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Quick tools to make taking care of your plants easier
Take it from from someone with 120+ houseplants
A while back I read an interview with someone who said they spent at least an hour a day taking care of their plants. An hour a day! They must have a lot more plants than I do and/or be a lot more diligent, because it probably takes me an hour a week to take care of my 120+ plants.
In this post I share some of my quick tools that help me take care of my plants. Because as much as I love them, and as meditative as taking care of them can be, I also try to be a bit of a hands-off plant parent.
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1. Pretend you’re a worm and loosen up that soil
By now you’re probably all sticking your fingers into the soil of your plants to check whether they need water. But sometimes, you can’t get your finger in. Or you water the plant and the water just stays on the surface, not really seeming to sink into the soil.
A solution to both: aerate your soil (or, as I like to think of it, pretend to be a worm).
In the wild, our houseplants grow in soil that is constantly being remade and kept loose by thousands of small creatures. Loose soil allows plants to spread their roots, and it allows the water to sink into the soil to reach those roots.
Short of inviting all kinds of bugs into your home, you can mimic the loosening of the soil quite easily yourself: with a chopstick (or, in an emergency, a pencil).
You might worry about damaging the roots of your plant, but if you’re careful the plant will benefit even if you hurt some small roots along the way. I use a reusable wooden chopstick that I gently slide into the soil, often with a bit of a turning motion rather than pushing. If I encounter an obstacle, I don’t push through. Depending on the size of the pot, I create around four to six holes like this—a good way of checking whether it’s enough is to see whether the water is absorbed into the soil rather than lingering on top of it.
I don’t aerate the plants on a schedule, and really only do this when I see it’s necessary. When spring comes around, I’ll be checking which plants need new soil: sometimes the soil has gotten so old and compacted that no amount of aerating helps. Most plants benefit from being repotting every couple of years, even if you don’t put them in a larger pot.
2. Put your plants in terracotta pots
As a new plant-owner, I drowned my share of plants (and starved even more of them). I just found it impossible to gauge how much water a plant needed, and more than once a plant ended up with too much water in the bottom of the pot, rotting the roots.
My solution was to switch to terracotta pots with a hole in the bottom. Depending on your style, you might not like how they look, but they really gave me confidence about watering my plants without overwatering them.
A benefit of terracotta is that it also absorbs moisture itself, which it can give back to the soil (and to the air). A downside is that plants in terracotta pots also seem to dry out more frequently (because the terracotta absorbs the water), but that’s generally easier resolved than accidentally drowning them.
3. Put a watering can on every floor of your house
About a third of my houseplants live on the first floor of my house, the rest on the ground floor. Frequently, I’d be sitting at my desk in my study and see that a plant needed water. But in order to water it I’d have to go downstairs for a watering can. I always promised myself I’d do it later and would subsequently forget. And then the whole thought-process would recur the next time. Meanwhile, the plant would remain thirsty.
Getting a second watering can has made a ridiculous difference to how easy it is to take care of my plants. Now, whenever I see a plant in urgent need of water (usually a small plant, or one that likes to live in moist soil), I can immediately address it. Such an easy fix!
4. Settle on a schedule
Even though I wrote under #3 that I water plants whenever I see them in need, most of my plants are on a schedule. I check them once a week (on Saturday/Sunday) to see if they need water. This works fine for the majority of my houseplants.
Now that I have a schedule for the plants I never have to wonder when I last watered them (the answer is generally, “last weekend”), and don’t run the risk of overwatering out of a desire to do more “caring”.
My succulents have a slightly different schedule.
I water my cacti only between April and October, once every two weeks. In those months I also water my other succulents once every two weeks—from October to late March I switch up their schedule to once every three weeks. Succulents are very easily drowned (especially cacti), and respond most extremely to the changes in light during autumn and winter. They also tend to store a lot of water in their leaves, which makes it hard for me to figure out whether they need water or not. I’ve used this schedule for years and it works well for me.
5. Decide who gets custody
Whenever people tell me about their houseplants that died, one reason that often comes back is “I thought housemate X was watering it”. Another reason is “It turned out that we were all watering the plant once a week”. If you and your plants share your space with other people, get clear on who takes care of the plants.
My partner and I have different approaches to taking care of the houseplants: I would call him an over-waterer, he calls me an under-waterer (it’s such a good thing we don’t have children together…). Even though he was the one who originally got me interested in houseplants, I now take care of the majority of our plants—with the exception of the 25-year-old Spathiphyllum (peace lily) that lives in our bedroom. He, and only he, is responsible for that plant—in fact, apart from occasionally removing some desiccated leaves, I don’t touch it.
What are your quick strategies and tools to make taking care of your houseplants easier? Do leave a comment and join the conversation.
A few weeks ago I wrote about accidentally breaking off a considerable chunk of a succulent in my study. I ended up with a lot of succulent leaves, and a much less luscious plant.
I put a few dozen of the small leaves in a shallow dish on my windowsill and am pleased to report that at least one of them is rooting! Obviously this process would go much more quickly in summer, but I’m so pleased to see it happening even in the depths of winter. Plants never cease to amaze me.
This morning I discovered something else. On the bare branches of the succulent itself, small rosettes of leaves are forming! So exciting and I love how hardy this plant is.
More seasonal musings
I’ve been really enjoying: her most recent video is on midwinter and the Winter solstice (today!)
Over on Female Owned I wrote a post with ways to take care of yourself during this season (hint: mainly strategies for doing a lot less and giving yourself space).
Thank you for taking time out of your day to read A Houseplant Journal, for commenting and sharing it. It means a lot to me, and writing these posts and connecting with you brings me great joy.
I’ll be taking a break over the next couple of weeks and will be back in mid-January with a post I’ve been thinking about since the summer: the houseplants you would’ve owned in 1928, based on a 1928 book that my great-grandfather got my grandfather.
In the meantime, have a peaceful, healthy and restful end to the year.