Foliage Plant Care
Foliage plants refer to those that are lush, usually with larger, decorative leaves. Popular foliage plants include the Alocasia Polly, Monstera deliciosa, and Calathea lancifolia. They can come in a variety of sizes, leaf shapes and colors, and are found all over the globe! Due to their diverse origins, caring for a foliage plant can vary greatly depending on their native climate and environmental needs.
That being said, there are some general care tips that can be helpful.
As a common rule, it is always best to check in with your foliage plant before watering! Stick your finger in the top inch of soil to feel if it is starting to dry out, and only then give them a thorough drink. Usually, foliage plants are happy when watered 1-2 times a week in the summer and then once a week in the colder months.
In terms of sunlight, most foliage plants thrive in bright, indirect light. Indirect is key! Make sure your plant is receiving about 5-6 hours of light a day, as too much full sun can often cause leaves to burn or get crispy. This can mean placing your specimen in a room with a southern or south-west facing window, but being sure not to choose the windowsill itself. Foliage plants that have very colorful or variegated leaves generally need a bit more light, since they have less chlorophyll and need more light to complete the same amount of photosynthesis.
An indoor temperature range of 60-80 °F is preferred for most foliage plants. Typically not very picky, an organic potting soil will do the trick when potting. Applying a natural liquid fertilizer once a month in the summer growing season can be beneficial and stimulate additional growth!
As foliage plants often have large leaves, it is common for them to accumulate a bit of dirt and dust over time. Cleaning the leaves with a clean, damp cloth not only keeps them looking shiny and fresh but also helps with the plant’s photosynthesis and pest resistance! Be sure to do this cleaning during the morning when out of harsh sunlight to avoid leaf burning.
With a wide range of appearances and specific care conditions, foliage plants are an easy fit for any room or desired aesthetic!
Succulent Plant Care
Succulents are plants that store water in their leaves and stems, often giving them a thick, waxy appearance. These plants even get their name from the Latin word “sucus” which means juice or sap! There are several hundred types of succulents and they can take on many forms: from fleshy and low to the ground, to flower-shaped and flower producing, and even tree height! These tough-as-nails plants can be found in places across the globe, mostly in dry, sunny climates and locations with conditions often too harsh for other plants to survive.
The presence of water storage tissues in succulents makes them especially drought tolerant! As such, they appreciate letting the soil thoroughly dry out between watering. This could mean watering sparingly once a week, but it is always helpful to stick your finger in the soil to double-check if it is dry enough to warrant the next watering. If you are unsure, it is better to lean toward under watering as the main mistake with these plants is giving them too much attention.
Although there are many succulent varieties, a good rule of thumb is to place them in a very bright sunny location. Most succulents love full sun- a southern facing window should do the trick! Due to their often arid origins, succulents do well when potted with well-draining soil and cactus potting mix can be found at most garden centers. Succulents do not require much fertilizer, and if desired a low nitrogen fertilizer can be used once in the spring. As far as temperature is concerned 60-90 °F is usually best for these plants.
Overall, succulents are very easy-going plants that are low maintenance, making them a good starting place for first-time plant parents!
Cacti Plant Care
The cactus family, Cactaceae, gets its name from the Ancient Greek word ‘kaktos’ which was used to describe plants with spiny thistles. As they have water-storage tissues in their stems, all cacti are in fact considered succulents! What differentiates Cacti from Succulents is not necessarily just having spikes, it is actually the presence of areoles. Areoles are small, round bumps on the surface of the plant from which spines, hairs, and flowers grow. There are over 1700 species of cacti, and nearly all of these plants originate from only the North and South Americas! Be sure to let the soil dry completely between waterings. Reduce the amount of water being given in the winter dormant period. Similar to succulents, under watering is better than over watering as this is the leading cause of death for cacti!
For most cacti, high light conditions are optimal. They enjoy being placed in a sunny, southern facing window.
When potting your cacti, be sure to use loose, well-draining soil as soil too rich with clay can lead to root rot. Cactus potting mix can be purchased at most garden shops. Gardening gloves might also come in handy; try not to get poked!
Cacti do well in temperatures no less than 50°F. Although it is not necessarily needed, feeding cacti can help to encourage growth. A liquid fertilizer higher in phosphorus than nitrogen can be applied 2-3 times a year from spring to fall.
These plants are typically very slow growing, so don’t fret if it looks like not much is happening, and just give them some time. Cacti are flowering plants and if kept happy and healthy, will eventually reward you with striking blooms!
Due to their hardy nature, cacti traditionally symbolize protection and endurance. They make especially good companions for those with a determined personality!
Air Plant Care
Air Plants, or Tillandsias, are great for hanging, placing in a pot, or simply sitting on a shelf! These unique plants are epiphytes, meaning that they receive their nutrients from the air and do not need soil.
Native to Central and South America, they thrive in bright, indirect sun. Too much direct light can cause the leaves to shrivel or crisp.
In order to keep an Air Plant happy, they enjoy being misted two to three times a week. Judging how many times to water your Air Plant each week depends on the conditions it’s receiving. If it is hotter outside or your plant is getting a lot of sun, opt for a third misting. However, be conservative with watering! Air Plants are more susceptible to being overwatered than underwatered, as too much water between their leaves can cause the plant to rot.
A Bromeliad or Orchid fertilizer used once a month can also be beneficial, but is not necessary.
They are fairly tolerant when it comes to temperature, and anywhere between 50-90 degrees is good.
Keep your Air Plant happy and you can even watch it bloom! Blooms will appear once through an Air Plants life cycle, and then they will reproduce by sending out ‘pups’!
Plant Potting (and Repotting!)
Once you’ve brought a new plant home (congrats on the new friend!), it is time to start to think about potting your plant. Make your plant feel at home-by giving it a place to live! Although the plant can last for a while in the plastic planter it comes in, it is best to plant it into something more permanent within a few weeks. This will help to keep your specimen happy, growing to its fullest potential, and provide it with fresh nutrients! The two main things to consider in potting is the planter size and the type of soil, which will both depend on the particular type of plant.
It can be helpful to do a little research to see the needs of that specific plant – which might be well-draining soil or clay rich soil as some examples. As a general guide:
Foliage Plants → Organic Potting Soil
Succulents & Cacti → Cacti Soil Mix
Airplants → Don’t Need Soil!
Choosing a Pot:
For the pot itself, it is often best to choose a planter with a diameter that is 2 to 4 inches wider than the current one. Slower growers and smaller plants will allow 1-2 inches wider, while for faster growers it is good to lean towards a bit larger.Planters can come either with or without drainage holes. There are perks to both types. Indoor pots, or those without drainage holes, reduce the mess and hassle of draining water. On the other hand, pots with drainage are good for first time plant parents and those prone to overwatering. Seeing when water begins to run out the bottom will help to get a gauge on how much water is a healthy dose.
Getting Your Hands Dirty!
Once you have found the right soil and pot match, it is almost time to get your hands dirty! To try to loosen the soil, especially for very rootbound plants, watering the day before replanting can be helpful. If potting with an indoor planter make sure to first place an even layer of riverstones or lava rocks before adding any soil. This ensures that your plant does not sit in any excess water. Add a layer of soil on the rocks or bottom of the pot with drainage holes.To remove the plant from its current container, hold onto the base of the plant, turn it sideways, and tap the base of the container to try to get the root ball to come out. If it is being especially stubborn you can very gently pull on the base of the plant, or if all else fails cut or break the container open. Give the roots a gentle message and dust off some of the surrounding dirt; this helps encourage the roots to grow outward into the fresh soil. Place in the pot and fill with soil up to about 2 inches from the rim of the pot. Pack the soil just enough to make sure the plant is secure in its new home. Once potting is done be sure to give a thorough watering. The final step is to step back and admire the new arrangement!
Plants need repotting once they begin to outgrow their current container. Tell tale signs of this can often be that the soil is drying out unusually fast, roots are peaking out from drainage holes, or growth has significantly slowed. For most plants this will mean 18-24 months between pottings. However, particularly slow growers can stay happy in the same pot for several years. Spring months, before the active growing season for most plants, is the optimal time of year for this repotting.
Plant Problem Troubleshooting
There may be a point when you ask yourself, “What’s wrong with my plant?”. Don’t fret! Plant parenting takes practice, and with time you will learn the best way to care for your specific specimens in the conditions they are living in. Plants will give you signs when something is off. These general guidelines can help when learning to spot these signs and then how to correct the issue.
- Crispy or Drooping Leaves
- Mushing or Yellowing Leaves
- Irregular Brown Spots on Leaves
- Spindly Growing or Leaves Losing Color
- Rapid Leaf Damage or Dropping
- One Last Note
Leaves that are drooping, turning brown and crispy along the edges, or in more extreme cases completely wilting and falling off, are often due to not providing enough moisture for the plant. Usually, this problem can be fixed by increasing the watering dose. However, be sure not to go too overboard! Check the soil to ensure that it is not being suddenly too waterlogged.
Depending on the plant type, leaf dehydration may also be caused by too low of humidity levels in the surrounding air. Invest in a mister or place a tray with pebbles and water under or near your plant.
If the plant’s leaves are yellowing, or mushing and falling over, these are signs of having a bit too much to drink. This can be confirmed by sticking your finger in the plant’s soil. If it feels very wet, give your plant some neglect! Only give the next watering once the soil starts to feel dry.
Overwatering is one of the most common reasons for house plant death. Plants placed in constantly soggy soil will develop root rot, where the roots will start to die because of a lack of oxygen. Root rot may be taking effect if correcting the watering schedule does not seem to improve your plant’s condition. Try to provide fresh soil as soon as possible! Remove your plant from its current home, carefully dust off the wet dirt from the roots and use a pair of clean, sharp scissors to prune off any very mushy, black roots. Then, repot with organic potting soil suited for the plant type, and give it a light watering.
Too much sunlight can lead to brown spots and patches developing on the upper sides of the leaves. In general, most plants except cacti and succulents prefer to stay out of full sun. The trick to reducing the amount of light for your plant is to do it gradually! This ensures that the plant is not shocked by a sudden change in conditions. Over a couple weeks, begin to move it away from the window until it is in a spot with better suited light for that specific plant.
These irregular brown spots can also occur on plants, such as the Monstera deliciosa, that don’t appreciate their leaves getting wet. When watering a Monstera, pour the water directly into the soil and not over its foliage. If any water droplets find themselves on the leaves, use a clean cloth to quickly wipe them off.
An indication that the plant is not receiving enough sunlight is that the leaves are losing their color. Another symptom of this is if your plant seems to be growing very tall with leaves spaced farther apart than normal. Again, gradual change is key! Slowly move your plant closer to the window over a couple weeks. It can often help to do some research about your plant to find the optimum lighting conditions.
If suddenly your plant’s leaves fall off or look damaged, it could be due to improper temperatures. Most houseplants can live in temperatures from 55 °F to 80 °F. Plants on windowsills are especially susceptible to temperature damage! Make sure to close these windows at night. If your window seems particularly drafty, the chilly evening temperatures might be stressing your plant, and finding another location may be best.
For any of these physiological disorders, pruning is another helpful step. Any leaves that are not looking healthy – browning, yellowing, mushing, or anything else – should be removed using clean, sharp scissors. This will not only keep your plant looking more aesthetically pleasing, but it will also promote new healthier growth!
Overall, it is always beneficial to listen to what your plants are trying to tell you. Check in with your plants daily! The sooner an issue is spotted and taken care of, the sooner your plant will be happy and healthy once more!
Just like other living creatures, plants can be affected by diseases. However, by learning to spot the symptoms early, diagnose, and treat your plant, you will give it the best chance of survival.
Once the disease has been noticed, the first step is to move it away from any other houseplants. This will reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
Many plant diseases can be brought on by improper care conditions. Adjusting your care routine will help to not only treat the disease, but prevent outbreaks in the future. It is a learning process, so don’t get discouraged! Here are some of the most common plant diseases for houseplants and how to tackle them.
Botrytis is a fungal disease, Botrytis cinerea, that attacks the soft parts of plants. Shoots and young leaves are most often affected, and will be seen covered in a gray, furry mold. The inner petals of any flowers may also appear to be discolored and wilted.
Begin treatment by pruning off any infected parts of the plant. This fungus is often brought on by damp, still air, so try to increase air flow around the plant. When watering, be sure to pour the water directly into the soil to reduce the humidity around the leaves. A fungicide, suitable for botrytis control, can also be sprayed on the plant.
Brown, circular spots often surrounded by a yellow halo, are a tell-tale sign that your plant has a fungal leaf spot disease. These spots can grow and spread to leave the foliage wilted and blotchy. To treat this fungi, prune away any affected leaves. Good ventilation and watering directly into the plant’s soil can help to minimize the damp, stagnant air that fungi thrive on. Misting should be stopped for the time being. Baking soda mixed with water, a half of a teaspoon to a gallon of water, can be used as a homemade treatment spray for the plant.
One of the most common houseplant diseases is the powdery mildew fungi. Usually found in spring and summer, it is identifiable by its dusty white coating that can affect flowers, leaves, and stems of plants.
Start by removing any badly affected parts of the plant. Powdery mildew can occur when atmospheric conditions are too wet and stagnant, so try increasing the ventilation around the plant and when needed water directly into the soil. Potassium bicarbonate can be used as a non-toxic and organic fungicide to treat infected plants.
Plant rusts are a fungi that are found primarily in plants in sunrooms. Small raised rings of black or brown spots, typically on the undersides of leaves, are symptoms of rust disease.
Rusts can be brought on by overly soggy conditions. Check your plants soil! Ensure that it is drying out thoroughly before giving your plant a drink. Remove all of the infected leaves, and continue to do so for the next couple of weeks until the rusts are gone. To treat plants afflicted with rusts, neem oil is effective as an organic and biodegradable fungicide.
Sooty mold is a black, ashy looking disease that can grow to cover all surfaces of a plant. The mold grows on areas of the plant with honeydew, a sap that is produced by some houseplant pests.
To treat sooty mold, it is best to first identify the type of pest that is leading to the infection. Spray the plant with a suitable insecticide for sap-sucking insects. Once this is taken care of, use a clean, damp cloth to wipe the sooty surfaces of the plant.
There are some basic measures that can be taken to prevent diseases from ever troubling your plant. First and foremost, make sure to buy clean plants! Buying your plants from a reputable source is very important! If your plant is healthy from the start, there is a much less chance of it developing problems later on.
As some diseases can originate in soils, when potting or repotting, use a fresh organic potting soil appropriate for the specific type of plant. Potting soil is essential! Garden soils are intended for outdoor use and may have insect eggs or other unwanted items. They also lack the ingredients in potting soil that helps hold in moisture and nutrients in the soil.
Don’t be shy, prune your plants! Whenever a leaf begins to not look so healthy, use a pair of clean, sharp scissors to trim it off at the stem’s base or at its joint. Similarly, for plants that flower, once blooms start to droop use your fingers to pinch or snap off the bud. Pruning not only benefits your plants appearance, but also promotes new growth as well!
A little research never hurts! Having the proper care conditions for your specific plant is usually key to disease prevention. Our articles on plant care for succulents, cacti, airplants, or foliage plants can be helpful references. It should be noted that most plant diseases are encouraged by wet, still air. Try to increase the aeration around the plant. Before each watering, monitor by sticking your finger in the soil to ensure it is dry enough to warrant the next dose.
There are some types of insects that thrive and feed off of plants. These plant pests can inflict serious damage to the specimen if not taken care of. Early identification gives your plant the best chance of making a speedy recovery! Spend some quality time with your plant on a regular basis: check its soil to gauge the watering needs, examine the foliage, including the undersides of leaves and stalks to see if your plant is looking healthy. If a pest has been spotted, be sure to first move the plant away from any other nearby greenery. This helps to ensure that the problem doesn’t spread. When using these tips for the most common houseplant pests, the type of pest can be recognized and then dealt with accordingly.
- Red Spider Mites
- Scale Insects
- Vine Weevils
- Cyclamen Mites
- Fungus Gnats
- Pest Prevention
Aphids are small, oval-shaped insects that are typically green or a creamy white color. Usually, they colonize on the soft, new growth and undersides of leaves, and are quick to reproduce. Feeding off of the sap found in plants, aphids weaken the plant which can cause wilted foliage, yellowing, and stunted growth. They also leave behind a honeydew secretion that can encourage the fungal disease sooty mold.
To tackle an aphid infestation, use a clean, damp cloth to gently wash the surfaces of the plant. Alternatively, the plant can carefully be turned on its side, and then sprayed with a steady stream of water to help wash off the bugs. In the more extreme cases of infestation, diluted neem oil can be sprayed on the plant to act as a non-toxic insecticide. If aphids keep popping up, reapply the neem oil as needed every two weeks.
White, waxy, and fuzzy, mealybugs are woodlice resembling insects that typically live in groups along leaf-stem joints. They are sap-sucking, leaving behind honeydew that can attract ants and sooty mold. Plants infested with mealybugs may start to yellow, become distorted, or appear as if they are drying out.
Begin treatment by wiping off all of the visible insects with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol. If the plant is badly affected, rubbing alcohol or a neem oil solution can be sprayed directly onto the plant. Being sure to do regular foliage cleaning can help to prevent future outbreaks!
As suggested by their name, red spider mites are tiny reddish-brown spider-like creatures. Found mostly living in clusters on the undersides of leaves and leaf-stem joints, spider mites can also spin thin webs around the plant. Small, light-colored dots can appear on the foliage as a result of their sapsucking, and in more extreme cases their damage can lead to dropping of leaves.
Red spider mites thrive in hot, dry air, so implementing a daily routine of misting with cool, clean water is a good starting place for treatment. Try to prune out any heavily infested parts of the plant. Diluted neem oil can also be sprayed on all parts of the plant, acting as a non-toxic insecticide against spider mites. Making sure to listen to your plants watering needs as well as dusting the leaves with a damp clean cloth every so often are good measures to combat spider mites.
Scale insects can appear as swollen, brown disks attached to stems and the undersides of leaves. Scale insects can come in one of two types: soft or armored. The soft variety appear waxy and will feed on the sap of the plant, leaving behind large amounts of honeydew. The armored scale insects are shell-like and will latch on to one part of the plant, feeding underneath the armor. Plant damage due to scale insects is often noticed by a loss of vigor in the inflicted plant as well as a gradual yellowing of the leaves.
For less severe cases, simply use a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol to wipe away any bugs on the plant’s surface. Neem oil diluted in water can also be sprayed on the plant. This will not only act to kill any bugs actively trying to feed on the plant, but also will help repel future insects!
Vine weevils are a species of plant pest that can wreak the most havoc when in the larvae stage of their life cycle. Fat, cream colored worms with brown heads, vine weevil larvae make their homes in the soil. The larvae snack on the roots of the plant, which can lead to the collapsing of the foliage. The adult insects are beetle-like and may leave semicircular cuts on the sides of leaves as they feed. To treat a vine weevil problem, start by spraying the plant with an insecticide suitable for vine weevil control. Use a mixture of the insecticide and water, following the recommended dosage on the label, to water the soil of the plant in order to kill the larvae and eggs.
Small, moth-like creatures that congregate mostly on the undersides of leaves, whiteflies are another type of sap-sucking insect. Their eggs and nymphs also cluster on leaf underbellies. Not only do they leave behind honeydew, attracting sooty mold and ants, but they also can leave a dusty, white coating on the plant. Plants affected by whiteflies may experience stunted growth and leaf yellowing.
To help control the infestation, yellow sticky traps, which attract whiteflies but not beneficial insects, can be placed around the plant. These traps will also help to visualize when the whitefly population has been wiped out. Additionally, neem oil diluted in water, at a ratio of one ounce per gallon, should be sprayed on all surfaces of the plant at five day intervals.
Thrips are oblong, brown insects that resemble flies. Feeding in groups, thrips hop around the plant peircing flowers, leaves, and fruits. They are especially attracted to blooms that are light in color. Silvery mottling, which causes foliage to become pale and wrinkled, can be encouraged by thrip sap sucking. Other effects of a thrip problem are distortion in growth, and scarring.
Combat the damage done by thrips by ensuring that your plant is getting enough water. Keep your plant tidy! Actively pruning off any discolored or less healthy looking foliage and picking up any dropped leaves or buds on the soil, will help to reduce the number of thrip inhabitants. Diluted neem oil can be sprayed all around the plant every ten days until the infestation is dealt with.
To small to be seen by the naked eye, cyclamen mites suck sap out of the cells of the plant. Foliage that begins to curl, darken, and crumble, starting on the lower leaves, are signs that cyclamen mites are feeding off the plant. While they can prey on many species, African Violets, Begonias, and Cyclamen are most often affected.
Begin treatment by pruning off any damaged foliage. This will help to reduce numbers of mites as well as mitigate their reproduction. Use a suitable acaricide to spray all the surfaces of the plant.
One of the most common pests for houseplants, fungus gnats are tiny, gray flies that are most often noticed fluttering up from the soil when the plant is watered. While the adult gnats do not harm the plant, their larvae can feed off tender root hairs. This can lead to sudden wilting or yellowing, and is especially harmful to younger plants.
Fungus gnats are attracted to rich, moist soils and high humidity. As such, increasing the ventilation around the plant and making sure that it is not being overwatered can help curb gnat infestations. Keeping the soil a bit more dry, as well as tidying up any fallen plant matter will gradually kill off gnat larvae. Yellow sticky traps can be set around the plant to kill the adult flies and monitor their numbers.
Dryer sheets placed alongside the infestation also work to repel gnats.
It is always best to try to prevent pests from ever affecting your plant in the first place, and these basic measures can be taken to minimize the risk of infestation. First and foremost, always be sure to buy your plants from a reputable source! Plants that are initially clean and well taken care of have a much greater chance of staying healthy, even long after coming home from the store.
Plants enjoy having baths as well! With your hand cradling the leaf being cleaned, gently wipe the foliage with a clean, damp cloth. It should be noted, however, that if your plant is a Monstera or another species that does not appreciate getting moisture on its leaves, a dry cloth can be used instead.
Simply keeping your plants clean and healthy, significantly reduces the risk of pest invasions!