A few years ago now, when the indoor plant trend first starting taking hold around Sydney, I thought it was completely normal to buy a small plant, like a maiden hair fern, have it look fab for a few weeks to get me through a period of entertaining at home, only to then stand by helplessly witnessing its demise before replacing it with my next victim.
Not long after this however I found out about Zanzibar Gems. These are plants from Africa that thrive on neglect, and thought ‘I can definitely do that, no worries at all, just watch me neglect!’…Although quite expensive for their size, I gave it a go and with one cup of water once a month in Summer and none in the Winter and not much light at all it continued to thrive and grow…Hallelujah!
So over time I filled my entire house with them. I’m not kidding. The lounge room, the dining area, next to the piano, in my bedroom, the spare room…not one corner of our home was without a Zanzibar Gem. Not very original or exciting but at least some real green that stayed that way. I was a green space hero at last!!
In hindsight, I should have stopped there but feeling way more confident with my newfound heroism, I thought I was ready to take on the infamous fiddle leaf fig (when you didn’t need to refinance your mortgage to buy one). Ha! Again, I was caught unaware…
I think it lasted maybe two months before all the leaves went brown, wilted and fell off. All that was left was a stick, and what a poor state of affairs – a very sad and lonely fiddle leaf fig in our bedroom begging for attention, a dust, some water…anything to save it from its fate of doom.
Indoor plants were a 70’s thing, right? I was a kid, mum looked after the plants and did a great job making sure that they matched the print on our cane lounge. We had everything – palms, monstera, ferns…
Now trending again, I realise I loved the idea of plants. But like the Seinfeld episode I just didn’t know how to keep them alive. Lucky this all changed when we started Hamblins and I picked up the tricks of the trade. Now by no means am I a plant whisperer like Vicki (my Hamblins partner in crime) who loves talking to them, but I can at least keep more than a Zanzibar Gem thriving.
The single biggest tip to looking after indoor plants? the part where most budding greenspace heroes come unstuck? Nearly all indoor green, leafy plants need to be drained and watered – they don’t like having their feet (roots) wet.
- Drainage – If your choice of decorative pot has a drainage hole and saucer (to protect your floors) then the plant can be planted directly into the pot. If the decorative pot has no drainage hole, place the plant with it’s plastic pot into the decorative pot. It will need to be taken out of the decorative pot for watering.
- Watering – Just throwing in a cup of water or two now and then isn’t enough. They can be placed into the shower, under a tap, watered with a watering can or a gentle hose. Leave to drain before placing back into the decorative pot. I like to run the water over it for a few minutes and then let drain for at least an hour.
In summer, I water my plants once a week and in winter every two-three weeks. In extreme heat, feel the soil’s dampness a couple of centimetres down and give it an extra watering.
Purchasing a huge plant can be very tempting sometimes but figuring out how it will be watered is necessary. Sometimes they are too large to lift out of the decorative pot so you’ll need to put something under the plastic pot to be able to do this. Also, the water can drain off into the bottom of the decorative pot.
If green leafy plants aren’t your thing, do not fear! You can still be a green space hero…cactus and succulents are a great alternative. In most cases, they can be planted directly into decorative pots as they aren’t watered enough to need drainage. They can be spritzed with a water spray bottle once a week to keep healthy and they can go for longer periods without much care at all. Cactus and succulents like light and bright rooms to live in.
Finally, here are some general rule of thumb common problems and solutions:
- Soft and drooping leaves – Needs watering
- Soft and yellowing leaves – Needs less watering, or better drainage, or if soil is moist then may need more light
- Dry soil – Needs watering
- Brown burnt tips on leaves – Needs watering. If soil is moist then it could be the placement. Move away from direct sunlight. Move away from a cold or warm draught, including air conditioning draughts.
Good luck fellow green space heroes. If I can do it, anyone can…Seriously!