houseplant primer: fertilizing 101

Healthy Houseplants

If you love plants, then somewhere along the way you’ve probably realized that outside plants and houseplants are not the same bird—the care and maintenance requirements are very different! Take fertilizing, for instance. Think if a little fertilizer is good, then more is a lot better? Think again! More houseplants are damaged from too much fertilizing than too little, and simply following the directions on the label may (gasp!) do more harm than good. So here’s a rundown on the basics. Click for a houseplant primer!

Choosing a fertilizer: Fertilizers all have three numbers on the container (10-15-10, for example) — this refers, in order, to the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen promotes lush green foliage, phosphorus encourages flowering and strong roots, and potassium fights off disease and promotes strong stems. Most houseplants like a balanced fertilizer, like 10-10-10 or 20-20-20, unless you have a plant like orchids or African violets, for which there are plant-specific fertilizers.

When to fertilize: If you notice any of the following, consider fertilizing: weak new growth, pale or dropped leaves, small or no flowers or weak stems. Plants in low light will need less fertilizer than those in bright light.

How often to fertilize: Ironically, if you follow the directions on the label, you’re probably over-fertilizing. Once a month should be sufficient during the growing season, and once every couple of months during the fall and winter. Never fertilize a plant with dry soil. Signs that you’re over-fertilizing are misshapen or wilting leaves, scorched edges or brown spots on leaves, and a white crust on the soil surface.

Be good to your houseplants and feed them when necessary, and they’ll show their gratitude with lush, healthy green leaves and ample flowers! — Jenny P.

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