House plants – a beginners guide


If you’re new to plant ownership, then there are a lot of hurdles to get through to ensure you have a thriving bloom. Especially if you’re a plant-phobe. Plants can be as tricky as pets, and there’s no such thing as just buying a pretty plant in a shop, plopping it in your home and expecting it to stay as pretty, and grow, without incident. 

Each plant has its own set of requirements, from the amount of water to heat, to sunlight. It’s a good idea to try and research your chosen plant’s requirements and see what they’ll actually need before making an impulse purchase. But there are a few universal requirements that you should own if you’re going to take this plant care thing seriously. Or at least delay the disappointment of seeing your first experiment wither and die. 

The biggest challenge, especially for a rookie, is to keep your plant alive during winter. You may have patted yourself on the back when your plant was thriving in the summer, but then we enter October and suddenly your prize hog starts to look more and more like a bad haircut. 

As an amateur, over-watering, low sunlight and pesky little insect life are the main things you should prepare for. So with that in mind, here are the 3 things you’ll need for the best chances of success.

  1. Pots with drainage

Admittedly, most flower pots come with a hole in the bottom – but some don’t! So before you buy one, check it’s lower end for a hole. You mustn’t over-water your plants anyway – and the extent of this varies from plant to plant, but if you do, if you’re using a pot with no drainage hole, that’s much more likely to cause root rot and kill your plant. A good rule of thumb is – less, but more frequently. Pour a little bit into your pot, maybe every other day, just be sure to regularly give the soil a poke. Moist is good, dry is bad, super wet is bad. 

  1. Neem Oil

If you have a plant that you hope will bear some fruit, like strawberries or chillies, it’s good to pop them outside during the warmer months, to give them a chance to pollinate and breathe some fresh air. The downside of course is that you’re exposing them to the world of creepy crawlies, who are opportunistic buggers that will squash your attempts at horticulture the first chance they get. And even if you don’t put your plants outside, an open window is more than enough to let those wee nasties access your plants.

Aphids, caterpillars, leaf miners, you name it. Neem oil is a great deterrent for all this rubbish, so make sure to get your hands on some before you brave your plants for the outdoors. Neem oil is an all-natural non-hazardous substance that can rid your plant of most of the usual pests it might encounter. At the first sign of any trouble, spray the oil to fully cover all the leaves and repeat every couple of days as needed.

  1. UV lamp

The winter months bring depressingly short days and it’s not just our morale that suffers. Plants succumb to lack of sunlight incredibly quickly, so it’s important to preempt this. Thankfully there’s a simple solution to this, in the form of UV lamps. The most basic ones are small and light, so you don’t need a fancy set up to keep your plants going. Most come in the form of narrow strips of light, with a variety of attachment methods, including adhesive strips, magnets and zip-ties so you can attach it pretty much wherever is most convenient.

It’s not a good idea to look directly at a UV lamp too much and it might cause discolouration to fabrics or photographs, so choose your location wisely. A windowsill is a good spot, as long as your plants don’t get too cold. If you have thin or drafty windows, use scarves, blankets or Amazon’s excessive packaging to insulate your plants.

Additional useful tips

You’re unlikely to go out of your way to buy plant food, not when you have other priorities, but there are a few things you can easily use at home that’ll be great for your house plants. Save any banana skins and soak them in water – then use said water for your plants. Likewise, plants like starchy water – so next time you’re boiling pasta or potatoes, save that water (as long as it hasn’t been salted or seasoned), let it cool and water your plants with it.

If you’re a frequent traveller or have a holiday coming up, it would be a shame for all your efforts to wilt away in your absence. If you don’t have a trusty friend or neighbour who can care for your green babies while you’re away, then there’s an easy trick to save your plants from dehydration while you’re away. Get yourself an empty plastic bottle – judge the size based on the size and preferred water consumption of your plant – use a safety pin or tack to poke a bunch of holes in the lid.

Experiment with the water flow! Too many holes and the water will escape too quickly, too few and it’ll barely leak. Test your bottle as you go along. The idea is to have a nice steady drip – not flow – but drip. Check out some online videos to see the optimal amount. Fill your bottle with water, screw it shut, and bury the tip in the pot with your plant. Prop it up if it’s a little unstable. It will deliver a steady flow of water to your plant while you’re away, so you’ll have a nice healthy plant baby upon your return.