The Houseplant You Should Never Buy Because It Always Dies — plus how to make yours thrive, by gardening experts

The Houseplant You Should Never Buy Because It Always Dies — plus how to make yours thrive, by gardening experts

I started with an avocado plant.

I remember when I bought it, about two years ago, the two women behind the store counter laughed a little.

I looked at them. “It’s so big, it’s going to need space,” one said. ‘ablution!’ said the other.

It was a sunny February, and my bedroom had roughly a square bed and nothing else. However, I did not listen. I paid £30 and carried my avocado plant down the hill from Archway to my flat in Finsbury Park. (If you don’t know the geography of north London, it’s not a very long way, but with a giant avocado plant, it seems endless.)

At home, I installed the plant next to my bed, next to the window. My roommate looked at her and said, “I’ll give her a week.” Two days later, I noticed a brown avocado leaf, with curled edges, on my bedroom floor. Then another. Then another. A week later, I put the plant – now almost leafless – in the garden and decided to let nature do its thing. Within a few hours, a gust of wind blew down my avocado plant, blowing dry, dark soil across the yard.

I got rid of it and bought something smaller: a tall purple orchid. The guy at the store said not to water it too much. I nodded, then left the flower on the windowsill above the radiator. He died within a week as well.

Now I live in a different apartment. For a long time, this house had no plants, only artificial flowers. (The £10 fake tulips from TK Maxx are excellent.) But it seems I’m the only one; House plants are everywhere.

And last month, Tesco revealed sales of its indoor plants had increased by 130 per cent since 2019. In response, Mairi Devlin, head of purchasing at B&Q, said houseplants “have real appeal for young people because they are a super, super easy first foray”. “To keep something alive,” which, as a guy with a history of killing indoor plants, I find very annoying.

So I bought a £10 peace lily from Ikea and was determined to keep it alive. For help, I talk to two experts: James Field, a gardener from Sussex, and Sarah Gerrard-Jones, author of Plant savior, who has more than 400,000 followers on Instagram. Here are their tips.

Stop over-watering

Many people think that plants need to be watered every day. They don’t. When I spoke to Gerard Jones earlier this month, “That’s my yucca,” she said, pointing to a huge, healthy-looking tree behind her. “I’ve only watered it four times since November.” The best way to check if a plant needs watering is to put your finger inside the soil. If it’s dry on the surface but wet underneath, leave it alone; If it is still dry within a few centimeters, add water.

“A lot of people swear by rainwater,” Field says. Because tap water contains a very low amount of chlorine. The most important thing is to make sure the water is “neither hot nor cold – nothing shocks the plant.”

Also make sure it is in a pot with no drainage (i.e. a pot with holes in the bottom, which you place on top of the saucer). “You don’t want your plant sitting in a puddle of water.”

Houseplants need to be a few feet from a window to thrive

Stay away from Mr

Plant sprayers may look professional, but they have “no proven benefit,” says Gerard Jones. “People think that spraying plants makes the environment moist (which promotes growth).” However, you cannot make a room humid by simply sprinkling water in it.’ Furthermore, misting can be dangerous.

“Unless we have the windows open, we don’t have a lot of air circulation in our homes. Especially in the winter. So, if you mist your plants, the water will settle on the leaves, which can cause bacteria to grow.”

Field agrees. “You don’t want water getting onto your plant’s leaves or stem. It’s a recipe for disease. Instead, he suggests using a slightly damp cloth to remove any dust from your plant’s leaves (this allows them to absorb more light). Gerard Jones goes further She cleans her plants with a toothbrush or hand-held vacuum and switches it to a gentle mode.

Let the light pass there

“People always say to me, ‘Oh, but my plants are in a really bright room.’ And that means nothing to the plant! Most of them need to be a few feet from a window in order to thrive,” says Gerard Jones.

“So, wherever you put your plant, pick it up and move it near a window.” Field also suggests rotating the placement of your house plants around the house somewhat regularly. (“It gives them variety.”)

If you don’t have natural light, buy a plant lamp that mimics it (Gathera.co.uk sells a set for £22). And if artificial sunlight offends your green principles, try the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), which tolerates a wide range of light conditions. “It’s a slow grower in low light, but it will be fine as long as you don’t water it too much,” says Gerard Jones.

Say no to kalatias

“It breaks my heart when I see someone picking Calathea,” says Gerard Jones. “I just want to scream at them: ‘Noooo!’” It has beautiful leaves – striped and purple with fancy patterns – but I don’t think they should be sold as houseplants.

Our homes are simply not suitable for them. You will never see old Calathea. They are a nightmare! Avoid, avoid, avoid. As an alternative, she suggests the similar-looking but firmer maranta.

Avoid radiators

You might think – as I did with my orchid – that plants like warmth. But leaving it on the radiator is a terrible idea, says Gerard Jones. Sporadic and intense bursts of heat can cause plants to “stretch and look a little weird.” Worse still, radiators cause evaporation. This means that when you water your plant, the coolant may dry it out before the plant has time to drink it up. Eek.

Forget the flowers

Flowering plants are beautiful, but they can be so

They are very high maintenance for beginners. “I’ll go for the leafy flower,” Field says. “A juicer is a nice start.” Small and prickly. It may not be particularly pretty, but if you’re embarking on your own plant-growing journey, it’s a good place to start.’ As for where to buy plants, Field recommends your local garden centre, but also rates Marks & Spencer and Waitrose.

Gerard-Jones likes online store Mintplants.co.uk, which has a “rescued” cactus section that sells used plant specimens, or, as she puts it, “mature” plant specimens.

If not, these £10 fake tulips from TK Maxx are really excellent.

Pots that hit the spot

Follow James Field on @XGardening And Sarah Gerrard-Jones on Instagram @theplantrescuer

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