Monstera Q&A with Plant Guru Justin Hancock

Houseplants have steadily grown more popular over the last couple of years, particularly with Millennials. It’s no surprise why—houseplants are inexpensive, readily available, and easy to acquire. They’re beautiful home décor items, but rather than just sitting around going out of style like plaid throw pillow, plants improve our health.

It doesn’t get more trendy than the Monstera plant. Read on for our Q&A with Costa Farms Horticulturist Justin Hancock.

How much light does Monstera need? 

Lots of light. Inside, the more light you can give your monstera, the better. It’s a big plant, so it doesn’t come from the deeply shaded rain forest floor like a lot of our favorite houseplants (Chinese evergreen, Fittonia, Snake Plant, etc.). Monstera doesn’t necessarily like direct sun inside (direct afternoon sun can cause sunburn, which looks like bleached areas of the leaves), but it does want enough brightness that it casts a good shadow.

Do these plants like humidity? 

Humidity definitely helps. Because monstera does hail from the tropics, it likes plenty of moisture in the air. Provide average to above-average relative humidity levels for optimal growth. Keep leaves lush and green by boosting humidity levels with a small humidifier, growing it in a bright bathroom, or grouping it with other plants.

How should Monstera be watered? 

A lot of folks find watering plants is easiest when we come up with a regular schedule—once a week, for example. And while your monstera should grow fairly consistently, different factors can cause it to push out new leaves faster—or take a break and slow down. This affects the amount of water it uses (the faster it grows, the more water it drinks). You’ll find your plant will stay healthiest if you check for water regularly and only provide moisture when needed, rather than splashing on more H2O regardless if the potting mix is wet or dry.  

Can Monstera be overwatered?

Yes! Too much water actually kills more houseplants per year than any other single cause. Monstera is no exception. Because, as it grows, it’s used to forming lots of aerial roots that cling onto tree trunks, the roots tend to rot if they stay wet and soggy. Let the top inch or two of the potting mix dry between waterings, and if in doubt, it’s better to keep it a little too dry than a little too wet. And if you have a saucer or drip tray at the bottom of the pot, don’t let water sit in there for more than 45 minutes or so — if the pot is standing in water for longer periods than that, the roots can start drowning.  

Photo courtesy of Costa Farms

How much nutrition does this plant need? 

For best growth, you will want to feed your Monstera. Think of it like this: When growing a plant in a pot, that soil provides all the nutrition the plant gets. Nature doesn’t supply the constant cycle of fresh nutrients. So fertilizing your monstera ensures healthy growth. You can feed it as little as once a year (in spring) with a an organic liquid fertilizer such as Indoor!, or as often as the directions on the fertilizer package recommend. It all depends on how much and how fast you want your Monstera to grow.

When’s the right time to repot a Monstera? Or does Monstera even need repotting?  

No plant truly likes being rootbound, and Monstera does best when roots get more room as they fill the pot. So give your plant a larger container when you see roots begin to circle the inside of the pot. Select a pot that’s 2 to 4 inches wider than the container it was in. Don’t jump to a pot that’s dramatically larger because it can lead to watering issues.

What does it mean if the leaves turn yellow and start dropping?

Yellowing leaves are kind of like the upset stomach of the gardening world—the one symptom could come from any number of causes. Watch for drafts: Blasts of hot or cold air, such as being next to an exterior door or heating/cooling vent, can cause the leaves to go yellow and drop prematurely. Overwatering can also cause leaves to go yellow. In general, stress can also cause Monstera to yellow some leaves, so you don’t necessarily need to be alarmed if you see it drop a leaf or two right after you bright it home from the nursery (or unpack it if you purchased it online).

 Is Monstera a bush or a vine or what?

Monstera is a large plant, which when young, looks bushy. As it grows, it becomes vine-like. If you want yours to produce huge leaves (and who doesn’t?!), help it grow upright on a strong, sturdy structure, such as a wood or moss-filled pole (totem). I’ve also seen Monstera supported on a decorative chain hung from the ceiling.

Can the leaves be cut off without hurting the plant?

Yes! Don’t be afraid to cut an older leaf or two to decorate for a dinner party or show off to friends. Monstera are evergreen plants—so they keep their leaves all year. But, individual leaves do fade and will eventually drop from old age. If you’re going to cut, it’s best for the plant to cut the oldest leaves.

About the Author

Passionate about plants only begins to describe Costa Farms Garden Guru Justin Hancock. A lover of houseplants, tropicals, annuals, and perennials, Justin has a wealth of experience gardening all the way from Northern Minnesota to Miami. At Costa Farms, you’ll find Justin running between research and development, marketing, and everywhere in between!

Espoma Products for Monsteras

Garden Answer’s Design Tips for a Romantic Cottage Garden

English cottage gardens date back centuries. They were used to grow vegetables, herbs for healing, fruit trees, perhaps a beehive, and common flowers. The informal style went through a renaissance in the late 1800’s when they became somewhat more nostalgic than practical. 

The informal aesthetic of dense planting and natural materials is still en vogue today. In this video, Laura outlines 10 design principles to help you design a cottage garden. Before you start, make sure you have plenty of Espoma’s organic Bio-tone Starter Plus plant food to make sure your plants get the best possible start.

No Straight Lines

Cottage gardens are always informal and a touch whimsical. Avoid straight lines. Gently curving edging looks more natural and playful. If your site restricts you to a straight edge, let the plants spill over it to create an unrestrained look.

Large Groups of the Same Plant

White cottage gardens are more relaxed in their design, it is still best to use large sweeps of the same plant. Think of planting in groups of three, five or seven. That is far more restful to the eye than a jumble of onsies and twosies. 

Spacing Doesn’t Matter

This is one time you do not have to follow the advice on the plant tag. Cottage gardens are always densely planted and generally grow more densely packed with time. Annuals and biennials are often used in cottage gardens and will self-sow in the border. Biennials are plants that take two years to grow and flower from seed like the foxgloves shown. Another advantage to planting things close together is that there is less room for weeds to grow.

Color Harmony

It’s very important to pick a collection of plants that have harmonious colors. Without that the border would look chaotic. Garden Answer uses a collection of soft pinks and peaches with touches of blue and lavender. It needn’t always be soft colors, but they do need to be unified in some way.

Use Varied Heights and Textures

In any planting, it’s a good idea to think about texture, height and foliage color as major design elements. Nothing blooms all the time. Varied foliage forms and colors will create interest even when the flowers aren’t in bloom. Laura uses Heuchera specifically for the silvery foliage color.

Anchor Plants/Structural Elements

This is sometimes referred to as the “bones” of a garden. It’s a structural element that all of the other plants get woven around. In this case, it’s a beautiful shrub rose named Rose ‘The Lady Gardener’, a fragrant beauty with full, apricot blossoms. The rose is repeated three times. Repetition is soothing to the eye.  It’s possible to use evergreens for a slightly more formal feel, or whatever peaks your interest.

Fragrance

The first thing everyone does when they pick a flower is to hold it up to their nose. Cottage gardens are known for their fragrance. Try to select varieties that smell good at the garden center. Roses, lavender, sweet peas, and sweet alyssum are all good choices.

Not Perfectly Maintained

Along with relaxed design principles, comes relaxed maintenance. Planting tightly will discourage weeds. Annuals like poppies will self-seed and move around the border, just like the biennial foxgloves. Weeding everything that comes up might mean that you weed out these plants and inhibit their spontaneous movements.

The Look Will Change Over Time

This style of gardening is the exact opposite of a formal border filled with geometric shaped boxwood. By its very nature this is meant to be more random. People often sow cosmos, violas and other plants that have a tendency to move around. Let them surprise you. If you really don’t like where one popped up, it’s easy enough to remove.

Be Patient

Being patient is really what gardening is all about. A garden is never really finished. Enjoy the journey!

Garden Answers Plant List

Nepeta ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ – catmint

Achillea – pink yarrow

Allium ‘Serendipity’ – ornamental onion

Rose ‘The Lady Gardener’

Heuchera Dolce ‘Spearmint’ – Coral Bells

Clematis ‘Brother Stephan’

Digitalis Foxy Hybrids –  foxglove

Lobularia ‘Blushing Princess’ – sweet alyssum

Here are more videos from Garden Answer we hope you will enjoy.

Plant Your Window Boxes Like Garden Answer

Succulent Pot in a Pot – Quick Version

How to Re-pot Houseplants – Quick Cut

No Fuss Roses – REALLY!

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez

I used to consider growing roses a form of self-punishment. It was a tedious, never-ending job that more often than not, ended in disaster.   Thankfully there are stunning roses now available that don’t need pampering.  These game-changers require less water, fertilizer and pesticides – plus some are even ‘self-cleaning’ (no deadheading required). And if the thorns are a ‘thorn in your side’, there are thornless varieties.

As a garden writer and passionate gardener, I’ve trialed many roses. Praise-worthy contenders are held to high standards by this no-fuss gardener. Not surprisingly, I primarily evaluate roses grown on their own roots (not grafted) and hardy to at least Zone 5, if not colder.

Below are a few favorites:

‘At Last’  I was spellbound by this 30”-36”, fragrant, sunset orange rose with deep green, shiny leaves.  And I wasn’t the only one. Last year the garden center where I work sold out of this winner by mid-summer!

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez

Knock Out Roses  Knockout roses have become highly popular, given their superior performance requiring little input.  There are many cultivars to choose from. My personal favorites are Double Knock Out (red), Pink Double Knock Out and Peachy Knock Out – one of 2018 winners of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (A.R.T.S).

Courtesy of Star® Roses and Plants

Earth-Kind Roses  Roses earning the Earth-Kind award do well in a variety of soils plus they require minimum fertilizer, pesticides and water. These trials for sustainable roses began at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service but are now operational in 27 states. ‘Carefree Beauty’ is one of these exceptional performers. To discover others, click here.

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez



No matter how praiseworthy a rose is, if it is not sited in the right location, all bets are off. Roses like full sun (six or more hours, preferable mostly afternoon sun in hardiness zones 6 or colder). They also do best in well drained, organically enriched soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.  Treat roses to Rose-tone, a slow-release organic fertilizer in spring and then 6 weeks later to boost the bloomathon.  Japanese beetles and rose sawfly (caterpillar-like larvae) can sometimes pester roses, even superstars mentioned above. Handpicking, as well as organic products containing Neem oil or Spinosad, will solve the problem.  The time to prune shrub roses is in late winter or early spring. Prune back canes by 1/3 to half their height.

About the author: As an award-winning garden designer, author and lecturer, Kerry Ann Mendez focuses on time-saving gardening techniques, workhorse plants and sustainable practices.  She has been on HGTV and in numerous magazines including Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Garden Gate and Better Homes & Gardens.  Kerry Ann was awarded the 2014 Gold Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for her horticultural accomplishments.  She has published four popular gardening books, her most recent being, The Budget-Wise Gardener (February 2018). In 2016 Kerry Ann introduced National Gardening Webinars that are attended by thousands.  For more about Kerry Ann visit www.pyours.com  

8 Tips and Tricks for Dwarf Citrus Plants

Citrus trees provide year-round greenery, extraordinarily fragrant flowers and, beautiful, delicious fruit. What plant parent wouldn’t want a baby like that? You don’t need to have a big garden  or year-round summer]  to grow them either. Citrus trees thrive in containers and can be brought indoors for the winter and be enjoyed all year long.

Best Citrus for Containers

All citrus trees can be grown in containers, however, some (like grapefruit and lemon) will outgrow their containers quickly. Choose trees grown on dwarf rootstock such as Meyer lemon and Persian lime. These are naturally smaller trees well-suited for container growing. Dwarf trees produce normal-sized fruit but yield less. Keep in mind that small trees are easier to plant, suffer less from transplant shock and are less expensive.

Pick a Pot

Choose a container that is larger than the nursery pot the tree came in. If the pot needs to be moved indoors in the winter consider the weight of the pot and how you will move it indoors. Make sure the new container has excellent drainage. Drill additional holes if there is only one. Set the new pot on feet so that it’s not sitting in standing water from the saucer underneath it.

Light and Temperature

Citrus are sun-loving plants that need at least eight hours of sun per day. A sunny location, protected from wind is ideal. All citrus trees are sensitive to cold and must be covered during occasional cold snaps. If your winter temperatures are consistently below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll need to bring your citrus indoors for the winter. Kumquat and mandarin are the most cold-hardy, followed by grapefruit and orange. Lemon and lime are the most sensitive to cold.

The Best Soil

The best potting soil for citrus must be free draining. Espoma’s Organic Cactus Mix works perfectly. A soil high in organic matter will decompose and become compacted, holding too much water that could cause roots to rot.

Planting

The new tree should be planted at the same level it was in its nursery pot. Add some soil to the new container, then put in the new tree to check if it is at the right depth. After planting, backfill with more cactus mix, leaving two inches at the top of the pot for watering. Water well and check to see if the soil has settled. If it has, add more soil and water that in too.  

Watering

Watering needs will depend on the size and type of container and the weather. Check regularly. Citrus enjoy moist soil but not consistently wet soil. Stick your finger into the soil a few inches to check moisture level. Wilted leaves could be a sign of too little water, while yellow leaves are often a sign of too much water.

Feeding

All container plants are dependent on their plant parents for all of their nutrients. Citrus plants are heavy feeders]  and need a specially formulated, organic fertilizer like Espoma’s Citrus! It’s recommended to feed your tree every two to four weeks during the growing season because frequent watering washes out some of the nutrients.

Check out our other blogs about growing citrus.

When Life Gives You Lemons – Grow Them Indoors

C