information on fertilizer, see our blog called “Unwinding the Fertilizer Numbers”.

4. Encourage Plant Growth

  • Most plants need a little help with their grooming. Encouraging plant growth takes place for a couple of reasons:
    • To help them thrive from a health perspective
      • Removing dried and worn out plant material relieves the plant of having to expend energy to repair itself. When a plant isn’t nursing itself back to health, it can use its power to continue to grow.
    • …and to help with their aesthetics
      • Sometimes indoor plants get spindly and shabby because of the lower light conditions in offices & homes and we’d like to encourage you to not be afraid to trim them back just like you’d go for a haircut (some haircuts are scary, though).
      • Here’s how to do it:
    • Remove and trim off old drying leaves by pinching them back or cutting them back with clean scissors. Using clean scissors will help prevent the spread of bacteria.  Do the same for old and dry flowers.
    • It’s always best practise to cut plants back just above a leaf node. What is a leaf node?  A leaf node is where the leaf comes out of the stem.  You will see either one or two leaves growing from the stem.  If there are two, they will be growing opposite of each other.  Don’t cut a leaf in half – that ends up creating a wound that the plant has to repair and that repair will slow down its growth
    • For the plants that you’d like to reshape, envision the structure or appearance you’d like for your plant and go for it – trim it back being mindful of cutting the stems near the leaf nodes.  If you feel you trimmed off too much or made it lopsided; don’t worry, they will grow back just like hair does.
Related:  Growing Indoors at Home – Pitfalls to Avoid

Dust Your Plants

Remember to dust off your plants!

When leaves collect dust, it restricts the amount of sunlight available for photosynthesis.  Less photosynthesis means less available energy and that means slower growth.

Give your indoor plants a good dusting every couple of weeks.  If they have broad leaves, wipe them off with a lightly damp cloth moistened with clear water.

If they are transportable, give them a quick shower and wash them down every 2 months or so and shake them off well – they’ll love it and you may even hear them giggle.

Caring For Root Bound Indoor Plants

If your plants become root bound (root bound looks like tightly packed roots and there’s nothing in the pot except roots) you can do a couple of things:

  • Repot into a bigger container using good quality potting soil. Aim for a pot that will give your plants 3-6 inches of growth all the way around and below.
  • Divide your plant. Take your plant out of the pot and divide it using a clean knife or garden clippers. (We’ve been known to use a hacksaw at times!) Always use clean tools when you split plant roots to help prevent the spread of bacteria or other diseases.   Then repot your new plants in containers using a quality potting soil.

How To Care For Indoor Plants During The Summer

Wondering how to take care of those lovely indoor plants of yours during the warmer months of the year?

Consider giving your indoor plants a vacation away from the indoors during the summer.

Remember to check what kind of sun exposure they require, set them outside and let them grow in the elements.

They will enjoy this break from indoor captivity, but remember to bring them back indoors before the frost!

We hope this helps you with keeping an eye on and for caring for your indoor plants.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us!  You can always hook up with us via Face Book or Instagram too.  In the meantime, enjoy your indoor plants!

About The Author

Sharon (Wallish) Murphy
Sharon grew up in the Wallish Greenhouse at the heels of her father, Charlie, who mentored her. Sharon’s passion is to share the love for growing and to empower others to find joy in their gardening journey, just like her dad.