When it comes to looking after your plant babies, we've got you covered. Crazy Plant People have curated this comprehensive guide on looking after your plants. We've asked our very own community to contribute and will continue to add to this public and FREE e-book until we've covered every topic under the sun!

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Table of Contents

Introduction to Indoor Plants

History of Indoor Plants

Types of Indoor Plants

Your Indoor Plant Toolkit

Conditions for Growing Plants

 - Moisture/Water

 - Light

 - Air (Oxygen and Carbon dioxide)

 - Essential Minerals/Mineral Elements (major and minor)

 - Soil pH

 - Temperature

 - Adequate Space for Root and Shoot Growth

Growing Plants

Sexual Propagation

Asexual Propagation:

  - Cutting

  - Layering

  - Division and Separation

  - Budding and Grafting

Water Propagation

Buying New Plants

Troubleshooting Plants

Caring for your Indoor Plants

Plant SelectionLight

  - Artificial Lighting (Using Grow Lights to Grow Indoor Plants)






- Soilless Potting Media:

- Hydroponics

- Aeroponics

- Pot types and sizes


Pest and Disease Control

Surviving Winter

The Law and Regulations on Indoor Plants in Australia

Introduction to Indoor Plants

Indoor plants or houseplants are plants that are grown indoors - offices, restaurants, classrooms and most commonly in our homes. Indoor plants are often used as décor but recently have been very popular not just for their aesthetics but for their health benefits. They promote a positive and healthy wellbeing - naturally purifying the air, improving mental health, productivity and positive social behaviour.

History of Indoor Plants

Thought that indoor plants is a new and emerging trend? Although it has gained a huge amount of popularity in the last 5 years, the popularity of indoor plants have dated back to early human history! The earliest evidence of plants used indoors dated back in 600BC near the ancient city of Ninevah in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It was a luxurious garden that we can only dream of - boasting several stories high with a most heavenly ambience. Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian wrote that the terraces sloped upwards like an ancient theatre and reached a total height of 20 metres and described the terraces as being built on pillars and lined with reeds and bricks. King Nebuchadnezzar II commissioned the gardens for his wife, Queen Amytis. By 500BC and 400 BC this culture cultivating plants for aesthetic purposes other than for food, has quickly spread into the Mediterranean regions but only by the wealthy. It soon also became a symbol for wealth. 

During the 16th and 17th centuries, plants made it across the Atlantic from the New World to Europe - Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. They were presented as gifts to monarchs and other wealthy citizens who sponsored expensive voyages to collect more exotic plants. 

It wasn’t until the Victorian era, that indoor plants became popular with the middle class community. People grew hardier plants indoors in winter to brighten up their otherwise cold and dreary homes. These plants included English Ivy, Dracaenas and Aglaonemas - Chinese Evergreens with their colourful and cheerful foliage. These plants thrived in low light and improved the oxygen levels indoors. 

Today, the flower and indoor plants industry is worth billions of dollars and millennials seem to be the trendsetters in this area. They are more health conscious and recognises their need to come back and/or surround themselves in nature and go organic. It is already mainstream to think of making our urban concrete spaces green again. And, this is what indoor plants do for us: they fill our spaces with nature and make our buildings and homes feel lush. Whats used to be a symbol of wealth, today, indoor plants symbolises a lot more. It is a symbol of beauty, aesthetics, clean living and a greener society.

Types of Indoor Plants

There are different kinds of indoor plants. Depending on the criteria used to differentiate them, here are some of their categories.


These plants completer their cycle from germination to the production of seeds to flowering within one growing season and then die.


These plants take two years to mature (grow from seed to flowering) and then die. Their first year is marked with vegetative growth (leaves and short stems) while the second has marked stem growth (they grow long), flowering (seeds are developed in the ova) and then the plant dies.   


These are plants that grow for many growing seasons (many years). The older parts die out (during winter) and are replaced by new parts each year (during spring).   


These are plants that remain green throughout the year. They are perennial in nature (grow for many years) and may lose some leaves gradually. These leaves are also gradually replaced throughout the year.   


These are perennial plants (shrubs and trees) that lose their foliage in during autumn and have none during winter. It also refers to the shedding of petals after flowering or shedding of ripe fruit.   

Foliage Plants 

Foliage is a collection of leaves. Thus, foliage plants are leafy plants. Their leaves are usually ornamental. They are a great choice for indoor plants when it comes to improving air quality.   

Flowering Plants 

These are plants that produce flowers. Flowers are reproductive organs of flowering plants.   


These are non-parasitic plants that grow on another plants (even though some can be parasitic). Examples of such are numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids growing on tree trunks in tropical rainforests. They are not connected to the soil even though some (hemi-epiphytes) spend the first half of their lives without touching the ground and then grow roots in the ground. Epiphytes get their nutrients from their environment (fog, dew, air, mist, water, rain or dirt). These are usually found in temperate zones but are also in the tropics. They make excellent indoor plants because of their minimal moisture and soil requirements. Epiphytes in the tropics include ferns, cacti, orchids and bromeliads.  


These are plants that have thick fleshy leaves or stems adapted to storing water. They thrive well in hot, dry, desert conditions and do not need much water with some going for up to two years without it. They grow well in most indoor environments with minimal care. They can survive on mist and dew and have interesting shapes making them very ornamental. Succulent is from the Latin word sucus, meaning juice, or sap. They are found on every continent except Antarctica.   


These are succulent plants (thick fleshy stem) which typically bear spines, lack leaves, and have brilliantly coloured flowers. Cacti are native to arid regions of the New World and are cultivated elsewhere, especially as pot plants.  


There are a number of different palms that thrive indoors. They are relatively low maintenance, attract comparatively fewer pests, and provide a truly natural and serene feel to your space. They provide a tropical look to your office and home and are known for purifying the air.    


These give the illusion of a lush paradise. They usually require tall ceilings and ample sunlight to grow and reach their full potential. If cared for properly, young trees can grow and adapt to the room. Regular pruning is required to maintain a desirable height and shape.


These are relatively easy to grow when given proper conditions. Try to avoid drafts, extreme temperatures and dry air. Keep them in cooler parts of the house and avoid high temperatures. Most ferns prefer to moist potting medium and high humidity. 

Trailing Plants

Trailing plants look their best in hanging baskets or let cascade or spill over edges of shelves or benches. They ar eperfect for homes lacking in surface space.

Living Stones

These plants look like stones and are native to South Africa. Scientifically called lithops (meaning stones) they are also called pebble plants. They thrive in full sunlight and do not require watering during their summer dormancy or in winter. They are very slow growing and require no fertilizer. 

Climbing Plants 

Climbing plants often require plant support to climb on, be it trellis, totem pole, a fence or wires on a wall.

Bulbous Plants

These are fleshy leaves with short stems that store their foods in their leaves during dormancy. They can be true bulbs, corms, rhizomes or tubers. Some are edible. Examples are: muscari, tulipa, narcissus, iris, ginger, begonia, lily-of-the-valley etc.     

Your Indoor Plant Toolkit

Keeping up your indoor garden requires regular care and with these handy tools in your toolbox, it’ll be easy to keep your plants alive!

Gloves - Wear these to protect your hands from dirt and debris and to protect yourself from any injuries. It is important to pick a pair that fits, thin enough to be comfortable and flexible but also durable enough that it won't wear out easily.

Pruning Shears (secateurs) - A scissor like tool for use on plants. They are used to cut stems and light branches.

Gloves - Wear these to protect your hands from dirt and debris and to protect yourself from any injuries. It is important to pick a pair that fits, thin enough to be comfortable and flexible but also durable enough that it won't wear out easily.

Pruning Shears (secateurs) - A scissor like tool for use on plants. They are used to cut stems and light branches.

Hand Fork - A tool shaped like a fork used to break up soil when fertilizing or adding compost.

Hand rake - Similar to the hand fork but has more prongs for easier soil breaking on wider surfaces.

Indoor Watering Can - Used to hydrate your indoor plants! 

Moisture Sensor Meter - Takes out the guess work of knowing the moisture level of your potting media and thus the amount of water you would need to use for the next watering session. 

Trellis / Totem Pole - To provide support for your indoor climbing plants 

Humidifier - Use this to increase the humidity around the plant to optimum levels (50%-60%). Clean it regularly to avoid bacteria buildup. 

Mister - You use it to spray mist on your plants. Can increase humidity levels around your plants.

Growing Tent - Provides a safe secluded place to grow plants in. It keeps them from some pests and rodents. It is porous and also allows or light to access the plants. Particularly helpful during winter - keeping your plants together, it can increase humidity levels and help keep your plants warm.

Grow Light - Not enough natural light in your home? A grow light can help you give your plants all the growing light they need!

Conditions for Growing Plants

Just like humans, plants need some basic needs in order for them to thrive and grow to their full potential. If these needs are not met, there may be some deficiency in growth and functions in the plant and may ultimately lead to diseases, pest or even death. These factors affect both above and below ground (soils or growing media) environments. 

The essential things that a plant needs to grow are: 

Plants need water to survive. Water has oxygen which the plant uses to create its own food. The roots absorb oxygen from the water in the soil and use it to manufacture plant food as well as energy for essential plant processes. The water must not be too much or too little as this will cause death in plants especially young ones. Too much water in the pot will lead to root rot and will also starve the roots of needed oxygen as they absorb larger quantities of oxygen from air than they do from water. 

Plant use light to create starch and energy for plant use. This process is called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the creation of plant nutrients by the use of carbon dioxide and water with the help of chlorophyll (the green pigment in leaves). The by-product of photosynthesis is oxygen. For a plant to survive and thrive, it has to have sufficient light that enables the creation of starch (glucose) for its own life processes. 

(Oxygen and Carbon dioxide)Plants respire by using the sugars produced in photosynthesis to create plant food and energy that fuels growth. This energy is then used by the plant for its life processes. The leaves take in carbon dioxide during day and produce oxygen but this reverses at night when carbon dioxide is released in large amounts. The roots absorb oxygen from soil air (or whatever medium they are in) in order to release energy from stored sugars thus fueling plant growth. Without adequate air, plant growth is limited.

Essential Minerals/Mineral Elements (major and minor)
There are 17 plant minerals that are classified as essential for plant growth. These 17 elements ensure a healthy and vibrant plant when they are all present in the right quantities. They are also called plant nutrients. There are macro-elements/macronutrients (which are required in large quantities and can be obtained from water, air or both and are available in the soil), soil-derived macronutrients, and soil-derived micronutrients. To note is the role played by soil microorganisms in synthesizing and making available such nutrients in the soils. They break down the difficult forms of nutrients into forms that can be absorbed by the roots.  

The elements are as follows:
a. Macronutrients: Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen (C, H, O) - Derived from water and air
b. Soil-Derived Macronutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium (N, P, K, Ca and Mg)
c. Soil-Derived Micronutrients: Boron, Chlorine, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel and Zinc (B, Cl, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo, Ni and Zn)

Each of these nutrients have their use in plant growth. The table below explains it: 

Table 1. Function and mobility within plant tissue of the 14 soil-derived essential nutrients for plant growth.
Created by Robert L. Mahler, soil scientist, UI Department of Plant, Soil, and Entomological Sciences 

It is important to know the mineral concentration in your potting mix before attempting to add fertilizer (organic or inorganic) because some elements cause negative reactions from the plant when in excess.

Soil pH
It also important to note that for most plant root element uptake (plant nutrients uptake) the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the soil is a determining factor. Mineral uptake can be slowed or hindered if the optimal pH is not present. This is more seen in micronutrient uptake as well as phosphorus. The optimum pH level for plants to thrive is slightly acidic (5.5) to slightly basic/alkaline (7.5). Individual plants may vary depending on their growth requirements but this is the general range. To test for soil/growth medium pH, you can buy a soil pH tester. 

It is also possible to do a DIY soil PH test at home using only vinegar and baking soda!

Soil Alkalinity Test:
Alkaline soil has a pH above 7. This is how you test for soil alkalinity
• Take your soil's/potting mix sample - 2 small cups
• Put 1 cup of the soil into a clean glass bowl/jar
• Make mud out of it by adding just enough water
• Add half a cup of vinegar, stir a little

If the soil fizzles or forms bubbles/foam, it is alkaline.
If not, you have to now run a soil acidity test. 

Soil Acidity Test:

• Take the other soil/potting mix sample and put it into another clean glass bowl/jar

• Make mud out of it by adding just enough water

• Add half a cup of baking soda

• Stir

If you see bubbles or fizzing, the soil/media is acidic.

If there is no reaction to either of the two tests, then your soil/media is optimal for plant nutrient absorption as it is in the range of neutral pH (7.0).

To correct alkalinity, sulfur is added to the potting soil/media. To correct acidity, lime is added to the potting media/soil. You can also add wood ash to correct acidity. 


Plant processes heavily depend on optimal temperatures to be at their best. The optimal temperatures for photosynthesis in most plants are between 30◦C and 33◦C. Optimal temperatures for root growth for some temperate plants are lower and range from 15◦C to 31◦C. There are specific ranges for specific plants, and it is important to choose plants for the intended space and environment that you have rather than trying to find the right space for the plant.

Adequate Space for Root and Shoot Growth

Roots feed the plant of its essential needs for water, minerals and air by absorbing these into the plant (called uptake). They also provide energy storage (which the air in the soil helps to do) and synthesize important organic compounds. Roots are also the base of the plant and support it so that it stands upright (they anchor the plant). Having ample root space helps the plant take in as much oxygen and water as needed for optimal plant growth.

You can see from the above what the soil or soilless media essentially does is hold all these elements together by providing a conducive environment for them. That is why plant can germinate in any media that has all these factors met. This is what makes it possible to have hydroponics and aeroponics (growing plants using water alone or air).   

Growing Plants

Asexual Propagation:

In asexual propagation, there is the regeneration of a parent plant into a new plant. The new plant will be identical to the parent plant and inherits all its qualities. It is the best way to maintain some species. Asexual propagation is done by the uses the plant's vegetative parts: leaves, stems or roots. For some plants, this is the easiest, fastest and only way to propagate. One advantage of this type of propagation is that the early stages of development as occurs in other plants are skipped, meaning you would not have to care for the plant the way you would in sexual propagation. 

Asexual propagation is carried out through various methods:

• Cutting: a piece of the plant is cut out and then rooted into the potting media

• Layering: the parent plant is rooted and then allowed to grow for some time (to develop roots) and then cut into pieces that bear one root each.

• Division

• Budding and Grafting: joining two different plant varieties at particular plant parts.  


Parts of plants are cut out (called cuttings) and regenerated to produce new plants. A sterilized sharp blade is used. You can use alcohol or a mixture of bleach and water to the ratio of 1:9 in order to sterilize the cutting tools. Rooting hormones can be used to increase the number of roots formed from a cutting. You can do this by putting some of it in a container and dipping cuttings to it. It is good to use a rooting hormone that has fungicide in it. Remove flowers and buds from the cutting as these take preference in use of plant food. Without them, the plant will concentrate its energy on forming roots. Rooting mediums to use are: coarse sand, vermiculite, soil, water, or a mixture of peat and perlite. The rooting medium must be sterile and provide all needed water at required quantities. Too much or too little will be harmful to the cutting. Stem and leaf cuttings thrive best in bright, indirect sunlight while root cuttings only need light once the shoot appears. Some plants require cutting at specific times in the year (during fall or in their dormant seasons).

Stem Cuttings

Stems are usually cut at the tip, median (above the node), in cane-like shapes, using a single/double eye (eyes are nodes) or the heel. 

Leaf Cuttings

Almost exclusively used for some indoor plants. Most plants produce a few roots but no plant. 

Root Cuttings

Some plant root cuttings produce shoots before they produce roots, and others vice versa. Root cuttings are usually obtained during the dormant seasons of the plants when they have lots of food stored in them. Plants that are ready for root cuttings should be at least 2-3 years old. For large root plants, make two cuts 5-15 cm apart. Let the top cut be straight and the lower cut diagonal to differentiate the two. Keep the cutting in moist peat moss or sand or sawdust for three weeks at about 4.5◦C to stimulate growth. Move the cutting to the medium and vertically insert until its top is on the medium surface.


In layering, stems are put in contact with rooting medium and begin to form roots. The rooted stems are later cut and allowed to form new plants. Layering has a high success rate because it prevents water stress and plant food (carbohydrate) shortage experienced in cuttings. Some plants need help to layer but others do it naturally. When layering, a side of the stem slightly cut or sharply bent to make it more effective. The rooting media must provide aeration and moisture at all times.

Below is a table of the processes: 

Division and Separation

Plants that have more than one rooted crown are divided and each of the crowns is planted to form a new plant. If the crowns are connected by horizontal stems, the rooted stems can be cut with a secateurs or sharp knife. When not joined just pull them apart. Dust with fungicides before replanting. 

In separation, new bulbs and corms are formed and propagated into new plants. These new bulbs and corms are separated every 3-5 years to help increase their population. For the bulbs, allow the leaves to wither and dig them up. Pull all bulbs apart and replant immediately for root development. Large bulbs bloom within a year while small ones take much longer (2-3 years). For corms, there are new ones that grow on top of old ones. Wait for leaves to wither and dig them up and dry them for 2-3 weeks in the shade/indirect sunlight. Remove any tiny cormels that may have developed around the large ones and carefully separate the new from the old. Dust them with fungicide and store until planting time (corms take about 2 to 3 months from planting to flowering). You can plant them every two weeks until early summer. Bulbs that are separated include tulips and narcissus. Corms include crocus, gladiolus and autumn crocus.

Budding and Grafting

In grafting and budding, two different plant parts (from different plants within the same genus) are joined together so they can grow as one. They are important for cuttings that cannot root well or those without adequate root systems. One or more cultivars can be added to fruit or nut trees by these methods. A good example is pomatoes, which is a grafted tomato on a potato plant that yields both tomato fruit and potatoes. The scion is the future shoot of the plant and the rootstock is the root of the end plant where the scion is attached. A lot of care has to be taken in these procedures as the success rate is significantly low when not done right. Proper binding of the scion and the rootstock must be observed and maintained for up to two years in order to have a successful procedure. Rubber budding strips work better as they expand with the growing plant. 

Water Propagation

This is growing new plants in water. It is asexual propagation and involves dipping plant cuttings in water and allowing them to develop roots. The cuttings are then transplanted to potting media and allowed to grow normally.  You can follow the following steps to propagate in water:

• Get a stem cutting from your plant. Some plants need at least one node to properly propagate.  Let the base of the stem have 5-15 cm free of foliage. Leaf cuttings can also be used. Ensure that a whole leaf (including its base) is cut off if you are using leaf cuttings. Twist gently to remove to avoid damage as damage leaves may not grow. The cutting must be a whole healthy part of the plant, not damaged in any way.

• Dry the cuttings for a couple of days until their cut tips are dry (for succulents).

• Find a container that will be able to hold the cutting and add water. Place cuttings with the foliage on the water surface leaving the bare stem in the water. Let the leaf cutting rest just above the surface of the water. You could also suspend the top of the cutting to allow for just the end of the cutting to touch the water.• Place the container in a sunlit area or where there is a good amount of filtered light coming through.

• Watch for root growth and refill water as needed.

• Once roots have formed, remove from water and dry for a few days. If you don't want to use other media to grow the plant, you can leave it in the water, just change the water every other week. Keep it in a bright area.

• Plant rooted cuttings in potting media and grow the new plant. Keep them from direct sunlight as this damages new plants.

• Water a little more than usual, to help the plant grow. You can mist the soil every few days if the potting media looks dry. When roots are firm, harden the plant by reducing watering to once each week. 

Buying New Plants

Another way of acquiring new plants is by purchasing them from a reputable dealer/source. Indoor plants can be purchased online, though care should be taken to choose the right kind of plant that would thrive in your environment. There are a number of credible sources for new plants that ship directly from their greenhouses or nurseries. You can also buy them from garden centers near you. This is advantageous because they likely will have all needed information about the plant and its adaptation to the local climate in your area. 

While importing indoor plants, check the government plant importation site to be aware of government regulations concerning importation of live plants. If you do purchase online, make sure to do the following when the plant arrives:

Unwrap plants and dispose/recycle wrappings accordingly. Do a thorough inspection of each plant. It is normal for plants to look a little bit tired and weary and sometimes even a little bruised from their travels but use your best discretion to differentiate between a 'tired' looking plant and an unhealthy one. If in the unfortunate event that your plant arrives unwell, do not delay getting in tough with who you bought the plant from. Take pictures and send it to them. A reputable and professional business will make sure that you are happy with your purchase and take the necessary steps to make your experience a positive one.

Next, if your are happy with your initial inspection, re-pot your plant if it came bare-rooted or if it came already potted - give your plant a good drink of water and put the new plant/s in an area separate from your other plants. Keep them there for at least 14 days as you watch for any insects or pests. If there are no such insects (like mealybugs that form cotton-like appearances under the leaves) or bumps on the stem (a sign of other insects) then you can now put them your other plants. 

If you do notice any insects then treat the plant accordingly and keep quarantined until pests free.

Once you have your new plant with your other plants, care for them the same as the others. Check the need for fertilizer and other cultural practices as mentioned in the caring for your indoor plant section. 

Troubleshooting Plants

Plants can sometimes start looking weak and not their best. If this is the case, you will need to find out the reasons why it is happening. It is typically one or more of the following reasons:

• Water (moisture)

• Light

• Temperature (dry air and humidity)

• Pests and

• Diseases

You will need to act as soon as you notice changes to the plant before they are too damaged.

Below is a table that summarizes this: 


Any plant can have yellow leaves primarily because something has interfered with its chlorophyll function and uptake of nutrients. This includes too much or too little water (moisture stress), pests and diseases and lack of nutrition (from the potting media or because of pests and diseases).   

New plants can be grown from seeds, cuttings and other plant parts. This is called plant propagation. There are two kinds of propagation: sexual and asexual.

Sexual Propagation:

• Involves plant pollen and eggs and uses the floral parts of plant for this. The pollen is the male part of a plant and the egg the female part. Spores are also used by some plants like fungi.

• These unite to form seeds, which when mature and meet some conditions begin to germinate and grow into a young plant.

• For some plants, this is the only way they can reproduce.

• Draws genes from two different plants creating a third plant which is individually different from parents.

• Usually quicker to accomplish and sometimes cheaper.

• Perfect for creating robust hybrids and new varieties because of the addition of different qualities in each parent plant to the new plant. This can sometimes make them diseases resistant and/or more productive because of inherited traits. 

To sexually propagate:

Start with good seeds. A gardening shop or quality seed dealer can help you obtain the best quality seeds for the plant you want to grow. You can also pick the exact variety you want to grow based on the suitable conditions in your indoor space.  

Seeds can sometimes last for years, but it is advisable to only acquire what you need for the season as viability may dwindle with time. Check the package for the year seeds were packed and what treatment they underwent. Store seeds in a cool, dry place before the date of sowing. One can use laminated foil packets or paper packets kept in air-tight containers to keep them dry. You can actually store them in a refrigerator door shelf (maintain a temperature of about 4◦C).

Plant your seeds on sterilized flat trays/containers with potting media present. The container should at least be 30 cm deep and wide and can be 30-45 cm long. Ensure the potting media is well aerated, fertile, loose, fine and uniform, fertile and free of weeds, pests, diseases and pathogens. You can sterilize the soil to ensure it is free from pathogens, weeds, pests and diseases. The media is usually at a ratio of 1:1:1 for soil, sand or vermiculite/perlite and peat moss. You can also omit the soil to make artificial potting mix. Use coir (coconut fibre) instead. Do not plant them too deep for finer seeds, or too shallow for larger seeds. Plant several more seeds than you intend to grow so that you have your required number of germinated seeds. You can get rid of the excess seedlings once you reach your required seedling number.

After planting, ensure you keep the environment conducive for the seeds to grow. Check that the water/moisture is accurate, there is light (for some seed types), enough oxygen (soil air) and the temperature is right (18-24◦C for most plant seeds). Do not expose the germinating seeds to direct sunlight, grow them in a shade.

Transplanting times differ for different plants, but usually range from 4 to 12 weeks. Care must be taken when transplanting to avoid damage on the seedlings. 2 weeks before transplanting, try to harden the seeds by reducing the amount of moisture/water, and adjusting temperatures to suit the environment you are transplanting them to. This ensures no damage to the seedling on transplanting.

The process of transplanting involves carefully digging up the small plants with a knife or wooden plant label. Use the leaves to gently hold the seedlings as they are still weak. Avoid damaging the roots as they are delicate at this stage. Also dig a hole just as deep as the level of depth the seedling had in the flat tray.

Caring for your Indoor Plants

Indoor plants need the soil mixture, optimum moisture levels, light, temperature, and humidity to thrive well. When establishing them in pots you also need to consider the most appropriate fertilizer to use, the appropriate pest control method to use and the correct size of pot for each individual plant.

Plant Selection
This is what you should do first. Think of where you would like to have the plant and match the space with plants that will thrive if grown there. Then now consider the kind of plant you would like to have: tall, foliage, flowering etc. and choose from those available that fit into that criteria. The plant must have a good root system, foliage and must be free from pests and diseases. Keep in mind the kind of nurture the plant will need, as some do not need as much attention as others. For example succulents are the easiest to care for, while ferns are sensitive and need your attention. 

It is very important to check if the plant is toxic or non-toxic to young children and our pets. Some toxic plants are identified below. (Some of the plants are toxic to dogs, some to cats, some to young children and others to all three). Even non-toxic plants can cause an unwanted reaction if they’re eaten, so try to keep them out of reach nevertheless. Alternatively try to establish rules with your children. The best advice we can give you is: Assume plants are poisonous unless you know otherwise.

Agapanthus orientalis (African Lily; Leaves and bulbs are poisonous.) 

Aglaonema commutatum (Chinese Lucky Plant; It has proven to be a common cause of poisoning) 

Alocasia macrorhiza (Elephant Ears, Cunjevoi, Giant Taro; These plants are dangerously poisonous. They are commonly cultivated in gardens, as well as in pots for indoor decoration, thus providing easy access for infants. All parts of the plant are poisonous) 

Aloe vera (Aloe Vera; Vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea. The gel is considered edible) 

Brassaia actinophylla (Schefflera, Umbrella Tree, Octopus Tree, Starleaf) 

Caesalpinia gilliesii (Bird of Paradise) 

Caladium hortulanum (Caladiums) 

Clematis microphylla (Small Leaf Clematis; These plants are poisonous both internally and externally) 

Clivia miniata (Clivia; Bulbs (particularly the epidermis) and fruit of some species are reported toxic to stock and humans if eaten. Also has allergenic and irritant properties) 

Crassula arborescens (Chinese Jade, Silver Jade Plant, Silver Dollar) 

Chrysanthemum spp. (Chrysanthemum) 

Coleus ampoinicus (Coleus) 

Cyclamen persicum (Cyclamen; The corm is poisonous, causing nausea and vomiting) 

Dieffenbachia picta (Dumbcane; It is a popular indoor plant. Its admirers are probably unaware of its potential danger to children and animals. The sap from the stem, if applied to the tongue will cause immediate and painful inflammation of the tongue and throat and consequent inability to talk) 

Dracaena fragrans (Corn Plant, Cornstalk Plant, Dracaena, Dragon Tree, Ribbon Plant) 

Euphorbia pulcherrima (Poinsettia; This plant is dangerously poisonous. It is the emblem of Brisbane in Queensland. The leaves, sap and seeds are poisonous) 

Epipremnum aureum (Pothos, Devil's Ivy) 

Hedera canariensis (Ivy; All parts of these plants are dangerously toxic) 

Hedera helix (Common Ivy, English Ivy; These plants are dangerously toxic. The leaves and the black berries are both toxic, the berries being the most toxic) 

Hydrangea sp. (Hydrangea; These plants are toxic in all their parts. They are admired by gardeners for their wonderful large globular flower heads) 

Kalanchoe tubiflora (Mother of Millions; There is every indication that these plants are toxic to humans) 

Monstera deliciosa (Monstera deliciosa; This plant is capable of causing intense injury to the mouth, tongue and alimentary tract if bitten, chewed or eaten) 

Philodendron (Philodendron; These plants commonly cause child poisoning. They are often grown as indoor plants where children have easy access to them. The leaves have proved poisonous to household pets) 

Ricinus communis (Castor Oil Plant, Palma Christi; This plant is dangerously poisonous. It is a very ornamental plant when in leaf. The reddish flowers produce soft spiny fruits in interesting bunches attractive to children. The seeds are very toxic. .One seed can cause severe poisoning) 

Syngonium podophyllum (Arrow head vine; Oral irritation, pain and swelling of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing) 

Zamia pumila (Coontie Palm, Sago Palm, Cardboard Palm, cycads and zamias)


Zantedeschia aethiopica (Calla Lily, Lily of the Nile, Arum Lily. Pig Lily; All parts of these plants are dangerously poisonous) 

(Everist, Selwyn L. (1974). Poisonous Plants of Australia. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, N.S.W.; Shepherd, R.C.H. (2004) Pretty but Poisonous. R.G. and F.J. Richardon, Melbourne.;  Wilson, S. (1997) Some Plants are Poisonous. Reed Books Australia, Kew, Victoria.)


Different plants require different amounts of light for different durations. This is called photoperiodism. Plants manufacture their foods through the conversion of light into energy in the leaves (photosynthesis). Even though leaves absorb most light, they need little yellow and green lights from the spectrum and use the red and blue lights heavily. Adequate quantities of these lights need to be present for optimal plant growth. A good location for indoor plants is where they can receive light for part of the day. North facing windows (for indoor plants in the southern hemisphere) will expose plants to longer light periods that east/west facing windows which give indirect light. South facing windows will give low light exposure. Succulents require all day sunlight while most indoor plants with foliage need at least 4-6 hours period of bright indirect light.

Artificial Lighting (Using Grow Lights to Grow Indoor Plants)

As discussed above, plants require a particular wavelength of light to grow. Each plant has an optimal amount of light required to grow it, and not all plants require the same amount. It is possible to grow plants in artificial light because of the specific light wavelengths involved. Because plants absorb the blue and red wavelengths, these are the spectrums needed for their lighting. 

You can use the following to artificially light your plants:

• Fluorescent lights

• Incandescent lights

• LED lights

• Halogen lights

• Horticultural grow lights 

The following advice for easy plant lighting for room with low natural light:

• Find a standing lamp with three bulbs, ideally one with moveable or gooseneck fixtures. 

• Use one incandescent bulb and two compact fluorescent bulbs of the highest wattage you can, within the safe wattage rating for the fixture. 

• Aim the lights toward your plant table. If each fixture is separately movable, then put the fluorescent bulbs closer than the incandescent, to avoid heat damage. 

• Place a mirror or other reflective surface underneath your plants, to reflect light back up onto the foliage. 

• Attach a timer set to 16 hours per day. 


Moisture is an important necessity for plant growth. If a plant has less or more water moisture than it needs, it's growth and survival will be affected, sometimes detrimentally. All plants have unique soil moisture level requirements. Indicators of under watering are brown crispy tips on a plant's leaves. Too much water causes yellowing of plant leaves. If there is water-buildup at the base of the pot, roots can rot. There must be drainage under the pot to allow for proper levels of water. 


Humidity is the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere (atmospheric moisture). If watered regularly, most indoor plants can tolerate adverse humid conditions. Indoor relative humidity is between 20% and 60%, making it acceptable for plant growth. However, just about 80% humidity is optimal. You can spray plants (mist them) with water or a humidifier to increase humidity.   


Tropical indoor plants need a range of 15 °C to 25 °C (60 °F to 80 °F) year-round. As with moisture and light requirements, each plant has its own optimal temperature levels, but staying within this bracket for tropical indoor plants is good for its growth and development. In winter months, mulching can be used to increase soil temperatures, suppress weeds, retain moisture and feed the soil. In summer, mulching can be used to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture by preventing evaporation of water from the soil and it insulates the soil from summer heat. In general, mulching moderates the soil temperature. 


Indoor plants are grown in treated (specialized) soils called potting compost, potting medium, potting mix or potting soil. Local natural soil is avoided because of disadvantages it may have in the healthy growth of the plants (harmful organisms) as well as its weight (heavy). The potting medium is use to provide the plant with nutrients, support, adequate drainage, and proper aeration. Potting medium usually contains high nutrient soils (peat) and soils that have the right drainage capacity (vermiculite or perlite). It also contains soil conditioners (rotted materials) such as fruit and vegetable waste, plant foliage and composted bark. Coir (coconut fibre) can be used to substitute soil because of its sustainability and zero environmental impact. Sterilized soils can also be used but the disadvantage of such is the removal of useful organisms from the soil. An advantage is the soil will not contain harmful organisms, and with potting compost added to it, it becomes suitable for plant growth. You can make your own potting mix by following these few steps:


• Major ingredients: gallons

• Minor Ingredients: teaspoons/tablespoons

Major ingredients are use in both soil and peat based mixes. 


● Sphagnum Peat Moss - A preferred soilless growing ingredient because of its properties. Sphagnum is a moss plant that allows for plant growth over it especially in northern hemisphere wetlands. The peat moss is the dead decayed sphagnum moss plant.It is coarse, allowing for great aeration due to its air space, can hold good amounts of water, has high buffering of nutrients level and has no weeds or diseases and insects associated with it. It also lasts long and maintains its quality and plants do well in it. Moisten it before mixing as it takes long to wet.

● Builder Sand - It can be substituted with coarse sand or sharp sand. It has good drainage and aeration but cannot hold water for long. Be careful not to mix it with clay based soils. When sand is added into potting mix, it is usually to improve drainage. Coarseness improves drainage.

● Perlite - This is mixed with soil or peat. It replaces sand in the mix. Perlite is defined in the dictionary as a form of rock (amorphous volcanic glass derived from the hydration of obsidian) consisting of glassy globules, used as insulation or in plant growth media (commercially and horticulturally). It provides great drainage, has a relatively high water capacity, holds more air and is light (as compared to sand). It appears grey in color and has a neutral pH.

● Vermiculite - often used to replace perlite. It can hold water though not as much as perlite. This is constrained because of its tendency to compact, making it hold less water and air (when compact). However, it does hold more water than perlite. This is because vermiculite actually absorbs the water, while perlite just holds its bubbles making it easier to let go. This may be a disadvantage for vermiculite as better air-space is required for root respiration. It is a form of clay and can be found in laminated flakes. When with water, it expands and can then hold nutrients, air and water. Just like perlite, vermiculite is heated to expand it so it can be useful for plants. It can also add potassium and magnesium to the potting mix. It's pH is neutral.THE PROCEDURE:Combine garden soil or its alternative, sphagnum peat moss and sand/perlite/vermiculite on a ratio of 1:1:1. For best results, use garden loam soil over other soil choices you may have. Sterilize the soil (using a microwave or oven) or solarize it (place a polythene sheet over it and leave it in the sun for two or more weeks) to kill pathogens, weed seeds and keep insects away. It can be a smelly affair. The advantage is the seeds will not get damaged and pests are gotten rid of.

This is how you combine them:

• Empty the soil into an empty container large enough to hold the quantity you want for your potting mix.

• Add the same quantity of moistened sphagnum peat moss and your choice of sand, perlite or vermiculite.

• Mix everything thoroughly. This will enable you to have a loose mixture that contains all the ingredients in equal portions contributing to the strengths of the potting mix. If it is sticky it means the clay/vermiculite needs more mixing to loosen it up. If it is gritty then the sand is not well mixed with the other ingredients. You can add amounts of either ingredient to adjust everything to your satisfaction. 

Soilless Potting Media:

These contain no soil.The garden shop may have peat moss mixed with commercial horticultural grades of vermiculite and/or peat and fertilizer. Peat makes a good choice because of its light weight and sterility. It is also uniform which makes it easy for seeds to grow both shoots and roots. It is also a good transplanting media.The mixtures can be tweaked to suit specific plants as plants usually have different levels of requirements for ingredients. 

 The sphagnum peat moss and perlite/vermiculite are mixed at a ratio of 1:1. 

 The procedure is simple: 

• Empty the measure of peat moss into your intended mixing container. It must be clean and sterilized. 

• Add the perlite or vermiculite according to measure. 

• Mix thoroughly 

• Add enough water to moisten the mix before emptying into the pot. 

For all the mixes, add some small amounts of liming media and fertilizer. Keep in mind the pH of the media should be tested before these are added so as to ensure an optimal pH (between 5.5 and 7.5, most plants do best at pH 6.5). The lime is added with the fertilizer because of the fertilizers tendency of growing acidic over time (nitrogen and phosphorus in form of phosphoric acid contribute to this).Other forms of soilless agriculture include: 

• Hydroponics 

• Aeroponics   

This is growing plants in nutrient solutions dissolved in water. The plant roots are usually supported by perlite or other forms of support other than soil. Sometimes plants are grown with only their roots exposed to the nutrient solution. Sources of nutrients for the solution can come from bird manure, fish waste, manure or chemical fertilizer. The solution can be static or flowing (running water solution). 

Aeroponics on the other hand uses suspended droplets of nutrient solution to feed plant roots and have been proven commercially successful for quite a number of edible plants (vegetables).

Both aeroponics and hydroponics are up to 10 times more efficient than traditional farming because of their specificity on nutrient uptakes and controlled environments. 

Pot types and sizes
Pot sizes and types matter a lot in indoor plants. Large pots with small rooted plants expose the plant roots to diseases and rotting while the adverse restricts plant growth. Try to keep plants in the same pot for up to two years. There are porous and non-porous pots. Porous pots permit aeration while non-porous pots preserve moisture but have limited flow of air. Both kinds of pots need to have holes at the bottom to aid drainage as too much water at the pot bottom leads to root-rot. You would not need to repot a plant unless the roots have outgrown the space in the plant. If you water the plant and it uses all the water up and still looks unhealthy, in some cases it may be that the roots need more space.

They type of pots use and sizes are specific to house plants. What should be considered is the size of the roots so that the pot is not too big or too small for the plant.

Pots can be sterilized with bleach to kill bacteria before use, especially old ones. The ratio of bleach to water should be 1:10.


The major essential soil minerals like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are essential for green, leafy growth, flowering or fruiting and strong roots and increased nutrient uptake respectively. Minor and trace minerals like calcium, zinc, manganese, magnesium and iron may also be necessary. Foliage indoor plants require more nitrogen in their nutrients while flowering plants would require higher levels of phosphorus. Organic fertilizers can also be used. Examples of organic fertilizers include: liquid seaweed (which can be sprayed on foliar and the leaves absorb it), deodorized fish emulsion and products developed for hydroponics. Homemade organic fertilizers can be made from gelatin as it is almost pure nitrogen (mix ordinary unflavored gelatin with hot water and allow it to dissolve. Add cold water to dilute and water plant roots with it). For potassium and phosphorous, use banana peels. You can either directly put them on the root bed of the pot or ferment chopped banana peels in water for a week and pour the water on plants. 

Pest and Disease Control
Pests are any animal or plant detrimental to plants while plant diseases are the abnormal growth or functions of a plant. Some pests cause plant diseases. Generally, if a plant has any form of deficiency (nutrient or moisture deficiency etc.) it predisposes it to pests and diseases. Knowing how to control and manage pests and diseases will save you a lot of time and money. An array of available products and ways are available for pest and disease control, including organic methods. 

Natural ways of controlling pests include:

• Using traps and Pheromone lures - which identify pest presence and control them

• Biopesticides - safer than chemical pesticides and are highly specific to organism-carrying insects (protozoa, bacteria, viruses and fungi)

• Beneficial Insects - these feed on larvae or adults of harmful pests but are not harmful to plants. Some aid in pollination.

• Botanical Insecticides - they don't last as long as chemical insecticides but are not as toxic. Caution should still be exercised over their toxicity

• Soaps and Oils - These are made of minimally or non-toxic and minimally processed natural ingredients e.g. boric acid (bugs) 

Below is a table highlighting what can be done to control them. 

For more information on plant pests and diseases in Australia, check this webpage:

Surviving Winter
Plants are very sensitive to environmental factors that may be affected by winter. They hate dry air and extreme temperature variations and may react to drafts. For such plants, place them in a draft-safe spot away from direct heat and somewhere away from the window seal but a place it can access sunlight. Use humidifiers especially when you are having your windows closed during winter. This is a lifesaver for ferns. Plants usually like a humidity level of about 50%. If you have several plants, cluster them together to utilize their release of moisture. Rooms where moisture accumulates include the kitchen and bathroom. When misting, do it several times a day as the moisture evaporates. Let your room temperature be steady to avoid fluctuations. Depending on where the light comes from, rotate the plant slightly when next you water to ensure even exposure to light. Wipe your leaves if they are dusty to keep them open to plant life processes (photosynthesis which uses the stomata in leaves). Do not overwater the plants as this may cause root rot and the plant would not be able to have enough oxygen intake from roots thus affecting other plant parts. Winter is a dormant season for plants and as such you will not need to water them as much as in other seasons. You also don't need to fertilize them as they will not be growing much. Clear the plant of any dead foliage, you can prune it too because this will help the plant concentrate its reserves on needed plant parts. Keep succulents in cool conditions while still exposing them to sunrays. 

The Law and Regulations of Indoor Plants in Australia

The Department of Agriculture in Australia offers a lot of information on laws regarding indoor plants and other types of plants. Information concerning quarantined plants and organisms are posted there for alertness and caution. You can find this information on their website here:

If you are buying plants from out of the country, there are regulations you are required to follow and understand. You can find that information here:

And here: 

If you are importing potting mixes and other plant products applied to soils and plants, you can find information on required steps and procedures here:

If you are importing seeds for sowing in Australia, you need to know the information found here:

For information on biosecurity as regards gardening, this is important to know:

To view the industry code on horticulture, please go to the following site: 



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