Indoor plant know-how

10 Oct 2018

Having trouble with your collection of indoor plants? We recently attended a workshop run by renowned local horticulturalist and garden designer, Sharon Barbera, to get the low-down on how to keep them alive and well.

WORDS: Jessica Zoiti

I’ve got a bad track record caring for indoor plants. I suck at succulents, my fiddle leaf figs wither and wilt, and ferns… forget it! I just can’t seem to keep them alive and thriving.

The only indoor plant I have any success with is the indestructible devil’s ivy, so when I saw Sharon Barbera, renowned Perth horticulturalist and garden designer, would be sharing her indoor plant know-how at a recent workshop at Stackwood, I jumped online to purchase tickets.

The spend was well worth it and I’m now a full bottle on caring for my house-bound beauties. Here’s what I learnt.



“Light is very different to sunshine,” Sharon explained. “The way I tell people to ascertain if they’ve got enough natural light or not is to consider if they need to put lights on during the day in their house. If you do, then that would be classed as poor light.”

While most modern homes are built with plenty of bright north-facing windows and doors (ideal for capturing sunshine year-round), older homes often lack adequate natural light. In conditions of low light, Sharon recommends going for plants such as the ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas), kentia palms (Howea forsteriana), mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum)or the cast iron plant (Aspidistra). All are low light tolerant and are considered virtually indestructible.

Another important lighting tip is to NEVER move your indoor plants outside into direct sunlight. The change in microclimate is likely to burn the sensitive foliage, which is unaccustomed to such harsh lighting.



“Over watering is the main reason people lose their indoor plants,” Barbera said.

“In a home situation, the best thing to do is to put them in the shower (every two to three months). Turn the shower on cold and let it run until the water runs through (the bottom of the pot) for five or so minutes. What that does is wash all the dust off the foliage and flushes through all the old salts and waste, and freshens the plants up.

“Leave the plants in the shower overnight and then the next day, put them back into their containers.”

If possible, don’t let your pot sit directly in its saucer. After watering, excess water gathers in the saucer and then sits in the soil at the bottom pot. This fills the soil’s air pockets and rots the plant’s roots. Barbera says it’s far better for plants to have a really good water, be allowed to drain thoroughly and then left to dry out.

Elevate potted plants slightly in their decorative containers. This will allow air to flow between the saucer and the soil at the bottom of the plant.

Barbera recommends watering plants every two weeks in an average winter, and once a week in an average summer. Cacti and succulents should be watered every three to four weeks in winter and every two weeks in summer. Always let cacti and succulents dry out completely before re-watering.

For people who are still nervous about their plants’ watering needs, self-watering pots are a great solution. If you’re using a self-watering pot, give your plant a really good drink through the top of the pot initially, and from then on, simply fill up the pot through the base, allowing the water to completely drain between refills.



According to Barbera, Seasol(or a similar seaweed-based plant food) is the best tonic for all indoor plants.

“If you buy just one fertiliser, make it Seasol,” she shared. “I’ve bought plants back from death with it! Seasol is a brand however, there are other companies out there that make seaweed fertilisers. Seaweed is a plant tonic, and is really great for indoor plants. Because it’s a tonic, and not a chemical-based fertiliser, you can use it every two weeks year-round.”

Barbera advises people use Seasol for planting into new pots, for cuttings, for reviving struggling plants and as a general plant food. Once plants are actively growing, seaweed-based tonics can be supplemented with a fertiliser, like Powerfeed. Fertilisers should only be used once a season, when temperatures are over 24˙C (plants only actively grow over 24˙C), and before 10am and after 4pm.

“Always water first before giving your Seasol and Powerfeed,” Barbera said.



Horticulture has come a long way and today, we’re fortunate that premium potting mixes contain everything plants need to thrive.

“Baileys is a West Australian company and they make a wonderful premium potting mix, plus there are a lot of really great organic potting mix coming on the market,” said Barbera. “As long you’re using a premium potting mix, you don’t have to worry about drainage, or fertiliser – these soils have everything you need in them.”

The exception is succulents and cacti, which prefer a poor potting mix. Good quality potting mixes hold a lot of moisture however, these plants are draught tolerant and store moisture in their leaves and foliage. They require well-draining soil to avoid root-rot. If you’re planting cacti or succulents, buy a special cacti potting mix, which is typically quite sandy.


Idiot-proof plants

Looking for practically indestructible plants? The following list can thrive in low light and on very little water, making them great for people who struggle to keep indoor plants alive and thriving:

  • ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas)
  • Kentia palms (Howea forsteriana)
  • Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  • Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Cast iron plant (Aspidistra)
  • Grape Ivy (Cissus rhombifolia)
  • Hoya
  • Heart leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)


Statement plants

Got a large space to fill, or want to make a big impact with your indoor plant? Go for the following varieties:

  • Kentia palms (Howea forsteriana)
  • Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata)
  • Dracaena marginata
  • Giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) 


The Black Truffle now stocks a range of indoor plants. Pop in to check out their ever-changing selection, provided by Green Assembly, starting from $35 each.