Questions and answers adapted from Apartment Therapy

  1. How do I know if I am watering my plant the right amount?

Plants don’t like to be watered too much or too little. If your plant looks droopy, yellow or brown, or is losing leaves, this may be an issue with watering! A plant that is watered correctly should look perky, green, not overly wrinkled, and not lose more than the occasional leaf. If your plant is looking overly yellow, droopy, or is losing leaves, perform the following test:

Stick your finger or a chopstick at least 3 inches into your soil. 

Is it bone dry and crumbly? Your plant needs water! 

Seeds are a little different, because you can’t see their coloration or growth, and seeds can easily be over watered. Water seeds about twice a week, and when the soil test feels dry. If the soil is constantly wet and cold, the seed may rot, so STOP watering! Give your seeds a chance to soak up some of the water, and make sure they are getting plenty of warmth and sunlight.

Fixes: You may want to consider increasing the frequency of your waterings. Most plants like to dry out between waterings, but they shouldn’t stay completely dry for more than a day! When in doubt, stick your finger into the soil, if you don’t feel any moisture, WATER! Warmer temps or higher light conditions may cause your plant to dry out faster, so be sure to check your plants every couple of days at least.

Is it wet (and you didn’t water recently)? Most plants don’t like to have wet feet! In this case, if your plant’s leaves are yellowing, or even getting soggy and mushy before falling off, your plant may be overwatered! 

Fixes: If the plant looks really bad, consider repotting it in some dry soil right away. Change the soil for something a little more well-draining (chunky, sandy, or perlite-heavy). If your plant’s roots are short, you may want to repot your plant into a smaller pot. Always make sure your plant is fully dry between waterings.

  1. Why is my plant turning yellow?

Yellowing leaves or stems can mean a few different things, and might not even indicate a problem! Plants sometimes “recycle” old leaves as a part of their natural life cycle, and this is nothing to worry about. However, if your plant gets several yellow leaves one after the other, this could indicate an issue in a few different areas: watering, lighting, or nutrients. See questions 1, 5, and 6 to find out what might be happening.

  1. Is my pot the right size?

In general, you don’t need to “pot up” (transplant to a bigger pot)  your plant unless the roots have reached the bottom of the current pot; if you pull your plant out of its pot and there are tons of roots reaching the bottom of the pot, or if you see more root than soil, your plant is root bound and it needs a pot about 2” wider than its current one!

For starting seeds, you can sprout them on a tray or in a pot, but once they are established and growing, they will most likely do best in a 3-4” pot. Don’t pot them up until they meet the requirements discussed above! If water consistently sits in the bottom of the pot and causes the plant to be overwatered, you may need to pot down a size.

  1. What is the right temperature for my plant?

Most plants, especially house plants, grow at house temperature, around 75 degrees. You don’t need to change your thermostat for your plant. Just make sure the plant is a consistent, open environment, away from extreme temperatures.

  1. Is there such thing as too much sunlight?

In general, plants can’t “overdose” on sunlight unless from artificial sources like a grow light, or if the plant is classified as low-light. Plants need around 10 hours of light, and have natural mechanisms to protect themselves from extra! If you purchase a low-light plant, keep it out of direct sunlight, farther away from the window, but still somewhere that light reaches. 

  1. What does a healthy plant look like? 

Plants come in all shapes and sizes, and even the same type of plant can grow differently based on its environment. However, the general idea is that the plant should be green and strong. The leaves should be open and flat, not curled at the edges, and well attached to the stem. There should be multiple leaves, in various shades of green, but with minimal yellow or brown. Additionally, the stalk/stem should be straight and supportive, facing the leaves upwards.  If the stem is wilted or the leaves discolored, check the soil to see if your plant needs water! 

  1. How long does it take for seeds to sprout?

Given the right growing conditions, plants take anywhere from 10 to 20 days, but most germinate around 2 weeks. Check for a small, light green or white shoot, and 2 small leaves! 

  1. My seeds won’t sprout, what happened?

Seeds need very specific conditions to sprout; certain environmental factors trigger the release of growth and germination hormones. If the environment is not warm enough, or the seeds do not have enough water or light, the seeds may not be triggered to sprout. Additionally, seeds can get too old or mold, causing the seed to die before growth 

Fixes: Make sure the pot is near plenty of sunlight, and that the seeds are only about ¼ of an inch in the soil. The soil should consistently be moist, but never damp or fully wet. If all conditions are met and the seeds have not sprouted, dump out the soil, clean the pot, and try again with new seeds!

  1. What is transplanting and do I need to do it?

Transplanting is what occurs when the plant grows too big for its pot. If the plant is too tall, unsteady, or is overflowing from the pot, the pot is too small! Most plants can grow to the size of their pot, and will not be harmed if it is too small. However, we want plants to reach their full potential, to maximize harvest (if applicable) and grow the biggest they can! Plants can be transplanted to a bigger pot, or planted outside in the ground, as long as there is plenty of room. 

  1. What is propagation/can I propagate my plant?

Propagation is growing a new plant by cutting off (safely!) a section of the old plant. Most plants propagate well, especially herbs! Clip off a thick section of the plant where a leaf attaches to the stem. This is called a node, and can sprout roots and become the new stem. For herbs such as basil, the stem of the clipping can be kept in a cup of water until roots grow and the plant is transplanted. Otherwise, the plant can be planted about ¼ – ½ inches in the soil of a new pot! Water the plant immediately and keep it next to its parent!