Welcome to your ultimate guide on keeping indoor plants happy and healthy!
Plants make our homes look and feel good. They can also boost our mood and even clean air.
But sometimes, they look a bit sad, and we wonder why. That's where this guide comes in!
In this guide you'll learn about:
Basic Care: Light, water, and other simple needs of plants.
Sad Moments: Why plants look unhealthy and how to make them happy again.
Pro tips: Little secrets from experts to make your indoor garden really thrive (and look like from a magazine cover)
Whether you have one plant or a hundred, let’s make them all thrive!
#1: Choosing the Right Houseplant for You 🕵
Embarking on your plant parenthood journey means finding the right green companion.
It’s more than choosing a pretty plant - it’s about understanding your space and knowing the care you can provide.
Keep reading to learn about how to choose and buy an the right plant for you!
Understanding Your Space
Recognizing the lighting conditions in your home is pivotal for choosing the right plants. Note the intensity and duration of sunlight your space receives through various windows.
Examine the available spaces in your home where plants could live. Be mindful of each potential spot's conditions, considering things like light, airflow, temperature, and proximity to heating or cooling appliances.
Climate and Humidity
Having a grip on your home's climate and humidity levels will guide you towards plants that will naturally thrive in your conditions.
Feeling overwhelmed yet?
Don't worry - more insights about light, space and climate at your location will be explored in the sections below.
Note: A critical point to always remember is to research a plant thoroughly before purchasing it. Each plant species comes with its unique set of needs and potential challenges. The more you understand about what a plant needs before you bring it home, the more prepared you'll be to provide it with a thriving environment.
Where to Buy Your New Plant
Getting a new plant is fun! But where should you buy one? Let’s look at some places you might go.
Local Nurseries and Garden Centers
Pros: Probably the best option if you have one nearby. You can pick your plant in person, examine it and ask workers to consult you about plant care.
Cons: Might be a bit pricey and you have to carry it home.
Online Plant Shops
Pros: You can shop without leaving home and even find some rare plants.
Cons: You can't see the exact plant you're getting and have to wait for it to arrive.
Supermarkets and Home Improvement Stores
Pros: Easy to find and usually less expensive than nurseries. You can inspect it by yourself to pick the best one.
Not So Good: Not many types to choose from and less advice available. Also if a plant has been in the store for some time, it might be not feeling well.
Pros: Sometimes you can get cheaper house plants or even free ones, and you might find unique species.
Cons: They might not be as healthy, and you have to meet strangers.
List of Beginner-Friendly Plants
If you are just starting your plant parents journey, or just want to keep things simple, consider getting these low-maintainenace, beginner-friendly plants.
1. Peace Lily
Look: Elegant white blooms and glossy green leaves.
Bonus: It tells you when to water it - just watch for a slight droop!
2. Snake Plants
Look: Tall, pointy leaves that stand upright.
Bonus: It’s cool with low light and being a bit thirsty.
3. ZZ Plant
Look: Small, shiny, dark green leaves on tough stems.
Bonus: Not fussy about light and doesn’t mind if you forget to water it now and then.
4. Spider Plants
Look: Arched leaves with cute little plantlets dangling down.
Bonus: It’s happy in various light and not picky about watering.
Look: Trailing vines with heart-shaped leaves.
Bonus: Super forgiving and can live in different lighting situations.
Plants We Don't Recommend for Beginners
Venturing into the indoor plants world is exciting, but some of them might give you a tough time if you’re just starting out. Here are a few plants that can be a bit tricky:
1. Fiddle Leaf Fig
Why it's tricky: It's a very popular plant ajmong plant parents, but it has really specific light and watering needs. It's also sensitive to relocation and low humidity. However, if you set your heart on it, make sure to learn more about it's light and watering needs before brining it home.
What to watch for: Brown spots and dropping leaves might happen if it's not happy.
Why it's tricky: Another popular option among plant parents. While beautiful, unfortunately, they are very sensitive to its environmental factors including water type and humidity levels.
What to watch for: Crispy leaf edges mean it’s not quite right.
Why it's tricky: Prone to pests and needs a good bit of sunlight.
What to watch for: Yellow leaves, wilting flowers and pests infestations are common issues.
Why it's tricky: Special watering, special potting soil and light conditions are a must.
What to watch for: Wilting flowers or soft stems signal trouble.
Why it's tricky: They need consistent moisture and high humidity that can be hard to maintain in standard indoor conditions.
What to watch for: Brown, crispy fronds if the air is too dry.
These plants are absolutely stunning but might need a bit more attention and specific conditions to thrive.
Ok, now that we've chosen the right plant for your, let's move to the light exposure.
#2 Light Requirements is an Essential Part of Caring for Indoor Plants 💡
Light, Photosynthesis, and Plant Growth
Importance of Light in Plant Life
Your indoor plants need light to grow and stay healthy. It's not just about letting plants thrive. It's about survival!
Photosynthesis is how plants make their food using light. They absorb the light, water and carbon diaoxide and turn it into energy in form of sugars and starches. Without this process, plants cannot survive!
Consequences of Inadequate or Excessive Light on Plants
Balance is Key!
What happens if your plant gets too little or too much light? Struggle, mostly. With not enough light, your plants can’t make enough food. They might grow slow, have yellow or small leaves. On the flip side, if a house plant is not acclimated, too much direct sunlight might also “burn” their leaves and stress them out.
House plants can be classified based on the light needs - low light, medium (or bright indirect) and direct sunlight.
But what each of these classifications even mean for you?
Let's break it down!
Identifying Light Intensities in Your Home
According to the University of Minnesota, you can distinguish 3 types of light exposure:
Definition and Characteristics of Low Light Exposure:
Low light doesn't mean no light at all. These are the places at your home that receive no direct sunlight and very little indirect light.
Low light ususally can be found at the north-facing windows (in Northern Hemispeher) or corners far from any window. These spots work well for plants that cannot tolerate direct sunlight. Most popular plants that fall into these category are Peace Lilies, Pothos, ZZ-plants, Snake Plants, and Spider Plants among others.
Bright Indirect Light:
Definition and Characteristics of Bright Indirect Light Exposure:
Bright indirect light is a light spot that is shielded from direct sun rays.
This type of light is usually found near east-facing windows, where the morning sun gently peeks in. It’s also present a few feet away from the direct light of south and west-facing windows. These spots are your go-to for plants that grow well in light abundance, such as Monsteras, Fiddle Leaf Figs, Hoyas, Calatheas among others. All your low-light indoor plants will thrive here too!
Definition and Characteristics of High Light Exposure:
High light means a place that receives lots of sunlight during the day.
These are the spots at south and west-facing windows where your plants will receive direct sunlight exposure more that just 1-2 hours throuout the day. This will be a perfect spot for majority of cacti and succulents as well as flowering indoor plants.
Additional Factors Impacting Indoor Light
Another thing to keep in mind is that light exposures will vary depending on the environmental factors:
Seasonal Light Variations
Throughout the year, the angle of the sun changes, and so do the daylight hours. This shift means the light your indoor plants receive in summer will differ significantly from what they get in winter.
Summer: The sun is higher, days are longer, and there's more light. However, this might sometimes be too harsh for your plants, and you may need to shield them from scorching rays at peak hours.
Winter: With the sun lower in the sky and shorter days, your plants might not get sufficient light. You may have to rearrange them to catch more light or consider supplemental lighting options.
It's also crucial to consider potential obstructions to natural light. Nearby buildings, overhanging trees, or even interior features like curtains or furniture can block light sources, casting shadows where you might not expect.
For example, south-facing window that has lots of trees growing in front of it, will likely mean low-light window.
You can also think of internal adjustments: Pulling back a curtain will decreas light exposure, while clearing the windowsill or having a white reflecting wall close to your plant will increase it.
Regularly assessing the factors affecting light conditions in your space helps ensure that your plants get their essential dose of sunshine, keeping them happy and thriving.
You can also find comprehensive lighting guides for many popular indoor plants here.
#3 The Soil Story 🪴
Another secret to a thriving indoor plant lies in the soil. Your plant's roots need the right mix of air and water, and getting this balance spot-on is essential.
Why the Right Soil Matters
Too much water, and your plant's roots could drown or rot, a common reason plants die. Not enough water - the plant will die as it needs the water for photosynthesis process.
The right drainage.
Correct drainage allows any extra water to escape, stopping the roots from sitting in water, thereby providing the roots to the right mix of water and oxygen.
Let's review the most common potting mix ingredient and how the impact the draiainge.
- Soil: Increases moisture retention.This is your base, providing essential nutrients and a medium for roots to anchor themselves. Garden soil alone is rarely used alone for houseplants as it holds too much water. Other component must be added to increase the drainage.
- Coco Coir: Increases moisture retention. This sustainable alternative to peat moss absorbs water like a sponge, ensuring that your plants’ roots are moist. It also prevents nutrients from washing away but similar as soil, holds too much water.
- Perlite: Increases drainage. Those little white balls in your potting mix aren’t just for show; they're there to keep your soil aerated. Perlite doesn't hold onto water, allowing the soil to drain efficiently and providing space for air, preventing root rot.
- Vermiculite: Increases moisture retention. While it looks similar to perlite, vermiculite acts differently. It holds onto water and nutrients, releasing them slowly back to the plant roots as needed. It's great for plants that prefer a bit more humidity at their roots.
- Pumice: Increases drainage. This volcanic rock is a heavyweight champion for aeration! It prevents soil compaction, allows water to drain freely, and introduces vital minerals. Your plant roots can breathe easy with pumice around.
- Coarse Sand: Increases drainage. Coarse sand improves the soil's structure and drainage. It helps prevent soil from compacting too much, which can happen with finer sands or heavy soils. Coarse sand is excellent for cacti, succulents, or other plants that thrive in well-draining soils.
Creating the Ideal Soil Mix
You can mix the ingredients based on what your plants prefer:
Succulents and Cacti: These plants favor a dry environment. Use a blend with plenty of sand and perlite (50%) along with some compost or coco coir (50%) for nutrition.
General Houseplants: Most thrive in a mix of compost, soil, peat or coco coir (70%), and a drainage-helper like perlite or sand (30%).
Store-Bought or Homemade?
While creating your own soil mix allows you to tailor to your plants' specific needs, it's not your only option. If you're new to gardening or prefer a quicker, more convenient approach, buying a ready-made potting mix is an excellent alternative.
These mixes are formulated to provide balanced nutrients, proper moisture retention, and adequate drainage to suit a wide variety of houseplants. Plus, they save you the hassle of sourcing and mixing individual components yourself.
#4 How to Water Indoor Plants? 💦
Water is an essential component in healthy houseplants' success.
However getting it right is where it becomes tricky. So, how do you hit the sweet spot?
Keep reading to learn!
Individual Plant Watering Needs:
Plants are individuals and have different water needs! While succulents and cacti thrive on minimal water, ferns and many tropical plants prefer their soil to be consistently moist. Research the specific watering needs of each plant in your care to create an optimal indoor plant care routine.
Factors Influencing Watering Frequency:
After understanding where your plant comes from, it's also worth to acess environmental and cultural factors in your home as they influence a plant’s water requirements.
Plants typically need more water during their growing season (usually spring and summer) and less during dormancy (typically fall and winter).
In high humidity, plants may not need as frequent watering, as the moisture in the air often compensates for the lack of water in the soil. Conversely, in dry climates or during winter in a low-humidity environment, most houseplants might need more frequent watering.
Most plants that receive more direct light or bright light undergo photosynthesis more rapidly and grow faster which increases their water consumption.
Some soils, like sandy mixes, drain quickly and might need more frequent watering. In contrast, peaty soils retain moisture longer and may require less frequent watering.
Determining When to Water:
The Finger Test:
One of the simplest yet most effective ways to gauge a plant's water need is the finger test. Insert your finger up to the second knuckle into the soil. If the soil feels dry at that depth, it's time to water. If it still feels moist, you can wait a few more days. Although this method is suitable for most indoor tropical plants, it's important to note that each plant may have its own specific needs.
If you need personalized watering instructions, you can find detailed guides here.
Signs of Over Watering:
While many factors can cause yellow leaves, consistently wet soil is a common culprit.
Black or Brown Leaves:
When plants take in an excess amount of water that exceeds their needs, their leaves might turn dark and soft to the touch, displaying a black or brown coloration.
Consistently wet soil can foster fungi that are harmful to the plant's roots. Affected roots become soft, brown, and mushy.
Mold or Mildew:
The presence of white, powdery substances on the soil surface might indicate too much moisture and inadequate air circulation.
Signs of Under Watering:
A thirsty plant will often have a droopy appearance, with its leaves hanging down.
Dry, Brown Leaf Tips:
While various issues can cause this, one of the most common reasons is underwatering.
Soil Pulling Away from the Container Walls:
This is a clear sign that the plant has not been watered for a long time, causing the soil to shrink.
Plants that aren't receiving enough water will often have no new growth as they try to conserve resources.
In a nutshell, watering is less about routine and more about tuning in to your plants.
Remember, attentive care turns watering from a task into an art, letting your indoor garden thrive.
#5 Fertilization Fundamentals 🧪
When it comes to houseplant care, one of the most misunderstood aspects is the use of fertilizers. Here's a breakdown of what they are, when to use them, and crucial precautions to take.
What Are Fertilizers?
Despite the common misconcept, fertilizers aren't "food" for your plants. Your plants make their own food by using sunlight, water, and air. What fertilizers do is simple: they supply the minerals your plants need to thrive. Think of them as a vitamin pill that helps your plants do their best at growing, blooming, and staying strong.
Major Nutrients: The Big Three and Understanding the Numbers
Every plant needs three key nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). When you pick up a fertilizer bag, you'll see three numbers. This is the N-P-K ratio, showing the concentration of each nutrient per pound. Here's what they do:
Nitrogen (N): Keeps your plants green and is crucial for leaf growth.
Phosphorus (P): Helps your plants bloom and supports strong root development.
Potassium (K): Important for overall plant health, helping your plants fight off diseases and cope with stress.
When to Fertilize: Timing Matters
You don't want to just fertilize whenever. A general rule of thumb to follow is to fertilize from March to November. These months are generally the growing season for most houseplants. It's like giving your plants a nutrient boost when they're doing the most growing. But always remember to research specific indoor plants needs.
When Not to Fertilize:
If your plant looks sick, don't fertilize. Just like you wouldn't want to eat a big meal when you're not feeling well, a struggling plant doesn't want a heavy dose of nutrients. Focus on finding out what's wrong. Once your plant is back to healthy, you can go back to your fertilizing schedule.
Always Follow the Instructions
Less is more. Always read the label on your fertilizer and use as directed. Too much fertilizer can harm your plants. Stick to the recommended amounts for happy, healthy plants.
#6 Pest Control 🪲
No houseplant parent wants to see their beloved plants under attack from pests. Unfortunately, these tiny invaders can find their way into your home and onto your plants.
Here's a guide to the most common pests and how to deal with them.
Common Houseplant Pests Types:
Aphids: Tiny green or black bugs often found clustered on new growth. They suck sap, weakening the plant.
- Spider Mites: Microscopic pests that spin fine webs on the undersides of leaves, leading to speckled discoloration.
Mealybugs: White, cottony pests often found in leaf axils or undersides, sucking sap from the plant.
Scale: Small, flat, and hard or soft-shelled bugs that attach to stems and leaves, also sucking sap.
Fungus Gnats: Tiny black flies that buzz around the soil, with larvae that feed on plant roots.
Where to Look for Pests:
Undersides of Leaves: Many pests prefer the leaf's underside, which is more protected.
Leaf Axils: The point where the leaf connects to the stem.
Soil: Some pests lay eggs or have stages of their lifecycle in the soil.
New Growth: Aphids and other pests often target fresh, young growth.
Immediate Actions for Affected Plants:
Quarantine: As soon as you spot pests, isolate the affected plant to prevent them from spreading to others.
Physical Removal: For larger pests like mealybugs and scale, use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to remove them.
Water Spray: A strong stream of water can knock off aphids and mites. Ensure the plant is in a place where it can drain properly.
Natural Pesticides: Before using chemical solutions, try organic or natural remedies. Neem oil and insecticidal soap can be effective against many pests.
Chemical Pesticides: If natural solutions don't work, consider chemical pesticides. Always read and follow label instructions. Use them sparingly and in well-ventilated areas.
Systemic Pesticides: These are absorbed by the plant and can deter pests for longer durations. However, they should be used judiciously, keeping in mind the plant’s health.
#7 Pruning and Trimming ✂
The act of pruning and trimming is more than just a routine maintenance task. When done correctly, it promotes healthier growth, shapes the plant, and can even encourage flowering in some species.
Let's delve into the details of why, when, and how to carry out this essential plant care practice.
Understanding the Difference
Pruning: This involves the removal of dead or overgrown branches or stems to improve structure, health, and appearance. It’s often done on larger plants and trees.
Trimming: Generally involves tidying up by cutting away overgrown or straggly parts of plants, typically on smaller houseplants to maintain a particular shape or size.
Why Prune and Trim?
Health: Removing dead or diseased portions of a plant prevents the potential spread of diseases and pests.
Aesthetics: Regular trimming helps maintain a pleasing and symmetrical shape.
Growth: By cutting back overgrown areas, you encourage denser growth and can often stimulate flowering.
Rejuvenation: Older plants can sometimes become leggy or sparse. Pruning can invigorate them, leading to fresh new growth.
Best Practices & Techniques:
Sharp Tools: Always use sharp pruning shears or scissors. Dull tools can cause tearing or crushing, which can harm the plant.
Cleanliness: Sterilize your tools before and after each use to prevent the spread of diseases.
Angled Cuts: When pruning, make angled cuts just above a leaf node. This promotes faster healing and can stimulate growth.
Know Your Plant: Some plants benefit from being cut back hard, while others may only need a light trim. Research or consult experts for plant-specific advice
When to Prune and Trim?
Active Growth Phase: For most plants, the best time is during their growing season (typically spring and summer).
After Flowering: For flowering plants, prune right after they’ve finished blooming.
Avoid Stress: Avoid pruning during times of plant stress, such as extreme temperatures, pest infection or when the plant is already in a poor health.
#8 Repotting 🪴
Repotting doesn’t just mean changing a plant’s home.
It’s about giving its roots fresh soil and the space they need to keep growing.
Here’s how to know when and how to do it.
Signs Your Plant Needs Repotting
Sometimes, your plants will tell you they need a new home. Here's how they do that:
Roots are Crowding the Pot: If you see roots are circling the soil, pushing against the pot, or growing through the drainage holes, it's time to give your plant more space.
Water Drains Super Quickly: The water goes straight through the pot and out the bottom like a rainstorm through a net. That's your the soil quality has worsen and it cannot retain water anymore.
Water Stays on Top: The water doesn’t soak in but sits on the surface or runs off the sides. It means that the roots are too there’s no room in the soil for the water to go.
Stunted Growth: If your plant stops growing, especially during its growing season, it might be feeling too cramped.
Roots Peeking Out of the Soil Surface: Roots should be hidden in the soil. If they’re creeping up and out, they’re looking for more room.
When to Repot:
The best time to repot is during the active growing phase in the spring or summer. That's when your plant is ready to grow, making it the perfect time to give it fresh soil and more space.
Choosing the New Pot:
Enough Space but Not Too Much: Your plant's roots should feel like they have room to grow but not so much space that they can’t absorb the water they need. So when you choose a new pot, go for one that’s only 1-2 inches larger in diameter than the current one.
Drainage Hole: This is a must. It lets any extra water drain out so your plant doesn’t drown.
Clean Pot: Make sure it’s free from leftover soil or plant bits. You don’t want any bad bugs or sick plant diseases from before.
#9 Temperature and Humidity: Creating a Comfortable Environment for Your Plants 🌡
Just like you, plants need a comfortable place to live - not too hot, not too cold, and with the right amount of humidity. Here's how to make your indoor space perfect for your green buddies.
Temperature: Cozy as Home
Plants prefer it cozy. While each plant is different, the majority of green foliage plants prefer temperatures between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 60 to 68 degrees at night. Another good rule of thumb is to keep the day temperature 10 to 15 degrees higher than during the night.
Humidity: Getting It Just Right
Here's where it gets a bit tricky. Some plants dream of tropical rainforests, while others are desert-lovers at heart. So it is important to do a little detective work: sesearch your plant's favorite humidity levels to keep them in their comfort zone.
If you found that your home humidity is too low, here are some reliable ways to boost it:
1. Daily Misting:
How-To: Fill a spray bottle with room temperature water (cold water can shock your plants). Each morning, lightly spritz the air around your plants, mimicking the feel of a humid morning. Avoid drenching the leaves or creating standing water to prevent mold growth.
2. Using a Humidifier:
How-To: Place a room humidifier near your plant collection. Set it to maintain a specific humidity level (usually around 50-60% for tropical plants). The humidifier will release water vapor into the air, creating a more humid environment around your plants.
3. Creating a Pebble Tray:
How-To: Take a shallow tray and fill it with small pebbles or stones. Add water until it reaches just below the top of the pebbles. Place your plant pots on top, ensuring they're not sitting directly in the water. As the water evaporates, it increases the humidity right around your plants.
4. Grouping Plants Together:
How-To: Arrange your plants closely together on a stand or table. As they transpire, they release moisture, which increases the humidity of the air around the grouped plants. This method works on the principle of creating a microenvironment with shared humidity.
5. Placing Water Bowls:
How-To: This is a simpler method. Place bowls of water near your plants or on radiators if you have them. As the water naturally evaporates, it adds moisture to the air. Refill the bowls as needed.
Frequently Asked Questions ❔
How often should I water my houseplants?
The frequency of watering varies depending on the type of plant, the environment it's placed in, and the season. A good general rule is to water when the top 1-2 inches of soil feel dry to the touch. It's essential to avoid both overwatering and underwatering. Always ensure your pots have drainage holes, and remember that plants typically require less water during their dormant phase (often in the colder months).
Read more about the best watering practices here.
What are the best low-light houseplants?
While almost all plants require bright light for fast and healthy growth, some species can tolerate low-light conditions, making them perfect for spaces away from windows or in dimly lit rooms. Popular low-light houseplants include:
Snake plant (Sansevieria)
ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
How do I get rid of gnats in houseplant soil?
Fungus gnats can be a nuisance, but they're typically more annoying than harmful. To combat them:
Let the Soil Dry: Overly moist soil is a breeding ground for gnats. Let the soil dry out completely before the next watering.
Bottom Watering: Water your plants from the bottom to keep the top layer of soil drier.
Diatomaceous Earth: Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth on the soil's surface.
Sticky Traps: Use yellow sticky traps placed near the soil to capture adult gnats.
Beneficial Nematodes: These microscopic worms can be added to the soil and will feed on gnat larvae.
Can houseplants really purify the air?
Yes, many houseplants can help improve indoor air quality. A study by NASA found that plants like Spider Plant, Boston Fern, and Snake Plant can remove pollutants like formaldehyde and benzene from the air. However, while they can contribute to a healthier environment, it's important to note that plants alone cannot replace good ventilation and regular cleaning.
What are pet-safe houseplants?
Many houseplants are toxic for cats and dogs, so it's always good to be cautious and ensure the plants you bring home are safe if ingested by curious pets. Some popular pet-safe plants include:
Remember, even non-toxic plants can cause stomach upset if ingested, so it's always best to keep plants out of reach and supervise pets around greenery. You can also find a list of most common low light non-toxic houseplants here.
20 Common Houseplants and Their Basic Care Requirements:
You've learned how to care for houseplants.
Now, your home can sparkle with green life. Light, soil, and water are key.
Watch for pests, feed your plants, and repot when needed.
Enjoy building your indoor garden. Step by step, you'll see your plants thrive!
If you enjoyed this article, consider pinning it to you Pinterest Indoor Plants board by clicking the image below.
Happy Planting! 🌿