Are you interested in growing houseplants but think you aren’t good at it? Here are 7 ways to keep houseplants alive.
There are several benefits to having houseplants.
- They purify the air we breathe.
- Beautify living spaces.
- And are known to boost our mood.
Studies have also shown that indoor plants improve concentration and productivity as well as reduce stress levels which makes them ideal for both home and work environments.
Houseplants are great for all levels of gardeners.
And nobody has a black thumb.
I hear it all the time from friends and family and it’s just not true!
Once you have a good understanding of what works best for you, your inner green thumb will flourish.
When I was a novice, I had no clue why my houseplants struggled and oftentimes didn’t survive.
Through the years, I’ve learned what works, where plants thrive best in my home, how and when to water.
As my knowledge and experience grew, there are a few steps I take that have dramatically improved the overall health of my houseplants.
A little knowledge can go a long way, so let’s get started.
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Choose Easy-Going Houseplants
When I start novices with houseplants, I direct them to easy-care, hard-to-kill plants that thrive in a variety of conditions so they can grow their gardening confidence through small successes.
Unless you receive a houseplant as a gift, choose plants that match your lifestyle.
If you are the kind of person who wants houseplants but don’t want a lot of work, choose plants that can bounce back easily after some neglect or ones that don’t not need a lot of watering or light.
Of course, if you want to care for a fussier plant, by all means do it.
But for me, I don’t have the kind of time to devote to high maintenance plants, so I stick to the easy-care ones.
If you want to start greening up your home, here is a short list of some low maintenance plants:
Some Easy Care Houseplants that are Hard to Kill
- Snake Plant
- Peace Lily
- Cacti and Succulents
- Christmas (Holiday) Cactus
- Spider Plant
- Aloe Vera
Proper Light Conditions
Knowing and understanding your home’s light conditions and where you want to situate houseplants should all be considered before bringing a plant home.
In general, houseplants fall under one of three light condition categories: high, medium and low.
Once you have a general understanding of what each means and how they translate in your home, you will be on the road to success.
3 Types of Light Conditions
High Light: southern or southwestern exposure window.
Medium Light: east or west window with direct exposure or bright indirect light from filtered spots near a southern exposure window.
Low Light: north windows or indirect light that is several feet from east, west or south facing windows.
Oftentimes, homeowner’s site plants where they think they will look good, but not necessarily where the plant needs in order to survive. To achieve houseplant success, it is important to read the identification tag that comes with the plant. Plant identification tags specify light conditions, so it is important to read that tag before you bring it home.
Determine which side of your home has north, south, east and west exposure so you can choose better plants for your home. Consider where the windows are in each room and what light exposure it provides. Ask yourself if that plant’s light requirements are a match for the location you want to place it in your home.
After you bring them home, keep an eye on your plants for signs of distress because they will let you know when they are not happy with given light conditions.
Distressed houseplants may show leaf drop, yellow foliage or spindly stems.
When a plant receives too much light, it can cause pale foliage or leaf burn.
Houseplants sometimes show some distress after the initial move from a greenhouse to your home, that is normal. However, if a plant does not bounce back or gets worse, consider the light conditions it is receiving.
Tip: It’s a good idea to turn your plants every now and again so they grow evenly. Oftentimes, we leave them where we first place them and plants will stretch in one direction to reach the light causing them to look lopsided. Turning plants every now and again will help maintain an optimal shape.
How to Water Houseplants
It is so important not to over-water or allow plants to sit in soggy roots. Over-watering is probably the number one reason that causes plant fail.
Why? Because soggy roots promote pests and disease problems.
Oftentimes, homeowners water because the soil looks dry. This is not a good measure because container soil is very similar to a wet sponge. If you soak a sponge and hold it upright, water collects at the bottom while the top dries out. Thus, the soil surface may look and feel dry, but may not be dry where the roots are located.
If you are unsure whether your plant needs to be watered, do this test for soil moisture.
How I Water My Plants
In general, I water roughly 1x per week but I ALWAYS check the soil first. If the soil is set 1-2″ down, I leave it alone and check again a few days later.
I also like to do a monthly flush where I drop them in the sink or tub, soak them and let them dry before putting them back in their homes.
If you have succulents or cacti, water 1x a month or less. For my cacti and succulents like aloe vera, cacti, etc., I don’t water them much at all and almost leave them alone.
Tip: When you first bring your plants home, it’s a good idea to use the cake batter test for the first few weeks to help you get to know the plant and it’s watering requirements.
In order to thrive, houseplants need to be fed. I like to use a slow release fertilizer so I feed my plants 3x per year: once in February, second in mid-May and third in late August/September.
It feeds for about 3 months and keeps all of my plants happy.
I start feeding my houseplants in mid-late February so they can start waking up from winter dormancy.
Tip: Do not feed them any later than late August/September for that last feeding because we want to encourage winter dormancy. Winter dormancy helps houseplants acclimate to colder temps and less light. If you feed at this time, the plant thinks it needs to keep growing when it should start to go dormant. If you forget to feed them in late August/early September, I recommend skipping this feeding all together and just allow plants to go dormant.
Controlling Pests and Disease
Inspect plants for signs of pests and disease both at the point of purchase and when it’s in your home. If at some point you discover a problem, it is important to determine what the issue is before treating it.
The best way to narrow down a pest or disease issue is to identify the plant and research problems associated with that plant.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep plant tags, take a photo of them or note them somewhere so you can easily refer to the type of plant you have.
Houseplants on Summer Vacation
Like people, plants enjoy a good summer vacation too! When the temps warm up and the danger of frost is gone, send your houseplants outdoors to summer.
All of my houseplants double and sometimes triple in size just from the summer vacation.
They are much healthier year round because of that outdoor exposure.
In my zone 6 climate, my houseplants go outside about mid-May. I bring them back in before the first frost in late September/early October.
When I move my houseplants outside, I give them their second feeding.
During the hot summer months (late June-August-ish) when temps are 80+ and humid, I probably water them 1x per day when I water the rest of my outdoor plants.
An additional bonus to moving houseplants outdoors, is it adds a tropical element to outdoor spaces like decks and patios. Tropical houseplants give all the vacation vibes without ever having to leave your deck or patio.
Even in New Jersey.
Tip: when you bring houseplants outside, do not put them in direct sunlight or even partial shade. I’ve learned the hard way that it is too much light for them and the leaves burn – keep them in shadier spots or more protected areas. Some plants can take a little more light than what I am recommending, but as a general rule, keep them protected from direct sunlight.
I keep most of my houseplants under the roof awning so they are outside but do not get hit with any sun. They seem to like that best.
Moving Houseplants Indoors
Start preparing to bring houseplants back indoors around late September/early October before the first frost. Hose down each plant well and spray the undersides of leaves, remove any leaf debris, then let it dry out before moving indoors.
It is recommended to give them a slow transition from outdoors to indoors so houseplants can slowly adjust to being indoors. Experts recommend moving them to a garage, enclosed porch or something similar for a few days before moving to their permanent location.
I have to admit that I skip this step. Because I have a lot of houseplants, it’s too much work to move all of them from the back deck, all the way around the house to the garage.
Chris would eye-roll me to next Sunday if I asked him to move the heavier ones in that manner too. It’s just easier for me to bring them directly inside, give them the brightest light possible for a few days (southern window exposure), then move them to their indoor locations. This works best for me – do what works best for you.
Once they are brought indoors, check houseplants the first few weeks after bringing them back indoors for any signs of distress, pests or disease. A little vigilance can go a long way if you catch problems early!
Repotting/Potting a Houseplant
Many homeowners like to keep their houseplants in the tiny plastic pots they arrive in. That’s ok to do, but sometimes plants are pretty root bound in these containers. Root bound means the roots are getting tangled because the plants are outgrowing their containers.
When plants are rootbound, their growth is stunted and they may start having issues because they need larger accommodations. I don’t repot all plants I bring home from the nursery, but I do repot most.
To determine whether a plant needs to be repotted, look at the bottom of the container or lift the plant out of the plastic pot and check the roots. If the roots are coming out of the bottom of the container or are tangling around the inside of the container, the plant should be repotted.
The above is how I take care of my houseplants and it works for me. Keep in mind that I live in New Jersey and some of my houseplant care may differ from someone living in Florida. Consult your local extension office to see what to do differently in your state.
More Posts You May Enjoy
- What You NEED TO KNOW About Easy Care Plants that Purify the Air
- How to Care for Plants in Winter
- The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive
- How to Propagate Pothos in Water
- How to Propagate Aloe Plants
- Dividing Perennials
- Potting Bench Idea
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