Florist Hanna Piippo answers

This spring we celebrate the new season by inviting nature to our homes. Read florist Hanna Piippo’s answers to questions sent by our Myiittala members, and you’ll get tips on selecting plants, potting and watering, and much more.

Plant care

Q: How do I keep plants alive?

A: That’s a great question! Every plant has different needs when it comes to light, soil, and water. Some plants also need nutrients in order to flourish. Find out what each plant needs and care for them as instructed, and you’ll succeed. If you’re a lazy gardener, choose a plant that is easy to care for rather than a demanding one. That means doing some research before buying a plant. For example, if your home is dark, you shouldn’t buy plants that need lots of light. You should also pick suitable pots and follow planting instructions to ensure that plants have a good chance to thrive. Don’t get stressed if something goes wrong. Plants sometimes have flaws, meaning that they might have been exposed to cold or become infected with bugs at some point during transportation before reaching your home. Winter is also a difficult time for house plants because indoor air is dry and the days are dark. Consider using a grow light to provide additional lighting as well as misting your plants to increase humidity. I don’t have enough space for an extra light source myself, and I have lost a few plants during winter because of that. In summer, excessive heat and sunshine make plants thirsty, and the blazing sun can also kill them. Fortunately, you can always start over and see if you are more successful with some other plant.

Q: Sometimes black flies appear in flower pots. What kind of flies are they? Can something be done about it?

A: The little black flies are usually fungus gnats and the adults are not actually harmful for your plant. They prefer damp soil so the easiest way to get rid of them is to water less, let the soil dry completely before watering again. If this doesn´t work you should try changing the soil to your plant. Meanwhile, get some sticky fly paper so you get rid of some of the flying ones and they don´t get to your other plants.

Q: How to keep Helleborus alive in the vase?

A: Oh hellebores can be tricky in a vase. I often let them float totally underwater for several hours, that sometimes helps. Most important is to buy the stems that are firm and not too limb. Also as for any cutflower what often helps is to recut the stem and change fresh water. I have also experienced that differences between different hellebore qualities can be huge and in my opinion the longest lasting are magnifique bells.

Q: Can moss be grown in the apartment? How would that work? 

A: Depends a bit of definition of growing - or maintaining but I can tell from my own experience that I have created many moss terrariums which are like ecosystems of their own. You can make your own in a glass vessel with a lid by putting a layer of stones, soil and a little bit of coal to prevent any deseases, then a layer of moss. Spray the moss and close the lid. Depending on how sunny and warm it is, the terrarium will keep itself and moss moist, which means the moss stays alive and even grows a bit. Sometimes it is wise to open the lid for a day so it doesn´t get too wet or on the other hand spray a bit with water if it looks too dry. Moss needs to be moist to be alive.

Q: Why is my aloe vera plant no longer lush green? I think it won't last much longer ...

A: Have you watered it enough? If not, it could be the reason. Try to make it come more alive by deeply soaking it in water once then wait until the soil is completely dry until you water it again. Good luck!

Plant selection

Q: What would be a stylish and beautiful house plant that is also the easiest to care for, i.e., one that you wouldn’t have to stress about dropping dead quickly?

A: Cactus and succulent plants need very little water, so in that sense they are easy to care for if you’re a forgetful waterer. Other easy-to-care-for plants include yuccas, mother-in-law’s tongues, golden pothos, and ZZ plants, which don’t mind irregular watering and are not too particular about the amount of light. Of course, with every plant, you should try to ensure that it receives the right amount of water and light. I keep both coleus and begonia in a light place on a windowsill, where they both of course need watering but also withstand irregular watering and revive even after I’ve been away longer and the leaves have already become a little wilted when I get home. I feel that being on a light windowsill, they are thankful for whatever they get and grow well. In a slightly shadier place I have golden pothos, for example, which can grow and survive even with little light and irregular watering. Of larger trees, areca palms are popular and easy to care for.

Q: What house plants clean the air?

A: All plants clean the air, but the following are especially good for this purpose: mother-in-law’s tongue, Boston fern, spider plant, golden pothos, areca palm, and peace lily. Even NASA has studied plants and made a list of the best air-cleaning plants. It is recommended to have at least one plant—and preferably two plants—per 10 square meters in homes and workplaces.

Q: What are the most oxygen-rich plants for the living room?

A: I assume you mean the plants that purify the air most effectively? NASA has also studied this and named 29 plants that are the most effective air purifyiers. Spider plant, devil´s ivy, aloe vera, peace lily, snake plant and boston fern to name a few. Great news is that all of those are quite common and easy to take care of. For optimal air-filtering it is recommended to placing at least one plant per 9 square meters at home or office space.

Q: I'm looking for a suitable plant for my bathroom. The room has a small window, can be quite damp & its not very warm! Do you have any suggestions? 

A: Oh what a luxury to have a window in your bathroom! If you´re into lush plants I´d recommend bostonfern and ivy, which both you could also hang. If you have space for a little bigger plant on the floor or on a stool, try peace lily. Snake plant is very hardy and easy to take care of for a smaller and more graphical look. One of my friends has spider plant in her bathroom, which looks lovely and enjoys being in the bathroom.

Q: I would be interested to know which plants grow quickly in the apartment. I know cress, but are there other options if I would like to have some green quickly? No matter whether large or small, useful plant or decorative.

A: I have myself both a coleus and devil´s ivy and both of them grow rather fast. My friends have succeed well with spider plants. Remember that any plants grow more during spring-summer and early fall and then rest during the winter so don´t expect any to grow plant to a lot during winter season. Many plants also grow better when they get more light even if they do keep alive in a bit shadier place so keep this in mind when you think about placing of your plants as well.

Plant watering

Q: Watering plants properly is difficult. It seems that whatever I do, my weeping figs dry up. My palm trees either dry up or rot. What should I do?

A: The need for water depends on the type of space the plants are in, i.e., how warm and dry it is and how much light they are getting. The most common mistakes are overwatering and underwatering. Without knowing any details about the pots and growing conditions of your plants, here are a few general tips: The easiest way to ensure proper watering is to create a drainage layer at the bottom of closed pots, so that excess water will flow there. If you use self-watering pots, it’s easier to see when the plant has drunk the water. However, there should not be water on the saucer at all times. A good way to test whether a plant needs water is to insert your finger into the soil, as it’s often dry at the surface but moist deeper down. The smaller the pot, the less the plant can store water, meaning that you need to water it more often. If a plant and its roots have an abundance of soil around them in a larger pot where water can be stored, you can water it less frequently. The number one mistake is overwatering, and you can often see that a plant needs water when its leaves go limp.

Q: Should I give plants more water or less water in winter? I’ve read that watering should be reduced, but I think that due to dry air and radiators below windowsills, the soil dries out faster than in summer.

A: Plants are watered less or at least less frequently in winter. They are not as thirsty in winter than during the growing season, i.e., from spring to fall, when there’s more light and they also need more water and nutrients. Winter is a resting season for plants. It’s true that in addition to lack of light, plants suffer from dry indoor air in winter, and it’s recommended that you mist them using a spray bottle. Some people like to put their plants in the shower once a month, which also ensures that the leaves get plenty of moisture.

Q: Should plants be watered with a spray bottle or watering can?

A: Plants that only need a little water infrequently, such as small or even miniature cactus and succulent plants, can be watered by misting, but otherwise in the case of normal-sized house plants, you water the soil using a watering can and mainly use a spray bottle for misting the leaves. Especially tropical plants, such as various figs and also ferns, like misting, so you should do it particularly in winter when indoor air is at its driest. Remember to also remove dust from the leaves regularly, as misting is more effective if they are clean.

Q: My experience is that most house plants die because of overwatering. We used to put them on a saucer and half an hour later you threw away too much. Japanese bonsai bowls also have large holes in the bottom for this. With our flower pots it is often a problem, especially if  potted in it as suggested in the photo. Any useful tricks?

A: You´re right that overwatering is common mistake and probably the most common way to kill your housepants. When the pot has not got a hole in the bottom you should always use pebbles on the bottom before adding soil and the plant. Also note that the plant should be right size for the pot meaning that it should fit and have a few centimetres space around it when potted. This allows the roots and eventually plant as well to grow healthy in  the pot. The plant in the photo is an easier version of a bonsai, it is called ficus microcarpa ginseng.

Q: How do you take care of a Monstera minima? My main problem is how much water can I give the plant.

A: Water need depends on how big is your plant and how big is the pot you for it assuming you have planted it to a bigger pot with fresh soil and not have it in the plastic pot you bought it in? The warmer and lighter it is the more water it needs like in summertime, wintertime all plants require less water. So it is difficult to say exactly how much. I would recommend you water it throughly once a week and then let it dry a bit. If you have a hole and a plate underneath the pot, water from there and see how much it drinks naturally and don´t leave water on the plate for hours. Watch out for overwatering and monstera leaves tend to kind of droop and feel softer when it needs water. Good luck!

Soil changing and repotting

Q: How frequently would you recommend repotting a plant into a bigger pot? And how much bigger can the new pot be compared to the old pot?

A: This depends on the plant and what size it is. I would recommend repotting smaller plants every spring into a new pot that is a few centimeters larger in diameter and using new soil. Larger plants and trees only need to be repotted after several years—and it’s often enough to add new soil on top of old soil. If you are doubtful, you can check how the roots are doing and how much roots there are by removing the plant from its pot. Many plants need room and soil for their roots in order to grow, but then there are plants like the Swiss cheese plant that prefer a rather small pot. I have sometimes liked a certain pot and plant combination so much that I haven’t been able to bring myself to change it, but in that case I’m not expecting the plant to grow very much, just to stay alive and beautiful.

Q: What should I do when I buy a new house plant from a store? Change the soil? Repot the plant into a bigger pot? Wash the plant? Insert an insecticide stick in the soil? Some of the plants I have bought have died in a month and others just keep growing.

Q: What kind of pot should I use for flowering plants and should I use just soil?

A: Yes, when you buy a plant in a plastic pot, you should always repot it as soon as possible using a suitable pot and the right kind of soil. Plastic pots are nursery pots that contain lighter potting mixes ideal for greenhouse conditions. There’s very little room for roots in these pots. A plant can survive in its plastic nursery pot, but it won’t grow or flourish there. It needs a slightly larger pot, so that you can add plenty of new, nutritious soil around and under the roots and possibly gravel for drainage if there is no hole at the bottom of the pot. When repotting a plant, you can disentangle the roots carefully, as they are often rather cramped in the plastic pot and will start to grow better if they are separated. I always recommend choosing soil that is suitable for the plant in question, as then you have the best chance to succeed. There are many different types of potting soil and potting mixes, for example for flowering plants, cactus plants, and other house plants. They can have very different compositions and levels of acidity—some contain more sand than others, for example. I always use only soil, but for my customers, I’ve also potted plants that have been in Seramis, and many people also praise coconut fiber. When you buy a plant, ask what the salesperson would recommend.

Q: Which soil is the most suitable for succulents? Is it really such a science?

A: Well you should definitely consider the soil to be important factor for any plant´s well being. I would recommend to use specific soil for succulents that includes sand. In order to succeed they need soil that both absorbs and drains water. There are lots of different potting mixes on the market made especially for succulents but you could also do a mix of your own by adding sand and perlite to your potting soil.

Pot selection

Q: Should an indoor plant always be potted into a container with a hole at the bottom for water to flow out, or is it enough to put gravel at the bottom of a closed pot, under the soil, to form a drainage layer?

A: A hole isn’t always necessary. It often makes watering easier when you can see how much water the roots absorb. When there is no hole at the bottom, it’s certainly a good idea to create a drainage layer of gravel, so that excess water will flow there and the roots will not rot. I have many plants at home that have been potted like this, and they do well as long as I take care not to overwater them. The plant will tell you when it needs water by wilting, and will bounce back to life when you water it. No plant likes being soggy all the time.

Light and temperature

Q: I don’t have enough natural light in my apartment even in summer. I’ve bought a few grow lights and when I was searching for them, I also encountered daylight lamps. The Kelvin degrees of daylight lamps and grow lights are rather close to each other. But are daylight lamps any good for a plant, or should I use a grow light?

A: It’s good that you are providing additional lighting, as lack of light is often the reason why plants die during winter. Grow lights are more efficient, but plants also benefit from regular light and the daylight lamps you mention are well-suited for plants.

Q: Where could I find a bright white (4000K) grow light? I’d like to use a grow light in Iittala’s Leimu lamp, so that plants would also grow better near it.

A: A lovely idea! We recommend that you explore the selection of well-stocked garden stores or search for a grow light from an online store.*

Utilitarian plants

Q: Using herbs in cooking is lovely, but full-grown herbs and seedlings are expensive, especially if they die soon after you’ve brought them home. How can I keep herbs alive longer, and how could I grow my own herbs? What is the best pot for herbs?

A: Herbs bought from a supermarket have very small plastic pots and their roots are really sensitive and cramped, so I recommend that you change the soil and repot them into a larger pot, just as you would do with any new house plant. Sometimes it’s just a matter of luck whether rooting is successful or whether the herb will die, as these plants are a little fickle. Herbs in plastic pots have often been grown in water and primarily for consumption, and they have very little soil, but it’s always worth a try! Herbs that are a little larger than the standard supermarket ones can be found in garden stores, and they can be somewhat easier to also grow at home. I’ve noticed that herbs are easiest to grow in summer on a light windowsill or on a balcony when there’s more light. If you want to grow them year-round, I recommend that you use a grow light and fertilize them throughout the year. I haven’t noticed any difference when it comes to pots, as long as the herbs have enough soil and I remember to water them. I also use herbs regularly, as that makes them grow more quickly. Many friends of mine have been inspired to grow their herbs from seed, and seedlings are also a good option.

Q: I have grown a plant from a lemon seed that grows slowly but surely. Is there any hope that I can keep it alive?

A: Wow, it’s great that you have succeeded! There’s always hope, so keep it up since it’s growing and doing well.

Plant care with Iittala products

Q: Iittala has beautiful new pots, that’s great! How can you get plants thrive in a pot from which excess water will not drain out?

Q: What kind of drainage would you recommend for the new Iittala Nappula pots that have no hole at the bottom?

Q: I’d like to know if you can plant a flower in a Nappula pot without a plastic nursery pot.

A: Create a drainage layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot and put some soil on top of it. Excess water will flow into the gravel, preventing the roots in the soil from being soggy and rotting from too much water. Choose a plant that is the right size for the pot, so that there’s room for drainage under it. There should also be a little room at the sides for nutritious new soil. Water the plant according to instructions and monitor the plant’s well-being. You can often tell from the firmness of the leaves whether the plant is thirsty and whether it’s doing well. You should also insert your finger into the soil to see if it’s moist under the surface. Be careful not to overwater. The general rule is that plants need much less water in winter than during the growing season, i.e., from spring to fall.

Q: What plant would grow well in an Iittala Nappula pot that has no hole for water to drain out? I like indoor plants. I have the pot that is 15cm in diameter. 

A: Congratulations on a beautiful pot, Nappula is my new favorite, too! With Nappula, you should always put a layer of gravel at the bottom, so that excess water will flow there. Pay attention to watering, as there’s a risk of overwatering the plant, in which case the roots will rot and the plant will die. You should always be careful with watering, but this is particularly true with closed pots. I have coleus in Nappula and I’ve had golden pothos in another closed pot for a long time—both are doing well and I can warmly recommend them. Some friends of mine have at least Swiss cheese plant, cacti, succulent plants, and weeping figs in closed pots, and they have grown well. I believe that with gravel at the bottom and proper watering, any plant can thrive in a closed pot.

Q: How do you use Iittala’s new watering bottles for different plants that need different amounts of water? Or are the bottles only meant for specific plants?

A: Watering bottles are a great help for a forgetful waterer and can be used instead of a watering can. You can think of them as a type of watering can that provides a slow supply of water. No plant likes to be watered all the time, so take breaks in watering. Even if the globe is empty, the soil and roots can be moist. Watering globes look beautiful, and when you keep an eye on them, you can learn a lot about how much water the plant needs when you see how quickly or slowly it absorbs the water. I use watering globes the most when I’m away from home, depending on the plant and the length of absence—but if I’m away for a longer period, especially in summer, I water my plants and use a watering globe on top of that.

Q: How do you arrange flowers in a 160mm Aalto vase? How do you use different Aalto vases in flower arrangements?

A: The 160mm Aalto vase is great for a range of bouquets. The most classic example is a large number of tulips, but many other bouquets of a single variety of flower, i.e., mono bouquets, also work well. You can also use just eucalyptus instead of flowers. I like to play with the form of the Aalto vase, meaning that I only fill part of the vase, leaving one third or one half empty to showcase the beautiful design. The flowers then lean against the glass at a few different angles. An impressive and interesting combination is created by using flowers of different sizes and shapes or blooming branches, but you are guaranteed to succeed if you use only three or five stems of the same flower and cut them to different lengths. This will liven up the arrangement and add a sense of movement. Basically, flowers should be taller than the vase so that they will not drown in it. The taller the vase, the taller the flowers should be. Also think about the size of the flower—with large flowers, you get impressive results with fewer stems and less effort. I like playful forms, i.e., combining flowers that kind of flow downward with straighter ones. If you buy a bouquet from a florist, describe the vase that you are going to use, and they’ll be able to create just the right kind bouquet. If you arrange the flowers yourself, relax—what matters most is that you will like the result, not whether the flowers form a perfect spiral, for example.

*Question answered by Iittala