We asked @oneproudplantmama your houseplant questions and here is what we learnt!
Spring Plant Swap
As part of our Spring Plant Swap in March, we quizzed Kat Mabbott (@oneproudplantmama) all about houseplants. Kat lives in Cheltenham, has an incredible collection of houseplants and a healthy instagram following as a result. To kick off the questioning we wanted to know how she got her collection started.
Kat: I’ve always had cacti and succulents in my house when I was renting. When we bought a house a few years ago, I suddently had all this space to fill! I started with a monstera (aka cheese plant) and it just spiralled out of control from that point. I just got hooked on watching something thrive under my care and got alot of satisfaction from that.
Victoria: Ok, so people want to know what the easiest plants to grow are, what’s a really good starter plant?
Kat: Definitely a ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), a snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Dracaena trifasciata) is really good and any kind of Pothos. They can deal with a bit of neglect. A Pothos will tell you when it needs watering, it’ll droop. Snake plant is basically indestructible. They can survive a lot of drought so if you’re an under-waterer and you forget or you don’t have time to water your plants very often then a snake plant is a great choice.
Victoria: So, is over-watering as bad as under-watering?
Kat: There are as bad as each other!
Victoria: People wanted to know how often they should water their plants, does that depend on the plant and what it needs?
Kat: Yeah, it will depend on the plant you have, and also the light levels in your house. The number one life source for your plant is light – that will determine how much you need to water it. I would never keep my plants on a schedule, I’m always sticking my fingers in the soil just to check. Sometimes you may think “oh, I haven’t watered the for a couple of weeks” but the sun might not have been out and it may not have needed watering. Just check!
Victoria: Is it right that over the winter everything is dormant and they don’t need as much?
Kat: Yes, colder temperatures cause plants to go into dormancy so they don’t grow anymore and they are mostly focussing on survival. They’re just using their energy to stay alive…
Victoria: Just like being a mum!
Kat:…so you’ll notice when we hit the Spring, they’re probably waking up, you’ll see new growth, so you’ll need to start watering more often between March and October.
Victoria: Which plants so well in low light, I’ve got a north-facing living room and I’d love to fill it with plants but there are definitely spaces which don’t get much light at all. Are there any plants that do a bit better without bright light?
Kat: The easy plants I mentioned from the first question are all good. They probably won’t thrive, they probably won’t grow as fast or as much but they will live!
Victoria: How do I know if my plant needs to be repotted?
Kat: You can check the roots. Slide your plant out in the nursery pot and have a look. If it needs repotting you’ll probably see roots poking out of the drainage holes. Other signs are that the new growth will just drop off. If it doesn’t have the capacity and the soil nutrients aren’t enough the new growth will just fall off.
Victoria: Have you ever polished your plants’ leaves with banana skin?
Kat: No, not me personally…
Victoria: Should we be polishing our plants?!
Kat…you don’t have to. It’s a personal preference if you want a nice shiny, glossy plant you can polish them with a banana skin (other methods are available). You can get a spray, which isn’t really a thing you should do, but it’s about how you want it to look really. But as a minimum you should be wiping the leaves, just with water and a damp cloth or microfibre just to make sure the plant can breathe. It’s like keeping make-up on your skin, you want to wash that off.
Victoria: So if they collect dust that won’t be good for it?
Kat: It won’t be good for it, no.
Victoria: With increased air pollution levels, I want to fill my house with oxygenating plants – are there any that you would suggest?
Kat: All of the plants! They are all great air purifiers! That’s what they do. Nasa have a list of top NASA-approved air purifiers if you want to look into that. Again, I think the snake plant makes it onto the list, but basically all of them!
Victoria: Ok, somebody here has a poorly maidenhair fern. It’s in a bathroom so it’s humid and shady but it’s not looking very happy – is that the right situation for a fern?
Kat: Generally yes, I think maidenfair ferns, as much as any ferns, are tricky. Well, I find them tricky personally so I don’t keep them. Maidenhair ferns are typically known to be a bit fussy. Check the soil, check what the environment is like. Yes, it’s humid while you’re taking a shower or washing your hands, but is the radiator on, is it actually dry more than it is wet? Maybe it needs more misting or more regular watering?
Victoria: Bella wanted to know, how to help her peace lily to flower? It’s generally healthy and shiny and perky but just not flowering.
Bella: (from audience): It’s definitely perky but it’s just leaves. It hasn’t flowered for about three years.
Kat: Have you fertilised it in that time?
Bella: Probably not.
Kat: It may be that the soil is lacking nutrients. Maybe repot it and the new soil will help. Then wait a while and start to regularly fertilise it.
Victoria: So, when it comes to fertilising, is that something we should be doing for all our plants?
Victoria: And what is the best thing to use?
Kat: I use Baby Bio Houseplant Food but there are all kinds out there. There are some realy good organic ones you can get. It’s just your preference really, have a look and between March and October you should fertilise once a month.
Victoria:…oh my poor plants! Somebody wanted to know what to do at different times of the year. When to feed, when to repot, when to propagate…is there a time or do you just do it plant by plant?
Kat: It depends how you keep your house really, plants usually go into dormancy when the termperture is colder. But, if you keep your home consistantly over 16 degrees and humid then they might not actually ever do that. Growing season is March – October but it’s not a strict time scale. They don’t just go “right, March 1st, let’s get growing” then in October go to sleep – it’s a guess. But, that’s the general rule.
Victoria: And when it comes to propagating, is there a kind of beginner’s guide to how to take cuttings?
Kat: Yes, don’t do it too early. Now is a great time to start, we’re getting to Spring, so they are naturally in growing mode so they are likely to continue to grow in their water vessels. Don’t take cuttings from a plant that is too stressed out, so if you have a plant that has been under-watered or over-watered. You’ll get far more success if you take a cutting from a healthy plant.
Victoria: Do you tend to propagate your cuttings in water?
Kat: Yes, I do. You can put them straight into soil or use hydro leca balls or sphagnum moss but I use water. Not every single cutting you take will be successful, you might lose some but it’s worth the risk.
Victoria: And alot of it, I guess, is a waiting game. I’ve got some succulents and you pop the leaves off and lay them on soil and you can watch videos on instagram of them growing – but it actually takes ages. Patience is key.
Victoria: Should you prune yellow leaves or should you just leave them to drop off?
Kat: Either/or. Wait for it to go completely yellow, because the plant is using the nutrients from that leaf until the very last minute.
Victoria: If you have something, this person is asking about monstera in particular, that is a bit yellow or a bit droopy is it likely to be something to do with watering, or light or?
Kat: It could be whole host of things. A lot of plants will shed their lower leaves when there is new growth. They are using the energy from the lower leaves to grow up high so it’s just a natual process that they will lose some lower leaves. Under-watering will cause yellowing, so will over-watering…
Victoria: So just get it right and you’ll be fine!
Kat:…Well, yeah! But it’s not always alarm bells for yellow leaves it might just be that they are putting energy into new ones.
From audience: When you buy plants from the shop do you always replace the soil?
Kat: No, but I do always check the soil to check if it’s root bound, Because they come straight from the nursery they are usualy grown to capacity in that pot because it’s not worth their time to repot them. So, always check they aren’t root bound.
Victoria: On that point, have you got any plant shops or nurseries that you would particularly recommend?
Kat: Yep, The Aroid Attic is amazing. She has loads…
Victoria: We love Charlotte!
Kat: Yeah, we love Charlotte, I love going there. Burford Garden Company is also amazing for houseplants.
Victoria: Also, if you have any questions, Charlotte at The Aroid Attic and Louise from FOLIA Planting are always willing to help. There is also a new group on facebook called Cheltenham Cuttings Swap and Sell that has just started and lots of people post things on there. Aloe and spiderplants and also much more exciting things. Its a great way to get started and definitely less finicial risk if you’re just starting out.
Thank you so much to Kat for joining us and answering all our questions – definitely check her out on instagram and marvel at her incredible collection!
Some plants are easier to propogate than others so it’s worth doing a bit of research before you get started. Jade is one of the easiest to propagate, requiring just a single leaf to grow a new glossy plant. Check out Apartment Therapy for a list of easy-peasy propogators
Different plants require different approaches. Some can be cloned from leaf cuttings (like succulents) while others (like spider plants) grow their own babies that you can replant. Have a google and find out which technique you need for your chosen plant. There are lots of great houseplant blogs (we like Gardenista) as well as the Gardeners’ World and House Plant Expert websites.
School House Café
Saturday 14th March
10:30 – 12:30