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The house plant you should NEVER buy as it always dies – plus how to make yours flourish, by gardening experts

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The house plant you should NEVER buy as it always dies - plus how to make yours flourish, by gardening experts

It started with an avocado plant.

I remember when I bought it about two years ago, the two women behind the counter at the store laughed lightly.

I looked at them. “It’s very big, it will need space,” said one. ‘And light!’ said the other.

It was February, there was no sun and my room had the square meters necessary for a bed and nothing else. Still, I didn’t listen. I paid my £30 and carried my avocado plant down the hill from Archway to my flat in Finsbury Park. (If you don’t know the geography of North London, it’s not a very long walk, but, carrying a giant avocado plant, it seems endless.)

At home, I placed the plant next to my bed, by the window. My roommate looked at him and said, ‘I’ll give it a week.’ After two days, I noticed a worrying brown avocado leaf, with curled edges, on my bedroom floor. Then another. Then another. A week later, I put the plant (now almost leafless) in the garden and decided to let nature do its work. A few hours later, a gust of wind knocked down my avocado plant, spilling dark, dry dirt across the yard.

I threw it away and bought something smaller: a thin purple orchid. The man at the store said not to water it too much. I nodded and then placed the flower on the window sill above the radiator. He too died within a week.

The house plant you should NEVER buy as it always

Now I live in a different apartment. For a long time, this house had no plants, only artificial flowers. (TK Maxx’s £10 fake tulips are excellent.) But I seem to be the only one; Houseplants are everywhere.

Last month, Tesco revealed its houseplant sales had risen 130 per cent since 2019. In response, B&Q head of buying Mairi Devlin said houseplants “have real appeal to young people because It’s a super, super easy first foray.” to keep something alive’, which, as a young person with a history of killing houseplants, I find ‘super, super’ irritating.

So I bought a peace lily from Ikea worth £10 and decided to keep it alive. For help, I speak to two experts: James Field, an aptly named Sussex gardener, and Sarah Gerrard-Jones, author of The savior of plants, who has more than 400,000 followers on Instagram. Here are their tips.

Stop overwatering

Many people think that plants need to be watered every day. They do not do it. When I talk to Gerrard-Jones earlier this month, she says, “This is my yucca,” and points to a huge, healthy-looking tree behind her. “I’ve only watered it four times since November.” The best way to check if a plant needs watering is to stick your finger into the soil. If it’s dry on the surface but moist underneath, leave it alone; If it is still dry a few centimeters below, add water.

“A lot of people rely on rainwater,” says Field. Because tap water contains a very low amount of chlorine. The most important thing is to make sure the water is “neither hot nor cold, nothing that will be too shocking for the plant.”

Also, make sure it’s in a free-draining pot (i.e. one with holes in the bottom, which you then place on top of a saucer). “You don’t want your plant to be in a puddle of water.”

Houseplants should be within a few feet of a window to thrive.

stay away from the lord

Plant sprays may look professional, but “they have no proven benefit,” says Gerrard-Jones. ‘People think that misting plants humidifies the environment (which promotes growth). However, you cannot humidify a room simply by spraying it with water.’ What’s more, fogging can be dangerous.

‘Unless the windows are open, we don’t have much air circulation in our homes. Especially in winter. So if you mist your plants, the water will simply sit on the leaves, which can lead to bacteria growth.’

Campo agrees. ‘You don’t want water to stain the leaves or stem of your plant. It is a recipe for illness. Instead, he suggests using a slightly damp cloth to dust the plant’s leaves (this allows them to absorb more light). Gerrard-Jones goes further; He brushes his plants with a toothbrush or a handheld vacuum cleaner on gentle mode.

let there be light

‘People always tell me, “Oh, but my plants are in a very bright room.” That doesn’t mean anything to a plant! In reality, most need to be within a few meters of a window to thrive,” says Gerrard-Jones.

‘So, wherever you’ve placed your plant, pick it up ‘and move it closer to the window.’ Field also suggests rotating the position of your houseplants around the house fairly regularly. (“It gives them variety.”)

If you don’t have natural light, buy a plant lamp that reproduces it (Gathera.es sells a set for £22). And, if artificial sunlight offends your gardening principles, try a ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), which tolerates a wide range of light conditions. “It grows slowly if the light is low, but it will be fine as long as you don’t water it too much,” says Gerrard-Jones.

Say no to calatheas

“My heart sinks when I see someone picking a calathea,” says Gerrard-Jones. ‘I just want to scream at them: “Nooooooo!” They have beautiful, striped, purple leaves with extravagant designs, but I don’t think they should be sold as houseplants.

Our homes are simply not suitable for them. You will never see an old calathea. They are a nightmare! Avoid, avoid, avoid.’ As an alternative, he suggests the maranta, similar in appearance but hardier.

Avoid radiators

You might think, as I did with my unfortunate orchid, that plants like heat. But leaving them on top of a radiator is a terrible idea, says Gerrard-Jones. Intense and sporadic bursts of heat can cause plants to “stretch out and look a little funny.” Worse still, radiators cause evaporation. This means that when you water your plant, the radiator could dry it out before your plant has had time to drink it. Eek.

Forget the flowers

Flowering plants are beautiful, but they could

be too high maintenance for a beginner. “I prefer leaves to flowers,” Field says. ‘Succulents are a good start. Small and pointed. They may not be particularly pretty, but if you’re starting your plant journey, they’re a good place to start.’ As for where to buy plants, Field recommends his local garden center but also rates Marks & Spencer and Waitrose.

Gerrard-Jones likes the online store Mintplants.eswhich has a ‘rescued’ cactus section that sells second-hand or, as she says, ‘mature’ plant specimens.

Otherwise, the £10 fake tulips from TK Maxx are really excellent.

Pots that hit the spot

Follow James Field on X @GardeningGent and Sarah Gerrard-Jones on Instagram @theplantrescuer

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