Have you tried your hand at growing plants or herbs only to find it hasn’t quite turned out to be the successful project you had hoped it would?
It happens. It’s awful when it does, but if you’ve spotted the problem early enough, you can intervene using this guide listing all the things a plant needs to survive and grow, healthy and strong.
The fact is, there are only four main ingredients a plant needs to survive. Those are:
Easier remembered by the acronym LAWN.
A few additional components contribute to a plant’s health:
- The right temperature
When all of these components are just right, a plant will be able to grow from a seed or a bulb into a fully-fledged flowering plant, able to reproduce.
Here’s a breakdown of:
What Plants Need and Why
1 – Light
Without light, a plant cannot survive. It is the primary source of energy that makes everything else just work.
You see, in the leaves of all plants are these things called Chloroplasts. That’s made of sections of Chlorophyll, which is what gives the leaves the green color, but more importantly is the function chloroplasts serve.
They serve the plant by capturing the energy from radiant light, usually sunlight, although an artificial light source can be used provided it closely mimics the effects of sunlight.
The reason for that is because of the photons from light, which are the energy source plant leaves capture. The more photons a plant gets, the more energy it’ll get and then it can use that for the photosynthesis process.
Photosynthesis is the process plants go through when they use the energy from their light sources, combined with each of the other three things a plant needs – air, water and nutrients – to make glucose, which is the food for the plant. Once it’s done that, it releases oxygen back out of the leaves.
Different plants need different light conditions though and it’s something to think about before you try to grow any indoor plants.
When deciding on the type of plants to grow, it’s best to consider the light conditions you have available, or can invest in, if you’re going to use artificial grow lights.
Aloe plants and succulents tend to favor bright light conditions and are sometimes referred to as full-sun plants. These plants do well with roughly six hours of direct sunlight daily.
Partial or medium-light plants such as Begonias and ferns do well under indirect light. One way of doing this is to put your plant on a windowsill with a sheer curtain to obstruct the sunlight. The result is filtered sunlight.
Low-light plants like snake plants and the Chinese Evergreen do well with no direct sunlight, preferring artificial light or filtered sunlight for fewer hours per day. The larger the plant, the more light is required so less light will mean smaller plants.
This begs the question…
How much light should a plant get?
That’s the tricky part of growing any plant because it’s best judged by experimentation. Too much light can cause leaf burn, yet too little and you’ll wind up with a leggy plant that tries super hard to stretch toward wherever the light source is.
The best course of action is to start with lower light and increase gradually until the plant is acclimatized to the growing conditions. You’ll likely agree that a leggy plant is better than a plant with burnt leaves.
One thing to remember with any light source, whether outdoors on indoors growing on a windowsill, is the plant needs 360-degree light. So, if you are growing your plant on a windowsill, turn the plant regularly or it’ll wind up lopsided.
2 – Air
Plants need air both above ground and below the surface in the soil to survive. What’s also important is the quality of the air.
Air pollution, as you know, is a problem, especially if you live in a city. Indoor air pollution is even worse though and that’s because of Volatile Organic Compounds. These are gases from the likes of tobacco smoke, radon (which can seep into homes from the soil under it), and all the household cleaning products you use regularly.
All of these components can decrease the quality of air that your plants are getting. Remember, it’s only the carbon dioxide a plant needs. The rest isn’t used, but the more VOCs there are in your air, the higher the chance it’ll harm your plant, perhaps by stunting its growth.
In the case of tobacco smoke residue, that can kill your plants just as it can kill anyone smoking nicotine products.
There are certain types of plants called air plants, which work to clean the air in your home. Truth be told, any indoor plant will purify your air. It’s just that air plants tend to be better at pulling in air, using the carbon dioxide faster and releasing oxygen back into the environment, less the VOCs that the plant’s absorbed.
Plants have two uses for air: to allow the roots to breathe and contribute to the photosynthesis process.
In addition to the air, air flow is a factor too. It needs to be sufficient and not solely stagnant air. In a home or office with little ventilation, the air flow may be too low resulting in reduced plant growth.
Remember that the leaves of plants capture energy from light sources, so remember to give your plants a wipe down on occasion to clean away any debris, dust, and dirt, which will reduce the amount of light the chloroplasts on plant leaves get. That’s for the visible part of the plant.
What about the part you can’t see?
The soil needs a decent amount of air too. When this becomes problematic is when a plant has outgrown its pot. The larger the plant grows, the more compact the root system becomes. Too compact and air won’t flow resulting in root rot caused by insufficient air flow.
3 – Water
When carbon dioxide in plants mixes with water, photosynthesis happens. That’s only one reason why plants need water. Another is an obvious one and that’s because it’s fluid, so it’s a perfect ingredient for a transport system.
The water is absorbed in the roots of the plants, fed from there up through the stems and then into the leaves where it mixes with the air to make sugars before evaporating and releasing oxygen.
Get this though…
When the water reaches the stems and leaves, it’s stored there. That process is called turgor and it’s what gives plants their shape. If you don’t water it enough, it can’t stand upright.
The water pressure on the cell walls inside the plant is what helps it stand up straight. Don’t water it, it won’t stand.
Did you know the biggest type of plant is a tree? Ever wonder how all that water gets from the tree roots to the top of the tree?
Check this out…
Read more: Why Do Plants Need Water?
4 – Nutrients
Plant nutrition is a six-part deal. It’s not as simple as just add water and leave the rest to the plant. That can be done on certain types of plants like air plants that require no soil.
For soil plants, there’s six nutrients needed. Three main nutrients and three micronutrients that work as additional support.
The three main nutrients a plant needs to survive are:
- Nitrogen: Plants use this as an assist with chlorophyll production, which is what gives the leaves the green color. The more nitrogen, the greener the leaves. Less causes the leaves to pale in color.
- Potassium: This strengthens a plant’s roots, helping it to retain water but most importantly, it’s like an immune system booster as it’s what helps plants fight off plant diseases and repel insects.
- Phosphorus: This gives plants strength and contributes to the flowering process. For outdoor plants, it’s phosphorous in plant fertilizers that help them cope with environmental stress such as freezing cold temperatures, ice and snow.
Most soils have these nutrients starting out. Eventually, they need topping up and the only way for a soil plant to get these vital nutrients is by feeding the plants fertilizer.
Magnesium: This is a supporting mineral for nitrogen. If you’re finding your plants’ leaves are paler, the magnesium will help with color production.
Calcium: Calcium and magnesium are both minerals plants get from water. The calcium is used to bind the cell walls in the plant tissues together. Without enough, they can become calcium deficient.
You can tell if that’s a problem if new leaves start wilting, yellowing or generally withering faster than usual. It tends to happen on mature plants, for which you can use a calcium fertilizer to help strengthen the cell walls on new leaves.
Sulfur: Helps the plant to fight off diseases.
What Are the Best Conditions for Plants to Survive?
Light, air, water and nutrients are the four main things plants need to stay alive and growing. There’s other factors to consider for your plant to do really well.
Those are space, time and the right temperature.
Space: Space is needed for air flow. If too many plants are grown too close together, air flow will be restricted. Every part of a plant needs a good amount of air so leave plenty of space between your plants.
Time: Because you can’t put a seed or bulb in a pot with soil, add water and fertilizer, sit it somewhere with decent light and expect it to grow overnight. Plant growth takes time and how long or short will vary by plant type.
The right temperature: This is something you need to research for any new plant you’re introducing because they all have different requirements. Some are low-light plants, others preferring filtered light with high energy plants needing bright light for six hours a day.
What’s more is for indoor plants grown with artificial lighting, the right temperature won’t be the same all year round because plants need a hibernation period. That’s in the winter.
To get the best grow conditions, mimic the environmental factors the plant would have if it were to be grown outdoors in its native region.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.