Students Helping Students: How to Keep Your Plants Happy and Healthy

I love plants. Flowering plants, foliage plants, plants that grow vegetables, anything really. I am a plant loving person. I have a particular fondness for indoor tropical plants, and as such in my small Ottawa student apartment I’ve created my own crazy collection of plants. I currently have just over 25 small, medium, and large plants. Every room contains some sort of plant, each with its own requirements and challenges. Some have stayed where I initially placed them, a pine tree in my living room for example, others have been moved to locations I never thought I would keep plants, like having multiple hanging plants in my shower. With keeping these plants alive as a student I have learned many things, and so from my tribulations and successes as a plant parent I bring to you my collection of tips and tricks for keeping your plants healthy and happy.

I wasn’t kidding about the Pine tree in my living room

Tip 1: Do your research!

Plant shopping is super exciting! Finding new cool looking plants that you’ve never seen before can be a ton of fun, but the fun can quickly stop when your cool new plant doesn’t make it past the first few weeks of being home. This is why it is so important to do your research before bringing home a new plant. Start by looking at your space, what sort of light do you get, and at what times do you get light? If your place only has two small windows and you only get a few hours of light each day you will have to look at getting different plants than someone who’s place is all windows and receives constant light from sun up to sun down. If you’re totally obsessed with a light loving plant but live in a dark space, you may have to consider getting grow lights which can up your initial investment. As well, note what the humidity is like- do you find that it’s really dry all the time? If yes you may have to take extra measures as a plant parent – like daily misting to keep your plant happy. Or like me, you may have to jerry rig something in your shower to keep your plants in the most humid space possible.

Before I purchase a plant, I like to do a quick google search of it to find out what generally are the best conditions for its survival. I note the amount of light, water, and humidity it likes to see if that fits with what I can provide for it. If I see a cool plant online that I would like to potentially purchase I’ll look in one of my plant reference books to see what its care instructions may be. Reference books for plants are also helpful as a plant owner for troubleshooting and diagnosing issues.

#plantparent

Plants like a Strelitzia and Croton require an abundance of light. Because of this I keep them in a west facing window so they can get ample sunlight.

Tip 2: Don’t Over-water! Give your plants some space!

It is possible to love something too much!! Many houseplants are killed by loving plant parents who simply over-water them. Over-watering leads to root rot, which frankly, can smell terrible and is a sad way to see your plant die. But how to know how much to water? There are a few simple fixes. For starters, mind your plant's soil. An easy way to test if it needs water is if you place your finger in the first few inches of soil. If the soil is dry, then water. If the soil is damp, you’re good to leave it for a bit. Some plants need to be watered more often than others, it’s just their nature. As well, plants that receive more light will require more water as they will be depleted of their water more quickly. For example, my plants that are in windowsills require more water than my plants that are on the opposite site of the room from the window.

Another fix is done in two parts. The first is to ensure whatever your plant is potted in has adequate drainage. From there what you can do is water from the bottom up, rather than top down. To do this simply place your plant in a bowl or drip tray, and then instead of pouring the water on the soil, pour it into the bowl or drip tray and allow your plant to soak up as much water as it needs on its own schedule.

Another thing to keep in mind- electric heat is typically very drying, so once your building’s heat is turned on for the winter your plants may begin to use of their water more quickly.

Tip 3: Give your plants time, but don’t be afraid to make changes.

This one was especially difficult for me when I first started caring for my plants. I was afraid that if I disturbed their habitat, or didn’t follow care instructions exactly that I would kill my plants. Killing plants is an issue for two reasons: the first, it’s sad -  no one wants their plants to die, secondly, plants can be pricey. If you’ve made an investment in a plant, you really don’t want to kill it. Sometimes though, you have to go with your gut and try what you think is best.

I have two hanging plants, one is called a Maranta and the other is a Goldfish plant. I had these hanging just outside of my kitchen and neither were doing very well. I tried everything: more water, less water, more humidity via daily misting’s, completely ignoring them, you name it, but nothing worked. The one was turning brown, and the other was dropping leaves like crazy. Both of these plants love high humidity, and a ton of light. My final, crazy idea: hang them in the shower. So, I got a tension rod and put it up, and then I hung both plants directly in front of the window in my tiny apartment shower and it worked. The increased humidity the plants received every time I shower and the full light of the west window did the trick. Both plants are now happy and healthy.

I’m still really new to the plant parent thing. I read books, check out what people say online, and get lots of advice from my mom who has her own greenhouse full of plants. At the end of the day, I just try my best and accept I’m no expert. (Which I showed myself a few weeks ago when I thought my Aloe plant required more light and I ended up burning the heck out of it)

Everyone makes mistakes at one point or another, everyone kills a few plants. It happens. Keep trying, find the really cool plants that interest you, and have fun with it!

Also, if you’re bilingual and interest in seeing why it’s good for you to have plants check out this cool article!

https://www.hercampus.com/school/u-ottawa/pourquoi-tu-devrais-avoir-une-plante-dans-ton-salon