Houseplants 101: The Care and Keeping of Your Indoor Plants

Houseplant Care 101: A Simple Guide to Keeping Your Indoor Plants Alive

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Keeping houseplants has real-world benefits, including improving your indoor air quality and boosting your productivity and mood. But the task of keeping a plant alive can be daunting for new indoor gardeners, or for those encountering a particular indoor plant for the first time.

To help you keep that pollution-scrubbing, brain-bolstering baby plant alive, we’ve gathered our best and most useful tips here for everything from lighting, fertilizing and watering to repotting, pest control and plant problem diagnosis. Yo’ll never be the owner of a withered vine again.

How to Care For Indoor Plants, Step By Step

House plants are generally very similar in their care instructions, requiring little attention, similar watering schedules, and indirect sunlight. Below is everything you could possibly need to know to guarantee that your greenery grows.

Soil: What It Is and Which Kind You Need

The downside of growing plants indoors is that they can miss out on some of the nutrients naturally available to outdoor plants. To ensure that they are still getting all of those nutrients, make sure that you are using the correct potting soil.

The ideal potting soil both drains well but also holds moisture, supports the roots but also provides them with room to breathe, and provides nutrients to the plant without overwhelming it.

Espoma 4-Quart Organic Potting Mix
    This all-natural potting mix delivers nutrients right to your plant’s roots, preserving moisture but enabling drainage.

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Indoor plants can have a harder time retaining moisture than outdoor plants, so it’s important that their soil is suited to do so, doing some of the work for them.

Of course, there is a balance to maintain because you want a soil that will stay moist but you also need one that will not compact. Soil can become compacted if you are watering plants from overhead, which can lead to nasty side effects like stifled roots.

In summary, you are going to want a light, airy soil that retains moisture for your indoor plants, or in other words, the perfect storm of soil qualities.

Specialty Soils for Indoor Plants

caring for indoor plants at home soil and water light needs While all of the above is true for all indoor plants, keep in mind that each one will have different nutritional needs. Different plants will have different preferred pH levels, with some thriving in soils that lean more toward acidic, and others thriving in soils that are more balanced. Also, the chemical needs of plants greatly differs, with some preferring soil that has high chemical contents, like nitrogen, while that may stifle other plants’ growth.

Some plants require a special soil, such as an orchid or succulent, that facilitates proper drainage, nutrition, mineral or material content, etc. When you acquire a new plant, it pays off to research soil preferences from the outset to avoid plant illness or failure to thrive later on. Our collection of complete indoor plant guides covers an array of common houseplants and includes soil and nutrition for each species.

Caring For Your Soil

Most soils are peat-based mixes, which is great to a point, however, when peat decomposes it can cause problems for plants. Peat is quick to decompose and when it does it decompresses in the pot, packing itself around plant roots, starving them of oxygen. This can also impede drainage, and cause salt-build-ups, which can stress and scorch the plant.

Below are some ways you can deal with these problems, ensuring that your plants stay healthy for a long period of time even if they are in a peat-based soil.

Repot Your Plant

Make sure that you repot your plant on an annual basis, removing the decomposed soil and adding in fresh potting soil. You may be thinking, “If peat decomposes in a few months, why don’t I repot every few months?” Well, because plants don’t exactly love repotting and for more sensitive plants it can be a stressful process, temporarily stunting growth.

Flush the Soil

On a monthly basis flush your soil. You can do this inside at your kitchen sink or outside with a pitcher of water. You are going to want to thoroughly flush the soil with the specific goal of washing out all the nasty build-up, like salt from decomposed peat and deposits from the chemicals in tap water.

Improve Your Soil

You can improve your bagged soil by mixing it with a couple of handfuls of perlite. Although this will in no way slow the peat from decomposing it will increase aeration, leading to healthier roots and therefore a healthier plant. You can also mix your own potting soil using bases like vermiculite, pumice, peat, coconut coir, and composted bark. Of course, this latter method will definitely require some gardening expertise.

To lead the way, below is a video with instructions on how to make your own indoor plant potting soil!

Water: How Much Water Is Enough or Too Much?

The best way to tell when your plant needs to be watered is by feeling the soil. And I mean REALLY feeling the soil. Don’t just go off how the top of the soil feels, dip your fingers into it, about 1-2 inches deep, and see if it feels moist. Many house plants need to dry out completely before they are watered again, of course, not all of them prefer that which brings me to my next point.

Brajttt Plant Watering Globes
    These beautiful bulbs automatically water your plants, making watering an easier and much more colorful process.

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How much you water your plant is really going to depend on a list of factors including what type of plant it is, the amount of light the plant is getting, the type of soil, and time of year. Most plants require less water during the winter than during the rest of the year.

little girl watering newly repotted houseplant with helpHow to Water Your Plant

To use tap water or to not use tap water. Many sources say that you should not use tap water because of its high chlorine and fluoride content. While most plants won’t be bothered by that content, it’s a good idea to let your tap water sit overnight so that those particles can dissolve. Of course, you can also just use distilled water.

Your water should be room temperature. Water that is too hot or too cold will upset your plant’s roots, you are looking for the medium, goldilocks temperature.

Don’t just water your plant in one spot, water around them. While doing so try to avoid getting water on the leaves as that can lead to fungal issues.

Establish a Plant Care Routine

To ensure that you don’t forget to water your house plants consider establishing a plant care routine. It’s a good idea to water your plants in the morning so that they have something to sustain them during the brightest parts of the day and so that excess water in the soil has a chance to evaporate. Consider watering your plants after you brush your teeth or while you are making your daily cup of coffee.

Fertilizer: Do You Need It, and What Kind Is Best?

Indoor plants are limited in their nutritional exposure since their roots can’t stretch out to seek new food and they aren’t exposed to elements like rain. To make up for this, consider fertilizing your indoor plants.

You should begin fertilizing a couple of months after potting your plant. Up until then, the nutrients within the soil will be enough to keep the plant healthy, but by the end of the second month it’s likely the majority of them will be used up.

Fertilizers come in liquid, stick, tablet, slow-release, and granular forms. For indoor plants, the best fertilizer options are liquid and slow release. Pills and sticks have trouble distributing nutrients throughout the soil, and granular is made for outdoor use.

Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food
    This slow release fertilizer feeds your indoor plants 11 essential plant nutrients in a gentle, root-friendly way.

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Sunlight: Determining the Right Level of Light Exposure

Most common houseplants prefer indirect or low light, which is what makes them so well-suited for the indoors. However, depending on the type of plant, bright light may also be a preferred option.

Plants that require bright light should be situated close to a window on the southern or western side of your house. Make sure that the spot they are sitting in receives a minimum of 6 hours of light a day.

Plants that love indirect light will be happy in an east-facing window or within a room, a handful of feet away from a south or west-facing window.

Plants that love low light should be situated in north-facing rooms or near partially shaded windows.

Keep in mind that the majority of plants need sunlight throughout most of the day, so if your environment can’t provide that in the winter, consider investing in a grow light.

EZORKAS Grow Light
    This powerful, affordable grow light is perfect for indoor plants that need some sunlight.

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Environment: Adjusting Temperature and Humidity

Indoor plants normally love typical home temperatures, between 65-80 F, which is what makes them so well-suited for indoor growth.

Keep in mind where you are placing your plant and how that may alter the temperatures they are experiencing. If your plant is near a window, it could be experiencing hotter temperatures in the summer and cooler ones in the winter.

If you live in a dry area try to supply your plant with some humidity! This can be done through misting the plant on a regular basis, placing a humidifier in the room it occupies, or putting a bowl of water next to it on a sunny ledge. When the sun hits the water it will evaporate, causing humidity.

a closed glass terrarium dome with thriving high humidity plants inside

Travel: Leaving Your Plants Home Safely

As much as you want to, you can’t take your plants with you. So what do you do with them? Below are some tips for leaving your house plants at home.

Get Help

The best way to make sure that your plants stay healthy while you are not home is by enlisting a roommate, friend, or family member to look out for them while you are gone. Be sure to walk them through your care routine, you don’t want to risk them accidentally killing your plants.

Remove Dead Leaves and Stems

Make sure your plant lives by removing its dead parts. Remove dead leaves and branches while also cleaning your plant’s soil of dead and decaying plant parts. This latter task ensures that insects won’t move in on your plant while you are away.

Water Thoroughly

Soak your plants before you leave them so that they have something to live off of while you are gone. Take your plants to either your tub or shower and gently pour water over them allowing it to drain through. Although you want to thoroughly water your plant, you still want to avoid standing water like the plague, the plague in this case being root rot.

Create Humidity

While you are away you want to maintain humidity around your plants. This can be achieved through grouping them together so they create their own microclimate. Consider the humidity tricks mentioned above, a pebble tray, or thoroughly misting your plants before you leave.

woman inspecting dry leaves of fiddle leaf fig in need of pruning

Pruning: How, When, and Why?

Even though your plants are growing indoors, they still need to abide by the laws of the outdoor natural world, so you should only prune at the beginning of the growing season. This period typically extends from late winter to early spring.

Of course, there are some exceptions to this. Flowering species should only be pruned after they bloom, otherwise you risk pruning buds before they blossom. Also, you should be pruning wooden plants year-round, removing all dead leaves and branches that pop up.

VIVOSUN 6.5 Inch Gardening Hand Pruner
    These affordable pruners are easy to use and perfect for snipping indoor plants.

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How Do You Prune?

First, evaluate your plant taking into account what shape you want it to take on, where it may have dying parts, and where new growth is coming in.

Then, get to work using a clean, sharp pair of pruning shears. Remove all of the plant’s dead foliage and deadhead the plant by pinching off dying flowers.

You can then prune your plant to shape it, making cuts before leaf nodes or near the main stem to encourage new growth. It’s up to you but don’t get too prune-happy. Never remove more than 25% of a plant or you risk killing it.

Propagation: Making Plant Babies

You can save cuttings from the house plants that you prune and turn them in to new house plants! Simply place them in a cup of water with the cut part facing down and leaves above the water’s surface. After a few weeks your cuttings should begin to grow roots. Allow them to grow a handful before planting them in soil. Visit our plant care guides to find specific propagation tips for your plants.

The Best Indoor Plants

Inspired to start your own plant collection? Below are some of the best house plants you can grow indoors.

ZZ Plant

ZZ plants are a godsend to people with brown thumbs. They are the cockroaches of plants, anything short of feeding them bleach will likely not result in their demise. They are popular not only because of their indestructibility but also because they are lovely plants that do an excellent job removing toxins from the air indoors. Their leaves are fleshy, oval-shaped, dark green ,and glossy. They grow in pairs, in rows, up the plant’s wand-like stems. Whether you have indirect light, low light, or merely fluorescent lighting, these plants will flourish and grow.

    Potted ZZ Plant in Custom Planter

Buy ZZ Plant at TheSill.com
    The ZZ Plant is characterized by its thick waxy green leaves. It is a great air purifying option that can tolerate low light, making it a perfect plant for beginners.

English Ivy

This romantic and elegant plant cascades out of planters and baskets, with dark green, gorgeous tendrils that wind around whatever they can get their leaves on. This plant is a tenacious grower, to the point that English ivy can reach up to 100 feet in length, so it is perfect for beginner gardeners. English ivy is also an excellent air purifier and a great plant for hanging in the air. If you are looking for a hanging plant, this is fantastic one to start with!

    Live English Ivy in Hanging Planter

Buy English Ivy at Plants.com
    English Ivy will grow several inches upward then drape downward around the container. 4-inches at the time of purchase with adjustable 26-inch drop. Arrives in a white, smooth & matte-finished ceramic hanging planter.

Spider Plant

You definitely have seen a spider plant perched in someone’s home before. They are extremely popular house plants because they are quick growers, easy to care for, and have uniquely, beautiful foliage. Spider plants have long, grass-like leaves that protrude from the plant’s center, like the legs of a spider stretching out from its body. The leaves are green with cream edges, a signature that makes spider plants easy to identify. Preferring indirect light and being resilient growers, they make incredible indoor plants.

    Small Spider Plant in 6-inch Custom Planter

Buy Spider Plant at Bloomscape
    Native to tropical and southern Africa, Spider plants have a reputation for being nearly impossible to kill. These fast-growing, fun plants are a great option for the first-time plant owner.

Snake Plant

If a snake was flattened out, sun dried, and then stuck in a pot so it stood up horizontally it would look like a snake plant. Sort of. Either way, it’s clear where this house plant got its name. It has thick, long leaves with a striped light green, dark green, and yellowish pattern. Due to not having branches, stems, or blooms, it’s a compact grower which makes it an excellent house plant. Making it even more excellent is the easy care and maintenance it requires.

    Sansevieria Moonshine in Custom Planter

Buy Sansevieria Moonshine at Bloomscape
    Sansevieria Moonshine is a variety of snake plant popular for its succulent characteristics, compact shape, and unique silvery green foliage.

Peace Lily

Peace lilies are also aptly named, providing rooms with an air of serenity and elegance. The pure white flowers that blossom from peace lilies are absolutely gorgeous, featuring a yellow center framed by a pure white flame. The dark green, ridged leaves of the peace lily are also nothing to sneeze at, being absolutely beautiful, refined foliage. Keep in mind, unless you grow your peace lily in a spot in your house with direct sunlight it will not bloom.

    Potted Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

Buy Peace Lily at Plants.com
    Broad, dark green leaves and the occasional white calla lily flower on a tall stem. Large measures approximately 39-40”H x 9”D potted. Efficient air purifier. Toxic to pets.

Conclusion

Now you know everything about how to keep your indoor plants alive and thriving, and perhaps you even learned about an indoor plant that you want to adopt along the way. Indoor plants are great gateway greenery for gardening, often being easier to take care of than outdoor plants, and therefore excellent for beginners. Of course, with all their incredible health benefits, in being able to boost air quality and even moods, they are excellent for everyone.

I hope you found this guide helpful! If you did, be sure to share it and comment below with any indoor plant care questions.

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