This is an article I wrote for our Horticultural Society newsletter:
If you are a serious indoor gardener, you may spend hours caring for your plants. But, if you’re like many people, your schedule may not allow you to lavish time and attention on your plants; you may need for them to be able to fend for themselves, at least a little. If you keep these five tips in mind, your plants will probably survive some benign neglect.
1. Situate plants in a draft-free spot where temperatures are above freezing and below 32 C. Keep them away from direct drafts of heated or chilled air and well out of reach of open flames. In other words, don’t fry or freeze your plants.
2. Give plants at least 10-12 hours a day of light that is strong enough to read by, whether that light is natural or artificial.
3. Use soil-based growing media for most plants. Soilless mixes (which typically contain peat moss, vermiculite and perlite) tend to make plants more care-dependent. Soil based mixes (which typically contain roughly equal portions loam, sharp sand, peat moss and well rotted leaf mold or compost) hold moisture well, provide nutrients over an extended time period and weigh enough to stabilize the pots. The active microbes present in soil-based growing media make plants systemically stronger and provide some protection from insect infestation and disease or blight. Potting plants in soil-based mixes is not only good for the plants; it is also good for the air surrounding them. Plants in soil-based mixes tend to clean the air of pollutants more efficiently than do plants in soilless mixes.
4. Choose pots that will give your plants the best chance to grow in less than idea conditions. Generally, choose slightly large pots than are recommended. That way, roots will have a greater area in which to seek moisture and nutrients, especially during dry periods. For holding moisture, glazed pots are better than unglazed pots. And remember, always choose pots that have drainage holes and use waterproof saucers under the pots.
5. If you water infrequently or whimsically, be generous when you do water; that is, apply enough water so that it drains into the saucers. If you are truly negligent about watering regularly, you might want to bend the “Do not allow plants to stand in water” rule; this is preferable to depriving your plants of vital moisture.