Stay-at-Home Houseplant Guide

In the name of practicing social distancing, we are all spending more time at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. If you’re like me and trying to do literally anything to keep busy, why not take the opportunity to spend even more time with your houseplants? When you’ve binged all you can binge and baked all the bread you can stomach, check out the list below. At the very least, you can make sure your indoor jungle is thriving while outside is off-limits.

Inventory and Inspection

Just how many plants do you have in your house, anyway? Every time I check there seem to be a few more than I remember. Take a pen and paper, or use your favourite notes app on your phone, and make a list of your plants. Now is a great time to look up all of the names and check out the individual care instructions. When you’re making your list, it’s also a good idea to take a look at the leaves, stems and soil. Check out often neglected spots like under the leaves, the spots where leaves meet stems and soil surfaces. If you notice any pests, webbing or strange spots try and resolve that issue as soon as possible.

Move Plants for Spring

It’s warming up in North America, and summer is around the corner. If you have air conditioning that will be in use soon, consider moving plants away from air vents that can shock them. If you’ve got hot water radiators in front of windows that you’re turning off, consider reclaiming that prime plant real-estate as well. If during your plant inspections you noticed signs of etiolation (stretching due to lack of sunlight), find a sunnier spot. Likewise, consider moving plants out of direct sun that might burn as the days get longer. Resist the urge to move all the furniture and redecorate the entire house. Or go for it. You have time.

Tidy Up and Dust

While dirt around the roots of your plants is good, dirty leaves are not. Houseplants with larger, broader leaves can tend to be dust magnets over time. There are leaf shine products that are available, but they can do more harm than good. Grab a soft towel or an old t-shirt and gently wipe down leaves. If you have delicate plants or succulents use an old soft toothbrush. Dust buildup can get in the way of your plant absorbing the sun it needs. Take this opportunity to remove dead leaves and wipe down pots and drip trays as well, keeping an eye out for pests or loose change. We’ll all need it once this thing is over.

Repot or Pot-up

Did you notice roots poking out of the bottom of your pots? Long roots on your cuttings sitting in water? If you happen to have soil and pots handy, take the time to move your plant into a bigger pot. If you noticed your aloe pot overflowing with pups, it can be a fun afternoon spent splitting them into their own pots.

If you only have fresh soil or amendments available, you can still help your plants out. Trim up to half of the existing roots, add fresh nutrients or soil and place it back in the previous pot. In a pinch, old take-out containers or disposable drink cups both make great temporary pots. Remember to add drainage holes!

Propagate and Prune

Spring is a great time to take cuttings of your plants to propagate them and make more. When tidying up maybe you noticed your pothos vines have long bare sections. Prune it back and take some cuttings to keep it nice and bushy. Cut back other plants that are growing a little wild, much like cutting your own hair – use your own judgement. Save the plant cuttings where possible and plant them. If anyone asks, yes you do need more plants and at least these are free.

Tame Those Unruly Vines

A happy pothos can grow very long and unruly. The aptly named monstera can also very quickly become spread out. A fun project that’s not too hard is to fashion a stake out of scrap wood for a growing support. It is easier to do this while repotting but not too hard to add to an existing pot. Add the stake/trellis and use twist ties or garden twine to hold the vines. If you haven’t got any stakes handy or you’re a vampire and staunchly against the idea, fishing wire or twine can make great supports for a pothos or philodendron to grow across a wall or above a window.

Make More Houseplants

Avocado pits? Grow them. I know everyone is doing extra groceries these days which means – more things to grow! Seeds from fruit, vegetable scraps and even extra herbs can be started in water. Growing from kitchen scraps is a fun and FREE project. I like to keep the ends of my green onions in my kitchen window so I can watch them while I stare outside every five minutes, trying to remember what a patio beer tastes like.

Do you have any more ideas for fun activities to do with your houseplants at home? We would love to hear them, sound off in the comments below and please stay safe during this pandemic. We can get through this by working together.

Growing Monstera Deliciosa from Seed

Monstera Plant Leaves

So you want a whole garden of little monsters? Great! I took this project on a while back and loved the plants that I managed to grow. While it’s not terribly difficult to actually grow the plants, I found it tough to find information easily online. I’ve decided to start this project over again and document it for everyone else who decides to give this a shot.

By far the most difficult part of this is finding real viable Monstera seeds. Ultimately I couldn’t find any websites selling seeds locally so I had to turn to eBay. If you’ve ever shopped for seeds on there it’s very hard to discern what is a true and honest listing from a fake one. Unfortunately it’s a common scam because a lot of people don’t know what the seeds look like to begin with. Here are some photos I took of what they actually look like.

In general they are about the size of a pea. The seeds are yellow with a greenish tinge and both times I purchased seeds they had a fine skin on them. I assume this is from the harvesting process. Both times I ended up ordering seeds that were shipped from Italy. In my case, this meant that my seeds spent a few weeks in the mail and because I’m impatient and ordered near the end of winter – they probably didn’t see great weather.

From what I have read anecdotally monstera deliciosa seeds do not travel well and do not keep well because they do not remain viable dried out. I have no source on this information but both times a number of seeds I received were mushy and did not germinate. This could also be due to poor harvesting or packaging, but I had no controls in place for that.

Previously I was able to germinate seeds in damp paper towel in a sandwich bag on top of the fridge for warmth, as well as placed directly in soil. I also experimented with seeds in rockwool which grew quite well but faltered with transitioning into soil. This time around I tried both paper towel and soil methods again. I’ll be placing these near an east facing window and I’ll update soon.

Update #1

Good News
We have a sprout! The first leaf has sprouted up. Last time I grew these I was very impatient so it’s encouraging to see signs of life this early.

Bad News
Unfortunately a large number of seeds continued to rot away. Of twelve seeds in paper towel, nine of them became mushy or moldy before they germinated. I could have soaked the seeds before or provided a more sterile environment as I believe that some of these probably rotted from being too close to another rotting seed. I also should have discarded more non-viable seeds before trying to plant them all. I ended up moving the rest of the seeds into sterilized soil.

Bringing Home a New Houseplant

You’ve gotten a new houseplant – Great! Then you get it home and start to wonder “what the heck am I supposed to do with this thing?”. I’m going to go over a few things you can do to ease your (and your plants’) anxiety a little bit. Personally I pick up new houseplants all over the place. From hardware stores, or plant swaps and a number of them came as gifts (read: abandoned by owner). No matter where you got your plant from or what sort of plant it is, here’s a good general plan on what to do when you bring a new plant into your home.

Inspect and Isolate

While new plants are always exciting to bring home there’s always the question of what’s coming along with it. I’ve made the mistake of bringing in a very cute plant only to find days later it was infested – what a nightmare! You can imagine that bringing in bugs or diseases and putting them right beside your existing plants is a recipe for disaster.

An ounce of prevention is always better than the cure, especially when the cure could mean seriously disturbing your other already established plants. Take the time to carefully look at the leaves, where the leaves meet the stems, where the stems meet the soil and the soil itself. Keep an eye out for tiny bugs, webbing, or any signs of rotting. Pests like spider mites or mealybugs are common but a real nuisance once they spread, so if you have a magnifying glass or a zoom on your camera get a real good look.

In transit leaves can get bumped and bruised and that can cause topical damage, this is usually permanent but not risky. It’s good to look for mushy or dark spots on stems and leaves, to make sure nothing is rotting. It’s also not a bad idea to get a good sniff, you might look a little crazy but it’s an easy way to tell if something is rotting in the pot. Remove and all rotting plant material immediately as it will spread.

It’s a good idea to place your new plant somewhere a little further away from your collection for a few days while you keep an eye on it to make sure no stowaways pop up in the short term.

Identify and Research

If you’ve identified any issues during your initial inspection now is also a good time to find out how serious the problem is and what remedies there are to try. If you bought your plant at a nursery often they offer a refund or return if there are major issues.

It’s a good idea to find out what type of plant you have, and once you know, use that to look up what sort of care it requires. Knowledge is power. It’s easy to assume all plants want as much sun and water as possible but that isn’t always the case. Take special note of the type of sun your houseplant prefers, how wet or dry the soil should be, and how often you need to fertilize. I also like to familiarize myself with growth habits and problems that can happen so I can be proactive in spotting them You don’t need to be an expert, but a general idea on what your houseplant needs to thrive will go a long way.

Pick a Spot and a Pot

Now that you know what type of houseplant you have and what conditions it prefers, pick out a spot for your plant. Keep in mind the direction of the sun, how far away from the window and whether there are blinds or curtains filtering the light. The idea here is that you want to find an ideal spot and not move your plant around too much. Consider that once your plant is established and settled, moving it again will mean it has to readjust.

Now is also a great time to consider the soil conditions that your plant needs. Plants that prefer to dry out can benefit from being placed in clay pots that will help wick moisture away. Avoid clay pots for plants that prefer to stay moist or you’ll find yourself watering more often – these can do better in glazed or plastic pots. In all cases make sure your plant pot has drainage or you will definitely see issues in the future.

While plenty of plants show up well potted, some could use a better soil either for the plant or for you and how often you’ll actually remember to water it.

Have Patience

Once you’re sure your new plant is pest-free, and settled into its new home, the best thing is just a little patience. A lot of people get frustrated that their new plant isn’t doing anything at all and start trying all sorts of things to get it to grow, which does more harm than good.

The journey from where it was to your home could have been very tough on your houseplant. It’s in a new place with new light, different humidity and different water. Give some time for it to adjust fully and it’ll start growing soon enough.

Water according to the needs of the plant and keep an eye out for any signs the plant is struggling (browning, rotting, etc.). In some cases plants will drop all their leaves when moved just to grow them all back to fit their new environment better, but hopefully you’ll be aware of that if you’ve done your research.

Resist the urge to disturb the roots or move the plant to new locations constantly which will just continue to stress it out. Have patience and before you know, it will be thanking you with new leaves.

Houseplants for Low-Light

snake plant

While everyone loves houseplants, not everyone has sunlight available. We’d all love to have floor to ceiling windows in all directions but unfortunately that’s not reality. A large number of planthusiasts are simply stuck with sub-optimal lighting. While there are a ton of lists that will suggest some low-light plants, I’m going to try a different approach. By understanding how to grow houseplants in low-light you can make better decisions and take excellent care of your plants.

Why Do Some Houseplants Need Less Light?

All plants need light for photosynthesis to occur. If you remember back to grade school, plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy that it can then use to grow. So how can low-light plants survive without lots of direct sunlight? The short answer is: adaptation. Consider where that plant would live outside in nature.

What we call houseplants are just outdoor plants that will survive in the same conditions we prefer in our homes. Out in nature though, these plants that have adapted to need less light for a number of reasons. Plants have adapted to all kinds of growth conditions in the wild. Many of the plants we consider houseplants are actually tropical plants. In the tropical forests some plants live beneath the canopy of leaves and never receive direct sunlight. If you can imagine how it is very bright without having direct sun, then you can imagine the conditions these plants have adapted to.

What is Low-Light for a Plant?

With a few extra-ordinary exceptions, light is a requirement for plants. For low-light houseplants they are able to survive on a minimal amount. Low-light can be considered any bright spot with no direct sunlight. A general minimum guideline is within 15 feet of a northern window. In the northern hemisphere a northern window provides the least light, so if you’re in the southern hemisphere – reverse that. In either hemisphere east and west facing windows will be your brightest sides.

Low-light does not mean no light. Without any windows at all though, low-light plants can be happy with eight to ten hours of bright indoor lights. If all else fails you can always get an affordable grow light. If you really want a plant that will grow with no light at all I strongly recommend a nice plastic one.

How Can You Tell if a Plant Isn’t Getting Enough Light?

If you’re concerned that you’ve picked a spot that’s maybe too low-light for your plant, watch how it grows. All other things equal, a plant without enough light will go looking for it. If you start to see your plant stretching or becoming etiolated, that means it needs more light. A plant will put out longer stems and leaves to try to reach out around obstacles keeping it from precious light resources. Dig up the photos you took of your plant when you bought it (you did take a selfie, right?) and compare. Other tell-tale signs of insufficient light can be smaller new growth and the plant looking pale or dull.

When the Light Isn’t Low Enough

So if plants need photosynthesis to grow, and they need light for photosynthesis, shouldn’t we just blast them with light constantly? Turns out, no. Too much light can cause leaves to yellow and die, and can literally cook the plant. If the plant is getting more light than it can handle it will find a way to get less which in most cases means getting rid of leaves one way or another.

For many plants parts of photosynthesis only occur when it’s ‘night’ or dark. If the lights never go off, the plant can become disrupted and unable to maintain itself. Consider this when adding supplemental lighting, or placing a low-light plant somewhere with 24 hour lighting. Think back again to the conditions it would have adapted to outside. While there are some plants near the poles that are used to long stretches of dark, there is usually a balance.

Happy Healthy Low-Light Plants

Low-light plants are a great way to bring houseplants to places indoors that the sun just doesn’t reach. While it’s easy to assume all plants want as much sun as possible, it’s better to consider that each plant wants as much light as it has adapted to. Always take the time to discover what your plants’ light needs are. Once you understand what the plant requires it becomes much easier to choose and place your indoor plants in spots that work for both of you.

Understanding Drainage

Having a good grasp on the relationship between plants and water is crucial to finding success growing houseplants. We all know plants need water to survive, but with poor drainage, that water can do more harm than good. Standing water in plants can cause roots to rot, promoting fungus and disease. By understanding proper drainage, and how it works in potted plants, you can make your plants much healthier.

What is Drainage, Anyway?

Drainage refers to how effectively water can move through your plant’s soil. In a good drainage situation, water doesn’t stand, and can flow freely. It’s important that water isn’t allowed to stand in your plants, because it can cause a number of problems. There are three different aspects of drainage – pots, soil and watering. Making sure your plant is in the correct pot, with the right soil, makes watering much easier.

Drainage Tips for Pots

Drainage holes are holes in the bottom of plant pots that allow extra water to flow out after watering. These also allow for air to enter into the soil which is also crucial for plant health.

If you happen to over-water a plant that lives in a pot without drainage holes you’ll have a few problems to deal with. First, it’s hard to tell if water is sitting in the pot, as it will sink to the bottom. If there is, the plant will be difficult to dry out without emptying it out.

Some people suggest using stones in the bottom of a pot to help with drainage but this actually has the opposite effect. Picture your soil like a sponge – it won’t actually drip water into the gravel below until the soil is absolutely full of water. This is called a perched water table.

So what to do about the lovely pots you’ve found that don’t happen to already have any drainage? An easy solution is to use them as cache pots. Place your plant in a plastic nursery container and then inside the desired pot. This allows you to easily check for standing water, while making it easier to switch pots or move your plant around. You can use gravel if you would like since your inner pot will drain through into the gravel. If you’re feeling handy, you can also pick up a tile or glass drill bit and add a drainage hole yourself.

Drainage Tips for Soil

Quick draining soil is important for a number of reasons, as different types of soil retain water at different levels. A peat based soil mix will hold moisture longer than a bark based, or gritty mix. It is entirely possible to grow a succulent in garden soil, or a pothos in orchid mix but it will be a lot harder maintaining the right type of moisture for your plants.

You can help water to drain through soil by amending it with things that do not absorb water, or break up the density of the soil and allow air in. Typically something like perlite, bark fines, or crushed granite can be added to keep soil from packing down too densely.

Drainage Tips When Watering

In general, plants drink water from their roots which are spread throughout the soil. When watering ideally we give all of those roots access to water for enough time to drink without drowning. Water thoroughly, taking care to distribute the water around the pot lightly and evenly. Water until a bit comes out through the bottom of the pot and discard excess water after a few minutes. Never let your plant sit in water. It is better to water fully and less frequently than too frequently, or not enough water.

The Bottom Line

Having a grasp on what drainage is and how it affects your plants can help manage and eliminate the conditions that encourage root rot, mildew, mold, and pests. Use this knowledge along with an understanding of how your individual plant enjoys being watered, and your plants will grow and thrive. Of course prevention is still the best cure – if you have good soil and can water properly then drainage issues are less of a concern.

Growing Pothos from Seed

I decided I was going to try my hand at growing pothos from seed for a few reasons. As any houseplant enthusiast knows, it can easily become an expensive habit to buy whole plants. Seeds are much cheaper, easier to ship, and you get a ton of them. I’ve grown a few tropical plants from seed, netting more plants for less money. This time, however, I wanted to grow some pothos from seed for sentimental reasons. It’s one of the first plants I owned, and I decided it would be great to have some I raised all the way up. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find pothos seeds anywhere online because they are so rare.

After some research I came across a disheartening fact. The study revealed that pothos is a “shy-flowering” species, due to a genetic deficiency. No flowers means – you guessed it – no seeds. So while pothos likely does flower in the wild, it’s quite rare. Turns out that – much like in our homes – it spreads by simply growing along.

Variegation and Seeds

But what if you could grow pothos from seed? There’s no guarantee you’d even get the pothos you wanted. The different types of pothos we typically see as houseplant enthusiasts are derived from the simple, deep green jade pothos. Variegations – the flecked patterns on the leaves – are mutations from the solid green plant. When variegated plants produce seeds there is no guarantee the seedlings will stay variegated. This is an important note of caution when buying seeds – simply because the source plant was exotic-looking does not mean its offspring will be!

Let’s say you managed to get golden pothos seeds for example. Planting them – after sending some to me! – could result in a variety of different plants when grown. They could be solid green, variegated or somewhere in between. It’s even possible it could produce an albino plant that would most likely die because it can’t photosynthesize. That’s right, the more white on a variegated leaf means the less sunlight it can process! This is why plants revert to green in low-light situations, to gather as much sunlight as possible.

The Truth About Pothos Seeds

The truth is that I did actually find some seeds online. On eBay there are a few listings from Asia with some very interesting photographs to go along with them. They were definitely selling seeds but who knows what they actually were. Be very careful buying seeds from overseas – a topic for another day.

Considering pothos seeds are extremely hard to find and could produce any sort of variegation, the simplest way to grow more is via cuttings. It certainly explains why there are so many guides on how to take cuttings and so few pictures of baby pothos seedlings on Instagram.

How to Grow Pothos in Water

pothos plant growing in water

Pothos are one of the most popular houseplants. They are resilient, fast growers, and produce attractive foliage with little maintenance. Like many plants, it’s possible to grow pothos in water instead of soil. Many indoor gardeners struggle with watering their houseplants properly, growing in water eliminates that problem.

Water – Not Just For Propagating!

When we think of growing pothos in water, we think of taking cuttings to make more plants. Taking cuttings, or propagating these plants is easy and doesn’t take much time. The cuttings are placed in water and once they start to root, are moved into soil to continue growing long-term. But, they can also simply be left in the water! Keeping a few things in mind, those cuttings will be more than happy to stay submerged forever.

Why Grow Pothos in Water?

Growing in water can be useful if you have concerns about soil creating a mess, or if you have concerns about allergies. If you’re dealing with pets or kids having less dirt around is a big plus. A pothos can be a good choice in places like an office where regular watering can be difficult to maintain. Using water gives you many more container options, and the “see-through” look creates a unique design look in your home.

Don’t Plants Need Soil to Grow?

For plants to grow, conventional wisdom says they need sun, water and nutrients. While we usually think of plants getting nutrients from soil, many of them can also get them from water. Pothos, with its hardy personality, is able to extract the necessary food from the water – but you will have to fertilize it. You can do this by either diluting regular fertilizer or using a few drops of liquid fertilizer in the water. This is similar to hydroponic set-ups that commercial farmers use to produce vegetables in hyper-optimized conditions.

Can I Move my Pothos From Soil to Water?

A pothos grown and established in soil will have a different type of root structure than one grown in water. If you uproot your pothos and place the soil roots in water they will likely drown and rot. If you want to transition your plant to water it’s a good idea to take cuttings instead. This will allow the plant to grow roots that will thrive in water.

In the case of a plant that has suffered and must be moved – remove all damaged and affected roots and re-root in water.

Can I Move My Pothos From Water to Soil?

Similarly, a pothos that has been rooted heavily in water will struggle in soil. The roots won’t be developed properly to take in water and nutrients. Pothos propagated in water and then moved to soil while roots are developing can usually cope with this, but you can help the process along by creating a high-humidity environment. That said, pothos is a very hearty plant and in some cases can handle the transition with only temporary effects.

How to Grow Pothos in Water

You’ll need a water-proof container that is sturdy enough to last for months or years without breaking down. A container made of glass is a great choice because it’s less likely that contaminants will leech into the water. Metal can rust, and some plastics can break down over time. It’s a good idea to sterilize your container before rooting.

It can be fun to use a clear container so that you can watch the roots develop, but water and sun can create conditions for algae to grow. If you’re using a clear container like a mason jar – keep an eye out for green growth.

Once you have your container ready simply add water. If you have hard or heavily chlorinated tap water, avoid using it if possible. Distilled water, filtered water, or bottled water make good alternatives.

It’s easiest to add pothos cuttings to the water and place them in indirect bright sunlight. Once roots have developed, you can add a diluted amount of fertilizer to give your plant the nutrients it needs. Avoid fertilizing too much or too early so you don’t “burn” the plant.

Maintenance for Pothos in Water

Keeping your pothos happy in it’s home is slightly different when it’s in water. Sitting water is slowly losing oxygen, nutrients will deplete as the plant uses them and water will naturally evaporate. Top up the water to keep the roots submerged when the water gets low. Change out the water completely if it becomes cloudy or discoloured. Remember to add dissolved or liquid plant fertilizer during the growing season to keep your plant well-fed and happy.