5 things most people get wrong with succulents

5 things most people get wrong with succulents

5 Things Most People Get Wrong with Succulents

 

Succulents are raging hot items right now. The variety of colors, unique textures, and sizes make them a an ever increasingly popular commodity both in the home and on social media.

They’re touted as bulletproof plants that even those among us who aren’t exactly what you’d call ‘green thumbs’ can’t screw up. But in reality – there is many a succulent or cacti skeleton in most of our closets. Particularly for those growing indoors.

The truth is, growing and caring for succulents isn’t always as easy as it may seem.

In this article, we’re going to cover the 5 most common mistakes newbies and experienced gardener’s alike make when bringing succulents into the home – and teach you how to avoid them.

1) The wrong container choice

 

When you bring a new plant into your home, placing it into a new pot is usually one of the first steps you take. For succulents, choosing the correct container is extremely important. The right pot will allow your plant to thrive, whereas using the wrong pot will hinder or even harm your succulent’s growth.

The two most important features to consider with a container are:

  • Drainage

Ideally, you want to select a container that has a well-sized drainage hole(s). This allows excess water to drain out easily so your plant’s roots don’t rot.

If you have your heart set on a container that doesn’t already have a drainage hole, you can do a little DIY magic to rectify the situation.

For glazed ceramic pots, use a glass or tile drill bit to carefully make a hole. If your ceramic container is unglazed, a masonry bit will also work.For plastic and metal containers, a normal drill bit will get the job done.

To keep the soil from falling out, use a piece of mesh tape to cover the hole. You can also place your pot on a similarly sized tray.

Sounds a bit too hard? Alright Janice, don’t fret. We have a cheat for you.

If you’ve found the container of your dreams, and you just aren’t the drill a hole type, then what you need to do is keep your succulent or cacti in a cheap plastic pot (full of drainage holes) that’s SMALLER than your decorative container.

Place some gravel or stones in the bottom of your decorative container (so any moisture which works its way down doesn’t pool at the bottom of your root ball) and then place your plastic container within.

I then place some decorative pebbles over the surface to hide the inception container setup, but it’s not necessary. You don’t have to live the OCD life like me.

When it’s watering time, simply remove your inner container, water, then return. As this has to be done only every second or third week with succulents (generally) it’s not too much of a hassle.

 

  • Material

What your container is made out of matters, too – believe it or not.

Generally, ceramic and terra cotta pots work well for indoor succulents because they’re breathable. If your succulent requires full sun, keep in mind that the container itself will heat up, which means that the soil may dry out faster.

Plastic pots don’t offer as much breathability, but with proper soil and a decent sized drainage hole, your succulent should be in good shape.

Metal containers generally aren’t a good choice for long term use because they’re very vulnerable to temperature changes. The regular exposure to moisture from watering will also rust metal pots, creating less than ideal conditions for your plant.

 

2) Incorrect soil choice

Once you’ve found the perfect container for your succulent, the next important step is choosing the best soil. And oh my lordy do people go wrong here. First thing’s first, do not assume the garden store or nursery soil that your succulent came planted in is any good. It’s probably crapola.

With the wrong soil choice, excess water won’t be able to drain properly. Even if you’re following the correct watering schedule, poorly draining soil can cause the roots of the plant to stay wet all of the time, leading to root rot.

The best soil for succulents and cacti are both fast draining, and retain plenty of natural organic material.

You can purchase a ready-made potting soil blend created specifically for succulents and cacti, or you can make your own.

When potting or repotting several succulents at a time, it may be more economical to make your own mix. Using larger particles of porous material is the best choice. In this article I go over my personal home made mix for succulents and cacti. It’s pretty awesome, maybe you should check it out.

Avoid dense, heavy soil mixes for succulents. Regular potting soil blends that are sold in garden centers are bad news, as they’re typically formulated to retain water. Soils containing water retaining beads, peat moss, and vermiculite shouldn’t be used.

The features you want to look for in potting soil ingredients are light and airy, with particles approximately 6mm in size. Materials that work well include:

  • Crushed granite
  • Coarse sand, but not construction sand
  • Turface
  • Pumice
  • Perlite
  • Pine bark

If in doubt, buy one of the ready made “succulent and cacti” planting mixes. If you’re a hands on little ranger, then make your own – this is the best way. See article linked to above.

3) Too much love baby 

Janice, sometimes you just need to take your finger off the pulse. I know you love your new succulent, and you’re caring for it better than your relationship and friendships. I know those feels.

But a very common cause of indoor succulent death is too much love – specifically, overwatering.

While an under-watered succulent can usually bounce back, an overwatered plant is difficult and sometimes impossible to save. It only takes a few days for the plant to rot if you drop the ball here.

Unlike some other houseplants, succulents don’t have complex root systems. Instead, they retain water in their stems and leaves. In fact I’m pretty sure my fat cells are like succulents. No matter how much I wish it weren’t so, if I eat a little too much those bad boys just mop that energy up and store it away, even though I very clearly don’t need more fat…

Anywhoo. Back to succulents. If you have too much moisture available to your succulent, it’ll just keep eating it up without any self control, just like me around cakes. The key difference between myself and succulents is that succulent cells eventually swell and split and die. My fat cells seem to be immortal on the other hand, which is a pity.

I really don’t know why I’m describing my fat cells in detail here. I apologise.

Luckily, determining whether you’re overwatering your plants usually isn’t too difficult. Signs of over care include:

  • Leaves appearing translucent or yellowish
  • Stems appear puffy
  • Leaves are soggy and mushy to the touch
  • Stems and/or leaves develop black spots
  • Your plant is dying a slow and mortifying death

If your succulent shows signs of any of the above, you need to ease back on your watering schedule and just chill a little. Hopefully you’re not too late.

As a rule of thumb, I never water succulents more than once a week – and I do this only for my full sun succulents that get a lot of baking. My indoor succulents get watered every 10 days – 3 weeks depending on the species, location (light intensity) and season.

 

4) Not matching the succulent to the growing conditions (light, humidity)

Succulents come in so many sizes and varieties that it’s understandable that you may want to put them anywhere and everywhere throughout your home. However, placing your plants in an area with the right growing conditions is essential to their ability to thrive and survive.

A small succulent may look cute on your bookshelf, but if it’s in a dark corner of the room, you better have chosen your species wisely or you’re going to be adding another corpse to your shame closet.

Succulents need and love sunlight. Ideally, they should be positioned in a spot that provides bright indirect light or direct light for at least 5 hours a day.

 

Rotate your plants frequently so that each side of it has adequate light exposure. Avoid placing them in dimly lit rooms that don’t receive sunlight.

With that said, some succulents do well in shade. But you need to know which before you slap one in your dimly lit bathroom. Read this article here for more info re selecting the correct species for your light conditions.

Temperature and the humidity level also impact a succulent’s health. The ideal temperature for indoor succulents is between 10 and 27 C. We tend to think of succulents as desert plants and assume that they need heat to thrive, but that actually isn’t the case. Keep in mind that deserts cool down considerably once the sun sets.

Succulents enjoy lower humidity levels, ideally between 10 and 30 percent. So generally, it’s best to avoid placing them in rooms with higher humidity levels, like the bathroom.

However, if your succulent is in the right location with respect to light, and gets the right amount of water, I’ve found that humidity and temperature level (especially inside) usually isn’t a deal breaker.

To work out the individual growth requirements for your succulent, I recommend succulentsandsunshine.com – a cracker resource.

5) Fertilising fails

Unlike other houseplants, succulents and cacti don’t require frequent fertilizing. They can often do just fine without extra fertilizer, but occasional feedings can help them thrive.

However, over-fertilising can cause the plant to grow too quickly, making it leggy and weak. This can also cause root rot, which will kill your plant. Not good Janice.

It’s important to note that succulents are slow-growing plants and typically do the most growing in the spring and summer seasons. Those are the optimal times to feed your plant.

My rule of thumb when it comes to fertilizer is no more than 3 to 4 times a year, as a maximum. I personally fertilise with a watered-down balanced liquid fertilizer twice a year; once at the start of spring, and once at the start of summer.

Succulents are typically dormant in the winter months and just wan’t to be left alone.

To avoid root rot, fertilise in the spring and summer ONLY when the top layer of soil (or better yet all of the soil) is dry. Don’t feed wet soil please.

 

Conclusion

 

Succulents are pretty darn awesome indoor houseplants for many reasons. They come in many varieties, are relatively easy to care for, and can add a lot of character to a space. Some are small and cute, while others are detailed and striking. However, many succulent lovers make simple mistakes that hinder the plant’s growth, or worse, cause its demise.

Avoid these common care errors and you’ll help your succulents to look their best and grow happily in your home for many years to come.

Much love as always

Miss Pot Plant xoxo

Growing Tumbling Tom’s (Tomatoes) in hanging baskets

Growing Tumbling Tom’s (Tomatoes) in hanging baskets

How to grow Tumbling Tom’s (Tomatoes) in hanging baskets

 

Tumbling Toms are a fantastic beginner plant to grow for the would be veggie gardner.

The Tumbling Tom variety of tomatoe plants are visually awesome – they produce eye catching, cascading tumbler vines dotted with glossly red fruit. A single plant can produce up to 2kg of fresh fruit per season! 

With their tumbling, aesthetic form, they make eye catching feature plants when placed in hanging baskets or trellises on your patio or garden.

And if you’re an adventurous little ranger with a well-lit indoor space, you can also grow Tumbling Tom’s indoors – which is pretty cool.

These guys a pretty easy to grow, but it’s still best to know what you’re doing before you get stuck in.

– Jump to quick guide –

 

When to plant your Tumbling Tom

 

In Australia spring is the best time to plant your Tumbling Tom, as tomatoes are a summer crop.

Plant seeds indoors just before the last of the cold weather to ensure you have a seedling ready for early spring.

In warmer climates like Queensland, you can plant earlier in the season and will get a longer harvest.

 

What size pot / basket for my Tumbling Tom?

 

Your basket should be at least 30cm deep and 30cm across. These guys need some room to grow. The bigger the pot the more tomatoes your Tumbling Tom will produce, in general.

It’s also important that you plant one Tumbling Tom per pot only. One plant will easily fill your pot and needs room for aeration to prevent fungal diseases.

Ensure there is a good amount of drainage in the bottom of the pot, as always.

 

Are Tumbling Tom’s Determinate or Indeterminate?

Tumbling Tom’s are a determinate variety.

If that doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t stress, I’ll explain.

Determinate varieties are smaller and bushier than indeterminate – which grow vertically.

Tumbling Tom’s only grow to around 30cm in height – making them perfect for container gardeners.

Being a bush variety it trails and hangs over pot edges hence its ‘Tumbling’ name. In our opinion this makes it one of the more attractive tomato varieties.

It is also a heavy yielding. If you do a decent job and it has access to good light, it should produce up to 2kg of fruit in a season. They do come in both red and yellow, so keep an eye out for both varieties.

 

Tumbling Tom care

 

 

Tumbling Tom’s are very easy to care for as they are so compact which is great for beginner gardeners.

How much sun does your Tumbling Tom need?

They require full sun, 6-8hrs per day. In warmer regions morning sun is best vs the harsh afternoon sun. This will ensure fruit production.

If you’ve got bright indirect light all day, you’ll likely be ok as well, but may not produce as much fruit as a direct sun location.

 

What soil should you plant a Tumbling Tom in?

Any premium vegetable purposed potting mix will do fine. We personally mix about 1/5 portion of perlite in with ours as well, to ensure good drainage.

 

Should you use mulch with Tumbling Tom’s?

Tomatoes in hanging baskets need a good layer of mulch to stop them from drying out quickly in the summer heat. Sugar cane mulch is great for fruits and vegetables and it also benefits the soil. One inch of mulch should protect your soil from drying out too quickly.

 

Fertilising Tumling Tom tomatoes in hanging baskets

Tomatoes like to be planted in a soil with lots of compost matter. This will ensure high yield from your Tumbling Tom. So use a good potting mix to start with.

If you have a worm farm ‘worm tea’ is a great liquid fertiliser for your Tomatoes. See our guide in making your own worm farm here.

Tomatoes require potassium for fruit development. We feed our Tumbling Tom’s with a diluted seaweed solution once a fortnight. Liquid potash at the start of flowering (once a season) is good idea also.

If your plant is yellowing, it may be potassium deficient and in need of a feed.

 

Watering your Tumbling Tom

Tomatoes in hanging baskets or pots will dry out a lot quicker than in the ground, due to increased airflow. In spring, water your plant thoroughly approximately once a week and keep it consistent – watering the same day each week. As summer approaches and the weather heats up you will need to increase watering to twice a week – I water Wednesday, Saturday.

In the height of summer, you may need to water more frequently so make sure to test the soil with your finger. If the top inch is dry it’s time to water.

Tomatoes like their soil kept moist. If the tomato dries out you will damage your plant and fruit will split or become prone to blossom end rot.  

At the same time, be sure not to water if your soil is moist at the top layer – you’ll make her too soggy and suffer root and fruit rot.

This takes some experimenting in different regions – I’m in sunny Queensland.

 

Should I ‘pinch out’ my Tumbling Tom suckers?

The short answer is no. Determinate varieties are bush tomato plants. By leaving all the side shoots or suckers it gives the plant its fullness appeal.

It also makes for more flower buds, meaning more delicious tomatoes for you. The Tumbling Tom does not require staking or cages as it grows low to the ground.

Common tomato pests and disease

 

Mould /Mildew

Typically has a silvery grey type appearance on the plants leaves. If you notice this try to avoid watering the leaves and water from the base. Remove affected leaves. Make sure the plant has good aeration and isn’t crowded by other plants to avoid mildew.

Blossom end rot

A common problem in tomato plants. Blossom end rot as the name suggests rots the fruit from the bottom upwards. It appears black on the base of the plant. Most commonly caused by infrequent or irregular watering consequently the fruit does not absorb enough calcium. Ensure you are watering to a schedule and often in the warmer months.

Aphids

Aphids are small sap sucking bugs that group in clusters around the stems or undersides of leaves. If you see these early enough pick them off and kill them. If left they can grow in numbers quickly and will damage the plant. Ants eat the sap that aphids make, noticing ants can be a sign of aphids.

Mosaic virus / leaf curl

This virus is spread by other pests. If you notice yellow and dark green mottled patches on leaves and leaf curl your tomato may have this virus. There is no cure for this disease, destroy the plant to avoid spread.

Spider mites

These buggers love warm dry conditions. They are tiny red crawlers that produce webbing living on the undersides of leaves. They will quickly take over your plant if not controlled.

Be sure to use Eco oil (Neem oil) at first signs of spider mites. First signs of mites are often lots of tiny yellow specks appearing on leaves. Blasting the undersides of leaves with water is an effective way to keep numbers down. Be sure to isolate any pots with spider mites to avoid garden infestation.

Caterpillars

Caterpillars are usually easy to spot and can be removed by hand. They will eat your tomato leaves for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Quick guide (for those on a busy schedule)

  • Plant in spring time
  • In the biggest hanging pot you can find for your space (30cm deep x 30cm wide)
  • One plant per pot
  • Use plenty of compost material when planting
  • Be sure to mulch well
  • Keep soil moist and water on set days
  • Feed seaweed solution fortnightly
  • Potash feed when first flowers appear
  • Morning sun is preferred
  • Harvest and enjoy!

 

Miss Pot Plant xoxo

Can you plant succulents and cacti together in the same pot? (We show you how)

Can you plant succulents and cacti together in the same pot? (We show you how)

Can succulents and cacti be grown together in the same pot?

 

This is a question I find myself being asked at least once a month – can succulents and cacti be successfully grown together in a single pot or container?

The simple answer is YES – they certainly can. But you’ll need to know what you’re doing.

Given the confusion that seems to surround this topic, I’ve decided it’s time to write a full guide on exactly how to do it properly. 

The keys to successfully pairing succulents and cacti together are as follows;

  1. Select appropriate species based on compatible growth requirements
  2. Use a proper cacti planting mix with the correct drainage properties
  3. Use one of several methods (discussed in this article) to ensure you’re able to deliver water and fertiliser in a selective manner to individual plants within your arrangement, allowing each species to thrive in optimal conditions
  4. Understanding the principles of arrangement, in order to avoid over-crowding and poor aesthetic results

Easy as that. Or not so easy if you haven’t had experience with this before. But that’s why you’re here. Let’s get stuck into the nitty gritty.

 

 

What’s the difference between succulents and cacti – and why does it matter?

While I’m acutely aware that many of my readers will probably skip this part – it’s important to understand the difference between succulents and cacti.

The name “succulent” comes from the Latin word sucus – which means “sap” or “juice”. It therefore comes as no surprise then that succulents are plants which characteristically have thick fleshy parts designed to store water, in order to be able to survive in hot, dry climates.

However, while the majority of succulents grow in such dry and desert like conditions, others – such as epiphyllum – grow in rainforests, and prefer semi-shade and humid conditions. More on this in a moment.

So how are cacti different to succulents?

You might be surprised to learn that all cacti are in fact succulents. The feature which distinguishes a cacti from a succulent is the presence of aeroles – from which their sharp spines emerge. Succulents do not have these spikes.

This is good news.

As all cacti are a type of succulent, it would make sense that cacti and succulents can be grown together successfully.

However, as mentioned before – not all succulents (and cacti) are found in the same habitat, and as such – mixing plants native to different climate types will lead to problems.

Which leads us to our next topic.

 

Which succulents and cacti can you plant together in a single pot or arrangement?

 

As mentioned above, succulents and cacti are native to a variety of different climates – meaning they will vary in their need for – and tolerance of – sunlight and water.

Therefore, the golden rule for pairing succulents and cacti for a single container arrangement is ensuring you’ve selected species with compatible (or reasonably compatible) growth requirements.

Growth requirements can be complex, but there are really only two major factors you need to consider in order to avoid trouble – how much sun and water each plant requires for optimal growth.

 

Choosing succulents and cacti with similar sunlight requirements

 

As a rule of thumb, cacti normally do best in bright light to full sun for the majority of the day.

Non cacti succulents for the most part prefer bright light also, but many do perfectly fine in the shade – and some will even burn if placed in full sunlight.

Therefore, if you’re planning on placing your arrangement somewhere that gets less than 5 hours of bright indirect light daily, you may be better sticking to a shade tolerant succulent arrangement and leave the cacti outside.

Unless you’re supplementing light with grow lights, you’re going to struggle to keep the majority of cacti happy in a shade dominant location. 

 

If you’re planning on placing your container in a semi shaded locatio with 5 or more hours of bright indirect light, you’ll likely be able to maintain a thriving mix of succulents and cacti – if you choose shade tolerant species.

For locations with bright indirect light all day – you’ll pretty much be able to choose whatever you want to plant.

For direct sun locations outdoors or on a windowsill, you’ll get away with most species as well – but will need to avoid shade dominant succulents that may burn on direct sun exposure.

Below, I’ve made a list of both cacti and succulent species which can tolerate lower light conditions – this list is not exhaustive, but is a good place to start.

Your humidity and temperature variance makes a difference also – so you’ll need to consider these factors also when selecting your species.

 

One of our favourite websites – www.succulentsandsunshine.com – is a great resource to find out more regarding the particular growth requirements of your succulent and cacti species.

Key takeaways 

  • When planning your arrangement, determine what duration and instensity of light exposure at the location you’re planning on placing your pot or container.
  • Then do some research to find species of succulent and cacti which are compatible with your sun levels
  • We recommend avoiding cacti species if your intended location within the home has low-moderate indirect light, or has less than 5 hours of moderate-bright indoor light on a daily basis

 

Watering succulents and cacti planted together in the same pot or container

 

The second growth requirement that must be considered for each of your plants is water need.

One of the most common reasons planters containing both succulents and cacti may fail is due to universal watering for a range of plants with varied water needs – meaning some species are overwatered, and others underwatered.

In general, your succulents will need more water than your cacti plants. While both are prone to overwatering, cacti in particular will do poorly if given too much water – whereas your succulents may become limp or drop leaves if given too little.

How do we solve this dilemma?

Luckily, there are some work-arounds for this that don’t require you to match each species water need in order to be able to companion them. We’ll discuss these in the below step by step guide to planting your succulent and cacti arrangement.

 

 

 

How to plant succulents and cacti together – a step by step guide 

 

 1) Select the correct pot for your succulent and cacti arrangement 

 

There is one simple rule here team.

 Your container or pot MUST have good drainage. I don’t care how pretty it is – no drainage holes, no deal. All succulents (including cacti) will die a miserable death in soil that stays moist for too long. A moist, sad death.

For those in love with a particular container which no drainage holes – there is a work around – which we will discuss in the watering section.

 

2) Select the appropriate soil for your succulent and cacti arrangement

 

This is absolute key. You must pick the right soil for your succulents and cacti to thrive in.

These plants require soil that is porous and drains freely.

Succulents and cacti absorb water from the air around them, so soil that isn’t porous and holds too much water leads to over absorption, cell rupture and root death.

Luckily, most garden stores sell succulent/cacti planting mixes which are designed to reflect this quality.

Just read the label and ensure that they aren’t “water saving”, and that they have some sort of coarse sand or grit material present to make them porous.

 Or, simply make your own like I do.

 To make a potting mix for my succulents, I mix the following

  • 1/3 regular potting mix
  • 1/3 coarse particle (choices here including coarse sand, turface, crushed granite, composted bark – something with a particle size of at least 5mm)
  • 1/3 perlite or pumice

This mix is total boss. The potting mix ads organic material, the coarse particles (I use coarse propagation sand or composted bark) and perlite or pumice form a great porous structure with added organic structure. Perfecto. 

 

3) Decide on a confined or aggregrate planting strategy

 

Earlier in this article, I mentioned that one of the reasons most planters with succulents and cacti mixed in together do poorly is that the cacti generally need less water than their non cacti counterparts, leading to overwatering and death.

 There are two ways to deal with this.

  1. Aggregate planting method 

In a traditional aggregate planter, you’ll arrange and plant your succulent and cacti species all together in the one pot, using a potting mix as discussed above. 

The obvious issue here is in trying to provide tailored water quantities to your plants, given that they are all planted in the same soil in the same pot. 

The workaround with the aggregate planting method is to use a syringe feeding system. 

It’s a simple system. Grab yourelf any type of plastic syringe between 10-50mls, and use this to slowly hand deliver water directly to the base of each plant. In this way you can control the quantity and location of water delivered. 

For example, you might decide to water your succulents with 100mls of water once every 7-10 days, and your cacti with 100mls once every three weeks.

On succulent day, you use your syringe to gentle and slowly drip water directly to the base of your succulents – don’t water too fast or you’ll get lateral spill over to your cacti.

 Then when it comes time to water the cacti, you can either water the whole pot as usual (if the succulents are due also), or you can repeat the same process for the cacti – if the watering schedules are staggered.

 This isn’t foolproof, but it generally works pretty well in preventing your cacti from getting overwatered. 

2. Contained planting method

In this method, you keep each species separately in their original plastic containers with drainage holes, and arrange these pots inside of a larger decorative container. 

A good trick to avoid dead space that looks unsightly is to fill any gaps between containers with your chosen planting mix – then place pebbles or gravel around your plants, effectively hiding their separate containers beneath. 

When its time for watering, you simply water each plant slowly, close to its root base – lateral seepage is prevented by the container hidden below. In this way you can effectively care for each succulent and cacti in your container as separate plants.

TIP: Make sure your individual pots sit on some grough gravel or stones, as you don’t want water pooling beneath and being drawn on by surrounding plants. 

 

4) Maintain your arrangement

 

By now, you should have selected compatible plants, potted them correctly with excellent drainage and appropriate soil – particulate mix, and placed them in a location that matches your chosen sunlight requirement. 

You’re also watering your succulents and cacti by a container or drip feed method, according to their water requirement. 

In order to maintain your arrangement, you’ll need to fertilise with a liquid fertiliser as often as each species requires (you’ll have to look this up). Use the same method as for watering. 

Lastly, ensure you prune back any plants which are encroaching on others, or looking too dominant – I like to do a early spring prune back each year. 

And finally, I report my arrangements every 2 years. Seems to be a sweet spot.

 

And thats it folks!

Hope this was helpful
If it was, spread the love for me and post to facebook, twitter, pinterest, your bedroom door – anywhere helps!

Much love
Miss Pot Plant xoxo 

How to make a DIY worm farm – step by step (with photos)

How to make a DIY worm farm – step by step (with photos)

Building your own DIY worm farm – known in fancy circles as vermicomposting – is a fantastic way to transform your organic household waste into a rich compost which both supports the local ecosystem, and nourishes your plants and vegetable gardens.

Not only does it provide a spectacular and sustainable nurtrient source for all your plants, it’s an exciting way to show kids (and kids at heart) how to recycle our organic waste and return it to the garden as compost goodness. Bonus points for being green!

The compost created from a worm farm is the compost equivalent of a 1991 grange – it’s deep, intense, nurtrient rich goodness. I am constantly amazed that our daily household scraps – with the help of these some little red wigglers – can make the most nutrient rich fertiliser for all plants and garden beds.

When building my own DIY worm farm (shown below), I found some helpful – as well as some not so helpful – DIY tips online to guide me. This resulted in a bit of trial and error (maybe alot of error), but I’ve managed to build a pretty sweet little set up that delivers me juicy compost on a regular basis.

In this article I’ll show you my step by step process for building a successful worm farm from materials you can grab at any local hardware store.

We’ll also touch on;

Lets get into it!

 

 

Thing’s you’ll need to build your DIY worm farm

  • A Drill – with a spade drill piece to make a larger hole for the tap and smaller drilling bits for worm holes
  • 3 plastic bins, containers or Styrofoam boxes and one lid (3 to start – you can add more later)
  • A plastic screw tap
  • 4 small terracotta pots (or bricks or anything that’ll hold the weight of your bins)
  • 4 more pots or legs to hold the bins off the ground (old timber, whatever you have lying around – there are many things you can use for this)
  • A gas lighter (or bbq lighter)
  • Newspaper
  • Coco coir
  • Hessian bag
  • A little soil and some leaves from the garden
  • Worms starter kit – 1000 worms (from your local hardware store or online)

Building your DIY worm bin

  •  Step 1

Using a spade drill piece, drill the the hole for your tap – in the bottom centre of one bin. Make sure your drill bit is the right diameter for your chosen tap. Screw in the tap piece. To tighten most taps come with a screw piece which you thread on the inside to hold it all in place.

This is now the bottom bin. If you are as fortunate as me your local hardware shop may screw it in for you when you purchase your items (cheers Bunnings!).

                                                    

  • Step 2

In your other two bins (not the bottom one in which you’ve placed your tap) you’ll next drill multiple pea sized holes to make a grid like pattern in the base of each. The holes can be anywhere from 3-6mm. This is for the worms to migrate between bins.

(TIP: I found the drilling of the holes made sharp uneven edges on one side from the pushed-out plastic, I melted these excess plastic edges down with a long gas lighter to smooth them over – leaving no sharp edges for the delicate worms. Not sure if overkill, but I’m a little OCD so yolo)

 

                                       

 

  • Step 3

Next you’ll need to drill some small holes in your top lid, and in all bins just under their top lips (all the way around). This is for aeration. These holes should be small – so worms don’t escape and unwanted guests don’t join the compost party. 1-2mm is fine. I put these holes every 5cm or so. On the lid I drilled some holes in clusters as you can see in photo below.

              

 

  • Step 4

Place two terracotta pots (or your chosen bolsters) evenly spaced in the middle of the bottom bin (the bin with the tap). Place second bin on top of these and repeat the process between the second and top bin – using 4 terracotta pots total. The pots allow for space between each bin level.

Important: place a few layers of damp newspaper on the bottom of the middle bin under the pots. This is to stop worms falling into the bottom bin, but allows liquid to soak through and collect in the bottom bin – liquid compost for the winnnnn.

In my photo below you will notice my middle bin is already filled with compost, this is a completed layer of compost – which was the top bin – that I have now swithced to the middle for the worms to migrate upwards to start feeding in my top bin (this is an advanced step mentioned in more detail below). Your middle bin will only have newspaper and two terracotta pots to start.

                 

  • Step 5

The top bin can now be filled with bedding for your worms! (see more bedding info here) Lastly place the bin stack on top of some old pots or bricks to keep it off the ground (as pictured). You will also notice in the photos I have a tray (or extra bucket lid) sitting underneath my worm farm, I use this as a water barrier. Keep the lid filled with water so ants and other crawlers cannot climb up into your worm farm.

You can add levels repeating these steps as your farm grows. Be sure to place your farm in the shade and in a sheltered position from rain.

                                                    

Worm bedding and the difference between greens and browns

Bedding is the most important part of your bin to keep your worms happy. So what is the bedding? Bedding is what the worms live in and consists of what are commonly labelled greens and browns. Browns are the dry bedding that suck up the extra moisture in the worm farm keeping it healthy. The green is any organic waste from the kitchen which often causes moisture in the bin. Both beddings are eaten by the worms to produce worm castings (or poo).

You start your worm farm off with just browns until the worms settle in. It is important that you keep the bin two thirds brown and one third green to keep the right moisture levels and to sustain an ideal home for the worms. The bin should be kept moist so that if you squeezed the contents with your hand it should make a drop of water, it should never be dripping.

 

Here is a list of the brown bedding materials that are perfect for your worms house:

  • Damp newspaper often shredded (put in dry if bin is too wet) and Soft cardboards
  • Horse and cow manures
  • Egg cartons, no labels
  • Toilet rolls
  • Coco coir (coconut husk, great for retaining moisture)
  • Sugar cane mulch (worms love this stuff)
  • A bit of soil or compost
  • Bark and leaves

 

Which worms are for composting

So which worms do you put in your farm? The most common composting worms are called red wigglers. These small red worms live on the surface of soil and use objects such as leaves to hide. Unlike the common garden earthworm, these little worms do not burrow. The red wigglers reach maturity at around 3 months and can produce 2-3 cocoons each week (“Worm Reproduction & Development – Compost-ology – City of Euless”, 2019). These cocoons take around 11 weeks to hatch.

Be sure not to turn (or mix) a vermicomposting farm as this may dislodge or damage cocoons thus this will affect the reproduction rates of your farm. You can gently loosen up the natural soil compaction from time to time. Earthworms can also live in your farm but they will need more soil or worm castings first to burrow in, they will also help to break down your scraps.

 

What to feed your worms from the kitchen

The most common question when it comes to worm farms is what do we feed them, remember this is not a compost heap in which you can chuck anything, it is the worms house and we want them to stick around. Worms eat most organic waste from the kitchen with a few exceptions. They do not like acidic foods such as citrus or tomatoes, so keep the orange peels for the bin. Worms do not eat meat, dairy or oily foods so avoid putting these in your farm as well. Starchy foods I have found get left and don’t always seem to disappear in my worm farm – such as potato peels – I tend to avoid these if I have other scraps handy.

Worms have tiny teeth and digestive systems so the more digestible foods you feed them the happier they will be, such as cutting scraps up fine or blending. It is important that you do not start to feed the organic waste from a family of four to a newly established farm, as the worms need time to settle and multiply to cope with this much waste. Once you start feeding your worms you will quickly work out how much you can feed them by how quick the scraps are disappearing. Be sure to gently bury your scraps in the soil or under newspaper to avoid smells, attracting fruit flies.

Here is a list of green scraps your worms will love:

  • Fruit pulp from juicer                    (not citrus)
  • Fruit scraps and off cuts               (apple cores)
  • Vegetable off cuts and scraps     (avoid potato and tomato)
  • Lettuces and salad scraps
  • Used Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Crushed egg shells                         (pull off white lining if possible)
  • Banana peels
  • Most herbs
  • Avocado skins                                 (their favourite)
  • Watermelon rind

 

How to add another level and move worms once compost is ready

Well this is the fun part, your compost is ready! Or you are keeping your worms so happy they are multiplying and you need more bins producing worm poop at once. How exciting.

Simply swap the top bin (full of worm and compost goodness) with the empty middle bin, which will now be your top bin. Start by adding some bedding to the top bin and some food scraps. Over time the worms will crawl up through the holes to the top bin that is now being fed scraps, to leave the middle bin full of compost and no worms. This process does take some time and may still require some manual worm picking. Don’t be lazy Janice.

Alternatively you can manually sieve out the worms from your compost and add them to the new top bin – this is a delicate process.

Making and using worm tea or leachate

 

Leachate is the excess liquid that comes from your worm farm, this is not worm tea. When I first started my worm farm I never found any excess liquid in the bottom bin and did not understand how to get any leachate. Keeping your farm at the right moisture levels should NOT create a full bottom tray of liquid. The best way to extract your leachate is to water your compost bin once the worms have moved up a level to a newly established bin. This is once your compost is ready. Watering once a week will give you plenty of leachate in your bottom catchment to use as needed. Once you have your leachate it should be diluted into water ratio 5:1 – like you would do with a Seasol solution.

Worm tea on the other hand requires you to take one heaped handful of worm castings and subsequently soak them in about 5 litres of water to extract all the goodness. Worm tea is like liquid gold for your plants and vegetable gardens and is one of the best liquid fertilises you will find. This ‘tea’ contains plenty of good bacteria and microbes as well as all the best nutrients and minerals your plants need.  It also works as a foliage spray and doubles as a natural insect repellent to keep your plants healthy both above and below the ground. A gardeners holy water. If you have a good vermicompost stash going you can routinely add a spoon to your usual watering regime (don’t overdo it – maybe once every third or fourth water will be el primo).

Pests and unwanted guests

Pests in indoor worm farms are minimal, but if you have a patio or outdoor farm pests are something to keep an eye out for.

Fruit Flies

Fruit flies tend to be present in any worm farms due to decaying fruit and vegetables. These little flies will not do any harm to your worm farm – so don’t fret. Try burying your scraps with soil or cover with newspaper to avoid attracting fruit flies.

Mites

Another pest that has been common in my worm farm is mites. Mites are tiny crawling bugs that also feed on decaying matter. They come in the hundreds and breed very quickly if the conditions are right. Mites like wet and acidic conditions so if you have an infestation don’t overwater, let you farm dry out a little until they leave. Another great way I have found to get rid of mites is to place a large watermelon rind on the top of your farm this will attract the mites, you can then remove it and put it in the bin – be sure to pick off any worms.  Repeat this if you have an infestation.

Ants

Another common problem in most of Australia. These little bastards will get in to everything and anything they can find. My greatest foe.

The best way I have found to control ants is by sitting your worm farm over a ‘water bath’. Place a tray or lid of water (as shown in my DIY steps) underneath your farms base/legs so ants cannot cross the water to climb into the farm. If you have an ant problem the best way to get rid of them is to soak the farm, ants will escape quickly up the sides or drown. Not the most ideal solution for your worms, but ants will take over the farm quickly if not dealt with. Let the water drain out the bottom as you hose it to get rid of any ants and nests.

I’ve tried a protective ring of ant dust around my farms but this didn’t work. Maybe they built a bridge of corpses over it. I don’t know. Clever little buggers.

Maggots

Maggots can sometimes appear in your farm. These are fly larvae. When building your farm be sure to drill small aeration holes rather than large ones, in order to avoid flies entering the farm to lay eggs. If your bin is too wet or being overfed – causing rotting food – this is the perfect condition for maggots to thrive. Maggots can generally be easily removed by placing in a lure (milk soaked bread) and then removing this once covered in maggots

 

Do worm farms smell?

The simple answer is no, worm farms should not smell hence they are suitable for indoors. A healthy worm farm should smell like garden soil. If your worm farm smells then you will need to do some troubleshooting. Is the farm too wet? Are the worms being overfed? Are you burying your scraps? These are some questions to find the source of why your worm farm is smelly.

Keeping the right balance of greens and browns in your farm should ensure it has a neutral smell. Overfeeding is the main cause of a smelly worm farm, as the food will start to rot when the worms cannot keep up. Also be sure to check the foods to avoid list as these foods can create unwanted smells in your bin.

 

And that’s all there is to it. Seriously, vermicomposting has been a game changer for me. Fun, rewarding, and awesome for both the environment and your plant garden. Get amongst it!

Miss Pot Plant xoxo

 

 

 

 

Worm Reproduction & Development – Compost-ology – City of Euless. (2019). Retrieved 27 August 2019, from http://www.eulesstx.gov/composting/vc_reproduction.htm

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

The ever popular Peace Lily is one of the most stoic and reliable house plants going around. It grows happily in lower light conditions, and with it’s lush dark green leaves and striking stemmed white flowers, it’s also one of the more attractive plants you can add to your indoor collection.

Despite being relatively hard to kill, the Peace Lily is not easily mastered. In order to achieve a plant which is full, healthy and flowers regularly, you’ll neeed a bit of know how.

How to grow and care for a Peace Lily Plant

 

Facts

The ever popular peace lily derives from the family Araceae, and is a evergreen herbaceous perennial plant. Popular in homes, offices – and the bedrooms of most 20 something year old females – the peace lily is a versatile and attractive house plant.

It typically features dark green leaves which can grow up to 60cm long and 20cm broad, normally in a compact arrangement. It is known for producing a flower atop a long stem, and surrounded by a large and usually white structure known as a spathe (often confused for the flower).

The peace lilly is a hardy plant, and can grow in a variety of climates, making it a popular choice for inside the home – particularly since it grows best in shade. What a gem.

It is also notable for being a top performer in the NASA clean air study – more on that here

How much light does a Peace Lily need?

Luckily, our peaceful friend is quite forgiving and tolerates a wide range of light conditions, from relatively low levels of light all the way through to bright indirect light all day.

I’ve moved my peace lily around the house a few times, and the best results for me have come in rooms with predominant indirect morning sun.

That said, they’ll do fine in a room that’s bright all day, as well as room with lower light levels. Just be aware of the following:

  1. In a darker position, they are less likely to flower, and will grow more  slowly. They’ll also need less water.
  2. Conversely, in a brighter room, they’ll be more likely to flower, will grow faster and require more water.
  3. Important note: You should avoid placing your plant where it gets direct sunlight, and potentially even where it gets indirect strong afternoon sunlight, as this can lead to burning of the leaves.

Potting your Peace Lily

Peace lily plant, how to grow a peace lily

When potting your Peace Lily, use a mix for premium indoor mix with good drainage properties. A little coir mixed in never goes astray either.

Steps for potting: 

  1. Use a pot that’s 20-30cm in
    width, and with drainage holes. If using a decorative pot without drain holes, keep your plant in a simple plastic pot with drainage and place this pot within the larger decorative pot. 
  2. Fill with your a premium potting mix of your choice.
  3. If your plant is root bound, gently massage the roots open a little before planting – but wash your hands first. 
  4. Position, backfill with potting mix – and be careful not to over compress, otherwise your drainage will suffer
  5. Water in thoroughly

I personally repot every 18 months – 2 years, and this seems to work well. If you find your plant was root bound, go up a size in pot. If there was still some loose dirt, then you can stick with your current size.

Watering your Peace Lily

How much water does a Peace lily need? It depends.

Generally, you want to err on the side of underwatering. Overwatering is probably the fastest way to ruin your plant, so got easy with the H20. 

As a rule of thumb, water when the top 2cm
of soil feels dry. Obviously the time of year and position of your plant will influence this interval, so make sure to always check  the top layer of soil before you water.

Hot tip:

As long as you’re keeping an eye out, the first sign of leaf droop is the ideal time to water – you can guarantee you won’t be
overwatering this way. Just don’t leave it all droopy for a week.

The best fertiliser for the Peace Lily, and how often to feed

The best fertiliser for a Peace Lily is a balanced liquid feed. Generally, these plants aren’t veracious eaters and don’t need feeding all that often – and you can definitely over do it if you’re a bit of a keen bean. Sometimes this plant just wants to be left in peace (Ha). 

For fertilising, follow these steps;

  1. Use a balanced liquid feed. Be sure to read the instructions to see if it needs diluting
  2. Feed once at the beginning of spring
  3. Feed 2-3 times during the summer 
  4. Don’t feed during autumn and winter
  5. Do not feed more than 4 times a year. 

Advanced care tips for your Peace Lily

With the basics now covered, let’s look at some other important techniques needed to care for your Peace Lily. 

Pruning a Peace Lily

Not much effort is required in the way of pruning your Peace Lily. Leaves will naturally yellow and brown with age (though excessive yellowing or browning can be due to other issues – see below).

Simply remove these leaves by cutting close to the base of the leaf with clean, sharp scissors.

This applies also to the flowers and their stalks. The white spathe (which some think is the flower, but which is actually a modified leaf) that surrounds the little flowers on the end of the stalk will eventually die off, followed soon by the stem. It won’t produce further flowers.

Simply cut at the base – as with dying leaves – and make room for new flowers to grow.

How to make a Peace Lily flower

Getting your Peace Lilly to blood or rebloom can be a fickle beast, no matter how many clever online guides you read.

Here are the things you need to consider.

  1. Peace Lily’s bloom irregularly,
    and though there appears to be some seasonality to this, it isn’t reliable.
  2. Not all species are created equal with respect to flowering. Some species just don’t bloom as much as others –
    though all species should flower at least once or twice a year.
  3. The garden stores and nurseries apply a special hormone called gibberellic acid to induce flowering – but this
    chemical is potentially dangerous to the plant if used incorrectly and is best left to the horticulturalists.

Aside from the above, what are the common reasons your Peace Lily isn’t flowering? Follow the below checklist. 

  1. Insufficient light. This is by far the most common reason. If you’re able, as a first step try to move your
    plant to somewhere with greater light; even if it’s on the porch for a few weeks.
  2. Unhealthy plant. Are you
    following all the steps listed in this guide? If not, your plant simply may be
    unhealthy. If it’s not a vigorous and healthy plant, it wont flower. 
  3. Soil imbalance. Over time your plant utilises the minerals and nutrients in your soil base. Even if you’re using a fertiliser,  this doesn’t necessarily
    mean you’re restoring the balance of nutrients required for blooming: try switching up your fertiliser. Using one designed for flowering plants may be of benefit.
  4. Nothing – sometimes despite doing everything right, your plant just won’t flower. If this is a deal breaker, consider talking to your local garden centre about replacing with a
    species that’s a known frequent bloomer. Or give into despair. 

Troubleshooting

Why do my Peace Lily leaves have brown tips?

There can be a few reasons your Peace Lily has leaf browning at the tip. Following these troubleshooting steps.

  1. Water with consistency – Erratic watering can cause brown tips. Be consistent.
  2. Mineral imbalance – watering with tap water may cause a build up or calcium and other minerals which may cause the tips of your leaves to burn. Try watering with filtered water or bottled water.
  3. Contact with walls – leaf tips which lay against walls may brown. Give it some breathing space.
  4. Fertilising too frequently – fertilise a maximum of 4 times a year.
  5. Pests – Spider mites and mealybugs can get all up in your business. If you suspect pests are the cause, then give
    the plant a good old fashioned wipe down with soapy water and rinse.
  6. Direct sunlight – this should be an obvious one.

Why has my Peace Lily stopped growing?

If your Peace Lily is growing slowly, or has stopped growing, troubleshoot with these steps:

  1. Is your plant approaching 60cm tall? If so, then it may be nearing its growth potential. This is normal.
  2. Have you applied all the steps in this guide? If not, fix these issues.
  3. Can you read a book in the room your Peace Lily is located? If not, it may not have sufficient light for optimal growth. This is only an issue if you care about the size of the plant.
  4. Do you fertilise? If not, try fertilising 3-4 times a year with a balanced liquid fertiliser.
  5. When was the last time you repotted? If greater than a year ago, try a repot with quality potting mix.

 

Are Peace Lily plants safe for cats and dogs?

Peace Lily leaves can contain quite a bit of calcium oxalate crystals which can cause reactions in some pets and people. Generally the reactions are along the lines of skin irritation, or mouth tingling / burning. Some pets may vomit if they ingest this plant. 

That said, these reactions tend to be mild. Therefore I’d say exercise caution – but do not neccessarily rule this plant out if you have pets or children. 

 

And there you have it my friends. A complete guide to growing a rocking Peace Lilly*.

*Household peace is not guaranteed.

Much love
Miss Pot Plant xoxo