‘Tis the season…

…to bring the last of your houseplants indoors if they have been holidaying outside.

Here in the far south east of England the temperatures have dropped to about 3c overnight, which means that even the mediterranean-type plants (those hardy to just above or brief periods below 0c) will need protection.

If you are faced with squeezing the last of your plants into an overcrowded living environment you are not alone, this is what I have learned from years of trying.

Coming in from the cold

You will need to tidy up your plants before you bring them in – remove weed seedlings, dead`and damaged leaves and check under the pot. This is where the slugs and snails hide. If you have bare compost you can top with grit or gravel, this makes the plant easier to water and also discourages sciarid flies (often known as bin flies or compost gnats) that live around compost. Check to see how damp the compost is, so that you are able to bring them into synchrony with your watering routine. If it has rained recently and they are soaked through,  you may not need to water for a couple of weeks, but this is very dependant on where you site them (sun/shade) and how warm your home is.

During the summer your plants will have become accustomed to a lot more light than they will receive in your home (unless they are to move into a conservatory or similar). They will also have grown a bit tougher and stronger through dealing with wind and rain. They will need good daylight, and also a period of adjustment to the change in conditions. Depending on the number of plants you have, you may need to prioritise the light levels; south and west facing windowsills for cacti and succulents, north facing for dark-leaved foliage plants etc. You will also need to find them saucers or pot-covers so that they don’t drip onto your surfaces.

Containers and pot-covers

In my experience the use of pot-covers and containers is the main reason that people overwater their plants. The plant can sit for weeks or months in a puddle of water without it being obvious until it is too late. If you know that you are an nurturer and overwater your plants, use attractive pots with drainage and either matching saucers or transparent plastic ones. Alternatively you can use a layer of 1cm or so of gravel at the bottom of your pot to give yourself a safety margin. Or get into the routine of emptying out your pot-covers an hour after each watering.

Space creation

I never have enough space as I have a tendency to buy plants over the summer when I have a comparatively empty indoor space, and then quail in horror each autumn when I realise I have to house all of them. This is what I do to get past this problem.windowsill

You can expand your windowsill space using shelving (or if you are in a rental, a piece of driftwood balanced on pots). This enables you to make use of as much light as possible and gives you an attractive display.You will note that i am using a range of saucers and containers, partly because I err towards the neglectful, so I can get away with some undrained containers. There is a terracotta saucer being used in addition to the plastic tray for one pot, this because unglazed terracotta is porous and will damage surfaces that it sits upon; it will (as a friend can testify) turn carpet mouldy underneath and raise paint and varnish.


Put plants on top of other plants – if you have larger plants like this Ficus lyrata you will have a whole extra surface to keep things on. When you are doing it, bear in mind how much light will make it down to the understorey of your houseplant forest. As you can see by the graininess of this photo, it isn’t very light here, but Aspidistra ‘Milky Way’ is quite tolerant of low light levels.


Another example here, a Philodendron bipinnatifidum (in a cat bed that the cat disapproves of) supporting a Tradescantia and a Ledebouria. The philodendron spent the whole summer outside, and is stretching (etiolating) in the comparatively low light indoors, the leaves stay the same size but the stalks extend to get closer to the light.

You can also use mirrors (one here propped up on the floor with a spider plant) to reflect the light you have to make the most of it. If like me, you also have a lot of air plants, they are very happy pinned to chicken wire screens (mine is hung from the curtain hooks) over a window. And at the bottom, many of my cacti and succulents together, taking advantage of their similar cultural requirements to make my life easier.

Supplementary lighting

I have not found supplementary lighting much use in a domestic environment for houseplants. The majority of lighting that is suitable for plants (in terms of wavelength, strength and heat transmission) has to be placed very close to them to be of any benefit, and therefore tends not to be either practical or aesthetically pleasing. However, with LEDs becoming much more common in these field I am hoping that eventually gains in this area will carry over from commercial and er.. underground horticulture to create something usable in the average home.


Remember to give your plants time to adjust, and keep an eye out for sneaky pests like tortrix moth caterpillar (see above on begonia), and sudden changes in growth habit (can be a sign of overwatering).


# Urban Jungle Bloggers Desert Still Life

The October challenge from Urban Jungle Bloggers is a Desert Still Life. This worried me a bit, because being picky I initially wanted to make sure that the plants were all at least from the same continent, rather than just randomly selected xerophytes. But I gave up on this as being just a touch too challenging to manage without using it as an excuse to go and buy plants.

So we have a desk-desert: p1010640

Complete with rat corpse, fossil and er bricks.

With Basil the rat (all rats are called Basil) below, there is a probably-Turbinicarpus, an Aloe melanacantha some Faucaria and a cuddly cactus.


Below is probably a Gymnocalycium (please do correct my id’s in the comments, all my cacti are rather old and lost their labels years ago).


And this is Haworthia truncataone of those succulents designed to spend dry times almost completed underground with just the transparent parts of the leaf protruding, so as to reduce water-loss whilst still allowing photosynthesis. I saw this plant in the Princess of Wales house at Kew years ago and spent ages looking for one. It isn’t difficult to keep alive, but it took a while to move to a home where I could offer it the conditions it wanted to be able to grow.


This is Leuchtenbergia principis, a cactus that looks like a succulent (but note the areoles at the tips); this plant is at least 25 years old. It used to belong to my mother, and she has been dead for 20 years…


A better view of the Faucaria, also a succulent from South Africa, like the Aloe.


The backdrop is a beautiful book Wild Cactus by George Huey and Rose Houk.

#urbanjungle #plantselfie



Urban Jungle is a global community of plant lovers started by Igor and Judith. As part of the Urban Jungle blog topic for September this is my #plantselfie. Go and check out the other blogs in the series – if you think indoor plants are dull or stuck in the 70s, they will change your mind.

Lower shelf in the porch

As I am not terribly keen on pictures of myself on the blog, here is Mercy among her plants. This is my rather rickety front porch, full of succulents and cacti. I love nearly* all plants, but have a long-standing obsession with houseplants and pelargoniums. At the last count I had 112 plants indoors, in a 1.5 bedroom flat. As it is summer (just) still there are quite a few of them outside still.  My first love was a swiss-cheese plant and my current obsession is tillandsias.

austin leaf
Monstera deliciosa (a leaf without spots of emulsion paint)


Below is one of my tillandsias (T. seleriana)holidaying outside on a pine tree, and a begonia that is also out for the summer.

I have worked in horticulture for nearly 20 years, and I have just finished a Masters in Ethnobotany, for which my final dissertation addressed the question of why people grow houseplants. I am currently working as a Research Assistant and have a small Etsy shop selling airplants and houseplants. I started the shop as a distraction and an outlet for my fidgeting while I was studying and I will be widening the range soon.


One of the aspects that interests me is trying to stretch people’s imagination about what they can grow where. We tend to feel that windowsills are the be-all-and-end-all of houseplant habitat. They can be grown in so many more positions, and are so undemanding ( I spend less than an hour a week looking after mine).


This hanging bowl is a potential solution for those who want to have plants at eye level but are worried about leaks and drips. I am interested to see what the roots do, whether they are affected by the light or not, and how difficult it is to water. I have used very easy to care for plants to start with (Asparagus densiflorus Sprengeri  Group and Plectranthus verticillatus).


I see a lot of succulent arrangements which look impractical to me because they have little or no drainage. So I decided to make one to see if the plants rotted over the winter, if it works I may put some sort of variation in the shop.

p1010438This little spider plant has survived three months so far in its tin can planter (again, no drainage hole) in full sun. p1010442

This hanging arrangement of spider plants in a piece of burnt terracotta found on the beach is the result of a mad hour of fidgeting. The compost and plants are anchored in chicken wire and have been in-situ for a couple of months. Not as hard to water as you might think, but it is quite heavy and needs to hang from something sturdy.


More fiddling, this time a Tillandsia juncea (or juncifolia).

*I am not overly keen on Symphoricarpos  and might wince very politely upon receipt of a poinsettia.