Loughborough PhD Social & Support Network

#BLOG – The Student Guide to House Plants

By Daisy Tipping    

Like almost every student, I have been guilty of purchasing a house plant at a campus house plant sale, snapping a great pic for my Insta feed, then inevitably neglecting the poor thing for the rest of the year.  However, this was all to change at Loughborough when a friend gave me some cuttings from her particularly impressive house plant collection.  I found myself fascinated by these cuttings, as they changed a little every day, and before I knew it, I was photographing weekly plant updates and purchasing all kinds of accessories for my new friends.  My own collection now consists of over 25 plants and whilst I am by no means an expert, I thought it would be nice to share the knowledge I have gained so far. 

Why Houseplants?

Every home should have house plants.  Since starting at Loughborough, I have been through two moves in six months and despite loving my new flat, it did not really feel like home until my house plant collection started to take over.  House plants are perfect for students as they are cheap, easy to take care of and can last for years.  Additionally, they have several health benefits, including mood boosting qualities and improving the quality of the air in our homes.

Selection of cacti and succulent plants

Getting Started

What you will need:

  • Plants (of course…)

When choosing your house plants, you essentially have two options- seeds or potted plants.  Both seeds and potted plants are available to purchase from a range of places, including garden centres and supermarkets, as well as online.  One of my favourite places to purchase plants in Loughborough is B&Q, as they have a large selection at low prices, and I cannot wait until all the local garden centres have reopened so I can pay them all a visit.  Purchasing online can be risky, as you cannot see the exact plant you are buying beforehand, so it’s a good idea to ask for recommendations and/or read the website’s reviews.  Two of my personal favourites are:



If purchasing seeds, check they will grow into plants suitable to live indoors and that you are sowing them at the right time.  This information can be found on the back of the seed packet.  Seeds tend to be cheaper than buying individual plants and will often result in stronger, healthier plants as they will adapt to your home’s conditions from the start of their growth.

If purchasing potted plants, again check they can live indoors- many outdoor plants will not survive inside.  The label will also provide information on the plant’s preferred environment (such as the plant’s preferred levels of light and humidity, and the direction of the light – e.g. a North-facing window may not suit some plants).  Finding the right plants for your home may be trial and error- what grows well in your home may not grow well in a friend’s home and vice versa.  However, some plants, such as cacti and succulents, have a reputation for being more robust and particularly easy to take care of.  Personally, I have also had good results with ivy and my Swiss Cheese plant.

My Swiss Cheese plant, photos taken just 12 days apart!
  • Pots and/or seed trays

The best plant containers will have drainage holes at the bottom, allowing the soil to drain freely and air to get to the roots.  You may also want to place a saucer under your pots to prevent water leaking onto furniture surfaces!  I have inevitably found that the pots plants are in when purchased are too small, so you may also wish to purchase an additional bigger pot when buying a potted plant.  Terracotta pots are affordable and attractive.  If you hope to grow orchids, you will need to put it in a clear glass or plastic pot as the roots require light.

  • Compost

Houseplant compost is usually best although you can also get types specifically suited to certain plants. Cacti and succulents, for example, require a specific compost which should be mixed with grit to enable free drainage.

  • Plant feed

As with compost, different types of plant feed are suitable for different types of plants. A generic house plant feed should be fine for most plants, but orchids require a specific type of feed.  Make sure you follow the instructions on the bottle, as over-feeding your plants can be harmful.

  • Watering can

Admittedly this is an optional extra although I am a big fan of mine!  If you do end up accumulating a large collection of leafy lovelies it may be an idea to invest in a watering can to speed things up when watering your plants. 

Caring for Your Plants

  • Location
My watering can is a lifesaver!

Once you have everything you need, it is time to get your plants settled into their new home.  Looking at a plant’s label should give you an idea of its preferred conditions.  Your plant may take some time to adapt its new home, so do not become concerned if the odd leaf or flower drops off in the first few weeks. 

  • Water and nutrients

Most people tend to worry about how little or often to water their plants.  Again, looking at the plant’s label can help with this, but a good rule of thumb is whenever the soil feels dry about half an inch to an inch down.  In terms of nutrients, make sure your plant is potted in good quality soil (I have found a number of potted plants I have purchased have been left in overly damp soil that has then become mouldy) and follow the instructions given on any plant feed you use.

  • Space

It is important that your plant has enough space, or it will not grow.  A new pot for a growing plant should ideally be about two inches larger than the old pot in diameter, but you may want to go slightly bigger or smaller depending upon how quickly or slowly your plant grows.   

Aerial view of my aloe vera plant (most of the plants in my photos live in the sun on my windowsill and have only been moved to have their photos taken!)

Common Problems

Whilst the following list is by no means a comprehensive list of every potential house plant problem you may face and solution you may need, these are the most common problems I have come across in my few months of becoming a plant enthusiast.  Do not forget if you are concerned about a plant, most garden centres will be happy to advice you- just take the plant along.

ProblemPotential Solution
Accidental over wateringRemove the plant from the pot and remove any excess soil from around the plant’s roots, being careful not to damage the roots themselves.  Allow the plant and any excessively wet soil to dry out before re-potting.
BugsSpray the entire plant with an insecticidal soap, wait two weeks, then repeat the entire process twice.  This will ensure that any eggs are killed, as well as the bugs.
Discoloured leaves- brown and crispyBrown and crispy leaves can be a sign that your plant is not getting enough water.  Remove any dead leaves from the plant and make sure you are giving your plant more water more regularly.  This can also be a sign that the air around the plant is too dry.  If you think this may be the case, try gently misting your plant every few days.
Discoloured leaves- brown and mushyBrown and mushy leaves can be a sign that your plant has been overwatered.  Remove any dead leaves from the plant and follow the advice given for accidental over watering to remedy this.
Discoloured leaves- yellowYellow leaves can also be a sign that a plant is getting too much or not enough water.  Check that you are providing your plant with the right amount.  Yellow leaves can also be a sign that your plant is not getting enough light, so try moving it to a brighter spot if you think this may be the case and rotate the plant regularly so that the light can reach every part of the plant.
Uneven or unusual growthThis can be a sign that your plant is not getting enough light, with the uneven/unusual growth occurring as the plant ‘reaches’ for the light.  Try placing your plant in a brighter spot and rotating it regularly so that the light can reach every part of your plant.
WiltingAgain, wilting typically happens because your plant is getting too much or not enough water.  Check that you are providing your plant with the right amount.
Happy, healthy ivy plants who will both be moving into a bigger pot soon!

Hopefully reading my blog post has inspired you to start your own house plant collection, or to give any plants you already own a little more TLC.  I would love to hear any questions or comments you may have, and particularly welcome pictures of your plants!

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