Urban Sprouts Blog

Ask an expert: FAQs edition

Ask an expert: FAQs edition

How do I not kill succulents? 

Succulents come from hot, dry environments where they’ve adapted to long periods without water by storing water in their leaves.  To keep succulents thriving and happy, try to recreate their native habitats as much as possible: plant in well-draining soil (cactus mix is good), provide with as much bright, direct light as possible, and make sure their surrounding temperatures don’t drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule—some succulents grow in highly humid, rocky areas along the ocean or will tolerate lower light levels—but most succulents respond well to the above conditions.

When it comes to watering, make sure the soil is completely dry before adding moisture. You can also tell when a succulent is ready for water by squeezing the fleshy leaves: plump, full leaves mean it’s well hydrated, while slightly squishy leaves indicate your plant is ready for a drink.

Why does my plant look sad?

This is a fairly complicated question that varies a lot depending on what kind of plant/s you have, but there are a few good, general tips:  

  • Know its preferred amounts of light. A lot of tropical plants are sold as low-light options, but they may actually require medium light to be happy and grow. Also, you may need to move plants to new locations according to the season—a plant in a north or east window may need a south or west facing window in winter, and vice versa.

  • Fertilize in the spring and summer. Your plant will (hopefully) grow like crazy during these seasons, so it’ll need a little extra nutrient boost to keep up. We recommend adding an organic fertilizer or bacterial innoculent twice a month during the growing season.

  • Re-pot regularly. Again, the frequency depends a lot on the plant. Some plants grow very quickly and should be re-potted yearly, while others only need to be moved every 2-3 years.

For more on the topic, check out our re-potting checklist

 My air plant died, what did I do wrong?

 So glad you asked! We get this question a lot, so please check out our very thorough introduction to the amazing and super cool Tillandsia.

 Do I need a plant light?

 Our store in located in the Pacific Northwest, so the answer for our store customers is almost always probably. If you also live in a region with long, dark winters and many rainy or overcast days, you’ll probably be happier and more successful with a few good plant lights around. If you keep succulents and cactus, then we strongly recommend it. Plant lights are really quite affordable and come in all sizes, from standard CFLs to fancier, still reasonably priced LEDs.

 How do I water my tropical plants?

 Regularly. No matter what kind of tropical plant you have, they’ll be happiest with a routine. Some handle inconsistent watering well, while others will react very strongly to tiny changes. For the most part, they’ll be watered deeply once a week, until water runs out the bottom of the pot. During hot, sunny weather, check in with them at least twice a week by testing the soil moisture. If the soil feels dry two inches below the surface, it’s time for more water. In the fall and winter, however, you will likely be watering no more than once a week, and some plants will go up to 10 days between watering.

When do I trim my plants? 

Ideally, you’ll save any aggressive pruning or trimming for fall and winter, when your plant is mostly or completely dormant and less likely to experience shock. If you get the occasional yellow leaf, however, it’s ok to remove them with sharp, clean scissors. You’ll never want to remove more than 30 percent of a plant’s mass in a single trimming, however, so spread extensive work out over a period of weeks.

 Should I clean my plants?

Plants absorb sunlight through their leaves and use it along with water to convert energy into a sugar called glucose. The plant then uses the sugar for cell respiration, or if it has extra, converts it to starch and stores it for later. Keeping your leaves free of dust means your plant can process the sunlight it needs, when it needs it. We recommend wiping down the leaves with horticulture oil like Neem as soon as you notice any collecting. In addition to making the leaves look really pretty, Neem is a good organic pesticide and a natural antifungal treatment.