Sales of plants are booming but how do we keep them healthy? Serina Sandhu reports
Succulents on bedroom cabinets and creepers growing up balcony trellises are as commonplace as feature walls and accent chairs among home design tips these days.
Younger generations discovering that using houseplants and some of their outdoor cousins is an easy and effective way to keep up with modern interior trends has meant the plant-selling trade has flourished over the past few years.
But now there is now a budding plant-care industry that can help – including a leafy version of the catteries and kennels familiar to pet owners. The plant sales website Patch, popular for its detailed advice on how to care for its products, has opened a pop-up hotel for plants in Battersea, south London.
If your plants are still recovering after naughty neighbours neglected them last time you went away, you can now check them into the Patch Plant Hotel free of charge, for round-the-clock, luxury care until 5 September. There’s just one snag: the “100-room hotel” is fully booked but the team is looking at increasing its capacity, according to Freddie Blackett, co-founder and chief executive of Patch.
He explains that he was once one of the inexperienced plant owners with no idea how to make them thrive every day, let alone while he went away.
How to look after plants when you go on holiday
Cover plants with plastic bags to keep them humid. They won’t rot or go mouldy if left for only a few days.
Stand houseplants in the bath and water them well. They will survive in the shade for a week or two.
Place containers outdoors in good shade. Water them well. They will survive quite well and with luck a timely rain shower will help them too.
Fill your sink with water and arrange a sheet of capillary matting on the draining board to dip into the water. Plants in plastic pots should be able to pick water from the matting. Test this for a few days before you go away.
A drip-watering system attached to an outside tap with an approved non-return valve, timed to water twice a day, will keep containers wetted. Set it up in advance to provide the bare minimum of water, so if a rain storm blows in the plants will not drown.
“The vast majority of our customers are inexperienced,” he says. “Half of them have never bought plants before, because they’re terrified of what to do with them.”
If a plant hotel sounds a bit over the top for your peace lily or poinsettia – yes, they can survive beyond Christmas – there are some tips to take on board. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) acknowledges that part of the surge in plant-growing is down to “new, younger gardeners who love houseplants”, but says their enthusiasm can go too far: many people don’t know when to put down the watering can.
‘Plants die from too much love’
“Most plants die from too much love, usually expressed as excessive water,” says iweekend’s gardening expert Guy Barter, the chief horticulturist at the RHS.
Houseplants are often chosen for their hardy reputations, but gardeners can still have trouble identifying where plants will thrive and what they need.
“There are many houseplants that are notably robust – spider plants and Swiss cheese plants, for example. But there are others that are rather choosy about where they grow,” says Barter.
“Cacti and succulents are especially popular, but it is very easy to kill them by inadvertent overwatering and they really won’t do well in shade. Many plants are moved quite a lot in their first few months in search of the right spot.”
Barter suggests checking the plant’s roots before turning on the tap. “If they seem moist, wait for a few days before watering.”
The demand for plant-caring books has grown, too. Alice Vincent, the author of How to Grow Stuff: Easy, No-Stress Gardening for Beginners, says that her book and similar titles are “aimed at an emergent, youthful audience who were short of space and keen on aesthetics”.
But she adds: “Few of the millennials who are buying these plants have grown up being told about plant care or gardening… The end result is that there are a lot of new plant owners out there who don’t really know how to keep their plants happy or alive.”
The best way to keep plants in a good state, she says, is to think about what conditions you can offer them and choose plants based on these.
Easy-care plants for indoors and out
Coleus (Solenostemon) – A plant with bright foliage for well-lit positions.
Jade plant (Crassula ovata) – A succulent that will thrive on a sunny window sill.
Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) – A vigorous climber that likes plenty of light.
Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) – A succulent with many fascinating leaf patterns, ideal for sunny places.
Variegated spider ivy (Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’) – A creeping plant that grows almost anywhere.
Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) – An evergreen shrub which has wonderful scented foliage and early summer flowers.
Periwinkle (genus Vinca) – An evergreen spreading plant which tolerates shade and has pretty blue spring flowers.
Herbstfreude Group (genus Hylotelephium)- Flowering plants from the stonecrop family that look a little like broccoli, relish plenty of sunshine, need no watering and are loved by bees and butterflies.
Lavender (genus Lavandula) – Loves sun and shrugs off dry soil.