How to Winterize Your Plant Collection

First things first – there is no reason why a houseplant that thrived in your home during the spring and summer can’t survive the winter.  Most plants won’t grow very much in the winter, and some will go completely dormant and won’t grow at all.  Houseplants are also increasingly susceptible to root rot, pests, and other issues during the winter transition.  You definitely want to take some precautions to help them out a little bit. 

One major thing you need to consider when preparing your houseplants for winter is lighting.  During the summer months the sun is much brighter, and the days are much longer – so during the winter your plants will be receiving less light on two counts.  There are a couple of ways to help with this.  One: move your plants closer to the windows.  This is great but be sure not to move them too close to cold windows as the low temperatures can hurt them more than the increased sun will help them.  Frost is not your friend. 

The second way to create more light is to invest in grow lights.  These don’t have to be ugly or overly expensive, simply buy grow light bulbs and use any lamp that you like – so long as it can handle the appropriate wattage.  One thing I will say about grow lights is that they are VERY bright, sometimes unpleasantly so, so I tend not to use mine unless I really need to. 

Another winter consideration is central heating and drafts.  When I had radiators, I didn’t notice the same issues that I have with my current forced air heating system – the drafts of hot air not only dry out my apartment, they also hurt my plants.  Plants hate drafts – whether those are from a cold window or a heating vent – so be sure to place your houseplants a safe distance from cracked windows and heaters in your home. 

This also ties into humidity.  Here in Toronto, we are spoiled for humidity in the summer.  In fact, during the summer months I often don’t run a humidifier at all – I just open my window to let the natural humidity in, but the winter is very different.  It is cold and dry – meaning I have to run both my heater and my humidifier.  I find investing is a decent humidifier is pretty essential – and it’s good for your own health as well as your plants.  I suggest buying one that fills from the top and has a built-in hygrometer. I keep mine set to 60% throughout the winter; I find if I set it too high I end up having to re-fill the tank too often for my liking, and 60% is enough to keep my plants happy.

You also want to change your watering and fertilising habits in the winter months.  Since your plants will be growing less, they will take up less water.  Water also evaporates less in the colder, darker months, so you will need to cut back on watering.  I suggest buying a moisture meter if you aren’t sure when to water and gradually watering your plants less frequently to ensure you don’t overwater them. 

You also need to cut back on fertiliser.  Your plants use fewer nutrients in the colder months and over fertilising them can lead to burnt leaves and roots.  It is important to cut back on, or sometimes even completely omit, the fertiliser you use. Only fertilize when your plants are growing. 

The final winter consideration is pest control.  Houseplants are very susceptible to pests and illness during changing seasons.  Every fall and spring I take all (yes ALL) of my houseplants, group by group, into my bathtub and wash off all the dust from their leaves before spraying them down thoroughly with a houseplant pesticide.  I always look for one that tackles spider mites, mealy bugs, thrips, and aphids.  I try to use preventative measures like this all year round – but I am especially thorough during the transition to winter. 

The winter will not be the death of your houseplant collection, but you do need to take some extra care and adjust your habits a little.  I also recommend not propagating your plants or re-potting them until spring if you can.  Best of luck and keep cozy!

Dare to be be imperfect

Must have plant tools (and how to get them cheaply):

For those who have recently started, or who are looking to start, their houseplant collection, it can be difficult to know what you actually need to purchase and what you can re-purpose or go without.  If you have the money or the resources you may be tempted to just buy everything brand new – and you definitely can – but you can also easily find things cheaply second hand, re-purpose things from around the house, or even buy things at the dollar store. 

In order to care for your plants there are a few things you NEED (other than plants, of course):

  • Soil and soil amendments
  • Fertilizer
  • Watering can
  • Pesticide or pest prevention spray
  • Pots

Soil and soil amendments:

It is hard to cheap out here, but the most inexpensive way I’ve found to make a healthy soil mix is to buy a decent houseplant or cactus mix from any old store or garden centre and amend it with perlite and orchid bark.  Perlite is relatively inexpensive and easy to find, orchid bark slightly less so but it is still easy enough to find at a decent price.  For some plants you can get away with just using perlite.  You can also amend the soil that your plant has come in – so long as it still has plenty of nutrients.  Soil only needs to be discarded if a plant has rot or there are pests.  Even old soil can be brought back to life with the right fertilizers. 

Fertilizer:

I have never found a huge difference in fertilizers.  Organic fertilizers can cost more and often you need to use more of them, while chemical fertilizers tend to be a strong concentrate that can go a long way.  I personally use an inexpensive chemical fertilizer and cut the amount the directions say to use in half to help prevent fertilizer burn.  Nicer fertilizers can have real benefits, but they aren’t essential if you are worried about the price point. 

Watering can:

Your first course of action here is to try and find something second hand – or to just re-purpose an old jug from around the house.  If you struggle to find something useful, then even a plastic watering can from dollerama will last you decades.  I do find, however, that when push comes to shove you can use an old glass or reuse an old jar – just try to pour slowly so that you don’t uproot your plants.  I also have re-used a water filtering jug and use that to water my plants (just don’t keep it in the fridge).  This can help with hard water build up in your soil.  These jugs aren’t essential, but if you have one laying around or find one at the thrift store they are great. 

Pest prevention:

Pests are almost inevitable.  For that reason, it is super important that you treat your plants regularly with some kind of pest preventing solution.  I bought one large bottle of houseplant pesticide concentrate and I water it down in an old, repurposed spray bottle.  I find this to be way less expensive, and less wasteful, than constantly repurchasing spray treatments.  Neem oil is another popular way to prevent pests, but I find in my area it can be hard to find and quite pricey – so do whatever works best for you where you live. 

Pots:

You will most definitely need something to keep your plants in.  The cheapest is to just keep them in their nursery pots but that isn’t always the most attractive in your home.  I do like to save nursery pots and reuse them if I have to repot a plant or plant something I’ve propagated, but I tend to keep them in cachepots that I have found second hand.   Terracotta pots are also very inexpensive and last for decades it seems.  Whatever you find, you don’t have to buy the expensive decorative pots for your plants to look beautiful. 

How to Deal with Houseplant Pests

Houseplant pests have become the bane of my existence (dramatic, but also true).  There are days when I stare at now empty pots while I spray wilting and yellowing leaves with pesticides and insecticidal soaps, BEGGING for those little bugs to die instead of my plants.  I have pruned my sad Calathea and sadder Alocasia and have been trying to will them back to life. 

More detailed information about pests and other ailments is available on our troubleshooting page

The best advice I have for defeating plant eating bugs in your home is:

Buy a good pesticide

Now, I know that pesticide isn’t an option for those with curious pets, but it really does work so if you can use it then you should.  Household pesticide use inside the home is completely safe – don’t worry about the bees, they’re outside.  By consistently spraying down your plants with a household pesticide you can easily prevent any outbreaks before they begin.  And if you miss a few treatments and some bugs do find their way into your houseplants, then pesticide is the fastest way to kill them. If you really can’t use pesticide, then try to use a really effective alternative like neem oil diluted with soap and water. 

Be consistent

When you are treating infestations or trying to prevent pests the best thing you can do is treat the plant consistently.  One treatment just isn’t enough.  I would recommend repeating the treatment every other day on an infested plant and every other week for preventative treatment.  I like to treat my plants with some form of pesticide as often as I fertilize during the growing season.        

Isolate

Isolate any and all infected plants from the rest of your collection – and from each-other.  This way pests can’t hop from one plant to another and spread.  It is also a good idea to isolate any new plants you acquire for at least a week to ensure they are pest free before introducing them to your collection.  

Keep up care

Houseplants are always more likely to develop a pest problem when they aren’t receiving optimal care.  By maintaining humidity, light, and water requirements you can more easily ward off any pests. 

Don’t forget the soil

Many pests can lay eggs or hide in the soil of our plants.  It is a good idea to use a substance on the soil to prevent and to kill any bugs that want to live there.  Diatomaceous Earth and Mosquito Bits are both great options. 

Learn when to quit

Sometimes a plant is simply not worth the headache.  I’ve come to understand that there is no shame in putting a plant to rest if you think it won’t recover, or if it simply isn’t worth it to you.  Houseplants are supposed to bring us joy – so if it isn’t anymore then it might be time to say goodbye.  When to part with your plants is a very personal choice, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. 

Why are so Many People “Hot for Hoya”?

Hoya are making huge waves in the houseplant community.  The plant genus has gained momentum in the houseplant market in recent years and is showing no signs of slowing down. 

But what makes this waxy, trailing genus of houseplant so popular? And why now?

Well, for starters there are hundreds of available species of Hoya on the market.  This makes them the ultimate collector’s plant – or at least a solid option for houseplant collectors.   

There are Hoyas for beginners, Hoyas for the advanced indoor gardener; there are common Hoya and rare Hoya.  Whatever your budget or skill level – you can likely find many options within your range.  Most collectors I’ve seen start out with a common and easy to care for Hoya – like a Hoya Carnosa or a Hoya Pubicalix – and slowly become more and more knowledgeable and, quite frankly, obsessed, buying increasingly hard to find specimens.

There is a thrill to the hunt. 

Another reason why Hoya have taken off in recent years is just how easy they are to propagate.  Propagating houseplants is a great way to share, trade, and grow your collection.  The more the merrier.  Because Hoyas propagate so easily, they are a common plant to trade.  This is also a great way for those Hoya collectors to gather more varieties. 

And lastly, is I suppose, the obvious answer: Hoyas are wonderful houseplants.  Hoya are beautiful, they can be grown as a climbing or a trailing plant, and because of their succulent like leaves they don’t need to be watered very often (for those who tend to underwater their plants, Hoya are a good option).  This makes them very instgrammable.  This stunning genus of houseplant has taken over social media.

This surge is Hoya popularity is, unfortunately, reflected in the houseplant market.  While Hoyas are becoming more common in houseplant shops and nurseries, they are also becoming more expensive. Sometimes this is because supply is lower than demand – but often times this is simply because people are willing to pay higher and higher prices for their prized collectables.  There are ads for Hoya claiming a certain variety is rare when it isn’t as a means of justifying a higher price point.  The market can be daunting, unfair, and sometimes very uncool.  This same shady behavior can be seen with other Instagram popular plants as well. 

But if you can navigate your way around, and find a good price for a beautiful plant, then it is definitely worth it.

In terms of care, Hoya vary from species to species.  But generally speaking, they like extremely well draining soil and bright, indirect light.  They are epiphytic plants in nature, meaning they grow on trees, so a soil mix that is high in orchid bark and either perlite or pumice is a particularly good choice.  They also like to dry out between watering – although this is more true for some species than others.  Remember, it is always better to underwater than to overwater. 

Hoya are addictive. And it is easy to understand why, or at least, once you own a couple it is easy to see why.  They find their way into your houseplant loving heart and bury their aerial roots deep.  Next thing you know you are scouring the internet late at night looking a for a new variety to add to your growing collection. 

How to Re-Pot for a Fuller Plant

Sometimes houseplants grow to be sparce, or unstable, or a little strange looking.  This can often be fixed with a repot.  You can rearrange the stems of hanging plants quite easily – planting them closer together or more centred in the pot; you can easily create a fuller looking plant this way.

So, if your houseplant is a little unbalanced, and it has not been re-potted in a while, give it a go.  Keep in mind that re-potting your plant often means it wont grow for a while; it will need time to adjust.  When it does not, you will be left with a fuller, healthier looking plant.

I recently re-potted this variegated Maranta Leuconeura, its winter growth was quite small and left the plant looking very sparce.  And after losing a few of the larger leaves as a result of over-watering, this plant needed a bit of a makeover.  After propagating a few pieces and putting them into the same pot – an easy way to create a fuller looking plant – the sprawling remained.  And, because I know I can all be a little impatient, I decided to re-pot this houseplant in an attempt to make it look fuller.   

I started by taking the houseplant out of her pot.  I gently tapped and wiggled the pot to loosen the roots and slid the plant out of its home.  I then removed as much of the soil as possible so that I could rearrange the placement of the stems in the pot.  I didn’t want to break too many roots, so I tried my best to be gentle and patient – teasing the roots until the soil fell off.  While you might sometimes want to compost old soil, I decided to reuse it in this case because it isn’t that old, and the plant is otherwise healthy. 

Once the soil was largely off, I could begin re-potting my houseplant.  I put a couple of inches of soil back into the pot, making sure it is well settled.  I wanted to fill the pot high enough so that it was easy to arrange the pieces of Maranta.

Next, I began to arrange the pieces on the houseplant in the pot, trying to create a nice full looking plant.  Feel free to move things around as much as you’d like – you won’t be able to once you finish, so now is your chance to play around with arrangement.  Once I knew where I wanted things, I began burying the roots.  I also tapped the pot occasionally during the re-potting process to make sure the soil was well settled. Once I was done, I packed the soil very lightly.  I didn’t want to compress the soil or roots, but I wanted to ensure that the plant was stable and that once I watered my houseplant the soil wouldn’t fall into air pockets and leave exposed roots. 

If you’re doing this yourself and your houseplant needs watering, now is a good time to do so.  Watering a freshly re-potted plant can help settle lose soil and create a happy new home for you plant.  However, if you are concerned about over-watering your houseplant, you can wait to water until the soil is appropriately dry. 

Soil Additives

There are many different products that you may choose to add to your houseplant soil mix.  What products you choose and how much you add really depends on your houseplant’s individual needs.  This article isn’t going to be a thorough guide on soil for each individual plant, but it will overview some of the additions out there and why you might choose to have them in your houseplant mix. 

First and foremost – why add anything at all?  Well, houseplant soil, typically, just isn’t very good.  Looking at almost every major brand, the soil simply does not provide adequate drainage for your houseplants – leading to root rot.  It is always important to adjust your soil and give your houseplant its best possible home.  The most important additives to know about are the ones that add drainage while still keeping your tropical houseplant adequately moist.   

Perlite

Perlite is a puffed volcanic stone that creates air pockets in your soil.  These air pockets allow the roots of your houseplant to get the oxygen they need while also helping with water drainage.  You don’t ever want your roots to sit in compacted or wet soil because that causes rot; this aeration is really crucial.  Many houseplant soil mixes do come with perlite in them, but not nearly enough.  Adding more can help boost your soils aeration and keep your roots happy. 

Pumice

Pumice is a type of volcanic rock.  It can be used in the exact same way as perlite.  One benefit of pumice is that it won’t ever float to the top of your soil – as perlite can tend to do because of its light weight.  Pumice adds some very nice and reliable drainage to your soil.

Orchid Bark

Orchid bark is just what it sounds like it is– chunks of bark.  These bits of bark are sold for use in potting orchids, but they are also extremely useful in other houseplant mixes.  The bark adds additional drainage while also holding moisture.  It can also help to mimic the natural home of epiphytic houseplants (plants that would grow on trees in nature). 

Horticultural Charcoal

Horticultural charcoal is a type of activated charcoal that can be added into houseplant soil in order to improve the drainage while also cleansing the soil.  The charcoal acts as a Ph balancer and guards against rot, bacteria, mold, and fungus.  It also helps to absorb any bad odors – keeping your houseplant smelling as nice as a houseplant can smell. 

LECA

LECA is a type of puffed clay ball often used as a substrate in semi-hydroponic systems.  You can, however, also add it to your houseplant soil.  LECA can act in a similar way to pumice or perlite.  While it isn’t as common or popular, if it is all you have on hand it can be used in a pinch. 

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss is a sponge like moss that grown on the top on peat bogs.  It is often used to mount houseplant onto boards, to create climbing poles, or to propagate cuttings in.  It is also used to add to houseplant soil as a means of retaining moisture.  The moss allows the roots to access oxygen while providing them with ample moisture. 

Vermiculite

Vermiculite is made up of a group of hydrated laminar minerals that looks similar to mica.  Vermiculite can boost water and nutrient retention in the soil, while again, adding drainage.  You can never have too much drainage.  Vermiculite is often added to houseplant soil as a means of keeping the plant moist for a longer duration without the roots becoming wet or compacted.

Coconut Coir

Coconut coir, or coco coir is a finely ground substrate made from the fibre of a coconut husk.  It is often used as a substitute for peat moss in houseplant soil.  The coir acts as a sponge of sorts, holding moisture.  It doesn’t, however, carry any nutrients.  So, if used as a base substrate, natural fertilizers need to be added.

Coconut Husk

Chunks of coconut husk are sometimes used as a means of creating a chunkier, more aerated houseplant soil.  These bits of coconut are often used in the same way orchid bark would be. 

Worm Castings

Worm castings are worm poop. They act as a wonderful source of nutrients for your plants without the risk of burn from chemical fertilizers. Worm castings are often added to homemade soil mixes as a source of compost and nutrient booster.

Houseplant soil isn’t an exact science.  But generally speaking, houseplant soil should be well draining, airy, and full of nutrients.  You want the soil to breath and dry out, but to hold moisture long enough for your plant to take in what it needs.  Using additives can make your houseplant mix a much better home for your houseplants and greatly improve your chances of success.  

We’ve All Killed a Plant or Two

We have all been there.  We become confident in our ability to care for our houseplants; we collect and collect and maybe gain some praise [from] friends and family for our green thumb.  Then we look around and notice a plant has dropped a leaf – or two.  Maybe your leaves just keep yellowing.  You check the soil; you treat for pests.  You try to combat any rot.  You might give it more, or less, light and humidity. You have done everything, and yet, your houseplant dies.  Times like this I have to remind myself that everyone kills plants from time to time, and that everyone gets a yellow leaf. 

I have kept houseplants for years now, and the vast majority of them seem to thrive, but everyone, even me, has killed a cactus.  While every dead houseplant in your home can be a learning experience, sometimes it can also be better to just move on, nobody is perfect. 

Most recently, I put a slowly dying Calathea Medallion out on my deck to die.  It is down to a couple yellowing leaves and I have lost all hope of reviving it.  Part of me is relieved – this plant was more of a stress than a joy and I don’t have to worry any more. The other part of me is disappointed I couldn’t save it – a blow to my planty confidence. 

I learned from this though – I learned that for this plant consistent humidity is more important than high humidity.  I learned to resist repotting any Calathea unless absolutely necessary.  And I learned to keep this plant far away from any drafts or vents – keep it well off the floor. 

Other house plants I’ve killed – a few cacti, a Philodendron Hope, a Stromanthe Triostar, a Red Maranta, a Hoya Cornosa Compacta, a Birds Nest Fern, a String of Pearls, and every succulent I have ever owned. 

Causes of death?  I have lost plants to thrips, aphids, root rot, and underwatering.  While it is embarrassing to admit such loss, it also re-affirms that every plant parent makes mistakes, and is just learning as they go.  I learned, for instance, that I should not own succulents.   

Plant ownership is a constant learning experience – for everyone.  Trial and error is one of the best ways to improve your indoor gardening and imperfection is inevitable.  Besides – if you do lose a plant, it just means that you have some space to buy a new one!

Crispy Leaf Tips

Who would have thought that watering your plants would so be complicated?  One of the many common struggles of plant ownerships is crispy leaf tips. These are incredibly common on prayer plants like Marantas, Calathias, Stromanthes, and Ctenanthes.  In most cases, this is from the metals and chemicals often found in tap water.

Some people find that distilled water or rainwater are the only solutions to prevent these crispy bits entirely, but others find that filtered water offers a more convenient and easier compromise.  The important thing is that whatever water you decide to use, ensuring that chlorine and fluoride have been removed from your watering source is important.  These chemicals aren’t able to be processed by your plant and as a result the ends of your leaves die and crisp up. 

At the end of the day, crispy lead tips won’t kill your plant, it’s just aesthetics.  So, if filtering water is too much of a hassle, or if the crispy tips don’t bother you, then don’t worry about it.  Plants will hardly ever look perfect, as long as they make you happy then that’s all that counts. 

Everyone Gets A Yellow Leaf

Why do Plants get Mislabeled – and How to Identify your Houseplant

There are many reasons why your houseplant might be mislabeled; it could be a lack of knowledge on the part of the shop, but more commonly the answer has a lot to do with marketing.  This marketing is apparent in a couple of different ways.  Often a grower will label a plant based on a “common name” or nickname.  Other times a plant may be labelled with a brand-new nick name, made up by the grower or seller in order to move more product.  These names might be cute or funny, but they make it very difficult to learn how to care for the plant you’ve just purchased.

So, that leaves us questioning what it is we have bought, and unfortunately plant ID apps are not always extremely helpful.  The easy solution to discovering the true identity of your plant is to look up the label you were given and see what appears.  Unfortunately, this is not always a solution either.  One of the best solutions, other than doing extensive research, is to reach out to a local houseplant group online and see if anyone there is able to help you. 

The more plants you acquire, the more information you take in, the easier it becomes to identify your plants for yourself.  By looking at the petioles, the leaves, the growing patter, and the stems of your plant you should, with time and experience, be able to know what it is you’re looking at. 

Everyone Gets A Yellow Leaf

I Have Root Rot – Now What?

Most gardeners have seen, at some point in their journey, root rot.  What is it, what causes it, and what can be done?

Roots Require a few things to be healthy and to function properly.  They require moisture, nutrients, and air.  Proper aeration of the soil is essential to prevent waterlogging and suffocation.  If roots remain stuck in heavy, wet soil for too long they can lose essential access to oxygen and begin to decay. This decay is what is commonly called root rot. 

This is an example of rots that have suffered from rot. The plant is sat beside sphagnum moss, used to help regrow the root system.

Prevention is the most effective way to combat root rot, although we will also cover measures that can be taken to try to save a plant with rot.  The best way to prevent rot is the choose or create a soil mixture with proper aeration.  Good houseplant soils will include a healthy amount of perlite, bark, coconut husk, horticultural charcoal, or pumice.  It is ideal the choose a soil with more than one of these amendments.  You can also add these elements to existing soil in order to improve aeration and drainage.  Be sure to also place your plant in a pot with a drainage hole in the bottom. 

If your plant does develop rot, the best thing to do is to first remove your plant from its pot and compost the soil, do not reuse it as the rot can spread to another plant.  On the affected plant trim any rotted root.  Roots that are soft, dark, or falling off should be removed. 

If after this pruning you still have a significant root system, the plant can be re-potted in fresh soil.  If the plant no longer has roots, or has very few, it can be placed into damp sphagnum moss, or in a glass of water, in order to regrow its roots. 

Everyone Gets A Yellow Leaf