Sunday, August 18, 2013


 No one wants to be a plant killer.  But plenty of people are, or think they are.  Mostly they've given up on having houseplants, or they have one that's "somehow managed to survive" but any others are doomed in their care.  

Well, I say it's time for all you plant murderers out there to declare,


I've been talking with folks about their plants for over 30 years, and I've observed that the same things occur over and over again when they talk about their sad experiences. 

So here are what I've concluded are the most common mistakes people make with plants, and what YOU can do to avoid them.


Soil that remain too wet causes the roots to rot and die.  Roots need air to breathe. Remember,  R-O-O-T without O (that means oxygen) is R-O-T.  The bet way to keep from overwatering is to feel the soil with your finger, and test for moisture all the way to the bottom of the pot.  Here's a video that will show you more about that:


Growers use good soil.  Why wouldn't they? If the plants don't grow fast and strong, they don't make a profit.  So, repotting new plants is A: a waste of time  B: often harmful to the plant if it's put into poor moisture retentive soil, into a pot without drainage, or into a pot that's too big.  

Many potted plants can, and do, stay in the same pot for years, while continuing to look beautiful.   Potting into a larger pot is unnecessary unless you want to produce an increase in size.  If you do up-pot, increase one pot size only; that is, (measuring the diameter of the top of the pot) 2" to 3", 3" to 4", 4" to 6", 6" to 8", 8" to 10", 10" to 12" (sometimes hard to find) or 14", 14" to 21".


The flip side of too much is too little.  The cure is to water as soon as the soil reaches almost dry in the bottom of the pot, then always water until there is a run off from the drainage holes.  It's not necessary to empty drainage saucers if you always check the moisture level before watering.

The other cause of underwatering is simply forgetting about the plants.  The best thing to do is to practice looking at plants everywhere you go; coordinate plant care with something else you already do on a weekly or bi-weekly basis; or make an appointment with yourself on your to-do list, send yourself an email, or some such thing.  (Lords of Tech, don't fail us now.)  And get more plants - so you can't miss them, get it?

Or then again, maybe you just are not that interested in having live plants.  Not every one is.  That's OK.  Doesn't make you a bad person.  Your plant-loving friends should still love you anyway, and if they don't, let me know - I'll give 'em a talking to.


Plants need light to live.  Know what kind of plant you have, and what its minimum light requirement is.  If you don't know, do a little research.  In a nutshell, if there's not enough light to read, no plant can live there.  If you can barely read, it's very low light.  If you can read but not for very long, it's low light.  If you have general working light, it's medium light.  If you're within five feet of a window,  it's high to very high light.  Once you figure out the light, you need to water according to that light.  Try this video for a little more understanding 


Some plants are more difficult to grow than others.  Aside from getting the right plant for the light you have, stick to the plants that fit your skill level.  There are lot of lists of "easy" plants, and coming soon from The Ficus Wrangler will be a list of the Fabulous Forty - the plants that are commonly used by the professional plant care industry, because they are the easiest. 


Plants are not puppies!  They actually make their own food, and they use only as much of the fertilizer elements as they need.  Fertilizing is just to make sure the groceries are in the cupboard.  They don't need to be fed all the time, and they positively should NOT be fed if they are ailing.  Fertilizer unused by the plant remains in the soil as salts, gradually raising the salt level in the soil, until the plant starts to fail, and possibly die.  To prevent salt build up, run lots of water through the soil/root mass at least a couple of times a year.  Use fertilizer at 1/2 to 1/4 strength recommended, and fertilize only monthly (high light) to yearly (low light.)


There are only 3 kinds of bugs that commonly infest houseplants - mealybugs, spider mites, and scale.  (There are a few others, but these are the common ones.)  Their juvenile forms are so small they float on the air like dust, and can suddenly appear on any plant.  They don't cause damage at first, but will kill a plant if not controlled.  You need to watch out for them.  Do a little research so you know what they look like; then every time you water, check under the leaves and along the leaf stems for white patches, webbing, or sticky spots. ( While you're at it, turn the plants so they grow evenly, and clean them gently with a big fluffy duster...AFTER you make sure they don't have bugs.)  If you find bugs, spray with a mix of 1 teaspoon mild liquid detergent to 1 pint water; spray the plant completely, especially up under the leaves and down into the leaf axils,  until the plant is dripping.  Do this once a week for a month.  Another upcoming feature on The Ficus Wrangler will be more about pests and treatment. 

These are just basic guidelines - there are volumes more to say about each subject.  My hope here is that, if you really want to be able to keep houseplants alive, but you feel you don't have any "luck" with them, you'll get some hints and ideas of what you could be doing wrong, and where to start to learn better.  

What do you have troubles with?  What are you having trouble understanding, maybe because you've seen conflicting info?  Get back with me any time, love to hear from you.

Until next time.

(By Marlie Graves).




  1. Thanks for this information. I am looking at an indoor plant but worry I might overwater it! I will watch you videos to make sure I water correctly! I found your link on!!

    1. Rebecca, Hi.
      Great to have you with us. I hope you find what you need on the videos, I've tried to put the most basic and important things on there. But there's lots more to talk about, so if you have any particular questions, just put them on here. Question for you...what kind of plant are you thinking of getting?

  2. Marlie! I just found you and you're already gone. ��
    Please come back! Your videos and blog are so informative

  3. Hi Jenn.
    Not gone, I assure you, though it's easy to see how you would think so from the stat of my blog. Currently I'm answering questions on Quora ( so you can go there if you have anything specific you'd like to talk about. Hoping to get my head back into blogging and making videos soon. Thanks for your encouragement.