Since 2001, I’ve owned a small plant care business in Albuquerque called Good To Grow. Since 2009, I’ve maintained this indoor and outdoor gardening blog.

Each Wednesday, I’ve been posting emails from readers who had questions about their houseplants. Most of the letters came from people who are not regular readers, but who stumbled across this blog because they had a specific houseplant question. When I could, I wrote them back with advice tailored to their specific question. I saved all these emails in a file.

Since my regular readers are so sophisticated with their houseplant knowledge, and because everyone has their own take on caring for plants, I wanted to turn the emails over to them and see what their advice would’ve been had the email come to them. On Wednesdays, I’ll post the original question, and on the following Wednesday, I’ll reveal the advice from the regulars, as well as my response, so we can see how we match up. It’s been an interesting experiment so far, I hope you enjoy. If you have advice, please leave it in the comment section or on my facebook wall.

Here’s a recap of the exchange I showed you last week:

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Hi Liza

I recently bought some house plants but I don’t have a clue how to take care of them.  One is a bougainvillea and I have noticed recently there are a couple of tiny black flies around it.  It has also started to lose its flowers. We have had it only a week and it was re potted by the garden centre when we bought it.

Any advice seems to say just water regularly which isn’t that helpful as I don’t know if I’m watering it too much or too little.

I would really appreciate your advice.

Many thanks
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I asked for photos, then she added:

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Hi Liza

Thanks for your reply.  I live in the UK.  We have gerbera daisies which seem to need watering more than we thought they would every second day at the moment or the flowers start to droop.  I have put potato on the soil of the bougainvillea as I heard that will draw out the larvae from the flies.  I’ve removed all the dead flowers. The leaves still look healthy.  I know they lose flowers eventually but it is still quite warm here mid twenties at the moment.  

I have attached some pictures.  The third plant we don’t know what it is as it didn’t come with a label maybe you know?!

Many thanks
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So what advice did you have for her? Let’s take a look:

Claude from Random Rants and Prickly Plants wrote, “Well, the no id plant is a croton.The gerber came from greenhouse, retai. Outlet, home. It is still in its growers pot,and probably rootbound. Water everyday, until it can be ripped with more soil.

All three of these plants like a lot more light than they’re gonna get in their current locations. At the very least get rid of that lace curtain, but they’d be better off outside on the patio if possible. And consider finding some lower light plants…”He added, “To correct… the gerber came from the greenhouse, to retail outlet, to home. And it doesn’t need ripped, it needs repotted. There’s a tiny little demon in my phone and it calls itself auto correct.”

Gennafer31 wrote, “Well I have all those plants and grow them outside in the ground except the third one who I also don’t know the name of. My house is pretty dark all the time despite living in sunny CA and none of those guys do well inside my home. I’m not sure what her weather is in the UK but I am guessing it’s not hot and arid like here where we grow our bougainvilleas outside and don’t bother to water them so I don’t know if she can put them outside. The third mystery plant I leave in the most sunny window ledge where I also forget to water it for weeks at a time and it does best when I don’t fuss with it.Long story short I think she is overwatering the bougainvillea and all of the plants need to be moved to a much sunnier location but I think if she was looking for shady house plants she should return all of those and get pathos, ficus, ferns etc..

And Claude added, “You know, where she’s got that croton? I’m thinking a Sanseveria would look really handsome and striking. And it would do much better there than the croton ever dreamed of.”

Excellent! Claude, you’re right, the no ID plant is a Croton. I knew you’d get that, they are a common houseplant. They have attractive multi-colored leaves and are sold nearly everywhere. They do tend to be susceptible to spider mites, but those are fairly easily controlled.

And you’re right, the Gerber daisy needs a bigger pot, and the Bougainvillea needs a sunnier location. Well done, Claude – I think your advice is spot on. I also like your suggestion of replacing the Croton with the more reliable Sansevieria.

Gennafer31, you, too, hit upon the most important aspect, which is that these plants need more light. The only thing I would disagree with is the assertion that the reader is overwatering the Bougainvillea. At the point that she wrote to me, she’d only had it a week so I don’t think she would’ve had time to overwater it just yet. But I do agree that overwatering a Bougainvillea would cause the bracts to fall off.

I mentioned last week that I generally use kid gloves around houseplant rookies, because I want them to develop a love of houseplants. I don’t want them to be scared away or too intimidated. I hope to encourage them to experiment so they can realize the joys of nurturing another living creature.

>But sometimes, I just need to tell it like it is. As was the case here. Here’s some of our email exchange (there was a lot of back and forth):

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Hi (name withheld for privacy)! Would you be able to send me a photo of your new plants? It would help me to see what’s wrong.

I can tell you that Bougainvilleas make difficult houseplants. They go dormant in places with cold winters (which means they’ll lose all their leaves and look like they are dead) and come back in the spring. They prefer to be outdoors, but you have to be careful that your climate isn’t too hot or too cold for them. Where do you live?

What’s the other houseplant?

Liza>>>>

(She responded that she lives in the UK, and sent photos.)

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Hi again! I can see why you would like the Gerber Daisy and the Bougainvillea – they are very pretty! The third plant is a Croton, also a pretty plant.

The Croton is a common houseplant. You’ll want to keep a little on the moist side, and it would love some bright light to keep its coloring. Crotons are susceptible to spider mites, but those are easy to get rid of if you do spot them.The Gerber and the Boug are pretty, but they really aren’t very good houseplants. The Gerber Daisy is very difficult to grow indoors – it would much prefer to be in the ground outside. The Bougainvillea will lose all its leaves in the coming months and remain dormant through the winter. Or, some varieties will lose their bracts but not their leaves in the winter depending on how much light they get. Bougainvilleas drink a lot of water. If the lower leaves get crunchy, that means the plant is thirsty.I’ve kept Bougainvilleas indoors during winters and the plants have kept their leaves. But they’ve never flowered.

You should experiment with the plants and see how long you can keep them happy indoors. When the Gerber Daisy is done blooming, snip the dead flower off and see if the plant will send up another shoot. You may have to fertilize it to help it along.

I hope that helps! Liza

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Hi Liza

Thank you for your email.  Your advice is really helpful.  That’s annoying that the gerbera and bougainvillea are better as outdoor plants as we bought them from the indoor plant section!

Does the bougainvillea still need to be watered when it loses all its leaves?  We are finding the gerbera needs quite a lot of water at the moment as well as the flowers start to droop and look dead and then come back to life when given some water.

We are very new to plants so really appreciate your advice!

Many thanks

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Hi!I find it frustrating that the nurseries sell them as good houseplants, too. They just want to make money, they’re not thinking about the welfare of the plants. And they do make lots of money – they are pretty plants when they are healthy, which makes people want to buy them.

You may be able to keep the Bougainvillea green all year (I had one that was green but lost all its flowers). But if it does go dormant, I would water it about once a month, maybe once every two months, then start vigorously watering it again in February or March. Depending on your climate, you could stick it outside in the summers to get the blooms you want, then bring it back inside in the fall. They do not like the cold. Also, they bloom off of frequent pruning, so keep that in mind for next season.

The Gerber Daisy probably needs a bigger pot, which is why it’s drinking so much water. You could repot it, and it should stabilize. You can grow them indoors, it’s just takes extra attention. Fertilizing will help it bloom.

If these plants don’t work out, I hope you don’t give up. Plants are a great way to decorate indoors. And there are lots of plants that flower reliably without being fussy. I’ve got all sorts of recommendations on my blog. Good luck!
Liza>>>>

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Hi Liza

That’s very annoying about the nurseries. They had the gerberas in that pot so we just assumed it was the right size! Don’t think ill be trusting then again any time soon! 

Thank you very much for your help. Ill be sure to check out your blog if these ones don’t work out! 

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Well…the thing about the Gerber being in that size pot is that’s the size the grower probably sent it over in. It could’ve been at the retail nursery for a long time. They are not in the business of repotting their own plants – they expect you to do that when you get the plant home.

They shouldn’t sell Gerbers in the first place, but in fairness, they can’t be expected to do that much labor with their inventory once they have them.

I’m not sure what soil brands you have available, but it’s worth it to pay a little extra for soil that’s not left outside in the rain (because the bags get infected with fungus gnats, which are annoying in the home).

Good luck! Liza>>>>

Ok, could you follow all that? Basically my point was that she should’ve never bought those plants in the first place. They’re inappropriate for houseplants, especially since she had no prior houseplant experience. She couldn’t have chosen more difficult plants. It’s frustrating because the nurseries aren’t usually staffed with people who can say, “hey, maybe you should try this starter houseplant first.” They’re going to sell the expensive Bougainvilleas every single time.

As much as I wanted this reader to fall in love with houseplants, I felt I had to be honest with her about how they are not particularly good indoor plants.

What do you think? Do you agree with what I laid out for her? Does it make you mad that lots of nurseries sell inappropriate plants to newbies? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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Good To Grow is an Albuquerque-based interior and exterior landscaping service. We use plants and flowers to decorate offices, homes and patios around the city. We also offer memorial garden services, meaning that when a loved one passes, we can plant a customized garden in his or her honor. If the person who passed was an avid cook, we can plant an herb garden to honor that person’s memory. If a Veteran dies, we can plant a red, white, and blue perennial garden. If you lost a beloved pet, we can plant a garden around the burial site.
If you’d like to know more about the landscaping or memorial garden services offered, please send an email to lizatheplantlady@gmail.com. Thank you for your consideration.

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