You have your plant, it’s beautiful, and it is perfectly placed in its ahhhh spot. And you want it to thrive. But there’s more than just the right spot. After all, we’ve taken these living organisms and placed them inside our homes; we’ve limited the flow of nutrients they would get from rain, foraging animals, and other natural daily events. I mean, for goodness sake, we put plants in pots! I don’t know about you, but I don’t see very many wild potted plants roaming around the great outdoors. And then, we ask these plants to grow and shower us in green affections. Yeah, that’s a lot to ask, isn’t it?
How can we sweeten the deal of being potted and stuck inside with us humans? Tending to their soil conditions, that’s how! Let’s get into the details on why it makes such a big difference in their little potted environment.
The world inside soil is fascinating; chock full of thousands of varieties of living and dead microorganisms, water, salts, minerals, nutrients, even air pockets. All are a necessity to plant growth, providing nourishment and building blocks for the magical process of photosynthesis. How we manage the complexity of soil can be simplified in terms of moisture and nutrients. We’ll start with moisture.
There are 2 major sins when it comes to soil moisture; underwatering and overwatering. Do we even need to address underwatering? It’s kind of like when your kid has chocolate all over their face and insist that they didn’t eat the candy. Underwatering sinners have no place to hide. The soil is so dried out that water just flows right through it. The plant is wilted and crispy. No plant should ever be crispy. And no one needs to confess to underwatering. Just like those chocolate-covered pieholes, we all know. The other extreme is frequently referred to overwatering. Though for some of the hot messes I’ve seen, drenching might be a more appropriate term. In reality, it’s not simply the over watering that is the problem. Putting too much moisture in the soil helps create a low-oxygen environment that is a haven for bacteria, mold, and fungus, the exact types of pathogens that cause root rot. And when our plants’ roots aren’t happy, guess what? The rest of the plant isn’t happy. We want moisture levels that are just right for our plant types.
How do we find the balance between under and overwatering? Again, our cues lie in their natural environments. Succulents and cacti, those guys love getting some water and then letting their soil dry the heck out. Just look at those thick, waxy leaves. Those were made for holding onto water for dear life in desert and arid environments. Keeping their soil moist on a regular basis is a sure way to destroy them quickly. Which happens to be quite the opposite for Boston ferns, peace lilies, or ivies. Those guys actually hang out in jungles when they’re not hanging out in our homes. Think moist soil (not drenched!). Side track to our soil talk; these guys’ leaves also love moisture! Spraying or misting the leaves every other day is key to keeping them happy indoors, creating an oasis of humidity. I always feel like a kid with my water bottle in hand, squirting away. It invokes the epic water gun battles my brothers and I had. Thankfully, instead of getting chased and incurring some minor bodily harm from spraying my brothers, spraying my plants is rewarded with luscious greens adorning my home environment.
Now back to the soil moisture levels! Thankfully for the novices, there are plants that can go either way. I have a pothos (think green, viney) that I was given over 20 years ago. I think I have watered it that many times. And it is still going. When I do go in spurts of watering it a wee bit more, it grows a wee bit more for me. There are also snake tongues, a perennial favorite of serial underwaterers. Those guys will go forever without water. We’ll finish up perfecting soil conditions with nutrients and vitamins next time. Until then, perfect your watering habits to create great soil conditions for your plants!
The Deerfield Gardener
Need some green lusciousness right now for your eyes? Check out @urbanjungle or @houseplantjournal on Instagram or grab New Plant Parent by Darryl Cheng for more in-depth tips on caring for your green beauties.