indoor plants - Knowledgebase Question

Question by patricianob1
December 28, 2008
I am new to indoor plants and got new pots and potting soil. They are not doing well. One of the big ones has mold on the top of the dirt and the little ones are all dying. I did use pebbles at the bottom for drainage. What am I doing wrong?

Answer from NGA
December 28, 2008


Since you're new to growing houseplants, let's go over a few requirements. Most houseplants have specific needs for light and water so you'll want to match your houseplant selections to the growing conditions you can provide inside your home. On the tags attached to the pots you'll find a reference to low light, medium light or bright light. In general, low light means a spot in a room where you can easily read a newspaper without supplemental light; medium light equates to a place near a window that does not receive direct sunshine, or well away from a window that gets sunshine; bright light means the plant should be on or near a windowsill of a west-facing window. If your plants are not getting enough light, they will fail to grow and may even die, so be sure you put the right plant in the right place for the amount of light your home can provide.

The second consideration for healthy houseplants is planting them in fast-draining soils so their roots won't suffocate. You mentioned that you put pebbles in the bottoms of the pots for drainage. The best types of pots for houseplants are those that have drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess moisture to drain. If the pots you want to use do not have drainage holes (we call these decorative pots), your plants will remain healthier if you plant them in plastic or clay pots with drainage holes and then set these pots into your decorative pots. All you'll need to do is remove them from the decorative pots to water them, and then return them to the decorative pots after the excess water has drained out of the drainage holes.

A final step in making sure your houseplants are healthy is carefully monitoring the watering. It's important to water thoroughly and then allow the soil to dry out slightly before watering again. Overwatering can suffocate plant roots and can cause the potting soil to mold (which is what you described on one of your plants). I usually stick my finger into the soil. If it is still damp 1/2 to 1-inch below the soil surface, it does not need watering. If the soil is dry that far below the surface, it's time to water again.

I don't know if your plants can be saved or if you'll need to replace them. Check the light levels, the drainage, and your watering practices and adjust if necessary. With any luck your plants will adjust and begin to thrive. Hope so!

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