Welcome to our exclusive interview series featuring houseplant professionals! In this series, we delve deep into the world of indoor plants, gaining insights from experts who possess a wealth of knowledge and experience in caring for and cultivating houseplants.
Get ready to be inspired, informed, and enriched as we unveil the secrets and expertise of these passionate individuals who have made houseplants their specialty!
Today, we are thrilled to introduce you to the remarkable Soil Ninja, with whom we had the privilege of working at RHS Chelsea. Their unparalleled expertise and profound understanding of soil and plant nutrition played a vital role in securing a prestigious RHS Gold Medal for our team.
Soil Ninja's dedication to optimizing soil health and fostering thriving plant ecosystems is truly awe-inspiring. Through their meticulous approach and vast horticultural knowledge, they have mastered the art of creating the perfect soil environment for indoor plants to flourish.
As we sit down with Soil Ninja for this exclusive interview, we are sure to uncover valuable insights and practical tips that will enhance our own indoor gardening endeavors. Their passion for nurturing healthy, happy plants is contagious, and we can't wait to share this green wisdom with you.
Running a small business ourselves, we are keen to know more about Soil Ninja's journey to where it is today, providing high-quality tropical houseplant soils. What key factors led you to realise the increasing demand for these soils and identify the opportunity to focus on the business full-time?
The story of Soil Ninja began with a group of passionate friends —Jack, Lev, Amy (myself), and Jamie — who shared an unwavering love for houseplants. When we initially ventured into the world of tropical plants, we encountered numerous challenges and issues with the available soil options on the market. This led us to dig deeper into research and explore how we could create our own soil blends.
As we delved into the process of formulating our own soil mixes, we realised the crucial role that soil plays in ensuring the health and well-being of our leafy companions. The moment it hit us was back in 2019 when we finally got hold of a Monstera Thai Constellation. We extensively researched its specific growth requirements and the type of soil it needed. It was clear that we had to develop a chunky aroid mix in order to replicate the plants' natural habitat. However, we soon realised that sourcing multiple large bags of components for the mix was cumbersome and inefficient. This realisation sparked the question: Why isn't anyone providing premium, pre-formulated mixes that help to replicate plants' natural growing conditions?
We recognised a gap in the market, as it was flooded with generic "houseplant" soils that failed to meet the diverse needs of different plant species. We seized the opportunity to create Soil Ninja! We wanted to offer a range of peat-free substrates meticulously formulated with the plants' health and well-being in mind. We understood that many other passionate plant enthusiasts were also attempting to create their own soil mixes at home, facing similar challenges, so we were confident there was demand for Soil Ninja!
Driven by our own needs and the growing demand for specialised substrates, we took the leap to focus on Soil Ninja as a full-time business - the pandemic happened and we all were made redundant, so it was fate. Today, with three years of experience under our belt, we are proud of what we created. Offering a range of high-quality, premium houseplant blends that cater to the unique requirements of various plant species. Our journey is rooted in a deep understanding of the needs and frustrations of fellow plant lovers.
Can you describe your creative process for developing content and engaging with your audience as a soil expert? How do you create valuable and informative content that resonates with plant enthusiasts?
We’re always looking to connect with our audience by drawing from our own experiences as plant enthusiasts. We are always reflecting on the challenges we faced when we first started with houseplants and consider what valuable information would have been beneficial to us at that time. Our aim is to provide the kind of knowledge and guidance that could have saved numerous plants had we possessed it earlier. Recognising that this hobby is a continuous learning curve, we place great emphasis on crafting content that is genuinely useful and helpful to our audience. Whether through blog articles, reels, or social media posts, we aim to share valuable insights and practical advice that resonate with plant enthusiasts, supporting them in their own plant journeys. By leveraging our own experiences and focusing on delivering meaningful content, we aspire to make a positive impact in the lives of fellow Planty people.
What challenges have you faced as a creator in the soil industry, and how did you overcome them? Are there any specific strategies or techniques that have helped you navigate these challenges?
One of the challenges we face when creating a range of mixes was sourcing all the many high quality horticultural ingredients and on an internal level keeping them in stock! Many generic mixes just have a couple of ingredients, but with a range of mixes with up to 8 ingredients it's important for us to produce all our mixes at once for all the types of growers out there. It’s been a challenge, but we have made it work!
Are there any particular moments or milestones in your career as a soil expert that you are particularly proud of or that have had a significant impact on you?
There has been a few milestones for us in this crazy industry! Being part of The Plant Clinic stand at the Chelsea Flower show back in 2022 and winning gold was incredible. Another milestone has to be taking the leap of faith and opening another warehouse in Europe at the beginning at 2023, is one we’re very proud of.
Taking it back to 2020 when we first opened on Etsy! We were overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response from customers. In our very first week, we experienced a surge in sales, which was a gratifying experience. We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have received such support, and we’re so thankful to everyone who has believed in Soil Ninja!
However, it's not just the accolades and physical growth that make us proud. Our team is an integral part of our success, and we are grateful for the unique contributions and dedication of each member. From our remarkable warehouse team, including Leanna, Kerry, George, and Nikisha! We really appreciate their commitment and effort in helping Soil Ninja thrive.
Could you share some insights into Soil Ninja's ongoing innovation efforts? What are some recent advancements or developments in the field of tropical houseplant soils that you are working on?
We are dedicated to ongoing innovation in the realm of houseplant substrates. One notable recent advancement we've achieved is the integration of zeolite into our soil mixes. This breakthrough addition has proven to be a game changer for houseplant growing, as it significantly enhances the soil's cation exchange capacity (CEC) and its ability to retain and release nutrients.
Building on this success, we are currently exploring new mixtures and formulations to further enhance our product offerings. Moreover, our research and development efforts are focused on introducing bioactive kits designed to maintain soil vitality by nurturing beneficial organisms. With these upcoming advancements, Soil Ninja is committed to delivering new and improved solutions that cater to the evolving needs of plant enthusiasts. Stay tuned for more exciting developments in the near future!
Sustainability is an essential aspect of Soil Ninja's practices. Could you elaborate on the sustainable practices that you follow in producing and promoting your tropical houseplant soils?
We are always looking to make changes to what we source and how we source it, like using recycled Activated Charcoal and sourcing local Worm Castings, which is also a bi-product. Being Peat free - this is so important when making substrate! Making sure we are trying to source ingredients from as close as possible. But also things like using DPD, which are carbon neutral delivery. Ultimately, substrates are hard to develop without some impact, but we strive to reduce that impact as much as possible in every-way we can.
What are some common mistakes or misconceptions people have when it comes to using tropical houseplant soils? How can these be avoided?
When it comes to using houseplant substrates, there are common mistakes and misconceptions that people often overlook. One prevalent mistake is not considering the importance of air spaces within the soil. It's essential to understand that roots grow through these air gaps rather than solely within the soil itself. To avoid this misconception, it is crucial to match the size of these air gaps with the size of the roots. By incorporating aerators such as bark, pumice, perlite, or even sand, which naturally create crevasses, we can ensure the optimal environment for root growth while preventing root rot. It is important to note that leaving room for error is inherent in this process, as root rot is a leading cause of plant deaths. Therefore, by prioritising proper aeration and being mindful of the potential risks, we can mitigate these mistakes and maintain healthy tropical houseplants.
What sets Soil Ninja apart from other brands in the soil industry? How do you strive to stay ahead of the competition and maintain your position as a leading provider of tropical houseplant soils?
What sets Soil Ninja apart from other brands in the soil industry is our unique perspective and dedication to our customers. As passionate plant enthusiasts who have personally experienced the challenges of finding the right soil, we understand our customers' needs and provide effective solutions. We go beyond selling products by actively educating our community about soil and plant care, aiming to earn their trust. We take pride in guiding and sharing our knowledge with the planting community, ensuring they have the necessary information to make informed decisions. To stay ahead of the competition, we stay updated with the latest research, constantly refine our offerings, and actively seek feedback from our customers. By maintaining a customer-centric approach, fostering trust, and staying innovative, we maintain our position as a leading provider of tropical houseplant soils!
What's been the most surprising thing you've learned personally or professionally from your time as a full-time innovator in the soil industry?
It has to be the lack of emphasis on soil and root health in relation to overall plant health. While much attention is given to what's above the soil surface, it's crucial to recognise that plants thrive when there is a harmonious balance between root and leaf growth. Root growth directly influences leaf growth, while root loss leads to leaf loss. This revelation has led us to advocate for a shift in perspective, urging us to "think inside the dirt" rather than relying solely on the conventional "think outside the box" mindset. By recognising the fundamental importance of soil and root health, we can truly unlock the potential for robust and flourishing plants.
What are your biggest dreams for the year ahead, or the next five years, for Soil Ninja? This can be related to both personal and business goals.
We hope that in 5 years we will have an even bigger range that explores keeping on top of the bioactivity of the soil. We also hope to reach more parts of Europe and maybe even look into providing dirt for our friends over in the United States (they’re very eager for our dirt). We hope that we can expand our team so we can actually have some time off haha - but that’s just how it is with running a small business right!
Who is your favourite creator working right now in any sector? Is there someone whose work inspires and resonates with you?
One of our favourite creators at the moment has to be Tanner Mitchell - he runs a plant shop in Texas, and Tanner effectively leveraged TikTok to promote his business shortly before the pandemic hit. What makes Tanner truly remarkable is his commitment to educating his audience through engaging and easily digestible videos. He generously shares valuable tips and tricks that greatly benefit the community. Besides his expertise, Tanner's kind and laid-back demeanour shines through his content. If you haven't already, we highly recommend checking out his work as he embodies the qualities of an inspiring and relatable creator.
What is the greatest life hack for running a business while juggling personal life responsibilities?
Make sure you have a coffee machine nearby and if you have an iPhone, utilise Siri - It will remind you about every meeting, snagging detail, family event or sports day that may have slipped your mind.
What DIY task do you excel at outside of the soil industry?
Renovating on a budget! I dabble in freelance as an interior designer (when I get the time) and I’m forever adapting my home, friends home and most recently I did some design for a Garden centre in Rutland. I like to get dirty, but I like to create form and function with design!
Do you have a favourite botanical garden that has left a lasting impression on you?
Cambridge Botanical Garden - it’s always quiet when we go and its a space you can really melt into. Grab a coffee and take in their small but stunning glass houses.
In the unfortunate event of a house fire (after ensuring the safety of family and pets), what would be the first thing related to your work that you would save?
Oh my goodness, I think about this a lot and it’s something I really struggle with. I’d fight against the fire and drag out my Ikea cabinet that I turned into a Terrarium. Might be a bit heavy, but it’s my pride and my joy!
Espresso Martini - I love coffee, hard.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what luxury item would you take?
This is a hard one - I want to say Laptop, but do I have Wifi? If there’s no Wifi, I’ll take my memory foam mattress because I’m tired haha.
What is your top tip for successful planting and maintenance?
My top tip is to research how your plant grows in their natural environment. For example, Alocasias thrive in the shady, humid conditions of Southeast Asian rainforests. Mimicking these conditions by providing a shady spot, consistent humidity and a moisture-retentive soil mix can help your Alocasia’s thrive in your home. By replicating the natural habitats of your plants, you can create an ideal environment for their growth and well-being.