Episode 106: ten commandments for houseplant care

Photograph by Katya Austin on  Unsplash .

Photograph by Katya Austin on Unsplash.

Subscribe to On The Ledge via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Player FM, Stitcher, Overcast, RadioPublic and YouTube.

I continue the theme of houseplants for beginners this week, as Judy Feldstein of Houseplant411.com presents her ten commandments for houseplant care. I also answer a question about watering habits and fungus gnats.

If you’re interested in the brown jug plant, suggested by listener Randall as another super-tough plant suitable for beginners. Its Latin name is Synadenium grantii and it’s very easy to growm but it’s a member of the Euphorbia clan so be aware of its toxic sap.

This week’s guest

Judy Feldstein ran her own interior plantscaping business in the US from 1975 to 2007. Now she offers houseplant growers advice on her website, Houseplant411.com, and she’s also the author of two books: Don’t Feed Me To Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants, and the recently published Don't Talk to Me I'll Grow Better: A Guide to Easy Care Houseplants.

Judy’s ten commandments of houseplant care

  1. When in doubt, don’t water! The fatter the leaves of the plant, the less often it needs to be watered

  2. Don’t overfertilise. It’s better to underfeed your plants than overfeed them, as excess nutrients build up on the soil. Plants only need to be fed when they are actively growing.

  3. Don’t rush to repot your plant. Being slightly potbound can help the plant’s soil dry out quicker and prevent root rot. When you do repot, only increase the pot size by a small amount.

  4. Avoid water with too many mineral salts in it, including water from a water softener: rainwater is ideal, or you can use water from an RO unit.

  5. Prune your plants. If you keep cutting back plants, especially vines, that will make them bush out rather than stay straggly. And it also means you have cuttings to give away!

  6. No direct sun. There are few plants you can put in direct sun without having their leaves burned, but the exceptions include some succulents and cacti such as Aloes, and Pelargoniums.

  7. Location. Location. Location. The same species of plant will need different watering regimes if one specimen is in a warm bright spot and the other is cool and more shady. In other words, don’t impose a really strict watering regime where you only water on a set day of the week. Instead, be aware of your plants’ needs by checking the soil.

  8. Examine your plants regularly. It’s easier to treat a pest infestation or disease when it’s newly developed than it is when the plant is close to collapse.

  9. Know whether or not your plant is poisonous. A lot of common houseplants are poisonous, so make sure you know if any of yours are not safe for pets, children or yourself.

  10. Think twice before asking friends and relatives to take care of your plants while you are away. They often kill them with kindness. If you are going away for a week, your plants will be fine without you! Longer than that, you can move them to a low light area and group them together to keep them happy: more sensitive plants can go onto a damp towel in the bath or shower.

Question of the week

Maggie wanted to know whether her watering techniques were helping or hindering her battle against fungus gnats. Do go and have a listen to my fungus gnat episode if you haven’t already: overwatering can exacerbate a gnat infestation, but is not its cause. Fungus gnats will still manage to live even if you let your soil dry out between waterings. The safest and most efficient way to deal with gnats is to use nematode worms.

Want to ask me a question? Tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com.


Join me at Lullingstone Castle in Kent in the UK on September 21 and 22 2019 for Cactusworld Live where I’ll be doing a live recording of On The Ledge and holding a listener meetup: there will be a giveaway of OTL merch, too, for one lucky listener, so don’t miss out!

The following weekend I’ll be at the Garden Museum on Sunday September 29 for their Houseplant Festival: I’ll be helping out with the houseplant clinic, and there’s also the chance to take part in workshops and browse an awesome range of stalls from some of my favourite houseplant shops!


If you enjoyed the short segment of my interview with Ursula Sutcliffe of Bradford plant shop Plant One On Me, hear more by becoming a Patreon subscriber of $5 a month or more and listen here.

Want to find out how to become a Patreon subscriber? If you have the third of a price of a cup of takeaway coffee to spare once a month, you can support On The Ledge financially. Every patron now has the chance to download an exclusive artwork by listener Nathaniel Oles, as a reward for reaching my goal of 100 patrons.

Just $1 a month helps to pay for all the things that have made the show possible over the last two years: equipment, travel expenses, editing, not to mention my time! For $5 a month, you get access to two extra episodes a month, known as An Extra Leaf.

I’ve recently added a new $10 tier, which gives you membership of the On The Ledge listener advisory board, a new group helping to decide the future direction of the show: you’ll also receive a personal greeting from me in the mail including a limited edition postcard. You can see all the tiers and sign up for Patreon here.

If you like the idea of supporting On The Ledge on a regular basis but don't know what Patreon's all about, check out the FAQ here: if you still have questions, leave a comment or email me - ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com. If you're already supporting others via Patreon, just click here to set up your rewards!

For those who prefer to make a one-off donation, you can still buy me a coffee! A donation of just £3 helps keep On The Ledge going: helping to pay for me to travel to interviews, and for expenses like website hosting and audio equipment. Don't forget to join the Facebook page for news of what's coming up on the show and bonus blogposts!

If you prefer to support the show in other ways, please do go and rate and review On The Ledge on Apple PodcastsStitcher or wherever you listen. It's lovely to read your kind comments, and it really helps new listeners to find the show.


This week's show featured the tracks Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops, A Man Approaches with Bowed Sitar by Samuel Corwin and Water in the Creek by Josh Woodward . Ad music is by the Heftone Banjo Orchestra with Whistling Rufus. All tracks licensed under Creative Commons.

Logo design by Jacqueline Colley.