There’s something about bringing the green from the outdoors to the indoors that brightens up our homes and workplaces.
As I write these very words, I am taking a look around to count the houseplants I have on my writing desk and all around the room. Right now, I am fortunate to have a sunroom in my apartment, a safe place for houseplants to perk up and do their thing.
But I wasn’t always so lucky. My last apartment had exactly four (that’s right, four) windows, and they all faced directly east. It struck me as an inhospitable environment for houseplants, a dark and cool dungeon that offered them little invitation and support.
It took some hunting and some research, but I found an impressive roster of plants that could thrive in my dimly lit apartment.
Most importantly, I learned about the bare minimum that houseplants need to survive indoors. And I adopted some basic practices to keep these guys safe and happy.
I’m here to tell you about a great selection of houseplants that anybody can grow, and we’ll go over the basics on care and maintenance. When you’ve got a better understanding of these practices, you’ll practically see your thumb turning green before your very eyes.
- Caring for Your Plants
- The Plant Roster
- Time to Fill Your House with Greenery
- Care Of Houseplants: The Basics Of Growing Houseplants
- Care of Houseplants
- Indoor Plant Care
- Top 10 plant care tips
- Benefits of Houseplants
- Where I Purchase My Plants
- The Basics of How to Take Care of Houseplants
- Why Your Plant Might Be Dying
- Salvaging Almost Dead Plants
- Other Notable Plant Tips
- Easy Beginner Friendly Plants
- My Personal Favorite Plants
Caring for Your Plants
We’ll get into the details later to explain why this works, but first, repeat after me:
“Everything in moderation.”
Ah, that felt good. It is a truism that applies to all aspects of our life (except cake, you always need more cake!), and it most certainly applies to plant care. All plants require water, light, and food, but the trick to success is to practice moderation.
Additionally, let’s think about the native climate for the majority of our houseplants. It is typically a tropical area. Our goal is to imitate that environment as closely as possible without going overboard. Just like The Price Is Right, the rules are the same here.
Start with the Soil
“Soil” is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to the growing media used for indoor plants. The best growing media is soil-less and is a combination of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite/perlite, and compost.
Espoma is my go-to choice for most gardening needs, and they happen to have an excellent all-purpose potting mix that works well for houseplants, available on Amazon.
Espoma AP8 8-Quart Organic Potting Mix
Orchids are notoriously picky with their potting medium. There aren’t as many “one size fits all” options for orchid growing media, but a good combination for orchids is a well-drained mixture with plenty of room for the roots to breathe.
Sun Bulb 50000 Better Gro Special Orchid Mix, 4-Quart
Sun Bulb makes a pretty good mixture, and it’s available on Amazon. Just make sure to soak it in water before repotting for best results!
Most of the time, people are concerned they aren’t watering enough, when in fact they are watering far too much! Plants don’t want to have “wet feet,” a friendly term for when their roots are absolutely saturated from sitting in a puddle for days.
The most accurate assessment of a plant’s need for water is accomplished by testing its weight. Pick up the container of the plant and see how much it weighs; the lighter it is, the more it needs a drink. Unless noted otherwise, most houseplants would prefer being slightly dry than soaking wet.
That means a watering schedule of once or twice a week is suitable for most plants, where you water the plant thoroughly but infrequently. When I water my houseplants, I will pour water onto the soil at a slow, deliberate pace, until the water starts escaping from the drainage holes of the container. That’s your signal to stop watering!
During winter months, a plant typically only needs watering a few times a month.
Placing a tray underneath the potted plant’s container is the best way to catch that excess water and prevent a mess. These can be bought for a few dollars, if you want a plain and unadorned plastic tray. Alternatively, you can purchase more decorative trays for more money.
Purchasing a simple spray bottle is also helpful for houseplants. A light misting once or twice a day is usually beneficial. Remember that we’re trying to duplicate the natural environment for these plants, and that means humidity and misting!
Some plants want more water, and some want less… but that’s what this guide is for!
Light is just as important as water. All plants need light to carry out their necessary biological processes. I’m looking at you, photosynthesis!
Although all plants need some light to grow, some plants require a lot less than others. Think again of their native habitat and imagine the dark undergrowth where these plants thrive. They receive heavily filtered light but still keep on kicking.
Houseplants typically require high light (six or more hours a day), medium light (four to six hours a day), or low light (less than three hours a day). Plants will either require bright or direct light (sunlight from a south-facing window) or indirect or filtered light (sunlight through a curtain or light from a bulb).
If plants don’t get the light they need, they won’t necessarily die, but they will stop producing new growth.
Although plants carry out photosynthesis to process the sugars they need to survive, they also need a more direct form of food to carry out growing processes. Providing fertilizers to your houseplants helps ensure they will remain happy and healthy.
The food can be delivered via a granule that breaks down over time, or it can be added more directly via a water soluble fertilizer. Granules generally need to be applied once every few months, while water soluble fertilizers should be applied every two weeks or so. Read the directions on a specific fertilizer to see what is recommended.
J R Peters Jacks Classic 20-20-20 All Purpose Fertilizer, 8-Ounce
Jack’s Classic All-Purpose Fertilizer is my favorite water soluble fertilizer, and it’s available via Amazon. I have used it for a few years to give my annuals a boost, and to flesh out my houseplants. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it is the fertilizer of choice for the landscaping company where I work for now!
Osmocote Plus Outdoor and Indoor Smart-Release Plant Food, 2-Pound
Osmocote has always been my go-to for a long-term, granulized fertilizer for houseplants and garden plants, and it’s available on Amazon as well. I’ve used it with tremendous success, and always make sure my houseplants stay on a good schedule for Osmocote applications.
Keep in mind: fertilizers should only be applied during the growing season.
The Right Temperature, Good Air Flow, and the Best Face
Aim to keep the plant in a warm environment with some air circulation, and rotate its face!
Almost all houseplants need a minimum temperature of 55ºF to survive. Keep plants away from areas of cold drafts in the winter. The warmer it gets for houseplants, the happier they are!
Airflow is crucial to maintaining a healthy house plant. This can easily be achieved by running ceiling fans in your home to keep the air circulating. Still air, on the other hand, can cause a host of ailments in your houseplant. That’s why all greenhouses have those giant fans running.
Use a cloth to wipe down the leaves of houseplants occasionally, to prevent the white buildup and coating of dust that can impact their health.
If your plant is in a sunny location, it’s important to give it a small rotation regularly to ensure even growth. If you imagine the “face” of your plant is facing the main light source, turn the plant one-quarter turn each week to help guarantee even growth.
Now that we have a general familiarity with what houseplants need and how they need it, let’s get to business and start picking out our plants!
The Plant Roster
1. Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
A gorgeous plant that is happy as a clam in just about any corner of the house.
Commonly known as mother-in-law’s tongue, the snake plant has a striking form and a variety of colors to choose from. It produces “pups,” baby snake plants that can be separated from the mother plant and potted up to fill the rest of your house. When conditions are optimal, the snake plant will push up a delicate stalk with white flowers on it.
Snake plants can remove toxins from the air, a feature shared by several other plants in this guide.
Although they can survive in fluorescent lighting conditions, snake plants appreciate more direct light
Snake plants can handle drying out between watering. Once or twice a week is enough, and once or twice a month during the winter months is suitable for this tough plant.
Fertilize once in the spring with a 20-20-20 fertilizer, like the Jack’s All-Purpose Fertilizer listed above.
Find our complete growing guide here.
2. Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia)
A personal favorite, dumb cane features a large and in charge leaf. There are several varieties available, but this speckled green-and-white one is the most ubiquitous.
Dumb cane forms a very attractive, upright shape that fills in an otherwise empty area. Its common name “dumb cane” is attributed to the throat-numbing effect it has when ingested, making it impossible for a person to speak. A word to the wise: don’t eat it!
This plant is readily available at most garden centers.
The large leaves of the dumb cane are sensitive to too much direct sunlight, so filtered light is ideal for these plants. Some specific cultivars might require low light, so check the tag that comes with yours.
Aim to keep the soil moist, but not wet, watering once or twice a week depending on the heat. If the soil is not dry an inch below the surface, it does not need to be watered.
Use a water soluble fertilizer twice a month, or apply a granule as directed.
3. Peace Lily (Spathyphillum)
The peace lily is a dark-leafed plant that produces an iconic white “flower.” It is actually a specialized leaf bract, or a modified leaf.
Its broad leaves form an attractive and lush foliage that’s far from boring, and the beautiful white flowers act like a bold exclamation mark demanding attention.
The peace lily is an air-purifying powerhouse of a plant and removes an array of toxins from the air. It adapts to many growing situations gracefully.
Tolerant of low light but at its best in a medium light setting.
If a peace lily receives adequate light it will produce the beautiful tall white flowers it is known for. If the peace lily is in a more heavily shaded environment, it will not produce these flowers but still maintains healthy and attractive foliage.
Peace lilies prefer to be more dry than wet. If the soil is not dry to the touch, do not water the lilies!
Another sure method is to watch for the leaves to start going limp. This is an indication of a lack of water, but because the peace lily prefers dry over wet, it’s safe to wait for this visual cue.
Apply twice a year, using a granule fertilizer.
4. Pothos (Epipremnum)
Practically indestructible, the pothos plant is without doubt the most common plant in my home. My fiance delights in propagating new plants from single cuttings taken from a host plant.
Developing a trailing habit, pothos will grow in soil or directly in water, so it opens up a new option for decorating that steps away from the standard container.
Will grow in almost any lighting condition. Pothos is at its best in a medium light environment, but will survive under fluorescent lighting alone.
Very infrequently. Allow the pothos to dry out between waterings, and alternate between light drinks and deep ones.
Pothos is susceptible to root rot, so the less watering the better – just don’t let the leaves dry out and shrivel!
Use a water soluble fertilizer once a month.
5. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
A very popular choice, the spider plant produces dozens of little “babies,” tiny clones of itself that can be repotted to form a veritable army of white-and-green plants.
An ideal choice for bathrooms and kitchens, the spider plant thrives in bright light and soaks up atmospheric moisture quite contentedly.
Bright light is ideal for a spider plant. These do not prosper in a shady environment.
A few steamy showers a week is enough for most spider plants to thrive on, but if your plant is in a different room you’ll only need to water once a week or so. Water when the soil is dry.
Apply four times a year, using a water soluble fertilizer, but avoid fertilizing in the winter.
6. Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)
One of the funkiest looking plants out there, don’t bother with a ponytail palm if you aren’t a fan of a wild hairstyle.
The trunk of the ponytail palm resembles an elephant’s foot, and the long and spindly green leaves that erupt from the surface look like a freeze-framed fountain.
Although I love the wild look of the ponytail palm, my interest lies primarily in the fact that these things thrive on neglect. Seriously, the one above my computer desk hasn’t been watered in over a month and it seems perfectly content.
Ponytail palms love the light, and they’ll take a lot of bright light. They do not like too much shade, but will maintain their present form in these conditions without producing new growth.
Infrequently at most. The ponytail palm stores water in its trunk like a cactus (they are actually a variety of succulent), and only requires water once every three or four weeks.
Use a fraction of the recommended amount of an all-purpose fertilizer for a ponytail palm, maybe 1/10th of the suggested ratio.
7. Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)
One of my favorite plants, the rubber plant offers a bold burgundy color to its foliage that stands apart from the other plants in this guide. It is a plant that is very tolerant of abuse, great for the more hands-off of indoor gardeners among us.
New growth on these guys can be a sharp red color as the new leaf begins the growing process. If you’re looking for a bold and unique-looking houseplant, the rubber plant is the one for you.
Lots of light, but indirect. Put the rubber plant near a sheer curtained window for optimum light exposure.
The dark burgundy leaves are a result of lots of light exposure. With too little light, the plant will develop green foliage instead.
Keep the soil moist during the spring and summer, but begin to taper off during the winter months. The leaves of the rubber plant enjoy a good misting.
Once a month during the spring and summer with a water soluble fertilizer is ideal.
8. Aloe (Aloe vera)
I have many fond memories of aloe plants. When I was a child, if I scraped my knee or developed a sunburn, I knew my cure was only an aloe leaf away.
Besides being medicinal marvels, aloe is also a very easy plant to take care of. If you’ve got a sunny and warm area, aloe will thrive and produce its iconic sharp-thorned green arms.
Direct sunlight, and lots of it!
Sparingly but thoroughly. Aloe needs to drain completely between watering, otherwise root rot can set in.
Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings, and don’t be afraid to wait a few days even after that.
Use a general-purpose fertilizer diluted to about 50% of its recommended strength, once a month from March to August.
9. Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis)
Yes, even orchids are on this list!
The moth orchid is the most common orchid you’ll find in big box stores and garden centers. It’s a relatively easy plant to take care of, and is forgiving of a few hiccups in your quest to prompt it to rebloom.
If you’re a patient person and can wait a year or more for an orchid to rebloom, then pick one of these guys up and give it a shot.
This type of orchid prefers a little less light, of the indirect variety. I keep mine in the back room where it gets light from skylights and that’s all.
Once you find the best space in your home for these orchids, they’ll be happy to flower and keep on growing.
Minimal watering, once a week at the most.
In the wild, orchids will absorb water atmospherically through their roots. When potted, we only need to give them a quick drink once a week or so.
Their roots should be spongy and light-green in color.
Once a month during the spring and summer, and none during the winter. Use a water-soluble fertilizer.
Time to Fill Your House with Greenery
Armed with our guide, it’s time to get planting! Using an appropriate potting medium and well-draining pots, you’re well on your way to indoor gardening success.
Whether its in a sunny window or the moist confines of your bathroom, you’re sure to find a plant that’s perfect for your space.
If you’re a pet-lover or you have children running around the house, please note that not all of the recommended plants on this list are appropriate, as some are potentially toxic if ingested or may cause a rash. These include snake plant, dumb cane, peace lily, pothos, and the rubber plant. Please check out our list of the best non-toxic houseplants for more suggestions.
We’d love to hear about your successes and favorites in the houseplant category. Leave us a comment!
Product photos via Espoma, Sun Bulb, JR Peters, and Osmocote. Uncredited photos: . With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
About Matt Suwak
Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in gardening, bird watching, and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works under the sun as a landscaper and gardener, and by moonlight as a writer. An incessant questioning of “Why?” affords him countless opportunities to ponder the (in)significance of the great and the small. He considers folksy adages priceless treasures and is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.
Care Of Houseplants: The Basics Of Growing Houseplants
Growing houseplants is an excellent way to not only beautify your home, but to purify the air as well. Many houseplants are tropical plants and the care for tropical houseplants can vary, but there are a few rules of thumb to follow for indoor houseplant care. Keep reading to learn more about the basic care of houseplants.
Care of Houseplants
Light is an important part of indoor houseplant care. In order to provide the right amount of light for your houseplant, make sure to check the tag on the plant when you purchase it. If the houseplant is given to you, ask the person giving it to you what kind of light it needs.
Generally, houseplants need either high, medium or low light. Beyond this, a houseplant may need direct (bright) light or indirect light.
- Bright or direct light – Light that is bright will be light that comes from a window. The brightest light will come from a south-facing window.
- Indirect light – Indirect light is light that comes from a light bulb or is sunlight that has been filtered through something, like a curtain.
- High light houseplants – If the indoor houseplant care instructions for a houseplant call for high light, this plant will need five or more hours of bright light, preferably near a south-facing window. High light houseplants need to be within 6 feet of a window.
- Medium light houseplants – For proper houseplant maintenance of medium light houseplants, they should be exposed to several hours of bright or indirect light. This light can come from a window or from overhead lighting.
- Low light houseplants – Low light houseplants need very little light. Typically, these houseplants do well in rooms that have light but no windows. That being said, low light plants need light of some kind. If a room has no windows and the lights stay off most of the time, the houseplant will not survive.
When growing houseplants, water is essential. The general rule of thumb is that you should only water a houseplant if the top of the soil feels dry. Watering this way is correct for most indoor houseplant care.
A few houseplants, particularly succulents and cacti, only need to be watered when the soil is completely dry, and a few others may need to be kept constantly moist. The houseplants that have special watering needs will be marked as such on their tag when you buy them. If there are no special instructions for watering on the tag, then you can go by the “dry to the touch” rule for watering care of houseplants.
For houseplant maintenance, they can be fertilized one of two ways. The first is through water, the other is through slow release fertilizer. Which you use for growing houseplants is up to you. Both work well.
When you fertilize through water, you will add a water soluble fertilizer to the plant’s water about once a month in warm weather and once every two months in cooler weather.
If you want to use a slow release fertilizer, add it to the soil once every two to three months.
Because most houseplants are actually tropical plants, they cannot tolerate cold temperatures. The care for tropical houseplants requires that the houseplants be kept in rooms that are between 65 and 75 F. (18-21 C.). These are the temperatures that most houseplants prefer. If needed though, many houseplants can tolerate temperatures as low as 55 F. (13 C.), but they will not thrive at temperatures this low for too long.
Here in the Maritime Northwest, spring has a habit of coming early. Some call it the “February Fake-out,” with sunny days, temperatures in the high 60’s and the Camellia trees in full blossom. But even if it’s still frosty where you live, the days are getting longer and this means that your houseplants are beginning to wake up from their winter dormancy. It’s time for you to help them wake up with some maintenance geared towards indoor plant care.
Succulents, cacti, tropicals and ferns each have their own specific needs come springtime, but there are a few steps that should be considered for all of your indoor plants this time of year to support them as they wake up. Here’s a few spring indoor plant care tips that we’re doing around the nursery and in our homes this time of year.
Spring Indoor Plant Care: 5 Steps to Happier Houseplants
- Re-pot or pot up
As your indoor plants awake from winter dormancy, they begin to stretch out their arms and legs, producing new growth for the first time in months. This is the ideal time to give plants a bit of extra space to grow, since roots will quickly grow into the extra soil, reducing the risk of root rot and providing a fertilizer boost.
Assess your plant and decide if it needs to be repotted (kept in the same pot, pruning roots and adding fresh soil) or potted up (graduated into a larger pot). Remember; many plants prefer to be kept slightly root bound, and very rarely should you pot up into a pot whose diameter is more than 1-2″ larger than the old pot.
Not sure where to get started? Here’s how to pot up and re-pot your plants. Re-potting and potting up is the classic indoor plant care step that’s tempting to skip, but your plants will thank you.
- Your plants are hungry. Give them some food!
If you read our tips for fall houseplant care, you’ll have stopped (or greatly reduced) fertilizing for the past few months, as your plants don’t need extra nutrients over winter and they might actually burn the roots.
As spring comes on, this is the perfect time to give your plants some extra energy. We like using a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion or seaweed, but anything organic will do! Err on the side of less, and always dilute your fertilizers a bit more than recommended on the package instructions. You can also add organic material like compost, provided it’s fully broken down.
- Prune, trim and curate
Let’s face it: sometimes our plants just don’t like winter. Most of our houseplants come from very warm, very tropical (or dry) places, where the seasons are felt differently than they are here and growing conditions are more conducive to the plant’s natural rhythms. Plants show this annoyance by yellowing, dropping leaves, browning, wilting… the list goes on. Spring presents the perfect opportunity to get rid of those sad leaves because your plants are about to enter a sustained period of active growth.
Trim: Cut away any leaves that have or are beginning to yellow or brown. They’re not coming back.
Prune: Most indoor plants take well to pruning. On vining tropicals, cut off any stems that have grown long and leggy, or have put out only small new growth. New stems will form in their place!
Curate: Sometimes, we just have to say goodbye. If a plant is truly looking sad, it’s going to bum you out. Donate it to a friend with more space in their apartment, or if it’s actually gone, send it back to the Earth (in your compost bin). Okay, we realize that saying goodbye might not be easy, but sometimes it’s a necessary step in indoor plant care.
- Spring cleaning: Dust and wash those leaves
Aside from making your plants look better, spending some time to give your plants (specifically leafy tropicals) some TLC in the form of washing and dusting actually helps them thrive: dust that accumulates on leaves actually blocks light from reaching the leaves and inhibits photosynthesis and respiration.
To clean, support the underside of the leaf with your palm, and then wipe the surface with a damp papertowel or soft cloth. Make sure to clean both sides of the leaf. If you’re looking for a shortcut, you can also put your plants in the shower and give them a bath with tepid water, so long as your water pressure isn’t too intense (CAREFUL – don’t overwater. This ain’t for cacti and succulents).
After your leaves are clean, you can help keep them that way (and help ward off pests and mold at the same time) by spraying them with an organic leaf-shine like diluted neem oil. They’ll look sparkly and thank you for it by staying happy and healthy – indoor plant care at its finest!
- Adjust and reposition based on light and temperature needs
Depending on your home, you probably moved your houseplants around a bit in the fall. Did you move those tropicals closer to the window to get some more light? Or maybe you moved your ficus away from that drafty door to protect its sensitive leaves. Or did you put your jade in the side room to give it cool temperatures and induce blooming?
Either way, it’s time to think about what each plant needs and move it accordingly. Your south and west windows are going to begin letting in much more light as the days get longer. Don’t let your tropicals get scorched; move your cacti and succulents there instead! Or, check your night-time temperatures. When they’re safely staying in the 50s and above, you might want to start moving some of your indoor plants outdoors to a protected front porch to promote active growth (do this little by little, as the extra light can be shocking).
Lastly, keep your house in mind. Where are the plants going to bring you the most joy? How has the design of your house changed over the winter and where are some new places that plants would be happy? We like to put them everywhere, and it’s always fun to try to find creative solutions to integrate more green.
What indoor plant care steps do you take in spring to get your houseplant buddies looking great? What questions do you have for us? Let us know in the comments!
IT’S EASY TO BE seduced by the charms of tropical houseplants. Every one of them has special attributes, from amazing textural foliage to fascinating flowers. The only problem is that nurseries and indoor plant shops carry so many spectacular and unusual specimens, it’s impossible to choose only a few. You know you’re overdoing it (and likely to suffer a major houseplant purge) when the living room starts to look like the set of a Tarzan movie, requiring malaria pills to enter.
Caring for houseplants is generally easier in summer. The plants are actively growing; there’s plenty of light; humidity is high; and, when they’re looking a bit peaked, you can move them outdoors to more optimal conditions. Winter, on the other hand, brings many challenges: Cool temperatures, short days, low light and scarce humidity slow growth to almost a standstill, making recovery difficult. Fortunately, by making a few changes regarding plant care during the cold season, you can keep your plants looking great, even in winter.
The first step is to stop feeding your plants. Unless you’re keeping plants actively growing under grow lights, most tropical houseplants go into a semi-dormant state and can’t make use of added nutrients. Generally, it’s best to hold off feeding your plants from the end of September until early March, when growth becomes active again. Fertilizing during the winter months can result in a buildup of salts that can be harmful to roots.
It’s usually a good idea to cut back on watering in winter, as well. Houseplants are not nearly as thirsty when they aren’t actively growing. It can be tricky knowing how much to water. Every plant has different water needs, and the size of the plant container also makes a difference. Succulents such as cactuses and jade plants usually require watering only if the leaves begin drying up, or the plant appears to be shriveling. Your tropical plants will let you know when they need the occasional drink by wilting slightly.
With the shorter days and diminished light levels that occur in winter, it’s generally a good idea to move plants closer to the window. Avoid locating shade-lovers right in a south-facing window, but even plants that don’t like direct sunlight will do much better if they receive a bit of morning sun, and bright indirect light for the rest of the day. When it comes to light, the clarity of the windows can make a big difference. Simply cleaning a dusty window can increase light intensity by 10 percent. Who knows what a difference removing all your pooch’s nose-prints might make!
Finally, most tropical houseplants resent the dry air typical in homes during winter. Symptoms include brown-tipped leaves and/or bud drop. When humidity is low, your plants are more likely to experience stippled leaves and possible defoliation from a spider-mite infestation.
Unfortunately, research has found that many of the methods recommended to raise humidity have not proven effective. For instance, placing a plant on a tray of wet pebbles doesn’t raise humidity enough to make any difference. Misting plants with a fine spray of water raises the humidity for only a very short period, and some plants, such as African Violets, could experience disease from wet leaves.
A humidifier will solve the problem, but they can be expensive and need to be properly maintained. A simpler solution is to group houseplants together to create pockets of higher humidity. You can increase the effect by placing an indoor fountain among the plants. Indoor fountains come in all sorts of attractive styles and sizes, and provide the soothing sound of moving water inside your home. Buy one at a local nursery, so you can check to make sure there isn’t any over-spray that could end up ruining valuable furniture. If that happens, get ready to undergo a major-league houseplant purge!
During the chilly dark days of winter, our houseplants and overwintering tropicals remind us that green life still exists, which gets us crazy gardeners through what can be a depressing time of year. Living with indoor plants is a subject near and dear to my heart, and I have lots of experience to pass along to you. I thought I’d start by talking about how to overwinter the large tropical plants that many people buy in spring, such as hibiscus, elephant ears, cannas, lantana, brugmansia, and mandevilla, and provide some sound advice for houseplant care so you may fully enjoy your indoor garden all winter.
Bird of paradise makes a cheerful indoor companion. Photo © Alice Raimondo.
As I write this, it is a relatively mild mid-December day but far too cold outdoors for tender tropicals. Summer provided all the things they needed to survive: sunlight, humidity, water, and lots of air circulation. How can we give them what they need indoors for the next several months before moving them outside once more? I’m sure I’m not the only one whose tropical plant’s leaves all turned yellow and dropped off a few days after bringing it indoors in the fall. A common mistake is waiting too long to bring these plants inside; it’s better to bring them indoors in late August before nighttime temperature start to drop. This is especially true for hibiscus or mandevilla; however, some leaf drop with them should be expected. Indoor environments have low humidity, particularly during winter when the heat comes on frequently, so plants drop leaves to reduce water loss.
Fear not, your plants will adjust, provided you site them properly. If placed near sunny south-facing windows and away from radiators, hibiscus plants will perform quite well as houseplants for a while, at least until whiteflies or aphids likely arrive. Mandevilla can be a bit trickier as a houseplant, often losing all of its leaves during the winter and going semi-dormant. Be very careful how you water them then; I have killed several, I fear, from overwatering alone. Mandevilla can also be a magnet for scale and mealybugs in the home, so if other houseplants are nearby, beware! Lantana is best not brought indoors unless you have a sunny, dry, cool location where it can grow.
My garage is home to dozens of plants during winter. Photo © Alice Raimondo.
Elephant ear tubers and canna fleshy rhizomes can be stored dormant in an unheated location with no light, provided it gets no colder than the upper 40s. If your cannas and elephant ears were dug from the ground after the first frost, they will overwinter very well in paper bags or in cardboard boxes in temperatures in the low 50s. Another plant that stores equally well in garages where it will go dormant is brugmansia. No need to water it but a few times, very lightly, throughout the winter so its root ball doesn’t dry out completely. Keep brugmansia cool at temperatures in the upper 40’s to near 50 degrees; any warmer, and it will break dormancy and begin to grow. You can store this large woody tropical indoors from year to year until the plant is too big to fit in the garage. Even then, you can lay them down in the garage after they’ve grown too tall; these plants are indestructible! I currently have flowers on mine, as they haven’t yet gone to sleep yet for the winter.
Phalaenopsis orchids do fine with enough humidity. Photo © Alice Raimondo.
If you aren’t brave enough to try overwintering these large tropical beauties, which are often sold as annuals, there are many houseplants to grow that are just smaller counterparts of their larger cousins. Peace lily, African violet, phalaenopsis orchids, and many foliage plants will chase your winter blues away as you garden indoors. Or perhaps you have space to grow large palms or bird of paradise. Plan your indoor garden as you do your yard: consider sun exposure, water requirements, and home temperature. One word of advice: water. Overwatering is the most common mistake when it comes to houseplants, so be careful to not kill your plants with too much love. Drooping or yellowing leaves is a symptom of too little water, but it’s also a symptom of watering too frequently.
The Horticulture Diagnostic Lab often receives calls regarding sick houseplants during the winter. If you have questions about caring for specific plants, call us at the Horticulture Information line (631)727-4126. In the meantime enjoy your little bit of the tropics indoors, and dream about spring.
Alice Raimondo is Horticulture Consultant for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at [email protected] or 631-727-77850 x335.
Indoor plants add color, texture and warmth to the home. They allow year-round access to gardening and can even improve air quality. Many houseplants are easy to grow, but they must be given appropriate care in order to thrive. Since your plants were probably started in a greenhouse — grown under ideal conditions — moving them into your home takes a bit of adjustment on their part.
Proper watering and lighting are the most important components of indoor plant care, but humidity and temperatures also play a role. The trick is to try to mimic the climate of the place that plant came from.
Tropical plants thrive in warm, humid environments, while cacti and succulents prefer hot, dry climes. Of course, your home can’t be everything to every plant, but you can take plant needs into consideration when choosing plants. And, with a few tricks, you can convince your green friends that they are living in their ideal environment.
With the right equipment, growing beautiful house plants is easy! At Planet Natural we have everything you need: pots, soils and fertilizers to get started, plus grow lights to bring the green-giving magic of the sun indoors. Now, let’s grow!
The first thing to consider when selecting a houseplant is where you want to put it. Then match the space and lighting with the plant’s requirements. Do you have a big spot by a sunny window or a small space with moderate light?
Next ask yourself if you are looking for a plant with beautiful green leaves or would prefer a flowering plant. Some flowering houseplants are seasonal while others will bloom year after year (see Top Choices for Easy Care Flowering Houseplants).
A third consideration is how much time you can devote to a particular plant. A spider plant will take almost any amount of care (or neglect), while an orchid requires significant tender, loving care.
Indoor Plant Care
Potting soil should be kept moist, but not wet. Of course, there are always exceptions — succulents, and other thick-leafed plants do best when the soil dries out between watering. If the soil is kept too dry or too damp the plant’s roots will begin to die, which can lead to inadequate growth or even death of the plant.
There are several methods to determine when a plant needs water. If the potting soil becomes lighter in color or cracked, it’s probably time to water. Pick up your plant and gauge the weight after watering. After a few practice lifts, you’ll be able to tell if the plant needs water just by picking it up. Of course, you can always stick a finger in the soil to determine how moist it is below the surface. For large plants, a hand-held moisture meter may be your best bet to determine how much water is present around the plant’s root mass.
Do NOT let plants get to the point where they are wilting or the soil is pulling away from the edge of the container. These symptoms indicate dehydration and at this point the plant is already seriously stressed and the roots may be damaged.
Signs of underwatering include:
- Slow leaf growth
- Translucent leaves
- Premature dropping of flowers or leaves
- Brown, yellow or curled leaf edges
The Scheurich Bordy is an attractive and effective automatic plant waterer. Not only a handy plant companion but this cheery little bird makes its mark as cute home decor. Going on vacation? Notorious for watering poorly? Simply fill with water and rest assured that your plant will be perfectly watered for up to four days.
Too much water is just as detrimental as too little. Frequent watering forces air from the soil and opens the door for root-killing bacteria and fungus to move in. Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants.
- Signs of overwatering include:
- Fungus or mold on the soil surface
- Mushy brown (maybe stinky) roots at the bottom of the pot
- Standing water in the bottom of the container
- Young and old leaves falling off at the same time
- Leaves with brown rotten patches
Watering on Demand
|Plants requiring more water||Plants requiring less water|
|– Flowering plants
– Plants potted in clay pots
– Plants grown in small pots
– Actively growing plants
– Plants located in direct sunlight
– Large-leaved or thin-leaved plants
– Plants that are native to wet areas.
|– Resting or dormant plants
– Recently repotted plant
– Plants grown in high humidity
– A plant located in a cool room
– Plants potted in non-porous containers
– Plants with thick or rubbery leaves
– Plants grown in a water retentive mix
For those who are too busy to keep up with a regular watering schedule, which requires checking individual plants every 3-4 days, there are several self-watering devices available. A moisture wick draws water from a dish of water into the root ball of your plant. Capillary mats and moisture tents also keep plants watered. You can always make your own self-watering plant container out of a 2-liter pop bottle.
Room temperature tap water should be fine for most indoor plants, even if there is chlorine or fluoride added to your city’s water. Plants especially love rainwater or melted snow (unless you live in a region with acid rain). Avoid continuous use of softened water, which may contain sodium.
FAST & ACCURATE
The Rapitest® Digital Moisture Meter includes a handy plant care booklet and watering guide for over 150 plants. Use to prevent over and under watering by measuring moisture at the root level. NO batteries required!
How to Water
Plants can be watered from the top down or bottom up. When watering from the top, try not to wet the foliage, while ensuring the entire soil mass is moistened. Water should be coming out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
If you prefer to let your plants do the work, set the plant in a dish of water and the roots (and capillary action in the soil) will pull up whatever they need. This method, known as bottom-watering, is a more thorough, if time-consuming, way to water plants.
Tip: Be sure to dump any standing water from the saucer one hour after watering.
Good drainage is essential to healthy houseplants. Start with a good, organic potting soil (not regular soil) that has been mixed specifically for indoor gardening.
Choose a container with drainage holes, or put a layer of pebbles in the bottom of a container without holes. The point is to not let the plant stand in water. From time to time, check that the drainage holes have not been clogged. And always empty standing water (don’t run it back through the plant’s soil).
As with watering, every plant has different light requirements. Many plants prefer direct sunlight, but this may be hard to get inside a house. Placing a plant in a window might offer enough light, but some houseplants will need supplementing from a grow light (see Lighting Indoor Houseplants).
Flowering plants generally do best in moderately bright light and for this reason windows located on the south, east or west side of the house are best for potted flowering plants. (African violets prefer north-facing windows.)
GROW LIGHT KIT
Garden indoors all year long with a Compact Fluorescent Grow Light. Low profile design provides more concentrated light than standard fluorescents. Plus, NO heat means that the lamp can be placed closer to your plants for more light energy and improved productivity.
Foliage plants can be divided into three categories: those requiring low light, moderate light and high light.
A dimly lit room should suffice for those few plants willing to survive in low light areas. Moderate light-needing plants will prefer a north-facing window, light diffused through a thin curtain or daylight without direct sun. Indoor plants that prefer high light will need to be in a south-facing window or under a grow light.
Some plants will benefit from being moved outside in the summer to get a little extra light. Read about Moving Plants Indoors & Outdoors here.
Many houseplants thrive in temperatures between 65-75° during the day and 55-60° at night. Of course, temperature preferences vary from plant to plant with tropical plants liking temperatures around 90° (or higher) and other plants growing better in cooler temperatures.
Most plants thrive in high humidity — around 80%. Unfortunately, most homes are much drier, especially in the winter when forced heat can even further drop the humidity.
Using a humidifier can help, but there are other ways to increase the moisture in the air near your plants. A small tray containing pebbles and water can boost local humidity as can grouping plants more closely together. Daily misting of the plant’s leaves can help as well. For some plants, such as gardenias and orchids, keeping them in a bathroom or the kitchen (both usually have a higher humidity) can help.
Every time a plant is watered nutrients leach out of the soil. Even if that didn’t happen, plants would quickly deplete the nutrients in their soil. Unlike plants living outside, houseplants don’t have a regular source of nutrient replenishment unless you fertilize them regularly. (Newly purchased plants have been heavily fertilized in the greenhouse and can wait a few weeks before getting started on a fertilizing regime.)
#1 ORGANIC FERTILIZER
Made in the USA! Neptune’s Harvest is a top-selling Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer that gets AMAZING results. This gentle, complete blend is a simple way to give your plants the optimal nutrition they need. OMRI Listed for use in organic production.
Fertilize once a month when plants are flowering or growing. During the winter, when plants are dormant or generally not growing much, fertilizer can be withheld.
If a plant is dropping its lower leaves, showing weak growth or an overall yellow-green color, it may need more fertilizer. It might also need more light or less water, so take the time to analyze all conditions before pouring on more plant food. Adding fertilizer when a plant does not need it can be worse than doing nothing at all.
Tip: If a plant is wilted, water well first then apply a fertilizer later — after it has recovered.
Choose an organic fertilizer specific to houseplants and read the instructions carefully. While natural fertilizers are less likely to burn or harm your plants than a synthetic fertilizer, it is important to apply the correct amount. In general, plants grown in low light will not require as much fertilizer as plants grown outside or in bright light.
To start, use about 1/4 the amount of fertilizer recommended on the label once a month. Then, if overall plant color becomes lighter, increase fertilizer applications to every 2 weeks. On the other hand, if the new growth is dark green, but the leaves are small and the space between the leaves seems longer than on the older growth, fertilize less often.
Tip: Soluble salts from synthetic fertilizers can build up over time and create a crusty layer of salt deposits on the soil surface. Remove this layer and leach the soil every 4-6 weeks with generous amounts of water to help avoid toxic salt build up. Excessive salts can damage roots and make the plant more susceptible to disease and insect attack.
If your plants are thriving and growing the way you want them to, eventually they will need a bigger pot — or some fresh potting mix. Repot plants in the spring when they are just starting to grow. Vigorous root growth will allow the plant to adjust to its new container quickly.
When it comes time to repot, choose an organic soilless medium made specifically for potting houseplants (maybe even specific to your species of houseplant). There are many to chose from, or you can make your own (see Potting Mixes for Certified Organic Production).
Choose a pot that is bigger than the current container, but not huge. A pot that is too-big can encourage root rot and other problems because the soil will remain wet for days, or even weeks before it can be used by the plant.
Take care with the root system when repotting to avoid damage. Carefully firm the soil around the root ball without compacting the soil. Leave enough space at the top of the new container for water and water thoroughly. (Click on Repotting Houseplants for step-by-step instructions.)
Top 10 plant care tips
Taking care of plants can be tricky. You need to consider multiple variables, such as lighting and watering. Here’s the good news: Ambius is the expert in plant care and will ensure the plants at your property receive the attention they need. Contact us to learn more about how we can design beautiful arrangements that enhance the environment of your space.
In the meantime, read about top plant care tips to get on the right track.
- Avoid annoying little flies by being careful not to tip tea and coffee into plant containers. The sugars left in the compost make it an ideal breeding ground for sciarid flies.
- Use trough planters as natural screens. They reduce noise and are useful as barriers to separate walkways etc.
- One of the most common causes of plant death is over-watering. If in doubt, leave it to Ambius, the experts!
- Your plants need water, light and warmth to survive. So when you’re off on vacation, don’t forget about your green friends. Make sure that someone else knows to keep the blinds open and the thermostat up.
- Peat free compost is suitable for all your indoor plants. Contact us for an excellent peat free alternative.
- Variegated plants (featuring leaves with white edges or white flecks) often need more light than their green cousins. Keep them nearer to a window so that they can get all the light that they need.
- Plants acclimatise slowly to different surroundings by changing their leaf orientation and structure. If you can, try not to move them around, as they may not adapt as easily as you think.
- Plants reduce stress. Learn more here about benefits of plants.
- You can still have plants where space is at a premium. Some of the latest designs use tall containers to show off the plants, whilst taking up as little floor space as possible.
- Regularly prune your plants to stop them becoming ‘leggy’. Once they’ve lost the foliage on their lower branches, it’s very difficult to get it to return.
Benefits of Houseplants
Introducing my full guide on how to take care of houseplants, their health benefits, and what I do to keep my 100+ plants alive and thrive.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that my love for plants runs deep. It’s been a long time since I counted, but the last time I checked, I had over 100 plants, and it’s a growing collection. After my fur babies, my plant babies bring me so much joy and I just find such comfort in taking care of them and watching them grow.
While having this many plants might seem overwhelming and daunting for many, my collection grew slowly over the years and yours can too! I received many questions about how to take care of houseplants to keep them alive and healthy, and I’ll share my tips and tricks with you guys today.
First, I just want to go over the benefits of having houseplants, because they are a form of therapy for me. This is why I don’t mind investing in my houseplants, because they are 100% worth it!
- They purify the air. With so many toxins and chemicals in everyday products, indoor pollution is real. According to NASA, plants remove up to 87% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every 24 hours!
- Best air purifying plants: snake plants, devil’s ivy, money tree, spider plant, dracaenas, golden pothos, areca palms, rubber plants
- Introducing greenery indoors helps to lower your cortisol level. We all feel more calm and less stressed when we go hiking or listen to nature sounds. We can recreate this feeling at home with plants.
- Plants actually reduce background noise if you live in a city or a noisy street! The leaves create a soft wall for sound to absorb, deflect, or refract on. How cool is that?
- Best noise blocking plants: rubber plants, weeping figs, peace lilies, tall cacti, fiddle leaf fig, money trees
- They remove carbon dioxide from the air so there’s more oxygen and we feel less tired and fatigued.
Where I Purchase My Plants
This is one of the most common questions I get because I have such a variety of plants. The answer is all over! Here are some of the places I’ve purchased my plants from:
- Local nurseries: This is where most of my plants come from. I try not to shop at Home Depot or big brands, because I find that they are usually overpriced there, and it’s so much better to support local businesses! I’m really lucky in that I live in California and there are plant nurseries everywhere. Local nurseries are usually cheaper and you can usually negotiate prices! I make sure to be extra friendly when I buy plants for a possible discount.
- Nextdoor, OfferUp, or Letgo: All of these sites and apps are where people can sell anything they want get rid of. I actually have an alert set up for plants, so I can jump on them when they are posted. You can usually negotiate prices on these apps, because people are usually moving and they just want to get rid of things.
- Etsy: I’ve never bought a full plant on Etsy (although they are available), but it’s a great place to find clippings of plants that aren’t rooted, especially if you are looking for a specific plant that’s hard to find locally. It’s not the cheapest option and it can be risky, because clippings are delicate and they can easily die. However, I have had really great luck with them and my pilea, prayer plant, and philodendron have all rooted and thrived beautifully from this shop.
The Basics of How to Take Care of Houseplants
While care instructions differ from plant to plant, MOST plants require similar care and I treat most of my plants the following way:
- Lighting: While plants love light, bright, indirect light is the best with the exception of desert plants. That means near a well-lit window, within sunlight or in the shade next to it (for medium-low light plants). If there’s direct HOT sunlight on plants, especially in the summer, put a sheer curtain on the window so the plants receive diffused, filtered light without getting burnt. One exception is succulents and cacti. They love bright, direct light!
- Water: While there is such a thing as under-watering, I find that many make the mistake of overwatering which can quickly kill the plants. I only water my plants once a week, and even less in the winter. Before watering, stick an inch of your finger in the soil. Only water if the soil has no moisture. Make sure to only use pots that have drainage holes!
- Wipe the leaves: For leafy plants, dust can settle on them easily, just like furniture. This dust layer actually blocks the plants ability to photosynthesize, and makes the leaves look dull and the plant weaker while attracting pests. When you see dust settle, take a damp microfiber cloth and gently wipe off the individual leaves. You may be shocked at how much dirt comes off on the cloth. I’m really bad at remembering to clean my plant leaves, but try to do this every 2-3 months!
- Fertilize during growing season: This is usually during the spring/summer for most plants. I use organic fertilizer (I love this one!) and add it to the watering can every 2-3 months between April and September. It really makes a huge difference!
- Repot as the plants grow: Always research the plant to see how much soil space it needs, but once it outgrows its pot, it needs more space to grow to stay healthy. This is also a great chance to replace the soil in the pot, which I highly recommend.
Why Your Plant Might Be Dying
So you’ve followed all the tips, but your plant still looks brown or yellow, and seems to be shriveling up. Here are some common reasons why your plant may not be looking so healthy:
- Overwatering or under-watering. Check my watering tip above.
- Too much sunlight or too little. Also see above.
- Bacteria in the soil. If you really can’t figure out what the heck is wrong with the plant, it might be worth replacing the soil and repotting. There could be bacteria in the soil inhibiting the plant from growing properly.
- Dry leaves. Tropical plants like ferns and split leaf philodendrons require a lot of moisture in the air and are more high maintenance. Make sure to spray the leaves with water every few days so they don’t dry out, even with consistent watering. If you aren’t good at remembering or you are lazy, you can get a humidifier instead.
- Gnats and bugs that infest the plant and/or the soil. This doesn’t happen to me that much, because I live in a dry climate in SoCal. However, if your environment is more humid, it’s a common problem. The best solution this, I found, is getting a plant insect killer. This one does the job and I found that I only have to use it once for the problem to go away completely.
Salvaging Almost Dead Plants
You can actually save most plants that are on their last leg by snipping off the healthy looking leaves and propagating them. I’ve done this many times with success, and it’s so exciting to have a plant come back to life after you thought you lost it.
Place the bottom of the snipped leaves in water and let it sit in bright light. Change water every 3-4 days. After a week or two, the clippings will grow roots. When the roots and the leaves look healthy, plant them again in a pot with new soil. They’ll grow into a full, lush plant in no time with proper care!
Other Notable Plant Tips
- Research: I don’t usually trust the instructions on the label that the plant comes with, because they are usually so simple and basic. Make sure to Google the plant once you are home so you know how to take care of it in the best way.
- Watering can: While watering cans with sprinkler heads are popular, I find that it’s easy to accidentally spray water all over the floor when using them, especially for indoor plants. I really like long spouted cans (I have this one) and they are also great for accuracy in aiming if you have hanging plants like me!
- Soil: There are various types of soil for different plants but this soil for succulents and cacti has worked for all my plants. I really like well-draining soil because holding on to moisture can cause bacteria, and even my humidity loving plants do really well with this soil.
- Considerations if you have pets: Some plants are poisonous to pets so make sure you check this if you have fur babies. I’m lucky and my dogs have zero interest in my plants so I don’t pay attention to this, but if yours are a bit more curious, I would take this into consideration when you purchase a new plant.
- Know before you buy: If you are shopping for a plant for a specific room, make sure to assess the lighting in that room and where you are planning to put the plant. You can then figure out what plant is right for that environment. I always check with the person working at the nursery how much lighting and water a specific plant requires before buying.
Easy Beginner Friendly Plants
If you are just starting out with houseplants, you may be nervous about what plants to purchase at first. These are some of my favorite, low maintenance plants that are easy and will thrive in most conditions.
- Pothos: Does well with low and bright light and also flexible with watering. And really leafy and pretty!
- Snake plants: Also does well in various light and watering conditions.
- Succulents and cacti: I was hesitant to add this one because I’ve heard many people having trouble with these. Just make sure to keep them in bright, direct sunlight. And while many say do not water them too much, I find that succulents thrive when I water them once a week as I normally do with other plants.
- Spider plants: Not picky about water or sunlight and will grow well in various conditions.
- Dracaena or money tree. I treat both of these plants similarly and they grow very easily. They like bright, indirect light and weekly watering. However, they didn’t mind when I forgot to water them for a 2-3 weeks or left them in direct sunlight for too long.
My Personal Favorite Plants
Of course, my favorite plants are the prettiest ones to look at, in my opinion. I’m a very visual person. However, they are not always low maintenance. It doesn’t matter. I love them so much that I make sure to give them extra loving and care if I see them looking a little sad.
- Fiddleleaf fig tree
- Birds of paradise
- Rubber tree
- Prayer plant (maranta)
- All forms of calathea – they are the most fickle plant ever so they frustrate the heck out of me, but so gorgeous!
That’s it, guys! I hope you found this guide on how to take care of houseplants helpful. I tried to answer all the questions you asked me over on Instagram, but if didn’t answer some of them or if you have any more, just leave me a comment below and I’ll try to get to it as as soon as I can.
Lastly, don’t be intimidated by plants! I used to have a black thumb myself, and you can only get better at being a plant mom or dad by actually growing them yourself and making mistakes on the way. I actually do kill houseplants sometimes, even though it happens less and less now, and that’s okay. I just think of it as a learning experience and move on. You can only get better by adding more plants to your collection!
Happy growing, friends.
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