Your Houseplants Eat Sunshine for Breakfast

Houseplants eat sunshine for breakfast. And lunch. And supper. And also for snacks.

When we learn how succulents such as Aloe Vera don’t require fertilizer, the most common thought is, “What does it eat?”

We know plants need air, water and sunshine, but humans have been patiently taught by fertilizer companies selling “plant food” that plants also must have store bought fertilizer in order to survive. This isn’t always true.

Plants turn sunshine into food using photosynthesis. For many plants, so long as they are getting enough light, air and water they have everything they need to thrive.

Nurseries almost always add a slow release fertilizer to their houseplants. If you see little dots of blue or green in the soil, that is what those granules are. If you have purchased your plant from a nursery and it is still in its original pot, you definitely don’t need to worry about fertilizing it for at least a year.

Oftentimes a plant that looks lively at the nursery and then weakens and dies in your care, is the result of being over-fertilized. Between the nursery’s slow release fertilizer and your own generous offerings, it has simply grown too much, too fast, and has worn itself out.

It’s not dissimilar to a human after a turkey dinner, being topped up with two slices of pie. And whipped cream. And a couple chocolates. Your host is kind and the food is bountiful, but you are fading fast into the sofa. A tall glass of water and a walk in the sun almost always brings us back to normal. Or normal-ish.

The same goes for plants.

If you suspect you have over-fertilized your newly purchased plant, flush the soil thoroughly to wash out as much fertilizer as you can, being sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Remember: the only thing more common than over-fertilizing, is overwatering!

Even after you have repotted a plant into fresh soil, you still need to consider plant size. The more you fertilize, the faster your plant will grow and the bigger it will continue to get. Unless you’re minimalist in a mansion (which is kind of an oxymoron) your plant will soon outgrow its space. Slow-to-grow is much more compatible with most home plant growers living space.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the “fertilize lightly if at all” rule. Plants that produce blooms are always going to benefit from an extra boost in the form of plant fertilizer. However, once they have finished blooming it is time to tuck the fertilizer away for awhile and let them recover.

Humans eat food every day, but most plants only need fertilizer once a month during the growing season and not at all over the stagnant winter months. Succulents and cacti will do just fine with no fertilizer at all.

It can be hard to track a fertilizing schedule (though I am sure there is an app for that). A lot of houseplant enthusiasts find it easier to fertilize their plants at a quarter strength every watering during the warm, growing season and then stop altogether over the winter months.

Photo by Blue Bird on

Have you ever wondered what those three numbers on your box of plant fertilizer means? Find out here!


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