Gardening: Worried your gifted houseplant is dying already? Here's how to show them some TLC

If you're not sure how to look after your new houseplant, read this expert advice. By Hannah Stephenson...

A polkadot begonia
By Hannah Stephenson, PA

IS THE new plant you've been gifted over the festive season losing its lustre – and its leaves – already? Time to give it some TLC.

It may have been put in the wrong spot, given too much or too little water, or it could simply need more light, says houseplant fanatic Silver Spence, CEO of baby plant specialist Friends Or Friends (

Spence recommends perking up your gifted plants with the following treatments…

1. Polkadot begonia: Keep the soil lightly moist at all times. Avoid putting them in cold or drafty spaces. Provide medium light or place them close to a south-facing window in the winter and north-facing in summer. Remove dried up leaf sheaths or poke into the soil to provide nutrients for the plant. Feed lightly year-round, or feed biweekly during the growing season.

2. Calathea: Calatheas thrive off high humidity and lower light. They can tolerate the cold quite well (around 9°C) as long as their environment is highly humid. The ideal environment for calatheas is a bell jar, a greenhouse, or a shaded space in your home surrounded by other plants. You can increase the humidity around your calathea by placing them on a tray with pebbles or by using an essential oil diffuser as a humidifier. Keep their soil lightly moist and their area well ventilated. Feed bi-weekly during growth season or micro-feed through the year.

3. Alocasia: “Alocasia, along with calathea and begonia, can have a bit of a reputation. They are sometimes called divas collectively but they're actually quite hardy plants. In countries like the Philippines, they can become difficult to get rid of, which gives you an idea of how well adapted to thrive they are,” Spence says. To care for your alocasia, keep the area well ventilated. Allow the top two inches of soil to dry before you water. Alocasia is one of the plants that can be easily triggered into dormancy so it's important you watch the watering (big gaps and swings will trigger them). They will easily rot if you leave them dry for too long, which will require repotting and heavy TLC. By keeping the soil very barely moist and aerated you will avoid issues.

Feed bi-weekly in spring/summer or micro-feed through the year. Keep the space ventilated and place them near a window where early morning sun and late evening sun is available. Keep their space humid, as you would with calatheas, and don't let the temperature drop below 10°C, as this will send them into dormancy.

4. String of Pearls: Keep your string of pearls in a bright and warm spot. Water them from the bottom by placing the pot in a bowl half-filled with water. This will ensure the plant absorbs the water it needs without risking rotting the pearls. Keep the pearls clean with a leaf shine and a dust cloth.

Avoid light that is too bright and sudden temperature changes, as this can cause severe leaf drop or pearl droop. To make your plant fuller, wrap the strands on to the top of the soil or pin them with horticultural pins.

5. Philodendron Birkin (applies to most philodendron): These plants favour bright indirect light, though they can tolerate medium-low light. The more light, the more variegation. Water when mostly dry or when it begins to droop. Clean leaves often with a moist cloth, as philodendrons have a tendency to crease as they unfurl new leaves. Providing the moisture from the cloth will allow the new leaves to unfurl with fewer creases and a better chance of being flawless. Feed lightly year-round or bi-weekly during the growing season.

6. Rubber tree: Allow your rubber tree to acclimatise to your home. You can help by keeping them warm and well lit (bright indirect light). They are known for dropping leaves but this is normal, so don't panic. Ensure the leaves are cleaned with a leaf shine spray or leaf wash, for the signature shiny leaf look. Water when the leaves start to point down or cup. Feed lightly year-round or bi-weekly during the growing season. If your rubber tree is a single stem and you want to make it bushier, chop the top so it can grow from the auxiliary nodes. This will produce more branches and give a bushy look.

7. Snake plant: Make sure your snake plant is dry. Don't try to water it too much or too often. In winter, they will likely only need watering once a month. Keep the soil fluffy by forking it but don't disrupt the root ball as they are shallow-rooted. Use a foliar feed when you can and keep the leaves clean to avoid scale bugs.

8. Venus flytrap: Keep this plant wet and in acidic soil. Use rain water if possible and add a drop of lemon/vitamin C to make it acidic. You can also pop a rusty nail in the soil for this reason. Don't suffocate it in an enclosed terrarium. Bog plants need plenty of circulating air to avoid fungal disease. These plants can take the cold quite well but a 19°C temperature is best to encourage growth.

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