Everyone should have plants in or around their home, and therefore even a basic knowledge of plant care is necessary. Whether you only have space for a few pot plants or you have a spacious garden, everyone can include lush living things in their lives. The benefits to growing plants are huge; not only do they provide clean air and oxygen, they can also provide us with food. And of course, there are all the benefits that you get from actually raising plants; gardening or keeping house plants is proven to have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. Outdoor gardening is great exercise and taking care of plants is an extremely rewarding activity and one that is fun to share with others. Plant care is important to any gardener or house plant enthusiast, so let’s take a look at some of the basics that you need to know in order to keep your plants healthy for years of enjoyment.
Monitoring Plant Health
One of the most important things you can do as a plant owner is to keep records of your planting and plant health. This might be as simple as saving any packaging so that you have information about the plants you have purchased, or it might mean you keep more extensive notes about your plants. You might like to make notes about where a particular plant has thrived or struggled, how you dealt with any disease or problems it might have had.
It is also useful to write down any information such as when to harvest crops, plant certain seeds or prune plants back. You might be surprised how tricky it is to remember the correct names of plants once they have been planted a while. It can also be difficult to remember when you last added compost or manure to a flower bed, or which crop was planted in which raised bed last year! Making simple notes can make a big difference to the health of your plants.
Plant health relies on being organized, especially if you have a large garden or many plants. House plants are much easier to look after as you have more control over the soil, water, light and other environmental conditions. Still, it makes sense to hold onto the labels that tell you the proper name of the plant and any major preferences it has. If you look up your plants online for information, it is useful to print a copy of this and keep it so that you have an easy reference guide. Of course, over time, you will pick up lots of information and expert knowledge that will stand your plant in good stead!
Signs of Plant Health
How do you recognize a healthy thriving plant? All plants are different, but in general, look for a dense, sturdy growth as opposed to straggly plants with gaps in the growth. Leaves should be fairly uniform in size and color; discoloration at the edges or spotting can be a sign of poor plant. The plant should be in a pot or space large enough to give the roots plenty of space, and the soil around it should be moist but not wet.
The Essentials for Plant Care
All plants need the following things in order to grow and reproduce.
- Space – enough space for roots, both around the plant and below it under the roots.
- Temperature – some plants prefer warmer climates, some prefer cooler. No matter how well you look after a lemon tree, it won’t thrive outdoors in Alaska!
- Water – all plants require water, but the amount they require varies a lot between different species. This is why it is important to know the water requirements of your chosen plant varieties.
- Light – plants need sunlight for the process of photosynthesis through which they obtain fuel for growth. Some plants prefer full sunlight, others prefer partial light.
- Nutrition – plants require nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, potassium, phosphorus and other secondary nutrients. Plants obtain these nutrients from the soil which is why the right soil is essential for healthy plants.
How you care for a plant will depend on many different factors; each variety is different and it will depend on where you live and what the climate and environment are like too. However, there are some basic things that you will have to consider that are common to all plants and locations. Check out our handy guide to the basics…
Choosing plants can be quite tricky, even for experienced plant owners. It helps to do some research first so that you can find the varieties of plants that will suit you and which you will be able to care for. Try to buy your plants from a reputable grower or plant nursery where the staff know lots about their stock; a good seller will be able to give you advice on aspects of plant care such as planting and looking after your plants as well as helping you later if there are signs of disease. It is important to choose strong, healthy plants with no signs of disease because pests, fungi, bacteria, and viruses can be transferred and spread to other plants in your garden. Look out for disease-resistant varieties if you want to reduce the risk and make gardening life a little easier.
Planting begins with finding the right pot or position for the plant to thrive. A huge part of plant health is choosing the right spot for your plants; this means the right soil, the right amount of light and water, and the right amount of space. We are going to take a close look at these essential elements of plant care, but first, let’s talk about the actual planting process. Follow any instructions that come with the plant, including how to prepare the soil and how deep to plant it. The root system of any plant can be very delicate, so care must be taken when you are planting, moving or repotting a plant. If you are planting seeds, it is even more important to plant according to instructions in order to have the best chance of germination.
What makes some soil ideal for healthy plants, some soil not? Well, it’s not really about the soil itself but rather about making sure that the soil is matched to the plant. Some plants are quite fussy when it comes to the type of soil they prefer, while others are much more versatile. If you are planting into pots, you can easily buy the right type of soil or compost to suit your plant. If you are planting outdoors into a garden, then it is important that you check the type of soil you have. How well the soil drains or retains water, how structured or soft it is and the ph level (whether it is acidic or alkaline) are all important aspects to consider.
Your soil may be loamy – the best all-around soil with good nutrients, structure and drainage, clay – lumpy and sticky with poor drainage but good nutrient levels, sandy – dry and free-draining with poorer nutrient levels, peaty – acidic, low in nutrient content with good moisture retention and dark on color, chalky – alkaline, stoney, low in some nutrients or silty – smooth with good drainage and good moisture levels. Soil can be improved with the addition of sand, peat, fertilizer or organic material. If you notice a decline in plant health among some varieties of plants and not others, then you may find that your soil has become depleted in a nutrient that the plant in question needed.
Making your own compost is one of the best ways to ensure you have a good supply of soil for optimum plant nutrition. By simply adding food waste and garden waste to a compost bin and giving it some time, you can create nutrient-rich compost that will improve your soil and make an excellent medium for planting seeds
Every plant relies on the roots having adequate space to grow. Some plants are fast-growing while others grow more slowly. Some varieties, especially house plant varieties, stop growing when they reach a certain size, making them ideal for inside the home where space is relatively limited. Many gardeners make the mistake of buying a plant and then finding that it quickly outgrows the space available for it! This can mean that the plant stops thriving and it can even cause the plant to suffer disease or even die. For the same reasons, if you plant your plants too close together, this crowding can create competition for space, nutrients, and water, and all the plants can suffer as a result.
Many of us will have lost plants due to underwatering or overwatering. Plants with dry, curled or brown leaves may be lacking in water, while yellowing leaves are a sign of having too much water. Some plants need more water than others, and some varieties are more tolerant than others to having too much or too little water. Indoor plants are completely reliant on being watered regularly, while garden plants should only need watering during periods of hot dry weather unless they are particularly thirsty varieties or you live in a particularly dry location. Remember that for good plant health, you need good soil drainage – the soil must retain enough water to meet the needs of the plant but not become waterlogged or flooded. This means that how much water you give your plants will also depend on the type of soil as well as the type of plant. Keep in mind that if you’re away from home, you will have to find someone to water your plants or invest in an automatic watering system.
Light and Shade
When you check the label of a particular plant, or look up instructions on how to look after it, you will find information about how much light the plant requires. Before you choose plants for a particular position, check out how much sunlight the spot gets throughout the day so that you can select a plant that will thrive well in the conditions. Plant health is very dependent on the plant getting the right amount of light; some prefer full sunlight, others partial shade. Few plants thrive in very shady conditions, so for shady spots it is important you seek out plants that prefer this type of location. By matching your plant to the right location, you are giving it the best chance of good health.
Feeding and Fertilizing
Human health depends on nutrition and so do plants. If the soil is good, then there will be sufficient nutrients within it for healthy vibrant plants. However, over time, the nutrient profile of the soil may become depleted. This is why it is important to add nutrients to the soil. The best way to do this is through natural organic material such as manure, plant matter or compost. You can also add fertilizer to the soil to improve it. If you are planting vegetables or fruit, then it is especially important that you look after the nutritional profile of the soil. To do this, it is good practice to rotate crops each year. This means changing which crop is planted in each space to ensure that the soil has a chance to recover any lost nutrients.
Taking care of a plant might be as simple as removing any dead flowers or stems. However, some plants require pruning in order to keep them healthy and prevent them from becoming straggly or too long or tall to support themselves. It is important that you are aware of the pruning requirements of your plants so that you can prune them at the right time; some plants need to be cut back quite drastically after the growing season while others require more moderate pruning during the growing season. You may also be interested in taking cuttings (sometimes known as slips) from your plants to try to grow more plants from them. This can be a very effective and cost-effective way of increasing your plant stock. House plants rarely need any pruning or cutting back, but they do sometimes require the removal of dead flowers and leaves.
There are a number of types of pathogens that attack plants and cause them to deteriorate, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The cause of disease in plants can be hard to pinpoint; monitoring the symptoms that the plant is showing is the best way to identify the problem. Look out for discoloration of leaves, failure to flower, black spots, slime, damage to stems or leaves, unusual lumps or bumps, and anything that looks like it may be growing on the plant. In order to identify the problem causing the symptoms, there are lots of online resources, or you can take a sample of the plant or a photograph to a grower or plant center.
Common plant disease can be treated using common plant treatments; sometimes this can be as simple as washing the plant with soapy water, whereas sometimes a proper anti-bacterial agent or fungicide is required. In many cases, plants are actually being compromised by aspects of the location or soil. In these cases, the plant may need to be moved to a better position. For example, fungal infection is common in warm, moist soils; even if the fungal infection is treated, the plant will continue to suffer again and again unless the soil is improved or the plant is moved. Equally, overly high levels of certain nutrients in the soil may cause plant disease.
As well as fungal and bacterial diseases, there are also pests to think about. Insects and other creatures can have a devastating effect on our plants. It may not be immediately obvious that a plant is suffering as a result of pests; the pests themselves may not be visible, and the signs of pest damage may be very similar to the damage caused by fungal or bacterial infections. Again, it is important you monitor the progress of the condition for changes and check with a grower or do some research to find possible culprits. Visible pests can be washed away with soapy water, but more stubborn infestations may require a pesticide. Prevention is much better than cure, so there are some measures you can take to discourage pests from damaging your plants. Natural predators such as ladybirds (which will eat aphids and greenflies) or even frogs (which will eat slugs and flies) should be encouraged. Birds do an excellent job of keeping bugs at bay (just be careful to use nets over certain plants to keep birds away from any soft fruit you might be growing!), and you can encourage birds to your garden by leaving food for them.
Clearing Leaf Litter
By removing dead plants, leaves and weeds, especially before winter, you can remove the source of a lot of diseases. Plant health can be compromised by decaying organic matter that can harbor fungi, bacteria and rot. By leaving the decaying matter to overwinter around growing plants, you can risk losing the plants. This is also a good time to get rid of any dead leaves and flowers that are still on the plants, and cut back any plant varieties that require it.
Plant Health Tips
- For optimum plant care, you can also add nutrients into your soil on a regular basis using simple everyday things that might otherwise go to waste – old coffee grounds add nutrients and eggshells deliver a calcium boost to the soil, while both are deterrents for uninvited creatures who may like to nibble your plants. Some houseplants may benefit from the occasional watering with cold tea! It is worth checking out how you can use waste products to benefit your plants.
- Collecting rainwater is a great idea for both outdoor and indoor plants. Rainwater is a better option for plants than tap water and collecting rainwater saves water too. Alternatively, you can use bathwater – and if you have had Epsom salt in the bath, this can give the soil a boost of magnesium which is great.
- Plant seeds in empty eggs shells or make paper pots using old newspaper or even the inner cardboard tubes of toilet paper. This way, you can simply plant the seed and its ‘pot’ into the ground to avoid damaging the delicate roots and boost nutrients. The ‘pot’ will disintegrate as the plant grows (just remember not to use any non-biodegradable materials such as plastic).
The best way to learn about plants and how to care for growing things in your home or garden is to simply start small, read up and keep going! Choose good plants, follow guidance on caring for them and don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from others. One of the reasons why gardening is good for people is that it brings them into contact with other like-minded people who share this hobby. Don’t get discouraged if you have a plant fail to thrive; even the best gardeners or houseplant aficionados lose plants sometimes. Focus on your successes and build on them; perhaps you have a particular talent for growing veggies, roses, hanging baskets, tiny succulents. Focus on your strengths and on growing the type of plants you enjoy most and you will soon find that your knowledge grows just as quickly as your plants.
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