The London Botanical

How to successfully care For Your London Botanical House Plants

Elle Meager • July 8

Purchasing your plants from an online nursery, or via mail order is a very convenient way of gardening. You can conveniently shop for plants from your own home, and plants are delivered right to your doorstep. Mail order plants are usually posted without soil with roots wrapped in moist media. This is the best way to ship mail order plants and ensures you receive beautiful, healthy plants with a moist, unbroken rootsystem.

Here’s a few important things to help you successfully grow your new plants.

On arrival 
All our plants are sent via express post, to ensure the fastest delivery possible. It is always our aim to have plants in transport as little as possible, and it is very important to unpack your plants as soon as possible when your plants arrive. We soak all plants in Seaweed solution in our nursery before sending to reduce transport stress.

Unpack your plants carefully, and soak them immediately in seaweed solution. (We do not recommend soaking for Dracaena draco, cacti and succulents. Rather just dip them in the seaweed, and plant immediately)

Seaweed solution has many uses as outlined below: 
– Seaweed stimulates root development 
– Seaweed reduces transplant stress 
– Seaweed enhances flowering & fruiting 
– Seaweed increases resistance to heat, drought, frost, pests & disease

Due to the fact that Seaweed Solution is not a nitrogen based fertiliser, it is safe to use on all plants. Soak your plants for a few hours or overnight. We do however recommend you do NOT soak succulents, cycads and caudex plants for any longer than 30 minutes.

Choosing a pot 
Once your plants have had a good soak, it is time to choose an appropriate pot size. Choose a pot as small as possible. It is a common misperception to plant plants in a huge pot, thinking plants will grow quicker because they have a bigger pot. The truth in fact is totally the opposite. Plants need oxygen in the soil, and big pots make it harder for soil to dry out. Without drying out, soil becomes logged and oxygen is destroyed. Roots will not develop properly and the plant will stay too wet, being a major cause of root rot, and possibly plant death.

Small seedlings, with a small root system should go in a 50mm tube pot. Small seedlings with a big root system or big taproot, such as most cycads and some palms (common for palms like Triangle Palms, Bismarck Palms, Dypsis Fakey, Latan Palms) could not possible fit into 50mm tubes. These types of plants are potted into tubes called ‘native tubes’ which are very tall, but still only 70mm wide. These native tubes are the pot we use the most in our nursery, they are very handy for a lot of palms and cycads. We can help you get some of these tubes if needed.

Another option would be to use a pot called a ‘SuperSaver’, 4″ diameter, but much taller than a standard 4″ pot. Bigger plants, or plants with big root systems will need a bigger pot; choose a pot which will fit roots comfortably without squashing, and without excess room. Some plants, such as succulents or cacti, would be good in a terracotta pot. Terracotta is porous (unless it is treated with a waterproofing compound) and will allow these plants to dry out quicker and easier.

Soils and potting mix 
Always choose a well draining mix. For potted plants, the easiest (and often the best) soils are premium potting mixes, available from hardware stores, nurseries & garden centres. Read the back of the bag to ensure it is suitable for your plant, and check whether the potting mix incorporates fertilisers and soil improvers, or whether you will need to add these yourself.

Specific potting mixes, such as ‘cacti and succulent mix’, ‘orchid mix’, or ‘Azalea mix’ are the easiest to use, and these potting mixes ensure you will get the right mix for your plant. It is always a good idea to add some soil improver, such as ‘BioBrew Soil’, which encourages soil activity and insect numbers (such as earthworms), increasing available nutrients & oxygen for the roots.

Things like Seaweed Solution, Dynamic Lifter, Organic Xtra etc. are also excellent to mix in with the soil. Be sure to read the packaging for the right amount of solution or fertiliser.

Some plants, such as Azalea, Gardenia & Camellia, prefer a more acidic soil than other plants. These plants will need a specific potting mix, or you will need to adjust the Ph of the potting mix to suit these plants. Sweet soils can kill these plants, or will impair their growth.

Watering In 
It is vital to water your plants in well. If you do none of the other things, please do this one, it is THE most important thing about potted plants. Without proper watering in, the soil or potting mix will have air pockets, causing roots to die back, or die completely. Water in well, then leave to dry out to let the soil create oxygen for the roots, then water regularly to suit the plant.

Planting in the ground 
If you are planting straight into the ground, be sure to prepare the planting site well. Dig your hole much bigger than the plant’s root system, and dig through lots of organic matter such as Blood & Bone, Manure, some people even use dog food. If you are lucky enough to have a compost pile, this would be the time to use some! Please do check the Ph of your compost – last time I checked ours the Ph was 3, which is not beneficial at all to any plant! If it is fairly neutral, or slightly acidic, it would be great to dig some through the soil at the bottom of the hole, and the soil which is used for back-filling the hole.

We always soak the hole with water first, to make water penetration easier once the plant is planted. It would depend on your soil too however, as the soil around our nursery is very dry and rocky. It is very important for us to dig a huge hole, and fill it with water first. Plants would have a hard time getting their roots through the soil, at least for a start.

If your soil is more of a clay soil though, you would more so build up your soil to form a mound, and you would plant your plants on top of the mound to improve drainage. Clay can be very heavy soil, and retains water a lot, meaning it would get too cloggy for a lot of plants. It’s important to determine what type of soil you have before purchasing your plants, and before planting them. Press soil on firmly without being rough, and water in well once again.

Fertilise around the base of the plant, but do keep it at least 10cm away from the base to avoid trunk rot. This is not vital for all plants, but without listing every plant, it’s best to be safe than sorry. Mulching is always good in the conditions we’re dealing with in Australia, but it is absolutely necessary in areas of drought, areas on water restrictions, or areas without much natural rainfall. It will keep the soil moist, and directs water to the roots without run off.

In hot parts of the country, mulching is necessary to keep soil & roots cool, in cold areas it is used to keep roots warm. It works as a natural insulator, and while the mulch composts, it provides nutrients for the plant as well. Please note that if you would like to fertilise your plants, try and get the fertiliser in under the mulch. It will work much better that way.

Watering is one of the things most people worry about. If you follow our instructions on pot size above, your plants will be a lot more forgiving than they used to be. All plants prefer a soil which is well draining and free flowing, and pots of the right size will allow the soil to do so. A good rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of soil is dry, in summer this may be every day, in winter this may be no more than once every 2 weeks.

Plants in pots will need to be watered more frequently than plants in the garden. In the nursery, our plants in 50mm tubes are water daily in summer, every 2 days in winter. Due to the pots being so small, overwatering is not an issue. Plants dry out quickly, and quickly establish root systems whilst having adequate watering applied. All 50mm tubes are however under 30% to 50% shade cloth in our nursery, meaning they won’t need watering as much as if they were in full sun. We always recommend keeping your plants in small pots out of full, harsh sun until you pot them into at least 100mm pots.

Plants in standard 100mm pots are watered every 2-3 days in summer, once every 4-5 days in winter. Plants in bigger pots generally fend for themselves, but during dry times they get additional watering. Some plants, such as bamboo, some palms and things like Azalea, Monstera, Orchids or Medinilla’s, appreciate being fairly moist at all times, and will grow much quicker when watered regularly. Once they are ready to go into the ground however, most are able to completely look after themselves with just natural rainfall.

When you water, water well. Most plants do not appreciate always being wet and receiving little amounts of water often. It’s best to water well, leave the plant to dry out a bit, and water well again. Some plants that like high humidity are different, they prefer being moist most of the time, and they will also benefit from regular misting to increase humidity.

Many helpful products are available to increase water retention and stop water runoff, such as water crystals and soil wetter.

It is very important to read as much information on the plant you purchased as you can, to learn about what they like and dislike. All plants have different requirements, like people really.

When you receive your plants, you will need to slowly adjust them to the position where they are to grow eventually. If your palm is to grow in full sun, you cannot place it in full sun immediately, especially not with seedlings. Seedlings are best grown in a shady, brightly lit position until they have established themselves in their new pot. Once they have, you can slowly adjust them to full sun. Take them out into the sun for an hour or so a day, and slowly increase until they are completely sun hardy.

Obviously, some plants are not suited to growing in full sun, and these can be established in their pots and planted out immediately afterwards. You will need to think carefully about the position for your plant, make sure you know exactly how big the plant can grow, whether roots are invasive or not, whether it needs shade or full sun, does it need acidic soil, how much water does it need etc.

As you may have recently seen on ‘Better Homes and Gardens’, someone planted a nice little pot plant along a fence, and before they knew it the ‘little pot plant’ was 8m tall and going strong. This was a Ficus, which is known to be a great house plant, but can reach up to 50m tall in the garden! This is just an example, but it really pays to look into it, as removing a tree of that size can cost a lot, and you are left with an empty spot in the garden which may take years to fill.

Indoor or House plants 
We have some plants in our nursery (under ‘indoor plants’) that are great as indoor plants. Place these plants in a brightly lit position, under a Skylight or close to a window is great. Check whether the plant can handle air conditioning if your house is air conditioned, and keep it away from draughty winds. Air can be very dry inside, so keep an eye out the plant, water it when needed, and mist it regularly if it likes humidity. You will need to wipe the foliage free of dust every week or so, with a damp cloth. I take my house plants outside regularly for a little TLC, they get a hose off and an application with liquid fertiliser every two weeks. Liquid fertiliser are great for indoor plants, it’s easy to apply and feeds through foliage as well as soil.

All the best growing your very own mail order plants & let us know if we can help you further

El Meager is the Owner Manager of National Tropical Plants, one of Australia’s leading online nurseries. National Tropicals Online Nursery specialises mainly in rare, exotic, native and general tropical garden plants for Australia. El has written 100’s of articles on the subjects of gardening, plants and nurseries and is an avid supporter of the preservation of natural habitat for wildlife and nature. El is also a fanatic gardener herself together with husband Dan. All growing and plant information can be found on the website []

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