Lighting and (over)Watering
For any plant parent, understanding the basic concepts of the plant growth cycle is fundamental if we are to recognise how best to care for our leafy friends.
Lets start by taking a look at the equation we all remember from school, which shows us how plants use the light from the sun to make their food. Of course, I am talking about photosynthesis.
Carbon Dioxide + Water (in the presence of light from the sun) = Sugars + Oxygen.
The water is absorbed from the soil, and the sugars are the food product that the plant uses to grow.
What this shows me is that in order for a plant to grow, there must be both carbon dioxide and water present, but there also must be light - and this is the factor which is often overlooked and misunderstood in plant parenting.
A lot of people will ask me ‘how often do I need to water this plant’ - and the answer to this is not a one size fits all. As we have seen above, the water you give to your plant is what it uses to make its food. However, your plant also relies on the presence of carbon dioxide and light in order to do this. Carbon dioxide occurs in the atmosphere, so it will always be present. Light however, is the factor that you can control, and something that people don’t often consider when they are thinking about watering requirements.
Light = the determining factor in how your plant will grow.
The more light a plant receives (intensity and duration), the more water will be consumed via photosynthesis. Therefore the plant will require more water in order to survive. A growing plant is a thirsty plant. In this situation where a plant is placed in a well lit area which encourages growth via photosynthesis, you will need to water your plant more often as the water is actively being used by the plant - the soil will become dry quickly. You will likely notice that your plant is actively growing by the visibility of new shoots.
Plant in adequate light = Uses more water to grow = Needs watering more frequently
If however, that same plant is placed in an area of low light, the water requirements for that plant will be different. Less light means that less photosynthesis is taking place, so the plant is metabolizing water more slowly. The soil will remain wet for longer, so you wont need to water your plant as often. You also won’t notice as many signs of new growth as you would if the plant was placed in the light. No matter how much fertiliser or water you give your plant, if it is not receiving enough light, it will not grow!
Plant in inadequate light = Uses less water as not actively growing = Doesnt require as much water
Please note: what is deemed as ‘adequate light’ does change between plant varieties, and if you want more specific information on this there are a lot of websites which cover light levels for specific plant species. However, to keep it simple, for me adequate light is a room that has at least one window - a plant has adequate light if it can see the sky from the position it is in. Try and put your head exactly where your plant would be positioned, and look toward the window - can you see the sky? If you can, your plant is likely receiving adequate light. If you can’t, try and move your plant to a place where it can ‘see’ the sky.
Some people become confused by the idea of overwatering, and may feel reluctant to water their plant, or worried that they are going to kill it by doing so. I don’t blame them to be honest, whenever I have looked up online about a plants care, the term ‘overwatering’ is everywhere, yet it is rarely explained. You will see things such as ‘overwatering is the main cause of plant death’’. Does that mean I should never water my plant? Or should I only water it a small amount? How will I know when to water it and by how much?
As we know from reading above, the amount of light a plant receives will determine its water usage. So what overwatering really means is ‘giving your plant too much water and not enough light to allow the plant to use that water, will cause the plant problems’.
To me, overwatering is the presence of excess water in the absence of adequate light. Too much water in the soil that cannot be metabolized (as there is inadequate light) is what causes the common problems associated with ‘overwatering’. Place your plant in an area of bright light, and problems associated with overwatering will diminish, as the water in the soil will be used to produce food for the plant, as opposed to sitting stagnant around a plant’s roots.
Adjustment Period - Why is my plant changing?
The adjustment period is the period of time a plant needs to adjust from its life in optimal conditions at the nursery or greenhouse, to the less optimal conditions within your home. Remember, most houseplants are tropical in origin and naturally grow in moist, warm jungles with a lot of sunshine - doesn’t really sound like a typical English home to me! Therefore, you need to allow the plant to make changes in order to adapt to its new environment.
The bigger the difference between nursery and home, the longer the adjustment period and the more likely it is that you will see physical changes in your plant. Depnding on your home environment, you may see marked changes in your plant, but you also may not notice much change at all.
The changes you do see could manifest as browning of older leaves, tips of leaves browning, or leggy/lopsided growth. Eventually, the rate of leaf death to leaf growth will balance and your plant should settle. It is important to remember that it is unlikely your plant will continue to look as perfect as it did in the nursery - instead of thinking purely of the aesthetics of the plant, consider how that plant has adapted to its new home and enjoy the process of helping it through its adjustment. Your plant may no longer look symmetrical for example, or perhaps the older leaves have browned and fallen off, but your plant is now surviving in a way that is completely unique to the environment you have chosen for it.
Hopefully once you have understood the adjustment period and accepted that plants won’t look perfect forever even if given optimal conditions, you will no longer feel disappointed when you see your plant change. There is a satisfaction that comes from caring for a plant - celebrating new growth as well as accepting its changes. If you change your focus from how the plant looks and focus instead on how the plant grows and changes over time, you will have a much deeper appreciation for your leafy friend!
What plant is best for me?
Firstly, what I have learnt the hard way is that trendy, fashionable plants are not always the easiest to care for - they may be the plant you want, but they may also not last long in your care!
If you are considering buying any houseplant, make sure you do your research BEFORE you buy it. You need to be honest with yourself about how much space and time you are prepared to give up for your new plant. With so many houseplants to choose from these days, it can be tricky knowing where to start. Hopefully the information below will help you make the right choice on which plant is for you.
Space – Have you got it?
If you live in an apartment or have little space that you can afford to fill with plants, do not worry! There are lots of houseplants that have compact growth and won’t grow too large over a short space of time. It is also worth considering plants that trail downwards to give an added effect to a small space, or think about grouping small plants together to create a jungle effect.
Houseplants that suit small spaces include:
• String of pearls
If you are lucky enough to have ample space to fill with lovely plants and kokedama, then you really can’t go wrong. Some plants that make a real statement in any room include:
• Monstera Deliciosa
• Peace Lily
• Spider Plant
• Rubber Plant
• Devil’s Ivy
Of course, don’t forget that one of the main bonuses of owning a kokedama is that, due to the size of the moss ball, the plant is unlikely to ever grow to an uncontrollable size. This should ensure that kokedama will live happily in majority of housing situations, given they are cared for correctly.
How committed are you?
Many people seem to think they are “black thumbed" or are unable to keep any houseplants alive – but this is simply not the case! With a bit of patience, everybody can be successful plant parents. If you know that you won’t be able to dedicate much time towards caring for your houseplant or kokedama, or if you are a beginner and want to choose something low maintenance, there are still many options which could suit you. Some of the lowest maintenance houseplants and kokedama include:
• ZZ plant
• English Ivy
• Snake Plant
• Parlour Palm
Why do you want a houseplant?
It’s also really important to ask yourself what you want out of a kokedama or houseplant, and why you are purchasing one in the first place. Is it because you like the way they look? Is it to purify the air? Do you have children or pets to consider? These considerations will help you decide which plant is right for you.
Plants to avoid if you have children or pets (or atleast keep out of reach):
• English Ivy
• Peace Lily
Some air-purifying plants:
• Peace Lily
• Boston Fern
• Rubber Plant
• English Ivy
• Snake Plant
• Spider Plant
So there you have it, hopefully these tips will help you decide which indoor plant is best for you. You don’t have to be an expert in order to keep houseplants alive, and if you select the right plant, you will truly benefit from all the joy that plants can bring us!