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The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

Are you wondering why your houseplants decline and oftentimes die after caring for them? Learn the secret to keeping houseplants alive with this simple tip!


While we could chat about a number of ways to keeping houseplants alive, there is one BIG thing we do wrong without even realizing it.

Over-watering.

Did you know that the number one houseplant killer is over-watering?

Yep.

Rethinking how we water our plants will save a lot of heartaches when a houseplant succumbs to pest and disease problems.

It is so important not to allow plants to sit in soggy roots.

Why?

Because soggy roots promote pest and disease problems.

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Why Are My Indoor Plants Dying?

The biggest reason indoor plants die is from overwatering them.

It’s a common mistake that is very easy to fix. So don’t sweat it if this has happened to you.

It’s happened to the best of us at some point or another in our gardening lives so now, we learn from what we are doing wrong.

So we need to reframe our thinking to change our approach to houseplant care.

Keep houseplants alive with tips from master gardener stacy ling

Keeping Your Houseplants Alive by Watering the Right Way

In general, and I do mean “in general,” water houseplants roughly 1x per week.

But this type of watering schedule may not work for all plants so don’t set that timing in stone.

It’s important to understand when a plant does not need to be watered.

NOTE: If you have succulents or cacti, water 1x a month or less. These plants typically thrive on neglect.

For my cacti and succulents like aloe vera, cacti, etc., I don’t water them much at all and almost leave them alone.

watering a chinese evergreen plant in a terracotta pot -The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

Why We Mistakenly Over-Water

Most people water because the soil looks dry or it’s that day of the week when they are scheduled to water.

The problem with both of these methods is that the soil where the roots are may not actually be dry.

And if the soil is not really dry, then plant roots sit in a wet soggy mess that promotes pest and disease problems.

So just because the top layer of soil looks dry doesn’t mean it is. And, the plant may not “need” to be watered on the scheduled watering day.

Garden blogger stacy ling watering chinese evergreen houseplant -The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

How Does Soil Retain Water and Still Look Dry?

Wet soil is very similar to a 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.

Doing the cake batter test to see if chinese evergreen needs to be watered -The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive
dipping plastic knife into to soil to check for dryness -The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

How to Determine Whether Houseplants NEED to be Watered

While I mentioned having a scheduled watering day could be harmful to plants, it is good to plan one so that watering is on your radar.

So choose a day of the week when you want to water.

Then check each plant using the cake batter test.

  • use a finger, plastic knife, popsicle stick or something similar.
  • insert it in to the soil about an inch down
  • if the tester comes out clean, it’s time to water
  • if the tester comes out with some wet soil, do not water yet
  • Re-check using the same process in another day or two if the tester comes out with some wet soil.

I know this sounds like a task but you will get to know your plants and their watering needs after a few weeks.

Pro-Tip for New Plants: It’s a good idea to use the cake batter test for the first few weeks of care so you get to know the plant and its watering requirements.

dipping plastic knife in potting soil to check for dryness -The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive
Removing plastic knife from soil to see if soil is wet while checking if it's dryThe Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

This Chinese Evergreen could wait another day or so to get watered.

The knife came out somewhat clean but there was some damp soil on it.

I’ll check it again in another day or so.

The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

How Do You Treat a Sick Houseplant?

If you notice some decline in your houseplants, start by cleaning the plant from dust and debris.

Remove any and all dead growth so the plant doesn’t waste any energy into them.

Get rid of any mold you see too.

It’s a good idea to completely repot the plant and give it a fresh start in new potting soil in a clean container.

planting palm plant in fresh new soil to revive it -how to revive plants

To clean your container, use 9 parts water to 1 part bleach and clean the container well.

If leaves are yellowing, the plant can be stressed from the following:

  • overwatering
  • poor drainage
  • too much light

Once the plant is repotted in a fresh container, keep it in a location where it can rebound and don’t overwater it!

And follow my tips for reviving houseplants after they decline.

Close up of Monstera plant foliage

Can You Bring a Houseplant Back to Life?

I always say if the plant still has some green foliage and stem, there’s a good chance you can save it.

Take a look at the roots and see if the roots are white.

You can revive plants using these tips.

monstera delciiosa by the koi pond

More Houseplant Care Tips and Tricks

Looking to Buy Houseplants Online? Shop this Post

houseplants, terracotta pots and garden decor on a potting bench -Potting Bench Idea made from wood pallet and has lots of terracotta pots with houseplants, flowers and potting shed sign

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The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

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24 Comments

  1. I’m a serial over waterer! Thanks for all the tips. I’m sure my house plants will be much happier now that I know this!

  2. Your site is so informative. I truly love it. I need to send you my rose begonia. Every year I love them when they are for sale in the plant nursery and then I get them home on the porch for a couple months and they just simply digress. I know that ‘s not really a house plant…but I’m puzzled by it anyway.

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  4. Stacy this is so helpful! I sadly just killed a lovely ivy plant. I think I over watered it. Pinned for future plant love !☺️

    1. I’m so glad you liked it! Believe me, I’ve over-watered plenty of houseplants – it’s so easy to do without even realizing it!

  5. Great to see your feature over on Welcome Home Sunday! I always love your gardening tips and seeing your beautiful home. Maybe you’ll rescue me from my “black thumb” status!
    Shelley