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Be a Houseplant Hero (Or, How to Save a Houseplant.)

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Have you ever been shopping in stores like Lowe's, Home Depot, or even Walmart and noticed those racks of reduced plants? You know the ones- they're dried out, shriveled, and often mostly brown. They don't look like they have much life left in them. These are what I like to call the "oops, we almost killed it" racks. And they're one of my favorite places to buy plants.

What, you say? Why would you want a nearly dead plant? Because often these plants can be saved. With a little TLC, you can have a healthy and happy plant at a fraction of the full price. And even if the plant doesn't make it, they often come in pretty pots that would have cost more on their own than you paid for the whole thing.

Are you worried about your thumb not being green enough? Don't be! While I have grown successful outdoor gardens and flower beds for years, it was only recently that I got brave enough to tackle houseplants. I've learned a bit during that time, and I'm going to share my favorite tips for success with you. I know that if I can do it, so can you!

But first, why houseplants?

Having houseplants in your home can have some very real positive impacts on your health. Many people already know that houseplants help filter your indoor air, providing you with cleaner air to breathe. But did you know that houseplants can also reduce stress? How about

that they can help you recover from illness faster? These pretty green rockstars can do just that!

Studies have also shown that working with houseplants is therapeutic. I definitely believe that. I know I always feel more at ease after I spend some time pruning, watering, and caring for all my leafy babies. If you'd like to know more about all the great benefits houseplants offer, check out this great article.

And now, on to the tips! That's why you're really here, after all.

Be ready to repot your new baby.

Quite often, plants you pick up from the clearance rack will need to be repotted ASAP. Even houseplants that are sold in pretty decorative pots have often outgrown them by the time they get to you. So make sure you've got a slightly larger pot and some high-quality potting soil ready to go.

A fiddle leaf fig tree with new leaf growth.
Fiddlin' Fred the Ficus with his pretty new leaves!

It's good to know that when you repot a plant, it may cause it some stress. Freshly repotted plants may drop a few leaves and look pitiful for a couple of weeks. This is normal, so try not to worry. My fiddle leaf fig dropped one of its biggest leaves after I repotted it recently, but it has since grown three new ones.

A fiddle leaf fig is a type of ficus tree (Ficus lyrata). I have wanted one for a long time, but full price they usually cost at least $30, and I never wanted to invest that much in a plant that I might kill.

But when I found this one on the clearance rack, I knew I might be able to save it. It has been named Fiddlin' Fred the Ficus (don't you name your plants too?) and it sits in front of our living room window where it is very happy. We call him Fred for short, and he makes me happy when I walk out and see him every morning.

Research your specific plant and make sure you cater to its needs.

All houseplants are different in their light and water requirements, fertilizer requirements, etc. Most plants come with a tag, but often the information might not be enough. By doing a quick Google search on the plant you chose, you can make sure you set it up for success. For example, I read up on how to keep a ficus tree healthy and I found a specific fertilizer for fiddle leaf figs * that I could use when watering the tree.

Many houseplants require bright but indirect sunlight. That means they want to be in a bright room, but not necessarily right in a window where they get direct rays every day. I keep most of my houseplants in a room that has an east-facing window. The room gets a lot of light early in the day and it stays bright most of the day, but the plants are on shelves away from the window. They don't receive direct light that might be too much for them.

Overwatering is another common concern with houseplants. Almost all the plants I bring home from Lowe's come with their very own population of fungus gnats. If you've never had the pleasure of dealing with fungus gnats, you are missing out! *Read sarcasm.* If you haven't experienced a fungus gnat infestation, consider yourself lucky. While completely harmless to humans, they are a huge annoyance and can ultimately kill a potted plant if left untreated.

Fortunately, fungus gnats are fairly easy to control. The link above has some great information about controlling and preventing them. You can also purchase fungus gnat nematodes * that will control populations as well. These are easy to use by adding them into a watering can to water your plants. The tiny microscopic creatures will seek out the larva of fungus gnats in the soil.

Have patience and don't be afraid to try different things.

A croton houseplant.
A croton we saved last fall.

Sometimes it may take weeks or months for a plant to begin to look healthy. Don't be afraid to cut off dead leaves, even if it means cutting back most of a plant. Sometimes that is what a plant needs to come back healthy. The plant in the picture to the right is a croton. It was on sale for $5.00 last fall. It is in a Halloween pot, and after Halloween, they all went to the clearance rack where they were ignored.

The plant had quite a few dried-up leaves when we brought it home, but after I cleaned it up, it has grown quite a few new leaves and is thriving. It will need a bigger pot before the spring growing season begins. Remember that the plants you bring home from a clearance rack may be stressed and have been neglected. It will take some time for them to thrive again.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if a plant is not happy in one place, you can always move it somewhere else. Maybe it is getting too much or too little light. Maybe there is a draft or a vent nearby. If it isn't happy where you put it, change its conditions a little bit until you find the right combination.

A snake plant in a pot.
Snake plant.

This plant is a snake plant. I put it in a new pot the day we brought it home because it had long outgrown the pot it was in. I set it on my computer desk in my office. It gets lots of bright but indirect light there, and it has grown so much in just a couple of months. This plant has clearly found its happy place.

See that tall leaf on the far right side of the pot? When I brought this plant home and put it in this pot, that leaf only stuck out of the soil about half an inch. It has since grown more than six inches. There are also new leaves that are growing out of the middle of the other two clumps of foliage. This is a very happy and healthy plant.

Where to get started?

Now that you're armed with a few tips on how to save houseplants that have been stuck on the clearance rack to die, you need some plants! This is the easy part. In my area at least, every Lowe's, Home Depot, or Walmart has a rack (or more than one) with clearance plants year-round. Just go pick you one or three out. But be careful, if you're anything like me you might become addicted!

Do you enjoy saving houseplants? What is your favorite plant you've saved or some tips you'd like to share? Tell us about them in the comments!

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