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How to Love Your Plants (When You Aren’t There)

Are you headed back to the office or classroom? Here’s how to care for your plants now that you aren’t home 24/7. By Karen Weir-Jimerson

Reentry Anxiety and Your Plants

After months (dare we say, more than a year) of working from home, are you experiencing “reentry anxiety?”

If you are headed back to the classroom or office, you might be stressed out about a number of things, including if your plants are going to be okay without your constant company.

Not to worry. Although you and your plants were best buds during the past year, your houseplants will survive just fine without your constant attention. Here are 10 ways to pay attention to your plants (and how often) to help you both adjust to your new reentry lifestyle.

1. Schedule time with your plants

Frequency: Every day

Set up a schedule on your calendar for plant care, and check it off just like you do all your other to-do items. Frequency is the key to creating all good habits. So schedule a "meeting" on your daily to-do list or online calendar for each houseplant care action you want to perform with your plants.

2. Talk to your plants

Frequency: Every day

Some recent research indicates that plants can hear. So why not talk to your plants. They were used to your chatty days on Zoom, and all that resounding silence in your absence may be a shock. So make sure to chat them up before you leave the house in the morning and after you get home. Have a cup of coffee and tell them about your day. You’ll benefit from the together time. Oh, and your plants may too.

Read more about the benefits of spending time with plants and nature.

3. Check your plant’s soil moisture

Frequency: Once every couple days

It's important to water your plants, but don’t confuse watering with love. Keep in mind that most plants are killed by overwatering. Get into the schedule of doing a quick finger test (dip your finger into your plant’s container and dig in about an inch deep; if it’s moist, wait another day to check it again before watering). Maybe you want to do a moisture test in the morning as you get ready for your day. Or perhaps you want to spend a little quality time with your plants at the end of the day. 

Read more about how a little horticultural therapy will help calm your nerves after a long day in the office.

Do a deep dive on the best ways to water.

4. Make sure your plant is getting the right light

Frequency: Once a week

As the seasons change, so does the light in your home. Now that you aren’t at home all the time, make a note to check how your plants are doing in their current position. Too much sun for some species will burn their leaves. Too little light for other species will make their leaves turn yellow because the plants aren’t able to photosynthesize.

Read more about finding out the right light for each plant.

5. Watch for pests

Frequency: Once every two weeks

Pick a day of the week and do a leaf inspection to check for pests or disease. Now that you’re not face to face with your plants all day, you need to schedule time to take a preemptive look to make sure bad things aren’t happening.

6. Dust leaves

Frequency: Once a month

How often do you dust your furniture? Add plant leaves to that chore. Run a soft cotton cloth (or a Swiffer) over the tops of leaves to remove dust particles from blocking photosynthesis. Your plants will look cleaner and happier -- and they will grow better, too.

7. Remove dead or yellow leaves

Frequency: Once a month

Remove any leaves that are yellow or brown. Doing this little nip-tuck action makes your houseplants look healthier. Immediately. Giving your plant attention by inspecting leaves for dried edges or yellowing will keep small problems from turning into big (and harder to solve) problems.

NOTE: If you see more than a couple yellowing leaves a week, you may need to investigate reasons. Read more about what makes houseplant leaves turn yellow.

8. Prune up

Frequency: Whenever needed

Pruning your houseplant is a way to keep it healthy. You can remove dead leaves any time of year by clipping them off with a pair of scissors. Some woody plants, such as ficus and schefflera, can benefit from some pruning to help keep their form. For example, if you don’t like the way one branch is a lot longer than the others, it’s okay to clip it off. You can place the pruned stems from some houseplants, such as philodendron, in water to sprout.

Discover how to start stems in water. 

9. Add humidity

Frequency: During winter months

In winter, many tropical plants can struggle due to dry indoor air. Adding humidity from the base of the plant with a humidity tray allows a plant to bask in moist air, keeping it more healthy during winter months.

Or you can create little plant colonies. This works best when you gather a group of plants together. Their closeness helps elevate the moisture levels around the leaves.

Get more tips for raising indoor plants in winter.

Read more about creating moisture using humidity trays.