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The Kill-Proof Guide to Caring for Indoor Plants

July 11, 2018
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Yes, they look gorgeous and refreshing. And once you get one, you can’t help but want another, and another... But if you’re finding yourself constantly visiting nurseries to get a new ‘replacement’, maybe it’s you, not it?

Even if you’re more black than green fingers, plants can still thrive - with the right care! Here, we reveal our go-to tricks and tips to caring for any indoor plant - plus the best 'kill-proof' plant types for a touch of greenery that'll last the years.


1. Consider your home before buying any plant

A Wandering Jew that thrives at your friends’ place might not do the same in yours! Every plant has different characteristics - some may require more sunlight, some more water. Is your home able to fulfil its needs?

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Interior Designer: X Two Concept

So, determine your home's conditions and find the types of plants that best suit your environment. For instance, if you have strong sunlight filtering in, consider getting flowering plants (like bougainvilleas), cactuses or succulents. For a home that's dimmer, plants like Snake plants or Staghorn ferns can survive with little sunlight.

2. Don't 'shower' it with too much love

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Interior Designer: Code Red Studio

A common misconception, plants don’t require a dose of H20 everyday. In fact, you could just be overwatering your plants, which can lead to lethal root rot.

As a rule of thumb, most indoor plants should be watered every 3, 5 or 7 days. Try observing your plants, let them go thirsty for a while (until you notice their leaves turning slightly crunchy) and adjust your schedule accordingly. While tracking each plant’s watering schedule can get pretty complicated with more greens, one trick is grouping plants with the same watering requirements together to help in remembering better.

3. Sunlight is key

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Interior Designer: A Moxie Associates Sdn Bhd

For any plant, sunlight will affect growth the most. As such, make the effort to move your plants closer to the window for maximum exposure in the day. Likewise, as the Earth is constantly rotating, sunlight doesn't shine at the same spot forever. You might need to move your plants around the house to follow the sun's movements.

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Interior Designer: A Moxie Associates Sdn Bhd

What if your home is dim, everywhere? Fret not - there are all sorts of smart planters these days with artificial light to mimic natural sunlight, though they can be costly. Alternatively, get full-spectrum glow lights from aquarium shops or online for a couple of dollars - they do the same job too!

4. Watch out for the signs (in leaves)

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Interior Designer: Dot Works

Plants may not be able to move show any emotion, but they definitely leave signs when they are in distress. Here are some obvious clues your greens are falling ill:

  • Leaves start to wither, turn yellow or drop: Possibly too much sunlight, or overwatered. It could also be a sign of iron chlorosis from overly wet soil. Cut down your watering schedule and observe. Check if the soil used is too water retentive (e.g. clay soil).

  • Leaves have spots in them: A sign of fungal infection. Quickly treat it - if it’s a root fungal infection, then the plant is unlikely to survive.

  • Leaves turn brown or crunchy: Needs more water. Water till soil is moist, but not saturated.

  • Leaves are sparse: Needs more water. Water till soil is moist.

5. Always do your research!

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Interior Designer: KLAAS Interiors Sdn. Bhd

Curb those impulse buys - if you want your plants to last, you've got to strategise and plan carefully. Start with an area where you'd like to place your plants, and do research on the best types for the given area's environment. For example, it's not advisable to place plants with fragile leaves near fans or air-conditioners, which could blow them away.

Read up extensively online or through dedicated guidebooks, or simply follow plant experts on Instagram for inspiration and technical advice on caring for indoor plants. Some of our favourites? @houseplantjournal is chock full of tips and tricks to maintaining your greens, while @urbanjunglehome is great for learning how you can decorate with plants.

6. Lastly, live and let live (or die)

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Credit: Sarah and Gabriel's Home

As with all living things, death is inevitable. It sounds all philosophical, but don't get overly attached or obsessed with a particular plant's growth. Sometimes, no matter what you do, plants eventually die - so take it as a lesson learnt, and move on to do better.

7. Alternatively, these hardy plant types are kill-proof

Simply want a low-maintenance plant that's perfect for adding a touch of green to your space? Look to these easygoing types:

1. Snake plant (or Sansevieria)

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Interior Designer: IQI Concept Interior Design

This hardy plant can go stay neglected for weeks and yet they can still stay and look fresh. Not only do they require less sunlight (indirect sunlight works best!), and they even help to clean the air at home, removing major indoor air pollutants like formaldehyde and benzene! Be careful not to overwater and allow the soil to dry in-between waterings. Sansevieria plants do well in sandier soils.

2. Rubber plant (or Ficus Elastica)

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Credit: @Livina

Everybody's favourite #aesthetic plant can grow as tall as 15m, and can last up to a month without water! Like the Snake plant, indirect light works best - they need plenty of light but not harsh light. To keepthe moisture in the plant, take care to wipe its waxy leaves with a damp cloth or spritz it with water occasionally.

3. Monstera Deliciosa (or the Swiss Cheese plant)

Caring for Indoor Plants guide

Architect: Studio JP (Singapore)

Another popular and relatively low-maintenance plant that’s everywhere on Pinterest and Instagram, the Swiss Cheese plant thrives well in partial shade, as direct sunlight would damage its leaves. They grow best in humid and warm conditions (perfect for Malaysia's tropical weather!) Note though; Monstera plants can grow pretty fast, so start with a young plant.

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