How to have happy houseplants

Do you have a houseplant that seems unhappy? Trust your gut. If the plant looks like it’s struggling, it probably is. But don’t worry! There are only two causes for most indoor plant problems: light or water (or both). And I’m going to let you in on the top-secret two-step method for houseplant happiness.

All too often, houseplants don’t get enough light, or they drown in too much water, or they dry out because we forget to water them. It happens. It doesn’t make you a bad person.

Want to learn more about houseplant care? Here are some of my favorite online resources:

Oh no! Looks like it’s too late for Mr. Crispy.

Here’s the top-secret two-step:
1. Look at your plant. Does it look happy? Does it look strong and proud or weepy or saggy or sparse or shriveled? What color are the leaves? Look at the soil. Is the surface smooth, cracked, covered in white crumbs or green goop? Touch the soil, heck stick your finger in the soil at least to your first knuckle. Is the soil dry and brittle? Dense and soggy? Gather up your data and visit the links above.
2. Do something different immediately, but not too different. Yes, your struggling plant needs a change, but too much change at once could kill it. Change your watering frequency or move the plant to a new spot or repot the plant. Doing all three at once could be too much stress for an already struggling plant.

My houseplant care regimen looks like this:
1. Bring plants indoors when nighttime temps get to 50 degrees and below. Place them near windows that best approximate their light needs. Some of the plants overwinter under grow bulbs.
2. Water the plants every week unless they don’t need it (finger into the soil to test). Take the plants to the sink or the shower, water thoroughly, let them drain, take them back. I often rotate the plants so a different side faces the window every week, to keep the growth more consistent. I rarely fertilize houseplants in the winter.
3. Take most of the houseplants outdoors when nighttime temps get to 50 degrees and above. Keep them in the shade (I like to hang them in trees) or with at most a few hours of morning sunlight.
4. Water when they need it, paying attention to how often it rains or just use the aforementioned finger test. If it’s hot and it doesn’t rain they need water multiple times per week.
5. Fertilize once per month. I’m a big fan of Planet Natural‘s organic fertilizers.

All else equal:
Plants in bigger pots are more resilient than those in smaller pots.
Plants in pots with drainage holes are healthier than those in pots without holes.
Squishy-leaved plants (succulents) need less water than other plants.
Flowering plants need more water than other plants.

I hope the links above will help keep you and your houseplants happy together. But if you need some more help, let us know.

Happy houseplants

Starting garden seeds indoors

It can be a challenge to find good information about what plants need and when it’s safe to┬áplant them outside. This printable table provides sunlight and soil depth requirements, along with the earliest dates to start or transplant these vegetables and berries outside. This information applies to gardens in the Philadelphia metro area, which is USDA hardiness zone 7. The soil depth requirements also assume you are growing varieties that are suitable to container growing.

You can start plants anytime after the dates shown. If you choose to start early, make sure you watch the weather, and gently cover your plants if it gets “cold” again. For annual vegetable plants, “cold” generally means mid-thirties or lower. You could also watch weather forecasts for frost or freeze warnings. It’s also important to remember that the conditions that damage tender plants are determined not only by air temperature, but also by soil temperature, moisture, wind, and precipitation.

Determining the “last frost date” is not an exact science. Current estimates of the last frost date for Philadelphia range from April 6 through April 30. At EFTE, we have scheduled seed starting according to a last frost between April 15 and April 22.

If you are a relatively new gardener, it’s safer to err on the side of caution, and plant your garden later rather than sooner. If your plants are in the ground too soon, they might survive the conditions, but they won’t be as productive as they would otherwise.

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