5 Quick Tips for Growing a Jungle in your Apartment
by Yvonne Hanson
I have been growing way too many house plants for about three years now, and I can conﬁdently say that if you love plants and you have the time to spend, growing a houseful of them is a lot easier than it seems. This list is for beginner plant lovers looking to hone their green thumbs and ﬁll their lives and living rooms with lush tropical foliage.
1) Map out your lighting situation
Many tropical plants that are marketed for beginners will be tolerant to a variety of different light levels. Nonetheless, it is helpful to have a good idea of how much light each area of your house receives, and plan your houseplants accordingly. If you have small/ shaded windows that let in very little light, most plants will need to be within a few meters of the windowsill to get the light they require. If you have large, bright windows, some plants may need to be moved away from them in the summer to prevent sunburn or overexposure. It is helpful to know how much direct vs. indirect light each area gets, and how long that light lasts each day.
2) Start Simple
Don’t start with carnivorous plants or rare orchid varieties or other ﬁnicky plants that will die easily without specialized care. Go over a few lists of easy-to-care-for house plants and pick out a few that work best for the lighting situation in your house. Peace lily, dieffenbachia, dracaena, and pothos are great plants to start with. Go for big, broad leaves and strong stems. Its easy to get starry-eyed over that spotted dendrobium in the window of your local ﬂoral shop, but its just as easy to become a chronic plant-murderer by biting off more than you can chew as a beginner grower.
3) Learn how to spot bugs and always inspect new plants
In the second year of my plant-obsession, I began to notice little white patches of mould in the nooks and crannies of several of my plants. Not knowing what it was, I bought a fungicide and sprayed them down. A few months went by and the little white spots had spread to every plant in my house. That’s when I learned about mealybug: a tiny white bug that shrouds itself in mould-like white fuzz. By the time I realized what it was, the infestation was too far along to eradicate. I had to throw out almost everything and start again from scratch. Don’t let this happen. Learn how to identify spider mites, thrips, aphids, and mealybug on sight, and thoroughly inspect every single plant you bring into your house. There are a wide variety of cheap, natural, home remedies that halt these infestations in their tracks if used early-on, so stay vigilant and don’t make the same mistake I did!
4) Ensure all pots have proper drainage
Never plant something in a pot without drainage. If you have a pretty pot without any holes in the bottom, add a thin layer of rocks or sand and “false plant” a plastic pot on top. The plant will live in the plastic pot, and the water will drain out into the rocks and provide moisture to the roots without giving the plant “wet feet”. This is especially important if you are a chronic over-waterer.
5) Don’t forget to Fertilize
My absolute least favourite thing to hear from a fellow plant enthusiast is “I never fertilize, but my plants all seem healthy!” Fertilizer gives plants the necessary building blocks to grow new tissue and repair damage. It may seem healthy for now, but keeping a plant in dull, lifeless soil will kill it in the slowest way possible. It seems that every devout grower has their own fertilizer regimen to swear by. Some like to dose infrequently with higher concentrations, while others may dose plants frequently with very dilute concentrations.
One thing we can all agree on is this: the fertilizer box will direct you to overfertilize so you go through the product quickly and have to buy it more frequently. A good rule of thumb is to dilute the fertilizer 4x as much as the box recommends. As a grower, you can choose between liquid, pelleted, granular, and solid fertilizer options. Personally I recommend using an organic, liquid fertilizer with low-npk values and a host of other micronutrients. Lower npk values are generally easier for the plant to uptake. I like to add two teaspoons of fertilizer to a full 2 gallon watering can every second week in the summer, and once a month in the winter.
Watch for Part 2 of this series - 5 budget friendly tips for growing an indoor garden like a pro.