questions from a beginner

flowerpottipperNovember 20, 2011

Hello everyone.

I have some questions about some of my house plants. I'm new to collecting house plants, I've only discovered my love of them about three months ago and it's turned into an addiction as I've already have about 50 plants lol. And I have been searching on here alot to find answers before asking and either couldn't find them or I'm still confused about some things.

First question is about soil, I'm hearing that buying plant soil already mixed isn't good, so when I get ready to repot some of my plants this spring, what kind of dirt/soils should I buy to mix and make my own?

I have no south facing windows in my apartment, I have east and west windows in my living room, so I have been using artificial plant lights, how long should succulents be getting light and how close should the light be to them? And what about plants that need alot of light like my chenille, goldfish, purple velvet plant, and wandering jew? It's really cloudy here lately and it's been snowing, so I feel like my plants are not getting enough natural light.

Also, I went out and bought a hindu rope plant, it's my most favorite of all my plants, and it was very expensive cause I could only find one place that carried it and I was willing to pay the high price for it. Exactly how should I be taking care of it? I keep finding different answers for this one. Some people say to keep it on the dry side, some say it likes to be moist and should never get dry, I'm very confused about it....

Also my string of bananas plant is acting funny. It was doing great when I first got it. I have it in my west facing window and watered it like my other succulents, which is barely at all right now. But now suddenly the little banana things are withering up on the top, but the lower ones are perfectly this normal? I took several cuttings and planted them in case the main plant decides to give up on me, so I'll still have some. I gave it a small drink cause I thought maybe it was too dry, but it's still acting the same.

Well that's about it for right now, I have more questions but these are the most important that I cant find clear answers on. Thank you for reading. And please forgive me if these questions have been asked a million times before, I just cant find them.


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Stush2049 Pitts. PA, zone 6

Welcome, 1st of all, the better kind of potting soil sold is great for most all plants, how ever, a fast draining type like for cactus is probably better due to not letting too much moisture rot out your roots. For me the most touchy part is when to water and what water you are using. Tap water contains too much chemicals bad for plants. If you use a carbon filter system and use warm (not hot) water things would improve. I am not familiar with most house plants you have. Good luck.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 3:34PM
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Welcome Flower..

Oh Girl, 50 plants in three-months..Soon you'll have 1000! lol.
Coming to GW, seeing others' plants only makes it harder to say NO, when you see another plant you like..

To be honest, many of us are bad influences. :)

Soils..Bagged soils aren't bad as long as they're amended with other mediums. Including Perlite, coarse Sand, etc.
Types of soil depend on the plant..

For instance, succulents need well-draining soil. Packaged soils for Cactus & Succulents are okay, but need additional Perlite, tiny Pea Gravel, etc, so it's better draining. Succulents will rot if soil stays wet. Especially during winter months, when days are gray.

Even tropicals prefer a semi-well-draining soil, but im my case, I add a little black/potting soil for nutrients. And black soil, 'not outdoor soils,' contain nutrients soil-less mixes don't.

There's a lot of controversy regarding soil. It takes experimenting, with ALL soil or soil-less mixes.

Proper watering is very, very important. Few plants require constantly moist soil. Including all plants you recently purchased.

No matter which mix you choose to use, allow soil to dry between waterings.

You do not need south windows to grow plants..They come in handy, but west works fine, too.
For instance, you mentioned Hoya, Hindu Rope. This Hoya will do fine in a west window, and bloom too.
Of course, lighting, from any window, depends on obstructions like curtains, blinds, close trees and buildings.
If you had a south window, and a neighboring was was 5 feet away, an unobstructed west or even east would be brighter.

Your Chinille to Wandering Jew will do fine in bright light. Articial lights near windows work great together.
In fact, except for your Goldfish, the others would suffer in direct, south or west summer sun.
This time of year, your west will suffice.
You'd be surprised the number of plants that thrive in east windows.

H. Hindu Ropes should be placed in the brightest window possible, and artificial light, too.

Hindu Ropes will die if soil stays wet or even moist..moreso in winter.
Grow Hoyas as you would a succulent plant.
In summer, especially when outdoors or in full/direct sun, more watering is needed, but never soggy.
I allow my Hindu Ropes to dry between waterings in all seasons.

Have you read how testing soil is done?

STring of Bananas is a succulent. Again, watch the water. Too much, it'll rot. In fact, plants prefer drying a little opposed to over-watering. Especially succulents.

String of Bananas need bright light. Your west is fine. Is it in a hanging basket?

BTW, tropicals like daily misting, succulents don't.
Since I'm in IL, a cold grey, state during winter, I stop fertilizing.
Some people fertilize year round..but I feel there's no need to fertilize since sun is scarce. In many cases, tropicals will grow spindly if fertilized and not getting enough light.
Most succulents go dormant (sleep) in winter, so I allow them to rest..VEry little water is needed.

Watering is best done in the morning, on sunny days.

Tropicals need humidity. If you need to know, just ask. :)

Hope I helped answer some of your questions..Toni

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 5:36PM
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dellis326 (Danny)

The big advantage to having a fast draining soil mix is that you can water as much as you want and you are unlikely to over water your plants. It will also provide a lot of O2 to the roots of the plants. With faster draining mixes you can water your suculents as often as your tropicals because the mix will not hold a significant amount of water and cause the root to rot.

You can either create a gritty type mix that many here advocate or amend a store bought soil to be faster draining, each have their believers so you'll have to read about it and ask the questions that will surely come up and decide which is best suited to you because it will effect how you will need to care for your plants. The truth of it is that many plants live just fine in plain old bagged soil for many people but most will definitely do better in these faster mixes.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 10:12PM
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Thank you so much for answering!! So I should mix my succulent soil with pearl lite or pea-gravel to make it faster draining? Can I re-pot my plants now with this mixture? or should I wait til spring??

I always use distilled water to water my plants, even though my city doesn't have fluoride in the water, I still use the distilled.
Toni, yes my string of bananas is in a hanging basket. I have all my plants that are good for hanging in hanging baskets as their isn't much room in my apartment's living room. My kitchen window has a metal shelf in front of it where I keep some of my smaller plants on, or the plants that are not flowering at this moment.

Thank you again for the advice, you all our great.


    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 11:02PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think you will benefit from reading the post I'm going to link you to. It provides a good overview for beginners and experienced alike who might not be familiar with some of the science involved with tending houseplants. There is a LOT of advice repeated across the forums that is intended to be helpful, but actually makes your job of bringing along healthy plants more difficult.

Particularly valuable over the long term is information about soils and how water behaves in soils. Your soil is the foundation of every conventional container planting, and recognizing/using a good one pays dividends in the form or healthier plants and far fewer problems.


Here is a link that might be useful: An overview for beginners

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 7:49AM
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Flower Pot, hanging baskets are the way to go when space is an issue. lol.

Tiny stones and Perlite definately helps with drainage. It's especially inportant for succulents, but all plant soil should drain well.

If soil stays wet for prolonged periods, for one, plants can rot, 2, attract Fungus Gnats and other insects.
Since your plants are new you sure don't need bug problems.

As for repotting. Normally it's said to wait until new growth appears. Some plants go dormant, (sleep) this time of year, so there's really no need to repot.

Plant wake once daylight lenghtens..Ususally from Feb to Mar. The reason plant book authors suggest waiting is, since plants are dormant, there's no need to bother them..Heck, they're not doing anything anyway..'just like people when we sleep.'

Once you see new growth, 'and only if a plant needs repotting or for decorative purposes,' place in a bigger container or, if for a nicer-looking pot, 'but the pot size your plant is in is large enough,' place in the same size, ornate container.

Don't over-pot. 1-2 sizes larger is adequate. Too large means more soil, more soil takes longer to dry..That's why well-draining mix is important.

Larger pots also take more space. Like you said,Flower Pot, space is an issue. If a plant doesn't need a huge container, go smaller, despite how pretty it is.

You'll catch on, Flower. You might lose a few to start, but after you figure your error, you'll know what to do or not to do next time.

Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 7:34PM
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Thank you for clearing things up for me!! I don't want to lose any plants, but I guess that's the game of collecting house plants. I can't wait til it warms up outside so I can grow succulents outside on my porch, but hopefully by then I'll know alot more about caring for them.

I'm also still on a hunt for a Rosary Vine feels like that's the one house plant I'll never own...I don't understand why it's so hard to find one in my area...but someone told me about a huge nursery in a city not too far from me, so maybe I'll go check that out on payday next week...wish me luck!!

Thank you again.


    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 12:06AM
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stonesriver(6B Tennessee)

Hi and welcome to the forums. :-)

Since you already have 50 plant my advice might be a little late.

I know it's hard to do but my best piece of advice to you is to slow down. It is better to start out and grow a few plants well than a lot of plants poorly. Trust me, I speak from my own experience. My passion nearly 40 years ago was (and still is) African violets and other gesneriads. I killed them off with amazing regularity. Then I bit the bullet and kept my collection small until nothing died.

Don't buy expensive, big plants. See how you do with smaller ones of a variety you like and go from there. I actually find it harder to grow small foliage plants than the larger ones so if you can grow the small ones, IMO, the large ones are a piece of cake.

When you get the hang of what your schedule allows for care-taking, which plants like your conditions and which soils/mixes work for you, then go to larger plants and add to your collection. You'll also develop a "sense" about what needs what and when.

And if you like hanging baskets either find or make one of those old-fashioned ladders with round rungs. Hang from the ceiling with six or eight hooks and you can move your plants around to get more or less light. You can adjust hanging depths with chains. These ladder-like devices let you hang more plants in a smaller area.

See? Here I am telling you to slow down and then enabling you to add more!

Happy Growing!


    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 5:00AM
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Linda, do you happen to have a picture of the ladder set up you mentioned?
Thanks, Tami

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 8:09AM
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Flower, Linda made a great point. Plants are an addiction, 'believe me,' lol.

If I had to start over, I'd choose one well, maybe two types I like best. Not two plants, two species. Then go from there.

But, I see your point too. They're all so pretty..Heck, who knows, maybe each and everyone will grow happily.

BTW, do you order online? Rosary Vines are sold on online nurseries.

See Linda, I too am encouraging poor Flower. lol. Toni

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 12:16PM
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stonesriver(6B Tennessee)

Hi, Tami:

No, sorry, don't have a photo. But they're the ladders that couples leaned against the house to elope when Papa said "NO!" :-)

You'd need two long posts and then the rungs. Mine was an old ladder a friend was trashing.

But think "Romeo and Juliet" and you get the idea of how to make one.

Mine was great as I lived in an apartment and the sliding door was the only living room light.


    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 2:52PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi & welcome,

What's the purpose of distilled water supposed to be?

Unless your water is particularly hard, distilled water is not necessary. I've been watering my plants (was up to 200 for a while) w/ tap water that I leave sitting out for a few days.

It takes time to learn what things are important to listen to & which aren't.

I agree w/ the poster above who suggested it may be helpful for you to slow down a bit. There's a lot to learn, one can't get it all really fast & much of it will come from careful observation of the plants & their behavior throughout the year.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 8:41PM
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Thank you again for the replies, I really should slow down...BUT I'm the sort of person that once I see a plant I like, I become obsessed til I own it. But I have recently learned to just not look, cause if I don't see them, I cant want them lol.

I have been buying smaller plants to see if I can even care for them before investing in a larger one...except I did get two large plants for $5, a swiss cheese plant and a corn plant.

I do a lot of research on all the plants I own, I also own a small library of house plant and succulent books (around 15 books), but some plants are just not in them. Like I cant find any information on my string of bananas and peperomia prostrata in them, not even hardly online.

I think most of my house plants look pretty healthy except for a small few...I use distilled water cause truthfully I live next to a place that use to make nuclear bombs in the 50's, who knows whats leaked into the water LOL.

I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only person alive who has a passion for house plants, it makes me feel a little less crazy LOL.

The ladder thing sounds interesting, I'll have to look into it a little more. I would like to see a picture of it too...


    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 9:35PM
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Thanks Linda, I will have to see if hubby is feeling creative one of these days! The ladder sounds great.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2011 at 10:37PM
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stonesriver(6B Tennessee)


You're more than welcome.

I plan to post pictures of my new plant stand (less than $150.00 for stand, fluorescent fixtures and bulbs). Check out the African Violet Forum on Friday. I should have them posted by then. Houseplants would love this home, too. :-)


    Bookmark   November 24, 2011 at 12:04AM
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stonesriver(6B Tennessee)

Here's the stand for those interested. Shelves are adjustable and you might be able to get by with fixtures on only two shelves...especially if you have light walls. I only leave these new fixtures on for two-hour intervals. This photo was taken after dark with no other lights on and no flash.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2011 at 7:08PM
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Stone, I have the same kind of set-up that you do - Only some of my plants are tall, so I am using 3 shelves and shop lights attached under each shelf.

I have a couple of ferns, Chinese evergreen, ZZ plant, several orchids, one AV, and some stuff that I've brought inside because it's too cold out now. And, I've put some plants that I'm trying to root on the shelves, too. I leave them on all day, since the only other light in the room is a terrible overhead incandescent.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 6:54PM
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stonesriver(6B Tennessee)

Hi, EA:

I only leave them on at two-hour intervals for now since the fixtures have two new bulbs. My AVs were light-deprived and I was worried about over exposure. Once they adjust I'll set the timer to 12 on and 12 off. I should have explained that so I didn't mislead beginners. Thank you for the catch.


    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 7:19PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

Don't feel bad about craving so many plants! I went through that a few years ago. I had the extra money to spend and they made me so happy. I just got a great houseplant book at a yard sale that has a picture of a Rosary vine in it. I haven't seen one of them since the 80's. Good luck in finding one! You might want to try to find one on Garden Web plant exchange instead. There is also a seed exchange on here and all kinds of forums if you go to the main page. Enjoy your new hobby and welcome to the world of plants!

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 8:18PM
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