These hacks will keep your houseplants alive, for less

Spoilers: plants love caffeine too (Picture: Getty Images/Westend61)

There’s not much green-fingered Michael Perry – AKA TV’s Mr Plant Geek – doesn’t know about horticulture. And his brilliantly smart, sustainable hacks to help your houseplants are not just good for the planet – they’re good for your pocket, too.

‘My store cupboard secrets are a way of using up food waste and the things you already have in your home,’ says Michael.

‘Plants need phosphates, nitrogen and potassium to survive – but you can find most of them in their natural organic forms in the kitchen. It’s a fun and sustainable way to give your plants a convenient top-up of nutrients.’

Give plants leftover coffee

Plants love coffee as much as their owners as it gives them an injection of nitrogen, which stimulates growth and makes their leaves super-shiny.

‘It’s a great way to use up your organic waste in the kitchen, and a cheap occasional feed,’ says Michael.

‘A medium plant in a six-inch pot will enjoy a cup of leftover coffee liquid from your cafetiere every two weeks – don’t use dregs with milk as it will go mouldy in the soil. Coffee grounds will do the same job, as will used teabags – instead of adding them to landfill, sprinkle round the base of your plant. Good for acid-loving plants like Heathers and Azaleas.

Hit of caffeine - REW652 Isolated coffee grounds brewed filter. Low view of isolated brewed ground coffee filter paper on a white background.

Caffeine makes for super-shiny leaves (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)

Coffee grounds also keep the surface of the soil drier, which deters pests like fungus gnats. If leaves turn yellow cut back on the caffeine as the plant is getting too much nitrogen.’

Try a tampon to revive over-watered plants

Over-watering is the biggest cause of plant death. ‘Tampons are great for soaking up moisture in drenched plants. They can bring over-watered plants back from the brink and regulate moisture levels. Just bury the tampon in the pot below the soil line. Useful for plants like Peace Lilies, which often get too much water.

‘Nappies work well in the base of hanging baskets too, to conserve moisture. If you are going on holiday, sit your plants on a tea towel, which trails into a sink full of water and they will take moisture as they need.’

Use cinnamon when repotting

Cinnamon is great when repotting plants. ‘It’s anti-bacterial and promotes good hygiene. When you remove the plant from its old pot, dust the roots with the cinnamon – you won’t need much, just a sprinkle as if you were adding a dash of pepper to your pizza.’

Turn on the tunes

Plants love music! ‘Vibration speeds up plant growth,’ says Michael – ‘115-250hertz is the best frequency – and they particularly respond to classical music, jazz and female voices.

‘Talking to your plants will do the trick, too. If you have a plant in the office it will benefit from the vibrations and frequency of all the office chat.

Michael Perry - Mr Plant Geek

Michael Perry is better known as Mr Plant Geek

‘The same with Zoom calls while WFH. Stroking them imitates the movement of the wind or predators in the wild and helps to stimulate very young plants to grow quicker as they strive to survive.’

Old banana skins can help plants thrive

If you have houseplants that flower like Orchids or Gerbera, then don’t chuck out your banana skins. ‘They’re full of potassium, great for flower and fruit production. Soak the skin of one banana in two litres of water for three days. Add a shot glass of the water to plants in the growing season once a week.

‘You can also cut up banana skins and place them around the base of rose bushes to improve their flower growth.’

Water with a shot glass

Plants love a shot – of water, not the hard stuff. ‘Shot glasses are your best friend when it comes to watering houseplants,’ says Michael.

‘Most people over-water, but a plant will tell you when it needs a drink because it will wilt. So tune in and get to know them. The amount of water will depend on the size of the pot but a shot glass a week is usually enough, especially in the winter to top up their reserves and keep soil moist.

‘Routinely water once a week – one designated waterer is better than sharing duties with a housemates or partner.’

Don’t chuck your eggshells

Get a calcium hit (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)

For strong architectural houseplants such as Elephant Ear, eggshells will give a hit of calcium to help strengthen cell walls and membranes.

‘Grind them in a pestle and mortar. Make a divot in the soil and add the fine powder once a month – it will act like a slow-release fertiliser. Broken eggshells placed around the base of plants in the garden is a great barrier to stop pests like slugs and snails as they won’t be able to traverse it to destroy the plant.’

Milk and mayo

If you have milk on the turn, don’t throw it out – as it makes a great leaf shine. ‘You can also use mayonnaise. Soak a paper towel in milk or mayo and drag it across the leaf to remove dust, mites or any gunk that has collected on the leaves. Then wipe it with a clean cloth to buff it up.

‘Clean leaves promote photosynthesis to create food and oxygen. This is particularly important for big strapping plants like the Rubber tree, Swiss Cheese and Fiddle figs. They also look fabulous when their leaves are shiny!’

For more of Michael’s tips, visit his Instagram page.

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