8 golden rules for starting an indoor garden
Ensure your house plant collection is healthy and thriving, with advice on choosing the best plants, where to put them and more, from Jade Murray
When I first went plant shopping I was overwhelmed by the whole experience. I realised that I had not really thought about how plants were going to fit into my house. Just going out and randomly coming home with a plant you fancy does not work. So here I have compiled some rules to help you.
Owning house plants is a rewarding hobby, but a lot goes into caring for them. Think about how busy your life is. How much time do you have to water? How often do you go away? Who will care for them when you do?
I recommend starting with two or three, to get used to their care needs, and see how they work with your lifestyle.
Consider where your plants will be
Plants require light, air, space to grow and the right temperature. A plant that thrives in warmer conditions should not be placed in a draughty location near a window. Keep plants away from radiators and air conditioning units, which will dry them out. Think about whether you want the plant at floor level or eye level. A bold statement plant would look stunning displayed on its own. Avoid having your plants squeezed between furniture. This will prevent good airflow, which is needed for growth and to prevent soil mould and fungal disease. Common diseases are grey mould, which can attack every part of the plant and resembles fuzzy grey mould; powdery mildew, where a white powder appears on the leaves; and leaf spot, where the leaves develop yellow, black or brown spots that can spread from leaf to leaf.
Maximise your space
If shelf and table space is already occupied, hanging plants in baskets may work. Use low-light plants in darker areas. Adding artificial lighting to a shelf in your living room in a dark corner might help a plant to thrive. Cluster plants together on a vertical ladder shelf. Use all the space you have available: could a table or shelf be cleared? Don’t forget window ledges (as long as they are not draughty) and floors. Also remember that humidity-loving plants will do well in a bathroom with natural light.
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Choose good specimens
I would recommend buying your first plant from a plant shop or garden centre, rather than online. Being able to see it means you can select the perfect one for you and – even better – staff will be on hand to advise you. Some labels will specify if the plant is easy to care for or not.
How to read a plant label
This should cover hardiness, size, watering, feeding and light requirements (as well as flowering period if relevant). Don’t be intimidated by Latin botanical names on labels! They simply provide a unique name for each plant – unlike common names, of which there might be several for the same plant or the same name for different plants. The first word of the name is always the genus and the second the species – here is an example of the monstera. ‘Monstera’ is the genus, while there are 45 species, such as Monstera deliciosa, Monstera adansonii and Monstera obliqua.
Inspect before buying
Avoid plants with leaf discolouration, holes in leaves, etc. Check under the leaves for any pests or pest eggs. If the plant is not too tight in the pot, gently take it out and check if its roots are healthy. Healthy roots should be white or tan and appear succulent (unless they are very fine). If roots are brown and crumbly the plant is unhealthy. Where possible, avoid any plant with roots growing out through the bottom of the pot or circling around the compost: it will need repotting. If there are multiples of the same plant to choose from, compare them and choose the one in best condition. Look for new growth, and how many stems the plant has. I love to see new growth on a plant I am about to purchase – a sign that it is healthy.
Think about the space you have set aside at home for your new plant. It is going to grow, so consider if it is going to outgrow that space. Also take into account that a small plant is likely to be a baby, so check how big it could potentially grow. Baby plants are also more tender and sensitive to a change in environment and movement as they establish themselves, while larger plants tend to be more mature and hardier. A slow grower is so much more convenient than a fast one that will get too large for its space.
Select the right pot
A new plant might have been in its nursery pot for some time. It may have even outgrown it to the point that it is root bound and will need repotting once you bring it home. If so, buy a pot 5cm (2 inches) larger than the existing one. You can tell a plant is root bound when you cannot pull it out of its pot. This is because all of the roots have grown and tangled themselves around the drainage holes and attached themselves to the pot. If this happens, you may have to cut up the nursery pot to free the plant.
All indoor plants need pots with drainage holes to allow excess water to drain away. A build-up of water would lead to rotting roots. Roots need not only water but air too. Soil has air pockets that are crucial for the development of healthy roots. It’s a good idea to place your plants either on a saucer that will catch the water or into a decorative outer pot. Be sure to pour away the excess water that accumulates in the saucer or outer pot so that it is not sitting in water. If you decide to put your potted plant into a decorative outer pot, consider the fit. Remember that as your plant grows, it will need repotting into a slightly larger nursery pot, which will also mean you need a larger decorative pot.
House plant tools
When starting your indoor garden, think about the tools and equipment you will need. These items can be inexpensive and are the key things you will need when caring for your indoor plants.
- Misting spray bottle
- Small watering can
- Large and miniature trowels
- Moisture meter
- Long-handled scissors
Extract taken from The Indoor Garden: Get Started No Matter How Small Your Space, by Jade Murray, £20, Pimpernel Press.
Follow Jade Murray on social media @plantavenuew10.
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