Sig Hafstrom here with my most effective tips, tricks, and methods for green thumbing. This is what I do to care for my plants, though you may find something better works for you. And if you have any questions, just let me know; I'm always happy to talk plant.
Also, let me know if you'd like to reproduce or reprint any of my tips. They were written and are copyrighted by me - see below for details. Thanks.
Alas, cut flowers don't last very long. Some fade after just a few days, some last up to a week, but there are some tricks for getting extra longevity from your bouquets.
First, make sure there's always water in the container. Cut flowers soak that water up, some more than others; especially if the environment is hot or dry, your flowers may need regular top offs.
Remove any flowers or greens past their prime - dried and shriveled leaves, petals falling off, etc - and anything with a mucky stem; the fewer slimy, decomposing elements, the better. Also, keep the water as clean as possible. When leaves, petals, or other debris fall in, reach on in there and fish them out.
Keep your bouquet out of direct sunlight and away from heater or a/c vents, and from sources of humidity like showers or dishwashers.
I've also found that giving bouquets a good cleaning a few days after you get it can work wonders. With both hands, take the bouquet out of the container and gently squeeze the stems together until you can hold them in one hand. This can be a bit tricky, so it sometimes helps to have four hands - that is, have a helper to do this with - or another container to transfer the bouquet into.
Rinse the stems in cool running water, rubbing them gently with your fingers to remove any slimy bits (yeah, it's kinda gross), then recut the ends with clean, sharp scissors or clippers. Cutting at an angle is good, but really, just getting the old, squishy ends off the stems is most important.
Dump the old water out of the container, making sure to remove any floating debris like petals, seeds, or leaves, and rinse the container with clean water. Then refill the container with cool to room temperature water, use both hands to transfer the bouquet back into the container, and voila! The arrangement has been defunked, refreshed, and ready to keep on looking great.
Oh orchids. So misunderstood. It's a myth that orchids need a lot of elaborate and difficult care. Their needs are very specific, it's true, but also quite simple.
Another myth is orchids are tropical and therefore need a lot of water, including a daily misting. While it is true that many orchids are tropical, plenty come from arid environments, too. Regardless, one of the fastest ways to kill an orchid is through overwatering, so put down the mister, mister.
Most orchids only need to be watered about once a week, and it's important to keep them away from standing water. Almost all orchids are epiphytes, meaning they grow outside of the ground by clinging to trees or rocks. Out in nature, they might get rained on a lot, but the water drains away quickly and never really gets a chance to accumulate around the orchid's roots. Their roots are extremely efficient at soaking up water, and tend to grow up and out in all directions looking for a tree to cling to. So don't worry about keeping all the roots covered with moss or potting medium; they don't need it.
The best way to water an orchid is in the sink. To start, lift up your orchid's decorative moss and remove the plastic (or sometimes terra cotta) orchid pot from its decorative pot, leaving the brown moss that holds it in place. Put the orchid pot in the sink and run cool to room temperature water through the roots and potting medium - your orchid is probably potted in chunky wood chips or a shaggy, light yellow moss rather than soil. You may also notice the orchid's roots turn from gray to bright green as it "drinks". Once the roots and potting medium are soaked, let your plant drain for five or ten minutes or more before returning it to it's decorative pot.
If you're in a rush, you can also "cheat" by placing an ice cube or two under the decorative moss on top of the potting medium - avoiding leaves - and allowing it to melt, or by giving the potting medium a moderate misting. Do be sure to check the inside of your decorative pot. If water is accumulating, pour it out immediately. The decorative moss can be watered in the sink or by misting, too.
If the leaves or bulbous "trunk" - the pseudobulb - of your orchid starts growing wrinkly, pleated, or shriveled like a raisin, it means your orchid could use more water. Try watering more frequently, or giving the potting medium a light mist between waterings. If your orchid's parts are getting soft and mushy, or the leaves start falling off while they're still green, it means your orchid is has too much water. Remove the decorative moss and take the orchid pot out from it's decorative pot for a week or so to allow it to dry, then go back to your regular or a reduced watering schedule.
It's best to feed your orchid at every watering, too. My favorite food is Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist. It's is an easy option that needs no dilution - just spray it on the potting medium and roots during watering - but any other orchid or general purpose plant food diluted as directed will do.
Orchids are very human-like in their light and temperature needs. They like strong but indirect light, moderate temperatures of about 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and air that is fresh but not drafty. They do well near north-facing windows and, unlike humans, under bright florescent lights, like in an office, making them great cubicle plants.
Succulents and Cacti
Succulents and cacti are hearty, drought-resistant plants needing very little water and lots of sunlight to survive and thrive. In terrariums, the glass container has no drainage and is partially enclosed, so evaporation is minimized. Plants in more open containers don't retain as much moisture as terrariums, but a glass or glazed ceramic container without drainage holes will still hold a good deal of moisture.
In other words, your succulents and cacti arrangements need very little watering.
For terrariums and glass containers, the best way to check if your plants are thirsty is to look. If the middle layer of soil looks, well, dry, it's time to give it a little drink. Succulent and cactus soil contains a lot of aggregate - sand and gravel that keep the soil loose so air can circulate - and when it dries, it tends to look even chunkier and dusty gray in color. The bottom layers of soil are drainage layers, so you may see a little water down there even when the rest of the soil is dry.
Another way to check for all containers - this one with a slight hint of danger - is to feel down into the soil with your finger. If there's a little dampness below the gravel layer, it's fine. If the under layer is also dry, give it a splash. But be careful of cactus spines - the fine, fuzzy-looking spines especially can leave quite a splinter. And if your plants themselves are looking a bit shriveled, it's definitely time to water. It doesn't take much, a quarter cup or less in most cases, using a watering can or spouted measuring cup.
Though succulents and cacti are outdoor sun-lovers, terrariums are meant for indoor growing and do hold a lot of heat, so too much direct sunlight may cook your little plants. That said, a little direct sunlight, about a half-hour or so a day, will do them good. For arrangements in open containers, outdoor growing with direct sunlight is fine. For either, if your plants become withered with crunchy brown or red spots, they're getting too much light. If they get tall, lanky, and stretched, it means they're not getting enough. But once you find a spot that's just right, your arrangement can thrive on there for a long, long time.
Better known as air plants, tillandsia are bromeliads native to the Americas and, like orchids, are epiphytes, growing mainly on the sides of trees. The name "air plant" may make it sound like they can thrive on air alone, but don't be fooled; though tillandsia don't need soil, they do need plenty of water.
Tillandsia should be watered at least once a week with a good soak. Find a container big enough to fit your plant, fill it with water, then let your plant soak for a few minutes. Tillandsia do need food, too. I give my plants a spritz with Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist after watering, but you can also dissolve bromeliad food or general purpose, low-copper plant food in the water as directed.
After your plant has soaked for a few minutes, gently shake off excess water and place it upside down so moisture trapped inside can drip down the leaves. This can be tricky with curly-leaved plants, so if it won't work, don't sweat it; the important thing is to be sure your tillandsia dries completely within four hours of watering. You can then safely return it to it's container.
You can also mist your plant between waterings as a little pick-me-up, especially on hot or dry days, but misting shouldn't be a replacement for a good soak. If your tillandsia starts curling in on itself - some have curly leaves naturally, but if their curling gets more pronounced - your tillandsia needs more water. You can soak it for a few hours or even overnight to revive it, but as always, it'll need to dry again after.
Tillandsia like strong, indirect light and good airflow. They can grow outside in shaded spots, or indoors in rooms with good light. They love the high humidity in bathrooms, and some folks even keep their tillandsia in the shower. It's not a good idea, though, to keep your plant in a closed globe, jar, or terrarium, as they need fresh air to thrive, though a partially enclosed container is fine.
Ferns love terrariums. Plants in general grow great under glass, but ferns really go gangbusters. True story: despite my green thumb I never had any luck with maidenhair ferns until I started growing them in closed or partially enclosed glass containers. Now I can't stop them from growing, not that I'd want to. (See more on maidenhair ferns below.)
The reason: ferns love moisture. They can hang out in soggy soil and still grow lush and full. And they're lower-light plants, which makes them great indoors.
If you have a closed fern terrarium, you're in luck. To care for it, do nothing.
Well, ok, that's not entirely true. Closed terrariums often get some mold. A few little spots on the soil or moss are not a big deal - it's natural - but it can kill the ferns if it gets out of control. To stop mold, simply take the lid off your terrarium and put it outside in full sun for a few hours with the moldy spots exposed to receive the most light. A few hours of direct sunlight like this won't burn the ferns, but will burn the mold. However, removing the lid is crucial: you must avoid exposing a closed fern terrarium to direct sunlight. With the lid on, it gets hot in there fast, and you can cook your plants in no time.
After you've aired out and zapped the mold, put the lid back on the terrarium and return it to its spot. It's unlikely the terrarium will dry out enough to need a watering, but if it does, just give the plants a light misting.
Open terrariums are unlikely to develop mold, but they do need a watering. I typically give my open fern terrariums a little sip of water about once a week, but you could easily go three weeks between waterings, as the partially enclosed glass container holds a lot moisture. Ideally, the top layer of soil should always be damp to the touch, and ferns appreciate a light misting of their leaves and soil between waterings on hot or dry days. However, it is possible to overwater. If the soil feels like mud and water wells up when you touch it, you've gone too far; but don't worry, all is not lost. If you can drain out the excess water, do so. Otherwise, skip watering until the top layer of soil is just dry and the bulk of the soil no longer feels muddy, then resume a normal watering schedule.
It's also very likely your ferns will grow so much they'll fill a closed terrariums entirely, or grow wildly outside an open terrarium, and your beautifully shaped little arrangement will be all jungly and overgrown. If you like that - I do - then don't do anything but enjoy your ferns. However, if you'd prefer your terrarium more kempt, your plants will need a trim. Use clean, sharp scissors or clippers to cut back excess growth. Go slow; it's easy to cut bits you didn't mean to cut, especially when there are a lot of leaves and stems in the way. I recommend cutting older, taller fronds at their base, leaving the shorter, younger fronds to fill in, but you can also do hair-cut style, trimming the ends of the fronds into a new size and shape. And of course, cutting out any dried fronds will keep your plants looking great regardless of their size.
Be sure to remove your clippings from the terrarium. A little debris in there is fine, but too much decaying matter will put the terrarium out of balance. For closed terrariums, it's unlikely the terrarium will dry out enough during it's trim to need watering, but if it does, just give the plants a light misting.
Ferns like filtered sunlight and do well near north-facing windows, but they aren't fans of drafts or cold. Well-lit bathrooms, kitchens, and other high-humidy locations are great so long as they aren't drafty.
An Important Note On Maidenhair Ferns
Maidenhair ferns are adored for their delicate grace and magical fairyland charm, but they're also giant fusses all day, every day. If they were rock stars, they'd need you to take out the green M&Ms. Fortunately, they're not, and they can be kept beautiful and healthy in a few simple steps:
Keep your maidenhair watered! Just a few days without enough moisture and your maidenhair will throw a tempertantrum in which all it's leaves die. Yeah, no joke. Don't panic, though: they'll grow back. Cut the dead fronds off at the base and keep watering your plant (or plant stump) like normal. It may take a while, sometimes several months, but if you keep the soil consistently moist, your maidenhair should return. Fortunately for the closed terrarium crowd, dryness shouldn't be a problem. If you think your closed terrarium has dried out, though, give it a misting.
Give your maidenhair light... oh but not too much. If your fern is in a closed terrarium, keep it out of direct sunlight always. In open terrariums, maidenhair ferns can get a little direct morning light from an east facing window. Either way, your fern should be in strong, indirect light all day.
Keep your maidenhair out of drafts and away from the heater. As long as it gets enough light, it's fine to put baby in the corner.
Don't move your maidenhair. Once it has a good spot with good light and no draft, just leave it there.
Cut the dead fronds off your maidenhair. They like that. They're just vain I guess, want to always look good. I told you they were fussy.
This and all material on hafstrombotanical.com was created and copyrighted by Sigrid Hafstrom, and may be reprinted/reproduced by permission only. You are welcome and encouraged, however, to link to this or any other page, no permission needed. Thank you.