Happy Houseplants: Caring For Your Plants | Learn with The Sill | Chris Satch | Skillshare

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Happy Houseplants: Caring For Your Plants | Learn with The Sill

teacher avatar Chris Satch, Botanist, The Sill

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Getting Started


    • 2.

      Potting Your Plant


    • 3.

      When to Re-Pot


    • 4.

      Potting a Cactus


    • 5.

      Watering, Troubleshooting and General Care


    • 6.



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About This Class

Plants heighten our creativity, happiness, and even oxygen levels — and this class will give you everything you need to pot and care for your plants so they live long, healthy, and prosperous lives!

Taught by The Sill's Botanist Christopher Satch, you'll learn about how to pot and re-pot your houseplants, how to care and troubleshoot for your plants, and the best ways to ensure your plants grow and thrive.

Looking to know more about the plants you own? Want to improve your green thumb? This class is the perfect place to start.

The Sill was created with a simple ambition: to inspire people to bring more of the outdoors in. Their mission is to make the experience of discovering the perfect plants as wonderful as the plants themselves.

Meet Your Teacher

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Chris Satch

Botanist, The Sill


Christopher is the resident Botanist for The Sill, an NYC-based company that does plant design, installation, and maintenance for both homes and corporate offices.

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1. Getting Started: Plants make people happy. The Sill was founded in 2012 with a simple ambition, to inspire people to bring more of the outdoors in. My family has always had a garden and I guess just growing up through plants, I realized the beauty of the plants, and how great and productive they can be, and how much happier they actually make everyone around them. I wanted to make that my career. I wanted to help others feel the same way that I do about plants. My job involves design, installation, and maintenance of plants, as well as educating people about the wonders of plants, as well as the benefits that they bring. Offices that have house plants end up being more productive, more focused, and happier than offices that don't. House plants also bring indoors a sense of creativity as well as an aesthetic pleasing use. Today, we're going to talk about fertilization, maintenance, trimming, and overall care for your plant. Your project will be to take a picture of a plant in your home and describe how you potted it, describe where it is, it's location. Is it by a window? Is it humid? Is it by a radiator? Overall, how much do you water it and what kind of temperature does it go through on its day-to-day basis. If after this class, you found that you want another plant or you found that your conditions are better for a different plant, please go ahead and buy a plant and take a picture and just let us know how that plant is doing in your home. 2. Potting Your Plant: Now that you've listened to me talk for a while, you're going to get to the exciting portion which is the hands on portion. So, we're going to learn how to pot different types of plants. Were going to pot a cactus, and we're also going to pot an Aglaonema. So, we have our cactus. We have our Aglaonem. As a special bonus, I will also show you how to mount an air plant onto one of our sill mounts. So, first I'll go through that since it is the easiest, anyone can do it. Here at The Sill, we offer some very colorful air plant mounts. They come in all different colors, and they come in this size. You can take an air plant, and you just take any old air plant like this one. I'll take this one. You just sort of pried it open. It's metal. So, don't be afraid. You can bend it. See, pried open, you pop it in, and then you bend them back, so that they're lightly touching the air plant itself. You'll have a nice, well done air plant. So, you can hang it. You can put on your wall. You can steady it. So, you'll have a nice air plant in a nice air plant holder. We have The Sill also offer many different pots selections and varieties. They come in many different colors. They come in many different sizes and shapes. This one is the Azra. This one is the Jewels. This one is the August. This one is the Olmstead, and this one is the Calvert or Cal Bear. So, each of our pots here at The Sill are named after a very famous or very important people in the field of agriculture or botany or just had something to do with art landscaping in general. These are very exciting. So, I'm going to show you all first how to pot an Aglaonema, and I'm going to choose the Olmstead, because you see how it looks before I do it. An important part of potting, we here at The Sill use lava rocks at the bottom of the container or at the bottom of the pots for proper drainage as well as to provide a sink for where water goes. So, you'll take maybe about a handful of these nice lava rocks. We'll put them in, and you'll just cover the bottom. You can add a little more. You can add a little more, you can add a little less. There's no set amount. It has to just cover the bottom of the pot. The whole idea behind the lava rocks is to provide adequate drainage space and drainage area because the lava rocks are porous, and they can absorb some of that water as well as slow release it. So, that's really beneficial for the plants especially in a container like this one that doesn't have any drainage in it. If your container does have drainage like our August does, it's not necessary to place the lava rocks in, but it's also a good measure. I personally like to place in the lava rocks, no matter what. Unless of course the container is too small to have lava rocks in them such as the Jewels, it's very nice small container and it also has drainage. So, there's really no need to have any lava rocks in that one. So, I placed my lava rocks in and now I'm going to take my plant. For this particular one, it'll be easier but some plants usually give a fight when you take them out of their greenhouse pot. The reason why they give a fight is because they're so overgrown, they're so stressed, they're trying to get out of their pot, they're just not doing well. So, they usually grow so compacted that it's sometimes difficult for them to get out. So, usually, what you would do to get it out is you turn the pot on its side, and you just push the bottom. If the soil is dry enough, it'll pop out. But otherwise, if it's more wet, it won't really pop but it'll definitely help loosen. You can also squeeze the pot to loosen things up, and then you're going to slowly turn and gently pull, very gently. You'll see, now my plant has been liberated, and it's going to be a little messy. So, it's okay if a little bit of soil gets everywhere. That's the name of the game. You'll see how root bound this was. You'll see how many roots are struggling to get out of the bottom of the pot. So, it's best for plants to be repotted every year or so. Whenever they outgrow their pot for the health of the plant and for the longevity of the plant. So, this one definitely needs to be repotted. So, we're going to guesstimate how deep he's going to be in the container. As you can see, the top level of this doesn't quite come within a reasonable amount of the top edge of this. So, we're going to add a little bit of soil. So, I'm going to take a soil container. I'll have my scooper and I'll scoop some soil in. Potting soil is soil that's specifically designed for house plants and plants that are meant to be in containers. It's different from the dirt that you find in your backyard. The fact that it's usually pretty pest free, dirt has been known to contain everything that lives in it. There's a potential for pests and parasites to get in from the outside should you use outside dirt. So, potting soil also retains moisture the right way. Has the right amount of nutrients and is very consistent. It's made up of a mixture of organic materials, some wood chips, some sand, some dirt, a little bit of everything together, not fermenting but cooking so to speak for awhile until you get this nice composting mixture. So, that's what potting soil is. So, when you put it in, you're going to want to pack it down especially with your houseplants. You'll want to just pack it in there, a nice solid pack. You don't have to go too crazy, but you definitely want it to be nice and firm. You don't want it to be like Jell-O firm but not Jell-O jiggly, Now, we're going to take our plant. We're going to place him in. He's going to wobble a little. That's okay. We're going to take more soil, not dirt. Because dirt is what you get under your fingers. The soil is what plants grow in. You liberally apply just soil a little bit everywhere. You just sprinkle it in. You just packet it down. Nothing too intense. You just want to keep your plant upright. It's okay if you bury your plant a little bit more. They are plants. They are used to being accidentally buried a little more in nature. Not completely buried but having the soil change around them. So, you pack that down. You want to be consistent in your packing. You want to have everything be firm. When you push down, you don't want it to give too much. You want it to give a little bit, but you don't want it to give too much. So, you just pack that in. Because what'll happen is over time if you don't pack it, the soil will settle and you'll have a plant that is growing in a really, really tiny amount of soil. Its roots will be exposed and it will be very, very unhealthy. So, it's best to pack the soil and to give it as much soil as it can handle, and so that it can be as healthy as it can be. So, you just want to pack it, nice gentle packs. You can be a little rough with the plant, not too rough. Don't be afraid to push your plant around. As long as it doesn't snap, it's still okay. You can add some more there. I'll add a little more. So, I'll stop here because this looks pretty good. You want to leave enough room at the top so that when you water, the water doesn't overflow on the sides. For this particular one, you want something about this deep. You can see that, we'll brush this off, brush the excess dirt off, clean this up a little bit. So, you have a nice looking plant. So, notice how I have a small container, so I'm going to use a small amount of water. So, you just gently pour, let it soak down, and then give it a little more. Okay, and you'll see how when I gave it water, the soil receded a little bit. I can use this as an opportunity to add a tiny bit more soil to the top and packet down to give it that extra bit of soil volume that plants still desire. So, yes, you will get wet and muddy but that's okay. That's what it's all about. 3. When to Re-Pot: Another side note, especially for when you're re-potting or potting larger plants, larger than maybe a desktop plant, maybe it's a floor plant, or for all plants in general, you should generally keep the level of soil at what it was when you planted the plant. You can give it a little tiny bit more, but not very much more. You don't want to bury the plant and you don't want the plant to be put in too shallow. So you kind of want to maintain the same level of soil as there was before the plant went into the new pot. You also want to make sure that the new pot is significantly bigger than the old one, but not so big that the plant is swimming in a sea of soil. You want the plant to be maybe about an inch or two bigger than the old one was. That's generally about a size up, and that's what you want to look for. One of the visual hints that a plant needs to be re-potted, especially with the aglaonemas is you can give them water and they'll droop, but even after you give them water, they'll stay droopy. A lot of plants will droop for no reason, and no matter how much water you give them, they'll stay droopy. You have two options at that point, you can either trim the plant or you can re-pot the plant, and so the better option is to re-pot the plant because that allows the plant to grow even bigger. But if you like the plant the size that it is, then you can trim the plant, and usually, they'll come back. I've had this happen with many aglaonemas. They always bounce back after a nice trimming or a re-potting. But with larger plants that may not show that, usual symptoms would include leaf loss, a lot of yellowing, very similar symptoms to over-watering but even when the plant is dried-out, those symptoms are still there, so it's symptoms that are consistent, that are independent of the watering situation. Other ways that you can find that your plant needs to be re-potted include there being a salt build-up around the bottom of the soil level, as well as, roots growing through the bottom of the pot, roots pushing the plant up through its own soil, slow growth or growth that is smaller than average. So for your plant, it'll produce leaves of a certain size. If the new growth's leaves are smaller than the leaves that are already on the plant and they don't grow anymore, that's also a sign that your plant needs to be re-potted, because it cannot support those new leaves, so it can't grow them as big. Keeping a plant in the same container really depends upon the plant. Some plants are okay with being trimmed and being put into the same container and others are not. Certain species that are good for containers and staying in the same container over time are bonsai, and even they occasionally need to be re-potted. So it's always a good idea to re-pot. 4. Potting a Cactus: Now, I'm going to show you how to pot a cactus. This particular cactus, the barrel cactus, is a very nice cactus. So, I'm going to use, our, The Sill, August pot, because I like the circle shape with the other circle shape. The difference between cacti and other plants and cacti and succulents and other plants is that, you may want to amend their soil with a little bit of sand or purchase special succulent or cacti soil mix. That's really the only difference that you need in terms of soil. But for our purposes here, you can get away with putting them in regular potting soil. You just have to be much more careful with the waterings. So, they're not very picky at all. So, I'll start off with the lava rocks like I did before. Do some lava rocks. So, this one has drainage, you don't have to add the lava rocks but I added the lava rocks just to show everyone again. So, I'll take my cactus and I'll place it where I want it and estimate how much soil I will need to pack in there. There's a special way that we handle cacti without getting pricked. I'm sure you're all wondering how I'm going to do it. It does in fact involve these gloves but not in the way that you would think. So, i'm going to add some soil. A little tiny bit more to get it to the level that I want it to be at. So, what I'm going to do, I'm going to put on my gloves. Any gloves will do as long as they're at least a little rubbery and at least a little puncture resistant. Leather gloves will work but simple gardening gloves will also do. So, what we're going do with the cactus is, we're going to, just like before with the aglaonema, we're going to turn it on its side, we're gonna push from the bottom. But instead, we're going to not touch it. We're just going to jiggle it out. Just like that. The cactus should be dry enough to where it just slides right out. So, you'll see that it's soil has already been amended with sand and that's okay. So, instead of picking up the cactus from its top end, we're going to pick up the cactus from the root end, which is the safe end and the non-prickly part. We're going to position it. You might get jabbed a little bit once it starts to get tight. But with my gloves, I am safe. See, when you're adjusting it, it gets really tight so you run the risk of poking yourself. But with the gloves, you're okay. Then you take some soil and then you just go around the edges and you dump some soil in. That's okay if you get some all over the place and it's okay if you get a little on the cactus. We'll brush them off later. Just push it in. Package that in as best we can. You can use a paintbrush to tidy up the top of the cactus or you can just blow on it. The stuff will just come right off. So, you'll see where the old soil line was. It's right up here. So, I'm going to add soil until I get to that old soil line. You can tidy this up to your own discretion. I didn't leave as much room as I did with the aglaonema for watering, but that's okay. There's a little bit of art to this science. You don't have to be perfect with it. You just have to be potting it the right way and so there you have. So, the goal is to have enough of a lip to where when you give it a little bit of water, the water won't run over the sides. So, there you have it. You have a nice cactus with a nice saucer. There you go. For cacti and succulents, you don't even have to water them after you repot them. You can just leave them be for another week. Although a general rule is to water after repotting, cacti and succulents are okay enough to where you can go a week without watering. So, for cacti and succulents like I said, it's usually best to dry them out to the point where they're super dry and then repot them, they'll be okay. After a week, it'll be okay to water them as well. So, they're pretty easy in that regard. Just less is more and they'll let you know when they need more when they start to shrivel up. So, if you don't supplement the soil with sand, if you use regular potting soil for a cactus or succulent, you have to restrict your waterings and the watering frequencies much more because the soil is not draining as well. Most potting soil tends to keep moisture there. Whereas, if it were amended with sand, the sand helps the water flow through. So, that helps drainage and that helps it stay dry. The whole goal is for this to stay dry, as dry as it can. 5. Watering, Troubleshooting and General Care: Here, I'll show you just a quick general how-to on watering technique. So, some general rules to follow is you don't ever want to water an already wet plant. So, if the soil feels wet, don't add any more water. You always want to add water to a dry plant. Usually in potted houseplants like this, you want to saturate the top and then just let it soak in, just add more as you see fit. So, if you take a look at this one, this one is very dry. It looks dry on the top, but it may not be dry underneath. So, it may just be the top layer of soil that's dry, which is why you're going to want to take your finger and just poke it down there and feel how moist is. If it feels moist, then your plant probably could go for another few more days without water. But if it feels dry down there or if the soil is not malleable, if the soil is very tough, then it's probably dry as well. So, this one feels dry. What I'm going to do is I'm going to fill it up just like this. That's about as much water as this will need. Then I'll give it just a tiny bit more, about that much. You want to guesstimate. You never want to add any more water than is about the bottom quarter of the pot. So, the bigger the pot, the more water you will add in. So, you'll divide the pot in half, divide it in half again, and you'll sort of guesstimate. This amount of water is what I want to put in here in this pot. So, that's a good rule to follow. Usually or almost always, you want to water your plants in the morning. That is when I always water my plants, and that is when plants are the most active. They're getting their day going just like you're getting your day going. So, they want to drink water when they get up just like everyone else. So, it's always best to water your plants in the morning. Another good rule to follow when you're watering soil is it's kind of like cake mix. If you stick a toothpick or fork into your soil, and you pull it out, and there's some soil sticking to it, then the soil is probably still wet. You should leave it alone. But if it comes out clean, then the soil is dry enough such that you can add more water. Plants absorb water through their roots. Only air plants are specially designed to absorb water all throughout their bodies because they don't really even have roots that much. As far as other plants are concerned, they can only absorb water through their roots. So, when you add water, you always want to move the leaves aside and add the water directly to the soil. Adding water to the leaves runs the risk of disease, either bacterial spot or a fungal infection, because a lot of plant leaves with water on them will get infected and will have all that stuff. You always want to move the foliage out of the way and you always want to not get water on any other part of the plans, except for maybe ferns, air plants, and plants that need that high humidity or need water on their leaves. This plumosa fern is pretty water-resistant. It can have water all over its leaves and be okay. If you think about a ferns natural environment, which is usually next to waterfalls or the forest floor, it's usually very damped there anyway. So, when you're thinking about watering plants, you always want to think what environment did this come from. Most houseplants are tropical. So, you want to think of a tropical environment, but also you notice that in a tropical environment, the sun dries out the soil pretty quickly. So, keep that in mind. Plants grow towards the light. So, your plant will start to grow towards one side or wherever the light is coming from. It'll make a crooked plant. So, in that case, all you have to do is just turn the plant a little bit, and then the plant will readjust itself. Regular turning of the plant, maybe once a month or maybe once every couple of months depending on how big the plant already is, will help keep the plant growing upright and straight and nice and even, rather than just leaning to one side. Turning occasionally is important for that, the aesthetic aspect, as well as you don't want the plant leaning over so much that it topples the pot. Another thing that you want to be aware of is trimming. So, when you start to see yellowing leaves like this, you generally want to pull them off or cut them off, trim them off because yellow is a color of distress for plants. So, a lot of plants don't like to be yellow. Their leaves turn yellow when something is going wrong. Actually, yellow is a signal to many insects that the plant is in distress, that they should come and eat the plant. So, yellowing leaves have been known to attract fungus gnats, have been known to attract whiteflies and other indoor pests. So, trimming the yellow leaves as soon as they appear is very beneficial to keeping those pests away, although not all pests can be kept away and occasionally, you may have to deal with some common indoor pests. Some of those are spider mites, whiteflies, aphids, and fungus gnats. Fungus gnats are the little tiny gnats that buzz around whenever you water the plants. They look like fruit flies. Most indoor pests are easily taken care of with an application of horticulture oil to the soil, specifically for fungus gnats, and to the leaves or wherever you see infection or infestation elsewhere for other things such as spider mites, and mealybugs, and whiteflies, and pests like that. You'll know that a pest is there when your plant seems to not be doing well. If you really take a close look at the top and undersides of the leaves, you'll be able to see some of those pests. The spider mites though are very small. So, you will need to look especially close for them. But their presence is made obvious because they also make web-like spider webs in-between plant stems. So, you'll know that they're there because of their webs, even if you don't necessarily see them. Whenever you suspect that there's an infestation, you should apply horticulture oil to the plant. Don't ever be afraid if your plant is attacked by insects because the insects that attack plants are not the same insects that attack people. So, if your plant has a whole bunch of spider mites, or mealybugs, or aphids crawling all around it, you're still safe. They will not attack you. They will not jump on you. They will not bite you. They're not even interested in you. They're only interested in the delicious greenness of your houseplant. Over time, as dust collects on some of your plant leaves, it is a good idea to dust them occasionally. A nice, light feather duster will do for plants like this or even a nice, wet paper towel wiper or wet rag wipe on more smoother waxier leaves of larger plants. That's good too because the dust will get into the pores of the leaf and will clog them. So, it'll be hard for your plant to breath. So, it's always good for not only the aesthetic of the plant, the plant looks nicer when it's dusted, but also it's better for the plant that it's dusted as well. Just a sort of a brief on leaf yellowing. Now, leaf yellowing is caused by a lot of different factors, but the most common form of leaf yellowing is over watering. You'll see here, this is a healthy Marble Queen Pothos leaf. This is a sort of in-between stage, that it's starting to yellow, and this is a completely yellow Marble Queen Pothos leaf. This particular type of yellowing is caused from over watering. Other types of yellowing may be caused by a nutrient deficiency. They may be caused by an infestation. They may be caused by a broken limb. Lot of things could cause them, but the most common form of yellow leaf is in fact over watering. If you do start to observe yellow leaves on your plants, try to hold back on the watering and check the soil moisture before you add any more water. Dead plant matter should be removed as soon as possible because even if it's a black leaf or a yellow leaf, dead matter starts to rot, and rotting usually smells bad and also brings other fungi into the soil that wouldn't normally be there. A pot is a very small environment versus nature, which is really big. So, leaves rotting in nature is different from leaves rotting in your pot. Leaves rotting in your pot will bring the bad fungi in without enough good fungi to combat them or other microbes to combat them. So, it's always best to remove dead leaves from your plants to keep them clean and free from places from pests to hide in. A lot of pests like to hide within dead plant leaf tissue that's lying around the soil or all over the plant. 6. Closing: So, hopefully, with this knowledge, you can help care for your plant and help it live a very long time. Increase its longevity, increase it's productivity, and increase satisfaction. Maybe this will even inspire you to get a plant of your own. Maybe this will inspire you or inspire another to get another plant. Whatever your reason or whatever your cause, just keep planting.