7 Plant-Care Mistakes People Make In Quarantine, According To Pros

A person smiles as she carries her house plant from one place to another. House plants can be great ...
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Maybe you've had houseplants for years, or maybe you bought a window garden starter set once you realized you'd be spending practically all your time inside. Whatever your horticultural situation it's tempting to shower all your aimless social energy onto your plants. But while you might be loving your extra time with indoor greenery, your flower friends might not be enjoying all the attention. It's easy to make some crucial mistakes with your plants now that you're home all the time.

"Most common houseplants require little more than occasional watering and fertilizer inputs," says Bryana Sortino, co-founder of the indoor plant subscription service Horti. "From succulents to cacti to tropicals, plants in the houseplant section have been selected because of their adaptability to a typical indoor environment."

Just because they're adaptable, that doesn't mean you don't have to take good care of your prickly friends. On the flip side, just because you're notorious for letting "hard to kill" plants die on your watch doesn't mean you have to give up before you get started.

"The two main things to keep in mind when caring for houseplants are consistency and patience," says Joyce Mast, Plant Mom for Bloomscape, a plant delivery service. So if your leafy pals are wilting and you can't figure out why, some of these seven plant-care mistakes may be at fault.


You Need To Get To Know Your Plants Better

If you're thinking about diving into the wild world of plant parenthood, do your homework first. What plants tend to grow best in your state? Does the window where you're thinking of setting up your new friends' homes get a lot of sun? Partial shade? Try to find creatures that will grow best in whatever conditions you have to offer them.

"Plants crave an approximation of their native environments, so learning the basics about where in the world your plant is from goes a long way towards keeping it healthy and beautiful," Sortino tells Bustle. "For example, ferns usually grow on humid forest beds and get filtered light, and succulents grow in arid sunny environments in tight, compact spaces like in between rocks."


Your Plant Needs Less Water

"Too much love is as bad as too little," Sortino says. It's tempting to show your flower buds (see what I did there?) extra love now that you're home all the time, but make sure you're basing watering frequency on what your friends actually need.

"I suggest you let the plant 'tell' you when it needs water," Mast tells Bustle. "I recommend the touch test: push your finger into the soil until it reaches your middle knuckle. If the soil feels moist to the touch, do not water your plants and check again in a few days."

Another way to tell if you're being a little overzealous with your watering can is checking out the leaves. "When your plant presents with yellow leaves and or brown spots, it usually indicates the plant is receiving too much water," Mast says.


Your Plant Needs More Water

You might be so busy trying to keep your dog occupied while you're on a Zoom call with your boss that you forget to water your plant friends entirely. So what happens if you do the touch test and the soil feels too dry?

"If the plant is not getting enough water, the leaves may start to droop, turn light brown and become crispy," Mast explains. "If extremely dry, the soil will tend to 'pull' away from the sides of the pot." What do you do if you're getting all these "I'm thirsty" signals?

Mast says that if you're trying to re-awaken your plant after a spell of dehydration, regular watering might not be as effective. "If your pot has a drainage hole, I suggest removing the plant from its saucer, filling a sink or tub (depending on the size of the plant/pot) with about two to four inches of lukewarm water and place the plant into the water for approximately 30 to 60 minutes, again depending on the size of the pot." She explains that the roots will soak up the water from the drainage hole, getting the drink they need.


Your Plant Isn't Hungry Anymore

Now that you're at home as often as your lilies, your instinct might be to give the little guys extra plant food (AKA fertilizer or compost). It might be unnecessary, though.

"Usually in indoor conditions, plants get sufficient nutrients from soil, light and water, so with occasional repotting your plant can stay healthy," Sortino says. Your indoor plants may not really need fertilizer, but a good repotting every year or so should do the trick. Not sure exactly what your specific buddy needs? Google is your friend, and your local greenhouses might also be able to help.


Your Pot Doesn't Have Drainage

Whether your planters are fancy ceramic or that classic light brown plastic, the excess water from this morning needs to have some place to go.

"That cute planter you just bought, make sure it has a drainage hole," Sortino advises. "In an anaerobic or non-oxygenated environment, bacterial pathogens are much more likely to thrive, causing the bane of every container-gardener: root rot. The best way to avoid this is to let roots breathe. Repot plants occasionally, and never pot them in a container without drainage holes."


Your Plant Has Different Light Needs

It makes sense to want to wrench open the blinds and give your pals as much sunlight as they can get each day. But if your window provides a lot of direct sunlight, you might want to close those curtains a bit. "Yes, plants can also be sunburned," Mast says. "If your plants receive too much light, they will display with dull lackluster foliage and even bleached-out looking leaves. Light brown edges and spots can also be an indication of too much sun."

On the flip side, now that you never leave the house, you might keep the blinds closed most of the day because of that weird glare it gives your Zoom calls. Just make sure your plants are still getting what they need. "Many times insufficient light will cause the plant foliage to look long and spindly since it is stretching towards the light," Mast tells Bustle. "Expose the plant to higher light gradually to acclimate to a better location. It is recommended to turn the plants once a week to prevent uneven, lopsided growth."


You Need To Check In With Yourself

If your flowery friend starts to look a little wilty, it can be easy to beat yourself up and spiral completely out of the caretaking cycle ("why am I even trying? I'll just kill the darn thing anyway"). But this is a relationship, not a metaphoric reflection of your successes and failures — just like with human relationships, it can take some work to learn what your plant likes best, but it'll be well worth it when you hit a good stride.

"Being honest with yourself about the level of love and care you have to offer will help a lot as you try and develop a lasting relationship with plants," Sortino tells Bustle. "Instead of seeing a flourishing plant as a symbol of our own success in its maintenance, we should approach plant care as an act of gratitude, a moment we say thank you for the mostly thankless work that plants have been doing for millions of years."

"Don’t get discouraged," Mast says. "Sometimes plants take time to adjust to a new environment, so just be patient and your plants will thrive!"


Bryana Sortino, co-founder, Horti

Joyce Mast, Plant Mom for Bloomscape