Common Plant Care Questions
Questions? We have answers.
How do I choose a plant?
Plants are an easy way to add color, energy and transform your space, but which plant is for you? Choosing the right plant will depend on your style preference, the size of your space and your home or office environment. What kind of plants do you like? From these, decide how much space you can accommodate, then do a little digging to see if these plants are suited to thrive in their new home based on their care requirements.
I’m a new plant owner. What should I do first?
Light is food for plants, so the most important part of plant parenthood is feeding your plant babies! Generally, the more light the better. Plants want to be in your window. Some plants can tolerate lower light away from windows, but as a rule, try to keep your plants no more than 6 feet from a window.
If you brought your new plant home in a grow pot, you might be tempted to pot it into a planter right away. However, you'll be more successful if you let your new plant acclimate to its new environment for about 2 weeks first. (If it’s the start or peak of the growing season, you can shave off a few of those days to get it in a new planter sooner.) After its adjustment period, you can decide to leave as is or fully pot it into a decorative planter.
How do I know if my plant is happy in its new home?
To help make your plant happy, try your best to recreate its natural environment. For example, succulents and cacti are desert dwelling plants. They enjoy being in direct sunlight for as much of the day as possible. Ferns are from misty forests, so they thrive in the high humidity that, say, a bathroom (with a window) brings. It may seem kind of obvious, but not dying is a good thing. If the plant is getting enough light — light is food for plants — then it will grow. Don’t be alarmed if a plant doesn’t grow right away or do much. It may be in a winter dormancy period.
Why do I need a plant?
Plants can instantly beautify a space, but did you know they can also contribute to your wellbeing? The presence of plants can boost your mood and reduce your stress levels – bringing tranquility to your space – while also producing oxygen and filtering the air you breathe. Learn more about the positive benefits of sharing your space with plants here.
Potting & Fertilizing
When should I repot my plant?
If you see one or a combination of these signs, you'll know it's time to repot your plant:
1. It’s grown up: You know your plant has outgrown the nursery grow pot if..
— Roots are growing through the drainage holes at the bottom of the grow pot
— Roots are pushing the plant up, out of the grow pot
— It’s top heavy, and falls over easily
— It’s growing slower than normal (outside of fall/winter dormancy)
— The size of the plant is three times or more the size of the grow pot
2. Dry potting mix: Your plant’s potting mix dries out more quickly than usual, requiring more frequent waterings
3. It’s the season: Your plant could use fresh potting mix and more space for the spring–summer growing season
Or you might want to get your hands dirty, and that’s an equally valid reason. Studies have shown that when we get in touch with nature, literally, we reduce mental fatigue and stress, while increasing relaxation and self-esteem. Even brief exposure to nature can make us more altruistic, and touching real foliage can elicit an unconscious calming effect.
- How often should I change my plant’s potting mix?
How do I decided between repotting or fertilizing?
It's up to you! General rules still apply — repot your plant about once every 12 to 18 months to change the potting mix. Some plants can survive for much longer in the same mix, but only if you fertilize. Definitely change out the potting mix if it's started to rot or degrade too much. It might start to smell, or look 'spent'. A big difference in color or texture can also be a sign it's time for new potting mix.
But if the potting mix is in visibly good shape, and the plant hasn't overgrown the size of the pot, then you can fertilize instead.
How do I fertilize my plant?
We recommend following the instructions on the packaging of whatever fertilize you choose. Many are added to liquids and used in your watering can while watering. All fertilizers, whether liquid, dissolvable, or granular are applied to the potting mix (not the plant itself/the plant's leaves).
Can my plant thrive in artificial light?
As long as you have the right bulbs. Plants respond best to sunlight, so you’ll want a bulb that fills color and intensity requirements. Most regular bulbs, like the ones in your light fixtures, aren’t sufficient because they produce mostly green light. Green plants reflect green light away instead of absorbing it, so it’s pretty useless to them. Colors like blue, green-blue, yellow-orange and red — especially red light — maximize photosynthesis and other vital functions. To get the right intensity, check your bulb’s Lumen count: the higher the better. For example, if your plants require lots of light, opt for a bulb or bulbs which total 3000 lumens or more.
Leaf Color & Shape
What do yellow leaves mean?
Yellow leaves can mean a lot of things, not just overwatering! Yellow leaves could mean that the plant is too hot, too cold, not receiving enough water, receiving too much water, nutrient deficient, or it could be totally natural… Take into account where this is happening on the plant — and how many leaves are yellow. Are the lower leaves turning yellow, with only one or two falling off here and there, but the rest of the plant looks fine? Then it’s just mature leaves, shedding.
To figure out if there’s potentially a watering problem — let the potting mix be your guide and feel it. Is the mix too wet or super dry? Generally, if there’s a watering problem, most leaves on the plant will be affected.
If it’s too hot or too cold, that could be the culprit too. Plants want to be where you want to be (70 and sunny, anyone?). So, if you put your head where the plant is, and it’s too drafty, cold, or hot, then try to move your plant to another spot with less temperature changes. Remember, yellow leaves never occur without other symptoms unless they are old leaves. It’s identifying those other symptoms that will help you get to the root of the problem.
What do dusty, chalky leaves mean?
Did you know that plants clean the air both chemically and physically? Physically, they act as a dust cling. Indoors there is no wind or rain that normally would clean the plant. That’s why it’s up to you to wipe down the leaves once every month or two! Dry wipe, then wet wipe. Just make sure that there aren’t also pests contributing to the dust.
What causes brown or black crispy leaves?
Brown or black leaves can be from multiple reasons, but are usually related to watering issues or salt buildup. Occasionally brown leaves can be from a fungal infection, so pay attention to what else is going on with your plant and its potting mix. If the plant is wet, or the leaves get wet often, a fungus is likely the culprit.
If the soil is dry, and the leaves are curly or droopy, then most likely the plant is not getting enough water. If the leaves turn straight to black, there are too many salts (fertilizer or hard water) and it's harming the plant. Most of the time, brown or black crispy leaves are a sign of fungus (if potting mix is wet) or under-watering (if mix is dry).
What causes abnormal leaf spots?
Leaf spots can be caused by bacterial infections, pest damage, if the plant is lacking nutrition, or if the plant has suffered physical damage while developing. If the cause is from a bacteria or fungus, the spots will spread if the leaves are wet. Otherwise, the spots are physical and will not spread (kind of like a scar). To help keep leaf spots at bay, keep your plant's leaves dry. You can also prune off leaves with spots – don't let them get you down!
What causes leaves to become pale?
Most commonly, paleness is associated with either too much light, or too little light. In low light, there is not enough energy to sustain the chloroplasts, so they die. In too bright of light, they get scorched and burnt to death.
You do not need to worry about burning your leaves indoors for most plants — but you do need to worry if you plan to move them outside for the summer. If your plant goes from too dark (indoors) to too bright (outdoors), then it may burn and turn pale as well. Ease your plants into brighter outdoor light in steps.
Otherwise, pale color can be associated with juvenile freshly-grown leaves. In that case, there is nothing wrong, and the juvenile leaves will darken with age.
What is variegation?
Some plants will occasionally be variegated — display random splotches of non-green color. Usually variegation is white, cream, or gold, but can be many other colors. Variegation is caused by a mutation in the chloroplasts/plastids. It isn't well-understood, but is thought of a way for lower light plants to cope with increased light. Variegation can become more pronounced as light increases, and plants that are variegated can revert to their non-variegated form when light decreases. The difference between variegation and pigmentation is that variegation is random, not passed on by seeds, and has an asymmetrical, unique pattern in a leaf.
Why do leaves drop?
Leaves usually drop for one of two reasons: (1) either the roots cannot support them, or (2) there is not enough light. In the first case, the plant is pot-bound. Plants can be just as big below ground as they are above ground, so they will drop leaves if the roots cannot grow. In this case, you'll want to repot your plant into a bigger planter with more room for the roots.
In the second case, light is food for plants, so the plant literally isn't getting enough food to support the leaves, so it drops them. Help your plant by providing more sunlight or doing a little pruning.
Why is my plant leaning?
If your plant is leaning, access how much your plant is leaning: a little or a lot? A little lean is totally normal because, gravity. Extreme lean, not so much. Both can be corrected with the right amount of sunlight and rotation. Remember, plants grow towards sunlight. To fix a slight lean, try rotating your plant every few weeks. If your plant is leaning a lot and you notice new growth to be smaller, pale and spindly, it needs even more sunlight. Try moving your plant closer to the light source and rotate it every time you water. If your lean becomes extreme, it could be a deeper-rooted problem: root rot, improper potting and outgrowing the pot are common causes. In these cases, your plant needs to be repotted.
Why is my plant wilting and drooping?
Some plants will droop, but others will not. Most plants, however, to some extent will curl their leaves – some more dramatically than others when they are thirsty. Plant cells are mostly water, and are basically water balloons. When they lack water, they deflate, and the plant can't hold itself up. That's what's going on when a plant droops or curls its leaves. Feel the soil: it will be your guide. If it’s dry, then water it. If the soil is moist and the plant is still drooping, then it most likely needs more sunlight, or to be repotted.
Will my plant’s leaves regenerate?
Plant leaves do not have the capacity to regenerate. When a leaf is diseased or damaged, the plant will eventually drop the leaf and replace it with a new one. You can help expedite this process by pruning the leaf off. This will allow the plant to focus its energy on new, healthy growth.
What’s that smell?
A few things are possible:
1. You need to refresh your potting soil
2. Your potting soil may have come in contact with a liquid other than water
3. Your plants roots are rotten
If your soil is low quality or you’ve had your plant for at least 12 months, it may time to replace the mix.
Root rot can create foul odors too, caused by overwatering your plant over time. Rot is easy to spot on the plant itself. Prune away rotted parts of the plant. If no rot is visible on the plant itself, it may be on the roots. Unpot your plant and look for blackened roots — this indicates rot. If mild, simply trim the rotted roots away and repot your plant. Plants with all-over root rot are harder to recover and might need to be tossed.
What’s that white crust or mold?
If you notice a white crust forming inside your pot, it could be normal mineral buildup that occurs over time, a sign of over-fertilization or mold (a natural consequence of healthy soil). White crust is generally harmless, meaning you don’t have to get rid of it, but if you want to, you can dilute lemon juice or vinegar in water to effectively and naturally dissolve the salts.
What’s up with these mushrooms?
Much like white crust, mushrooms are generally not harmful fungi. If you see some mushroom growth, you have a healthy, diverse soil. Mushrooms are known to form beneficial relationships with plants and they have learned to coexist in the wild. We recommend leaving the fungi as is, but if the mushrooms are unsightly, you can pull them out. This is only somewhat effective as there may be residual mycelium invisibly dispersed throughout the soil and may regenerate new mushrooms. To avoid future mushroom growth, keep your new soil drier, as fungus thrives in consistently moist conditions.
My flowers are falling off – is my plant dying?
No — flowers are just reproductive structures — they come and they go! They fall off when your plant is no longer feeling frisky. The rest of the plant is unaffected.
Why are there gnats flying around my plants?
Those are called fungus gnats, and if they're anything — it's simply annoying. Harmless, but annoying. They usually proliferate when the soil is too wet and generates excess fungus (remember, some fungus is good though). These insects feed on the fungus. To lose the gnats, let your plant's potting mix completely dry out and work-in to the top layer some diatomaceous earth.
Help! Can I save my plant?
If you have had a plant for a while and it’s taken a turn for the worse, or you’ve inherited a plant, or you’ve found a plant that’s on the street... you have a chance to rescue it.
It’s ideal if you know what the plant is, because then you can give it the conditions that it needs to thrive. Remember, to make plants happy — try to recreate their natural environment as best as possible.
With an unknown houseplant, all you have to do is follow a few basic rules and the plant will take care of the rest: repot it, keep the temperature stable, give it half a day’s worth of direct sunlight indoors, and water only when the potting mix is dry. This works for most common plants. Of course, if you know what the plant is, then you can modify this, but keep in mind that more light is generally better.