Houseplants deserve better

Gardeners need to look after houseplants and not just use them as decor and then throw them away, says gardening TV presenter and writer Alys Fowler.

With a bit of love and care your houseplants can last a long time. Image: AdobeStock
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Houseplants have been the big trend in gardening this year, as millennials seek to fill their flats with greenery that they can easily nurture and that they can boast about online through social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter. The old image of dusty, dying indoor plants sitting in the corner of a room is gone, reinvented as a trend that has seen a quadrupling of sales online and at retailers, including unlikely stockists such as fashion outlet Urban Outfitters.

ALys Fowler
Alys Fowler says houseplants should be thought of as long-term plants.

Alys has written Plant Love (published by Kyle Cathie at £18.99) as a guide to the benefits of houseplants, which gives advice about how to care for everything from succulents to cheeseplants, airplants to carnivorous plants and bromeliads to mother-in-law’s tongue.

Indoor plants have been seen as indoor decor that aren’t meant to last, but Alys says: “I don’t think anyone is selling them as throwaway, it’s just that the public aren’t very good at re-potting and there’s a knowledge gap. Many people don’t realise that their tiny houseplant wants to be a tree, so they die because they are pot bound and that’s suggests they are a bit disposable. I think orchids really suffer from that, but I think most people buy houseplants expecting them to last. I think the labels need to be a lot better though. Most of them only give the bare minimum of information.”

The biggest mistakes people make looking after houseplants are over-watering, or erratic watering says Alys: “That and not realising that many of the plants are cramped in too small pots and would be much happier potted up a size.”

Light is the other big issue, and what to grow really depends on the aspect of your windows, says Alys, who is a former BBC Gardener’s World presenter.

She recommends using a blast of lukewarm water from a shower to extricate pests. Gently washing plants with vodka or meths also reduces mealy bugs and scale insects. Most other pests and diseases can be cured by giving the plants more sun, better watering or placing them in less humid conditions.

Alys recommends liquid feeds and uses a slow-release organic feed herself to give the plant nutrients to improve root growth.

She ignores the UK’s bestselling houseplants – the ubiquitous orchid and the Christmas favourite poinsettia – in her book “because,” she says “those really are seen as disposable plants and the emphasis of this book is about learning to love your houseplants, not throw them away. Plus, realistically if you want to teach people about orchids you’d have to dedicate half the book to the subject. Poinsettias are seasonal and I believe the market that will buy this book won’t really be into them in the first place.”

For the future, Alys says she hopes to see more elegant pots becoming available for gardeners to buy: “I think the market for plants is doing well and there’s a healthy amount of choice around plants, but elegant, simple pots seem to be very much lacking still. That and all the other stuff that goes with houseplants, attractive small watering cans, nice hooks for hanging plants, nice hanging baskets for indoors for that matter too. No one really wants to hang their great looking plants in a naff plastic pot.”

She’s also keen for peat-free houseplant compost to become more widely available. In the book, Alys shows how to create your own houseplants by dividing multi-stemmed plant such as aspidistra, fittonia or spathiphyllum. For the Chinese money plant or spider plant you can cut off a sucker and repot.
She is heartened to see that there’s some more unusual stuff hitting the market, like Nepenthes and more Bromeliads (not just Tillandsias): “It’s good see more diversity in the houseplant world.”

Matt Appleby

About Matt Appleby

Matt is a former teacher turned journalist. He took up writing while in New Zealand and trained as a journalist there. He has since written five books (three on cricket and two on gardening) with The Children's Garden due out in spring 2016 published by Frances Lincoln. He writes for Horticulture Week and other publications. Married with two boys, aged 3 and 6 he lives in London.
@mattapple1
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