Tips for caring for potted plants

There are many people in the world who claim to have a black thumb because they kill anything green in a pot. But a desire to have greenery in the house, selection of plant, location of plant and watering can turn a black thumb green.

There are many people in the world who claim to have a black thumb because they kill anything green in a pot. But a desire to have greenery in the house, selection of plant, location of plant and watering can turn a black thumb green.

A strong desire to overcome past mistakes means that time has been taken to learn and plan to how to make it a success. With indoor plants, it is all about selection, pot, climate and water.

Take a close look at where the plant is going to be placed. How much light will it receive? The majority of plants prefer diffused light, meaning a bright area but not one that has direct sunlight. The varieties of plants that thrive in darker areas or ones that thrive in full sunlight are limited.

Peace lily, snake plant, purple waffle and dieffenbachia are a few of the plants that will tolerate a darker location.

Velvet plant, gardenia, crown of thorns, schefflera, pineapple plant and teddy bear vine will thrive in full sunlight. They are perfect for that sunny, hot, south-facing window.

Over-potting a plant — putting a plant in a pot that is too big for its rootball — is a common mistake. Indoor plants produce more top growth when their roots are touching the edge of the pot.

Do not re-pot indoor plants until the plant has such a massive root base that it needs to be watered more than once a week. Then only move it to a pot that is one size larger. When placed in a new pot, the plant will not put out any new top growth until the roots once again reach the pot edge. If the pot is too large, the roots will never reach the edge.

Drainage holes are also very important. Lack of drainage holes results in water sitting in the bottom of the pot, which can saturate the soil and rot roots.

Some people have success with putting rocks or broken pottery at the bottom of the pot to allow moisture to sit below the dirt, but it isn’t recommended. It decreases the depth of the soil, making drainage slower, and it still holds the moisture.

Overwatering is the main reason that indoor plants die.

To avoid constantly watering plants, choose a time once a week to water all plants. Setting a watering routine means that the plants are not forgotten or, more importantly, watered too much.

Before watering, check the moisture level in the soil. This can be done by sticking a finger into the soil below the surface or using a moisture meter. If the soil is dry, give it enough water that it drains out the bottom of the pot. Once it is finished draining, pour off excess moisture. Leaving moisture in the tray will cause the soil to become saturated. Once the air pockets are filled with moisture, roots can not absorb water and will wilt from lack of moisture in a wet soil.

If undecided about how much moisture is in the soil, do not water. Plants recover much faster from wilting than overwatering.

Plants react to the length of days. As the days get shorter, they go into dormancy and need less moisture. In February, they will start to put out new growth and require more moisture.

Indoor soil contains a mixture of peatmoss and vermiculite. Neither contains many if any nutrients, so fertilizing is a must. Purchase an all-purpose house plant fertilizer and follow the instructions on the package. If in doubt about what to by, choose a powder that dissolves easily in water. It is easy to use and relatively inexpensive.

Black thumbs, take a deep breath, make a plan and turn the thumbs green.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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