Plant Rehab And Care

First off, I need to specify that this advice is very specific to my climate (Ontario, Canada). We get four PROPER seasons here in Toronto. Hot hot summers. Cold cold winters. Etc. Not all things like to grow indoors here. Succulents? Beautiful to look at but you know what, most aren’t really cut out for Canadian living. They are use to beautifully warm climates where they get tons o’ sun. Our homes aren’t always warm enough for their liking. My intention is to give general advice and share tips on what has worked for me here in Toronto. With that, here is my plant rehab And care advice!

heartleaf philodendron Row House Nest

Since relocating, I have had some odd reactions from my plant friends. Some of transitioned well, others not so well. Now that we are in the throes of a Canadian winter, I am struggling with some of my plants and feel like I can’t be the only one struggling with trying to keep some of these babies alive! Too much water, too little water. Direct sunlight, indirect sunlight. New pot, old cramped pot. Honestly, I feel like some of my plants have flourished while others have taken a mental nose dive and just given up hope. I have been researching how to nurse my plants back to health and how to keep others happy and thought my readers might enjoy the fruits of my labour. We have such a bipolar climate here in Ontario and some plants just don’t like it. I feel like we are signing their death certificates when we buy them. That said, some seem to do well while others don’t. It is all an inexact science to me.

Rubber plant Toronto

Here are my go-to strategies for saving a dying plant. Go through the following list when thinking about Plant Rehab:

  • Position in the house – does it like lots of light? Little light? Check out online what it likes and move it accordingly. An indication that the plant isn’t happy in its current spot is if it is not flowering and/or starts to look very spindley. Plants will also react to an environmental change – drafts, being close to a heat source or  being placed in direct sunlight when it doesn’t like direct light.  A plant can get scorched if it is placed in direct sun. I did this to a palm (I think) and had to cut the affected limbs and relocate it. Sadly, it is still recovering.

succulents Row House Nest

  • Planter– sometimes we stick a plant in a planter and forget about them – leaving them to live in crowded conditions for years causing them to become root bound. Find a bigger planter and repot that baby…and while you are at it…

Instructions for how to pot a houseplant From Long and Found:

Image source: Long & Found

  • Soil – replace soil. Plants take nourishment from soil. Years on, that soil can be dead as dead can be. Give the plants a blast of life by giving it new soil.
  • Watering – too much water or too little is a major problem. An indication of this is droopy (wilting) leaves. Adjust your water schedule and volume. I have been noticing root rot with a few of my oldies which is extra puzzling to me because they were fine for years. Misting is a little known secret that most plants seem to love. My most fickle plants adore being misted twice a week.

Both of these little plants below are no longer with me. After the move, they both started to decline and started to rot. Sorry little buddies.

cacti plants Toronto

If you suspect root rot, remove the plant and place it on a large piece of paper. Carefully pull apart the roots – check for infected roots by looking for black root tips with slimy decay. Remove rot, repot healthy sections in a new pot with new soil. I feel like it is better to always slightly under water most plants rather than over water them. Also different strokes for different folks. June Letters created this great infographic to demonstrate what plants like water:

Image source: June Letters Studio

  • Fertilizer – don’t over fertilize! If you do, you can ‘burn’ the plants. Plant experts suggest fertilizing just once a month to promote healthy growth.
  • Drainage – this is related to watering and the planter but I created a separate section as it can have it’s own unique problem. If you pick a pot because it is nice looking, it may not have great drainage (I am guilty of this). I have also had a planter that drained TOO much, thus no water stuck around. Sometimes adding a handful of small pebbles to a planter before you put the soil in can be really helpful too.

Low Maintenance Houseplants (AKA hard to kill) that I have had success with in Ontario:

  • Rubber tree – these babies are HARDY. The rubber tree that I currently own was found on a cold February afternoon left out on the sidewalk for who knows how long. And it lived. Is thriving and basically doesn’t mind any location I put it in.
  • Snake plants – man oh man these babies are hard to kill. The only caution I have is watering – do not over water them. They thrive in dry conditions versus moist.

snake plants Toronto

  • Spider plants – growing up, my mom had tons of these. They basically take care of themselves.
  • Heartleaf philodendron – talk about a responsive plant. Give this baby sunlight, regular water and before you know it, it will be doubling in size.
  • Shamrocks (roll on Irish jokes) – of course I love shamrocks. My birthday is Saint Patrick’s day after all but seriously, shamrocks are so easy! And adorable houseplants.
  • Burros Tail – now this is a succulent, which as I said before, are not always hardy enough for our climate but my burros tail has been pretty amazing. It even survived a car accident (got thrown around), sat in the freezing cold for a few hours and somehow, came back from the trauma. So it gets the stamp of approval.

burros tail succulent Toronto

  • Air plants – OMG these plants take little or no care. You don’t even need to remember you own them.
  • Ivy – this stuff can grow anywhere. I have even grown ivy outdoors over the summer and brought it in. Freaks.

Now onto my Hard to Grow Houseplants list. I have found the following to be difficult, fickle and downright jerky:

  • FAMOUS fiddle fig leaf – these friggin’ things are so SENSITIVE! Man. They are needy partners. Some weeks they love a spot, hate it the next. This is one of my plants that I under water because I have heard so many stories about fig leaves going AWOL.

fiddle fig leaf burros tail and air plant

  • Indoor herbs – listen, as much as I want a ‘kitchen garden’, all indoor herbs go weird. They go limp, weak and taste horrible. Let’s just up that pipe dream guys.
  • The succulent family – you beautiful little jerks. We get drawn in by your exotic, beautiful fine details. And you generally seem to hate us. I am looking at you aeonium leucoblepharum! Susceptible to many dangers such as soil, over-watering, temperature changes and just about everything else (it is like knowing a bubble  baby), most succulents are SO hard to take care of…. And when they do grow, some grow into really weird spindley looking things.  This also includes jade plants. I have had a hard time with jade although it gets labelled as ‘care free’ all the time. No way babe, that plant is as crazy as the next succulent. I feel like watering succulents should require a degree in botany. I read somewhere that succulents LOVE sunny southwest facing windows. Like what? I get it. They like light but they are so snobby, they prefer a certain DIRECTION!

Fiddle fig leaf Toronto

The Toronto Master Gardner’s group published this article about a beginners guide to growing houseplants. They give some specific information about room temperatures although admittedly, when buying a plant, I don’t think to myself “oh ya this little guy is going to love my  20 degree living room.” I like most people, pick plants based on looks. Dynasty, a high end plant shop at Queen and Dovercourt, gives some information about plant care here. You Grow Girl is a blogger and writer based here in Toronto. She has lots and lots of blog posts about different plants she grows here.

plants in apartment Row House Nest


Images: 1, 2 and 3 are plants in my home and were taken by Christian Webber.  All other images were taken by me unless stated otherwise.

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  • No wonder I kill every plant I own, I’ve been going for the jerky guys! I have jotted down some of your low maintenance plants and hoping for some better luck next time around. Thank you 🙂
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  • barbara @hodge:podge

    I too have learned the hard way. I think all my ivy’s in the house are from the “mother” ivy. So easy to keep. My fiddle leaf, that bugger liked my last house, this house not so much. And I bought a snake plant a few weeks ago when I read they were hard to kill – just what I need! I have a few succulents, so far so good. I am knocking on wood as I type that though….

    • Oh lovely Barbara! Plants are fickle nuggets!