A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing House Plants

How do you choose the right plant for your space?

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You may have already read my blog post about caring for house plants here. Well this blog post is a follow on from that all about how to choose a house plant and how to choose where to put a plant in your home.

The very essence of looking after house plants is actually very simple. All we are trying to do is recreate the plant’s natural habitat where it thrives outside in nature. For this, you can look into the plant’s origin to understand what it requires. Let’s take for instance orchids. Most orchids grow on trees in rainforests, which explains why the medium used to pot up orchids is often bark chips and not soil. In a rainforest, you can imagine the light is bright but indirect because of the cover from the trees, the air is humid because of the frequent rainfall, the temperature is warm during the day  and cool at night and finally, the roots never sit in water because the orchid uses a tree as a growing support. So we want to mimic that growing environment when we bring a plant into our home environment. Simple.

So how do you mimic a plant’s growing environment? Well, once you have learnt a bit about where a plant comes from (its origins), there are three main aspects to consider when determining where is the best place to put a plant in your home and also what plant to chose. These are:

  1. Light
  2. Air
  3. Water

Light:

So firstly, how do you make sense of your light conditions? For this, you need to pay attention to which windows and rooms in your home receive the morning sun. Put simply, if you have a room that gets the morning sun, it means that room or window is facing East, which is where the sun rises. Obviously, the rooms that get the late afternoon to evening sun therefore face West, which is the direction the sun sets. Both of these light aspects are an excellent starting point for beginners because this type of light suits many plants, as most plants require a bright position with indirect sun, which both an Easterly and Westerly position usually offer. I do not recommend a Southerly or Northerly light aspect for beginners. When looking for a new plant to bring home with you, always read the information supplied on the ticket. If the plant requires ‘bright, indirect light’, an East or West facing windowsill will be good – light wise. But! Hang on a minute – not so fast. Don’t buy that plant yet. You have a few more things to consider first…

Air:

Once you have established the light conditions, you need to consider how humid or dry the air conditions of the room are. For instance, if the room has central heating and no other sources of moisture such as  bathing or washing, the humidity will tend to be quite low. However, you can increase humidity very simply around plants by placing a tray or plate underneath the plant and adding decorative pebbles or stones into the tray, pour on some water and place your plant on top. Retain the humidity around the plant by keeping the water topped up. You can also lightly mist plants occasionally with clean tepid water in a mister to increase humidity. On the other hand, rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms tend to have high humidity due to bathing, washing and cooking. So for instance, I always put my orchids in my bathroom because 1: it is humid, which orchids like, 2: the windows of bathrooms often have obscured glass which gives indirect light 3: the bathrooms of my current and previous home faced East and West so again offer indirect light which is a good growing condition for orchids.

Water:

Always try to water plants according to their needs. The ticket supplied with the plant will usually tell you enough information, but you can find any kind of information you require if you simply search for the plant online. Some plants such as the Ficus I have talked about earlier in another blog post for instance, likes to keep its soil moist. In fact, most plants like to have their soil kept moist; which means not over watering to the point where the soil is mushy (which can make your plant roots rot and also turn mushy), but also do not under water. When compost dries out completely it can be a challenge to get it to retain moisture again and your plant’s roots can simply dry up and at worst, fry which means unfortunately plant death. There is one simple way to check whether you are watering too much or not enough. Simply feel about one inch into the compost with your finger tips. If the soil is moist, the plant has enough water. If the soil is bone dry, water away. If the soil is very soggy, completely reduce watering and pour excess water away. Finally, if you’re still unsure, another great indicator of over and under watering is how your plant’s leaves look. If the leaves are dropping and floppy, this usually means the cells in the leaves are not getting enough water to support the leaf structure. Water the plant and watch the plant perk right up as the cells fill with water and go turgid. Watch for other signs such as leaves turning yellow, dropping off or going mouldy/rotting away. All of these signs are telling you that you are over or under watering. Once you get to know your plant, you can usually tell straight away if it simply needs more or less water. Constantly over or under watering can kill your plant, but generally I have found most plants very forgiving whilst you figure out what they need. Think about it: plants don’t always get the perfect amount of rainfall in nature so all we are doing with house plants is trying to give them the best growing conditions. A bit of trial and error on our part will not usually cause a plant serious harm. I always think of it as a learning process.

Some other general rules of thumb:

  • Do not place plants in areas of drafts. This fluctuation in temperature can affect certain plants that enjoy the warmer temperatures of your home. Areas such as porches can be drafty, so from a beginner’s point of view, keep your plants to an area where the temperature will stay fairly even.
  • Do not place plants near to heat sources such as radiators, fire places, ovens, tv etc. Obviously, plants will get thirstier near to these heat sources and the air will be much dryer which can lead to leaf drop. It is best for most plants to be kept away from these dry conditions unless they specifically grow in these types of conditions in the wild.

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned a few things about choosing house plants! Once you start with one house plant it can be difficult not to acquire more over time… I should know.

Let me know what you all think about this blog post and feel free to ask any  questions and I will try to help. Like my post and share it with your friends to spread the word around. Please also follow my blog so you get updates on my new blog posts coming shortly!

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Written by Bethany Wright at The English Meadow

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