Life & Style

June 30, 2017

How Not to Kill Your Plants

A new book teaches you where you've been going wrong

  • Written by Amuse Team
  • Photography by Oskar Proctor

Despite living in the age of house plants and terrariums being the indisputable cult symbol of a modern home, we still seem to get actually taking care of our botanic friends all wrong. Taking note of the battered plants she saw in various places, like the Indian visa office in Goodge Street, London-based florist Nik Southern (and founder of Grace & Thorn) decided to release a book-cum-plant owner’s bible.

How Not to Kill Your Plants talks about looking after plants in a “back to basics” way. Here Southern gives a Amuse readers some tips on bringing your plants back to life, which you can also find in the book.

HOW NOT TO KILL YOUR PLANTS by Nik Southern. Hodder & Stoughton Publishers 2017.

HOW NOT TO KILL YOUR PLANTS by Nik Southern. Hodder & Stoughton Publishers 2017.

Propagating is your excuse to play Plant God – you take one plant and you turn it into many (or is that Plant Jesus?). It saves money, it is easy to do and it makes a great present. And if those weren’t enough good reasons, plants want you to do it. Sound heavenly? Read on.

Steps to plant heaven

Propagate during spring and summer for optimum growth
Always try a few cuttings to increase chances of success
Invest in some ‘rooting formula’ to help baby stems grow
Give your cuttings more attention; these guys need help to get going

Stem cuttings

Taking stem cuttings is the easiest method,
as you can take several snips to increase your chances of success. Cut healthy-looking stems when they are about 12cm – but not when they’re flowering. Use a very sharp knife to cut below the leaf joint. Remove any lower leaves, then dip the stem into your ‘rooting formula’. Take a pot with soil and make a hole with a pencil, insert your cutting and firm it in.

Leaf cuttings

For plants that do not have stems (a nod to succulents here), try leaf cuttings instead.
Cut the leaf as near to the base as possible. For big juicy succulents, let the leaf dry out for a couple of days. When it is dry, push the cut end of the leaf into your soil at a 45-degree angle, taking care to not get soil on the actual leaf. Increase the humidity (see page 210) around the cutting and wait for new growth.

HOW NOT TO KILL YOUR PLANTS by Nik Southern. Hodder & Stoughton Publishers 2017.

HOW NOT TO KILL YOUR PLANTS by Nik Southern. Hodder & Stoughton Publishers 2017.


The spider plant swan song. When it is dying, it will send out babies (plantlets) to grow again. When the plantlets have developed roots, snip off, pot up and water well. Within a few weeks you should notice new growth.


Some houseplants produce miniature plants to the side of the mainstem. When the offset
is about half the size of the parent plant, cut it off as close to the mainstem as possible. The trick is to preserve as much of the baby’s roots as possible, otherwise it won’t survive. Pot the parent and baby in separate pots, keeping the baby in a pot just bigger than its roots.


Sometimes it’s just a simple matter of splitting up fuller plants. Remove the plant from its pot and gently divide it up, pulling the roots apart with your hands. If the roots are tough, use a clean sharp knife to separate or slice them apart. Repot the new sections into individual pots that are a little bigger than their roots.


How Not To Kill Your Plants by Nik Southern is published by Hodder & Stoughton.


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