How to Keep Your Indoor Plants Alive - Backyard Boss
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How to Keep Your Indoor Plants Alive

Many experienced gardeners will tell you that looking after their houseplants is like looking after pets. You might not understand this now, but once you get a few plant babies of your own it’ll become clear.

Taking care of houseplants has many benefits like improving air quality and providing people with a pleasant hobby. You may think keeping an indoor garden is a hellish task but once you see fresh blooms your mind will surely be changed.

This helpful and organized guide will help you keep your indoor plants lively and thriving. Encourage your new plant additions to stick around by properly watering, fertilizing, and providing the them with the right lighting. Soon your plants will do as much for you as you do for them!

Step-By-Step Care For Houseplants

Woman cleaning houseplant, Ficus Elastica Tineke Variegatad or Rubber Plant. Concept of indoor plant care.
Image credits: AngieYeoh via Shutterstock

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. For this reason, you need to make sure you are using the correct potting soil.

The ideal potting soil both drains well and holds moisture. This supports the roots while providing them with room to breathe. You can use a slow release fertilizer or organic potting mix to provide nutrients without overwhelming the plant.

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. In general, you are going to want a light, airy soil that retains moisture for your indoor plants. Make sure you do research on your specific species of plant in order to provide the proper conditions.

Specialty Soils for Indoor Plants

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 or alkaline mixtures. The chemical needs of plants greatly differs as well, with some preferring soil that has high nitrogen, while that may stifle other plants’ growth.

Some plants require a special soil, such as an orchid or succulent mix that facilitates proper drainage and, nutritional, mineral or material content, etc. When you acquire a new plant, it pays off to research soil preferences to avoid plant illness or failure later on.

Caring For Your Soil

pouring vermiculite from a factory package into a pot of soil to prepare a mixed soil for seed germination in the spring, adding granules to improve potting soil for seedlings at home
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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 compacts 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.

It’s important to repot so your plants so they get a flush of new nutrients, a larger space to spread their roots, and to hopefully re-correct some diseases if necessary.

Flush the Soil

On a monthly basis you should flush your soil; This can be done in 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 not slow the peat moss 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.

Water: How Much Is Too Much?

Woman wearing apron watering indoor plants
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The best way to tell when your plant needs to be watered is by feeling the soil. And I mean REALLY feeling the soil. Dip your fingers into the soil about 1-2 inches deep, and see if it feels moist. Many house plants need to dry out completely before they are watered again. The main cause of many houseplant deaths is overwatering.

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

How to Water Your Plant

It’s best to get your plants on a watering schedule so you don’t forget to give them a drink once in awhile. It’s a good idea to water your plants early in the morning so they have something to sustain them during the brightest and hottest parts of the day.

To use tap water or to not use tap water is the main question. 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 use distilled water for some plants. Or, go eco-friendly and collect rainwater.

Plants enjoy room temperature water given to them directly at the roots. If you get water on the leaves it that can lead to future fungal issues.

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

Woman pouring granular fertilizer into pot with house plant at table
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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.

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.

Sunlight: Determining the Right Level Exposure

wilted houseplants on windowsill
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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, 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 these conditions, consider investing in a grow light.

Environment: Adjusting Temperature and Humidity

Thermometer and hygrometer. Air humidity measurement
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Indoor plants normally love typical home temperatures, between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what makes them so well-suited for indoor growth.

Keep in mind where that your plant placement may alter the temperatures they’re experiencing. If your plant is near a window, it could be exposed to 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 your plant on a pebble-tray.

Travel: Leaving Your Plants Home Safely

Dieffenbachia Dumbcane Potted Plants Indoor Garden
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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 while you’re away.

Water Thoroughly

Soak your plants before you leave 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. You can also consider the humidity tricks mentioned above.

Pruning: How, When, and Why?

Pruning A Potted Plant
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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. Avoid pruning at the end of the spring, as new growth won’t survive the winter.

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.

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 percent of a plant or you risk killing it.

Propagation: Making Plant Babies

Succulent Leaves Propagation
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You can save cuttings from the house plants that you prune and turn them into 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.

The Best Indoor Plants

Peace lily plant in a bright home
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Some of the best indoor plants are those that are tolerant. Peace lilies, snake and spider plants, ZZ plants, and English ivy are some of the most popular.

ZZ plants are the cockroaches of plants. They’re also lovely plants that do an excellent job at removing toxins from the air. Their fleshy, oval-shaped, dark green leaves 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.

English Ivy is a romantic and elegant plant that cascades out of planters and baskets, with dark green, gorgeous tendrils. This plant is a tenacious grower, reaching up to 100 feet in length. English ivy is also an excellent air purifier and a great plant for hanging planters.

You definitely have seen a spider plant perched in someone’s home before with long, grass-like leaves that protrude from the plant’s center. The leaves are green with cream edges, a signature that makes spider plants easy to identify. Preferring indirect light, being resilient growers, and air purifiers make them incredible indoor plants.

Snake plant on the other hand have 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 easy house plant.

Peace lilies provide rooms with an air of serenity and elegance. The pure white flowers that blossom are absolutely gorgeous, featuring a yellow center framed by a pure white flame. Keep in mind, unless you grow your peace lily in a spot in your house with direct sunlight it will not bloom.

Do The Right Thing!

Now that you know different plants have different requirements, you’re set to start caring for your beautiful plants. Between soil variations, lighting issues, and watering schedules you may feel overwhelmed but don’t worry! Indoor plants are a great way to start off your green thumb.

If you have any questions leave a comment below! Happy gardening!