Houseplant Care Guide

Tips for Keeping Indoor Plants Happy and Healthy

Pothos houseplant
Pixabay

Houseplants can add color, beauty, and character to your living space! Here are a few key tips for keeping houseplants happy and healthy in your home.

To learn about a specific type of houseplant, check out our Houseplant Growing Guides!

Light

When arranging houseplants in your home, consider their lighting needs. Some plants require lots of direct light to thrive, while others prefer lower levels of indirect light.

  • Put plants that can tolerate full sun in south- and west-facing windows, plants that like partial shade in east-facing windows, and low-light plants in north-facing windows.
  • Most flowering plants need to be within three feet of a sunny window.
  • Most plants require 12 to 16 hours of light per day.
  • Rotate plants every once in a while to encourage even growth and prevent legginess.

Spider plant

Water

Believe it or not, more houseplants die from overwatering than from anything else! Knowing the watering requirements of your plants will go a long way in keeping them happy and healthy.

  • Starting in late fall, water houseplants sparingly until daylight hours begin to increase again in the new year.
  • Water plants with room-temperature water. Cold water can be a shock to a houseplant’s roots—like sticking your toes into an ice bath!
  • Use filtered water if your tap water contains high amounts of minerals or chemicals. Fluoride can cause the leaf tips of some houseplants, such as peace lilies, to turn brown.
  • Add a few drops of ammonia to one quart of water used for houseplants; it will improve foliage color and increase growth.
  • Water houseplants in unglazed clay pots more frequently, as the porous clay will absorb and evaporate some of the water.
  • Frequent mistings under the leaves of houseplants will discourage spider mites.
  • If your houseplant leaves are dripping, even when you haven’t watered, it’s trying to rid itself of excess water (a process called “guttation”). This makes a plant vulnerable to disease-causing fungi, so you’ll want to avoid this problem by reducing the amount of water you’re giving the plant, especially in winter months. Also, watch those drips because they contain salts, sugars, and other organics that could stain whatever it is they’re dripping on.

Humidity

Humidity is a tough factor to perfect, as most homes are fairly dry—especially in the winter. Here are some things to consider about humidity:

  • Many of the most common houseplants come from tropical regions, where humidity is naturally high. They will be happiest when the relative humidity is kept at 50 percent or higher.
  • Plants like cacti and succulents can tolerate lower levels of humidity.
  • Group houseplants near each other to form a support group to cope with the low humidity of most winter homes.
  • Set plants on shallow trays of moistened gravel to raise humidity. 
  • Occasionally turning on a humidifier near your plants can be effective at combating indoor dryness. 

Flowering cactus

Fertilizer

Most houseplants respond well to feeding, but be sure to follow the instructions included with whichever fertilizer you buy.

  • Too much fertilizer can be detrimental to a plant’s health, so don’t fertilize more than necessary.
  • In winter, feed sparingly or not at all; houseplants will be especially sensitive to overfeeding at this time of year, when most go into dormancy.
  • Come spring, start to feed plants again. This, along with more hours of daylight, will help to kickstart their growing phase. Continue feeding through fall.
  • A balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) works fine for houseplants, though fertilizers with a higher ratio of nitrogen will promote greater foliage growth.
  • For flowering plants, use a fertilizer with more phosphorous.

Pests

Pests can be a real pain. They usually appear after outdoor plants are brought inside for the winter, or when a new houseplant is brought home.

  • To get rid of bugs in houseplants, push a clove of garlic into the plant’s soil. If the garlic sprouts and grows, just cut it back.
  • Spider mites are apt to thrive in warm, dry houses. Frequent misting under the leaves of houseplants will discourage them. A solution of 1 cup flour, ¼ cup buttermilk, and a gallon of cool water, applied in a mist, is a good organic deterrent.
  • Small flies may occasionally appear around houseplants. These are called fungus gnats and are harmless to plants (and humans) in their adult form, though their larvae can damage young roots. Letting the soil dry out a bit between waterings can discourage fungus gnats from calling your houseplants home.
  • Your houseplants may sprout bugs once brought inside your house because they no longer have outdoor predators.
  • Remove aphids from houseplants with a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water and add a drop of dishwashing detergent. Apply this to troubled plants with a soft brush.
  • Mealybugs and scale are commonly seen on houseplants. The mixture of rubbing alcohol, water, and dishwashing detergent outlined above works on mealybugs and scale, too. Regular monitoring of your houseplants is key to beating an infestation.

Begonia

Wintertime Houseplant Care

Even indoors, winter conditions can be tough on plants. Fewer hours of sunlight, drier air, and cooler indoor temperatures can take their toll, so be prepared.

  • In colder regions, houseplants that have been outside for the summer should be brought in at the end of of July. A sudden cold spell will be too much of a shock for them to survive. This is also a good time to take cuttings.
  • It’s also good to bring in plants before you start heating your home. This gives them a chance to adjust. Wash them thoroughly before bringing them in to rid them of any pests.
  • You can dig up your rosemary, basil, tarragon, oregano, marjoram, English thyme, parsley, and chives to grow them inside as houseplants. Keep them in a cool, sunny spot, and allow the soil to dry out before watering. Snip off the leaves as needed in the kitchen, but do not strip them completely.
  • Divide and re-pot any pot-bound plants so they will grow well during spring and summer. Prune judiciously to create a compact, attractive specimen.
  • Provide extra protection to houseplants on windowsills if it is very cold. Place cardboard between the plants and the glass. Be sure the plants don’t touch the windowpanes.
  • As houseplants are growing more slowly in December light, cut down on watering by half until active growth resumes. Hold off on fertilizing as well.
  • If your plants seem a little worse for the wear after winter ends, provide them with more sunlight, fresh air, and frequent bathing.

More Houseplant Care Tips

  • Save the water from cooking pasta. Let it cool, then use it to water houseplants. The plants will appreciate the starchy supplement. (If the soil of your houseplants get algae, loosen the dirt in your pots periodically.)
  • Open the doors and windows when temperatures permit to give your house a change of air. This will benefit you and your houseplants.
  • Re-invigorate your houseplants by removing the top ¼ inch of soil and top-dressing with fresh potting soil.
  • If your houseplants’ leaves grow dusty, gently wipe them down with a wet paper towel. Too much dust can clog a plant’s stomata (pores), making it harder for the plant to “breathe.”

Do you have any tips for taking care of houseplants? Share them in the comments below!

Reader Comments

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Mealybugs and scale insects on cacti

SEEKING: I would like to know how to PREVENT and TREAT scale insects and mealybugs.

PROBLEM: I have noticed mealybugs on one cactus and scale insects on at least two - potentially three - others. I have isolated these three - potentially four - plants from the rest of my plants. The plant with mealybugs was in a separate room and I made the initial mistake of putting the plants with scale insects in one room. I also have gotten a few new plants recently, most of which I've inspected for pests, but some of which I haven't inspected.

TREATMENT PLAN (SEEKING ADVICE): Here's how I plan to treat the plants that have mealybugs or scale insects. First, I'll remove the infected plants from their pots and throw the soil out before I clean the pots with bleach and hot water. Second, I'll manually remove the pests where I see them to the extent that I can. Third, I'll cut off any parts that are too infested to revive (with cacti this is easy - it's a natural step in propagation). Fourth, I'll spray down the cacti with a solution of water and Provado, and even rubbing alcohol if I think it's necessary. Fifth, I'll allow the plant to dry off if it had pieces chopped off before repotting it with fresh soil and a clean pot. Sixth, I'll use the water and Provado solution weekly or whenever I water the cactus as a prevention plan.

PREVENTION PLAN (SEEKING ADVICE): To prevent pests in the future, I'm thinking of doing a few things. First, I'll inspect the plant before taking it to see if I notice anything - looking at its surface and toying around with the topsoil. Second, once the plant is home, I'll remove it from its pot and soil, inspect the entire plant (root included) to see if I notice any pests. Thirdly, I'll then pot it in a newly-cleaned pot - cleaned with bleach and hot water - and fresh soil. And lastly, when I water it next, I'll use a solution of water, rubbing alcohol, and Provado just to be safe.

QUESTIONS: Are there things to improve in my treatment or prevention plans? Is there anything I should know? Is it possible to rid your plants of mealybugs and scale insects?

Treatment & Prevention Tips

Your plan sounds good overall. Here are a few notes:

  • We are not familiar with Provado, so we couldn’t comment on its effectiveness as an insecticide.
  • Regarding isopropyl alcohol: Use a very diluted solution if you plan to spray your entire plant. We recommend a ratio of water to alcohol no larger than 5:1. For spot treatment, you can use a stronger solution.
  • Before you spray or wipe down the entire plant with your water-alcohol solution, test it on a small patch of the plant first. Let it sit for about a day to make sure that the plant has no adverse effects or that the solution is too strong. 
  • In your treatment plan, repotting the infected plants should be one of the last steps rather than the first. First, check the plants for pests and remove any that you can see. Second, use your water-alcohol solution (after testing it previously). Third, let the plant dry off and then remove heavily infested segments. Finally, repot the plant in fresh media and a clean pot.
  • Regarding your prevention plan: We would not recommend watering with any solution that has isopropyl alcohol in it. A solution of water and a horticultural oil, neem oil, or systemic insecticide would be OK, however. Use these products according to the instructions on their packaging.
  • As you know, you will need to be diligent about checking for new pests and applying a solution to the plant. Eventually, you should be able to beat them! Good luck!

So I have a ivy that I have

So I have a ivy that I have had for like 6 months. It's doing good. I was just wondering when do I know when I need to repot it. it's In a big enough pot right know I think. And i water it once a week. I just got aloe vera plant any ideas on what to do with that.. thank you

watering

If you keep aquariums, BEFORE you do a water change (freshwater tanks only) Dip a cup in a remove water to put on your plants. This will not only water them but give a nice very diluted boost to them. Shame to throw all those nutrients away. It is very the basics of Aquaponics.

Chinese evergreen will not grow

I have two Chinese evergreen plants. One plant is beautiful - it is full, tall, and continues to get new leaves. My other plant, which I got at the same time as the first one, will not grow. I have tried iit by every window in my house. It doesn't seem to like any of them and it doesn't like being in a corner either. I have let the soil dry out and then watered it and I have kept the soil moist - neither works. I have fertilized it and I have not fertilized it. The most leaves that it has had is three which is if by chance one leaf grows and then I lose a leaf so it usually has only two leaves. I do not see any bugs or anything else. I finally put it outside thinking that it might like the hot weather but that did not make a difference either. What is wrong with this plant??? I take care of it just like the first one which is thriving but this second one just will not grow. I don't know why. Can you help?

Lillies

I have some beautiful red Lillie’s that I’ve had for about 4 yrs. I moved and transplanted them to my new garden but for last 2 yrs. they have grown only about 6 - 8” tall. This year I divided them so I could move some. They all are flowering but I don’t understand why they’re so short. In my last garden they grew to at least 12 - 15” high. Some help please.

Best Bugs Repellent Spray for hydroponics?

around 2 weeks ago i placed some avocado seeds in water to see if anything would happen and one is cracking which is awesome however im worried about future bugs because that is the only reason my parents are against house plants perhaps is there a good liquid to add to the water or a spray to repell any bugs from coming

Growing Avocados in Water

Hi Jenny,

As long as your seeds are being grown indoors, you shouldn’t have any trouble with bugs. The only way insects could be a problem is if potted plants that have been outdoors for a while were brought indoors and left near your avocado seedlings. Good luck growing your avocado trees!

Mosquito plant

I have a mosquito plant that I have indoors in the soil I see little white bugs and little brown like worms what can I do to put inside the dirt to kill him

Mosquito Plant

Hi Nicole,

To start, try mixing a spray bottle of 10 parts water to 1 part apple cider vinegar and spraying the foliage and base of the plant ever couple of days for a week or two. If no change occurs, try adding the liquid of blended hot peppers to the spray bottle, and apply mildly to the plant. Be careful, as too much of the hot pepper liquid can harm the foliage of plants. We hope this helps!

Vegetables and House Plants

I have learned so much from the Farmers Almanac, just like a classroom.

Thanks

My Christmas Cactus

Hi. I need some help. I have a beautiful full Christmas Cactus that stays beautiful green year round but I cannot get it to produce its beautiful flowers. I water it only when the soil becomes very dry. Can you tell me what I am doing wrong and why I cannot get my Christmas Cactus to bloom year after year?

Christmas cactus not blooming

Hi Carolyn, Yes, there’s a real trick to getting Christmas cactus to bloom–which comes down to very particular lighting and temperature. Here’s at advice from MSU extension: 

Christmas cacti produce flowers in a cool, environment-short day cycle. To initiate the production of flower buds, there needs to be at least eight days of 16 hours of dark and eight hours of light each day. Wherever the plant is placed, do not turn on the lights at night, even for a short period of time. That breaks the dark cycle required. The temperature should be around 61 degrees. Avoid placing the plant where it receives either cold or hot air drafts.

Placing the Christmas cactus on the window sill in a cool room and not turning on the lights is all that’s needed. If the plant was in a lighted room, often the side to the window develops buds, but the lighted side of the plant does not. If the plant sets flower buds and then they fall off, it usually has to do with either receiving too much or not enough water or lack of air humidity. The good news is that Christmas cacti are considered relatively easy to get to bloom again if their temperature and light requirements are met.

Hard soil on houseplants

Three weeks ago, I re-potted several of my house plants, with indoor/outdoor potting soil, watered them well, and they looked beautiful - for the first week. Then they began to look droopy, yet the soil was still wet, so I figured it was the shock of the re-potting. Last week, when I checked the soil, it was hard. I'm talking ROCK hard, and the plants are still droopy. What could be the problem, wrong mix of soil? How do I fix it? I've had these plants for years. HELP!

Houseplants

Hi Vicki,

Without knowing the exact plants, it’s hard to know specifically what’s wrong. However, from what you’ve described, there are a couple of possibilities. It could be shock (most likely option) from the re-potting, or from over watering. Another option is that, if your potting soil is old, it dried out too much at some point and has become unhealthy. It could also simply be too well-draining, and not retaining any water. 

Sad clematis

my 4 yr old clematis grows several feet looking healthy, but then just as I think it is flowering suddenly it starts dying off from the bottom. After a while I see something is eating the leaves. they are full of holes. What is doing that and how can I get rid of this?

Houseplants

What causes the tips of leaves turning brown?

Houseplants tips of leaves turning brown

Usually, brown tips on the leaves of houseplants means that you’re not watering enough and watering properly. Water until some water runs out drainage hole in bottom or submerge pot in a pail of water for 5 minutes. Drain off excess water. Repeat when soil is dry to touch.

Trouble in the front room...

I have a massive window in my South-facing living room. Opposite of the window is a glass slider off the kitchen. My problem is this: I get tons of sunlight but the room gets drafty in the winter. I have tried so many types of potted plants only to watch them suffer a slow, painful demise...please help me find the right plant for my space! I'm hoping to find a large indoor plant that can live in a giant pot resting on the floor, as opposed to a smaller hanging variety. THANK YOU in advance for your help.

sunlight vs draft

We would advise that you eliminate the draft. The problem is not the plant; it’s the source of the draft, presumably, the slider. Even if that is your entrance/egress, you may be able to minimize the draft. Talk to someone at a hardware store or, if you know one, a builder/handy man. Some of these folks know all kinds of efficient (inexpensive) ways to fix common problems. We wish you luck! 

Brown tipped leaves

Brown-tipped leaves is often caused by buildup of salts in the soil. Salts are in H2O and can also be remnants of fertilizer. Water from the top drenching and let the excess H2O rum down the drain to help lessen this problem.

Kalanchoe potted plant

In what size pot should I grow my indoor Kalanchoe flowering plant. I just received a small potted Kalanchoe plant in full bloom. Should I transplant it into a bigger pot?

Re-potting Kalanchoe

There is no set size. It depends on whether or not the root zone is being cramped. If it is root bound, wait until it is done blooming, then re-pot it. Water well before disturbing it and be sure to break up the mass of roots a bit before replanting. A general rule of thumb: Use a pot that is two inches larger in diameter than the one it is in now.

cleaning plants in the fall

Hi,
Before bringing my plants in after being outside most of the summer, I use a tub of luke warm water and 1/4 c lemon ammonia then rinse with fresh luke warm water to clean off bugs and give the plant a boost. then transplant in fresh potting soil. So far my house has been like a jungle in the winter. This works with any plant that leaves can get wet. Don't do it with your African violet!

Forest inside

I know the feeling. Sadly I have 2 rooms with direct light and rook for plants. Watering is not fiun, dusting, cleaning and running Te vacuum is out of the question. Sadly the two rooms are my informal TV room and master bedroom. I am going to have to find room for 2 tropical Hibiscus plants and 2 mandevillas tis year along with the new house plants bought ad y others from last year that survived again. Maybe I can give them the house and rent an apartment for the winter. I need to find a HPA (House Plant Anonymous)!

Anthurium white spots in soil

Hello! Very informative site! I read through the article you posted about house plant "bugs" but I couldn't identify my type. My anthurium has very small white "dots" /"bugs" in the soil, not the leaves. I can see them when I water it. Any thoughts on what they could be?

Hi Dan,

Hi Dan,

Hard to say what you have in the soil. It could be thrips, spider mites or something else. Check the link below for more information. Repotting the plant and using good quality potting soil may help. Neem oil and insecticidal soap sprays may also be helpful.

www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/houseplant-insect-control/

 

Anthurium

Have had my anthurium/flamingo flower for 4 years. Has gotten taller and now has a leafless stalk about 4 inches high before the leaves grow- looks like bottom of a palm tree. VERY unattractive. Is this normal? What can be done about it?

Calahtea-Eternal Flame

Hello, I have bought Calathea about a month ago with three flowers on it. But after two weeks second flower also started fading, and last days there appear to be a lot of brown marks on its leaves. We have put it in room next to window. Not so cold. and tried to water it when soil gets drier. But I guess it is wrong. what should we do?

Thank you.

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