Over the past 3 years, I’ve shared a lot of ideas to add some greenery to your home. But when it comes to learning how to make your plants really thrive, I thought it was time to bring in a true expert in all things horticultural. My friend, Nick Cutsumpas, is a plant coach, urban gardener, and landscaper with years of experience working with greenery of all shapes and sizes. And he’s here to provide you with the tips you need to be a proud plant parent – and get growing. Take it away Nick!
Want even more plant content? Check out Design By The Stars: The Best Indoor Plant Based On Your Sign, The 6 House Plants That Are Nearly Impossible To Kill (No Matter How Hard You Try), and Bobby’s 15 Favorite Planters (All For Under $35).
Meet Our Plant Expert Nick
“I just bought a plant and I want to make sure I’m taking care of it the right way.”
I hear this line at least once a week when working with my clients. And although there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to develop good plant care habits, many plant parents put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect. However, there is no “right way” to care for plants, and the “one size fits all” approach is simply not true. Every plant and environment is different.
That’s why I’ve put together a list of the five things you may not know about plant care. I may break some of the proverbial plant rules, and contradict what you’ve been taught previously, but keep an open mind. Like any successful relationship, plant care is all about listening and being willing to learn from your mistakes (and trust me, I’ve already made them all). So let’s get you growing!
1. Drainage Holes Are NOT Always Needed
This is a hot take in the plant world, and I am certainly not in the majority here. Many experts insist that you MUST have a drainage hole in your planter in order to grow healthy plants. But an efficiently draining soil with a two-inch layer of absorbent LECA (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate) on the bottom of a pot without a drainage hole is more effective than a thick soil that doesn’t drain at all in a pot with a drainage hole. If you monitor your watering closely, you will be able to pull it off with most plant species – especially those like calathea, ferns and alocasia that appreciate a moist environment.
2. Think About Plant Nutrients
The heralded three plant macronutrients (that help plants grow and stay healthy) are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). You will almost always see these three depicted on the labels of fertilizer bottles (usually in a three number ratio like 5:5:5) But they are not the only nutrients plants need to survive. Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur are just as important, so make sure to look for well-balanced plant foods that contain these micronutrients.
3. Plants Will Adapt To Their Environment
Plants are masters of adaptation, and anyone who abandoned plants during the peak of the pandemic and returned home months later to see them miraculously still alive knows what I’m talking about. Obviously, we don’t want to intentionally stress them out, but many plants will find a way to survive, even if it means going through a few rough patches. Transplant shock (the stress response of a plant moving to a new environment) is real, and some plants like the notoriously fickle fiddle leaf fig will shed their leaves upon arriving in a new home. They may look down for the count, but many will eventually recover and grow new leaves soon after.
4. Don’t Trust Your Care Card!
The person who wrote that care card didn’t know anything about your plant’s new environment, so why would you trust their advice when it comes to something as important as watering? For instance, if your home ecosystem has more sun, you will likely need to water more than was recommended. Although it is more of a hassle, check in with your plants before watering and avoid sticking to a strict watering schedule.
5. Practice Mindful Neglect
I know it sounds ironic, but leave your plants alone. They do not need as much attention as you think they do, and oftentimes less is more. My plant care routine for my 100+ plant family doesn’t require more than 30 minutes per day, and I give them the space to react and adjust without too much human intervention. I check in with them daily to see if there are issues I can proactively prevent, but other than that, I let them do their thing!