Plants are essentially not complicated creatures – they have some requirements to stay healthy and if they get those, they happily thrive. The issue with gardening and houseplants in general, is that the plants are taken out of their natural habitat.
The roots of the problem
Take a look at the plants that you own, or can commonly see as houseplants. Beautiful orchids grow in the tropical rain forest, and being epiphytes, they grow on other plants and get their nutrients from the dripping down water and humidity in the air. Sansevieria, or more commonly known as snake plants, are succulents that thrive in warmer weather and sandier soil, and less water than most houseplants.
What does it all mean? It means that in order to take good care of a plant, you need to be informed about it. Where is its natural habitat? Does it like warm, cool, or cold temperatures? What kind of soil does it grow it? How much water does it need and how does it get it in its natural habitat?
The key to have healthy plants is to mimic their natural habitat`s conditions as closely as possible. This applies for the planting medium you use, the watering schedule, the light and other factors such as temperature and humidity. If you don’t have the opportunity to do so, you should choose a plant that’s natural habitat is the closest to the one you live in.
But what about the pots?
Have you ever seen a tree twisted out of the soil, with its root system exposed? Have you ever pulled out a weed and were surprised how deep the roots went? Most plants in nature develop deep root systems under the level of soil. This way, they can reach the nutrients in the deeper, richer layers of the soil, and with the right amount of water, their roots can absorb these nutrients.
But what happens if you put plants into a pot or container? Where do the roots go? When I was little, I often helped my grandma re-pot her flowers, and I remember her showing me what a root-bound plant was. The pot was so full of roots going around and around, that there was barely any soil left.
So what happens, is that that since a pot is a land in a pot, so to say, it is not only small, but it also does not have its own ecosystem. It doesn’t have organic matter in the soil, it doesn’t have dry season or wet season, it doesn’t have earth worms that loosen up the soil for the roots to grow and so on. The smaller the ecosystem, the harder it is for it to be self-sustaining.
This means that if you choose to plant something in a pot or container, your plant will need you to survive more than it would in nature. It also means that you need to replicate the ecosystem as much as possible, and lastly but definitely not the least, you need to adapt your growing\planting medium for container gardening.
Inform, Implement, and learn
Learning to take care of (house)plants is just like any other learning process; if there is will, there is a way. Reading about it, trying out what you have read and learning from the experience is always a rewarding approach.
The two main important learning points from this post are
1) Mimicking the natural environment as closely as possible results in a happy plant
2) Understanding the issues and limitations of container gardening is the key.