Houseplant Care Guide

Tips for Keeping Indoor Plants Happy and Healthy Year-Round

October 5, 2020
Pothos houseplant

Here are quick tips to keep your houseplants happy and healthy. From knowing how often to water to providing the correct amount of light, we’ll make sure your indoor plants not only stay alive, but thrive!

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


Before you buy a houseplant, make sure your house can provide the amount of light your plant needs. For example, if you buy a cacti, you will need a window that provides bright light. 

When you first bring a plant home, it’s normal for the plant to drop a few leaves as it adjusts. If the lighting is to its liking, it will soon adjust.

  • Put plants that can tolerate full sun and bright light thrive in a south-facing windows (examples are cacti, tropical hibiscus, Lantana).
  • Plants that like partial shade or moderate light do best in east- and west-facing windows (examples are fiscus, phildendrons, and bromeliads).
  • Low-light plants in north-facing windows (examples are snake plants and cast iron plants).
  • Plants that require high light levels will do best under a grow light.
  • Most houseplants grown for their flowers need to be within three feet of a sunny window (examples, African violets, gardenias, orchids).
  • All plants require a period of darkness; light exposure should not exceed 16 hours.
  • Rotate plants every once in a while to encourage even growth and prevent legginess.
  • Plants become acclimated to a site so try not to move them from one light exposure to another; if you must, make the change gradual, if possible.

How do you know if plants aren’t getting enought light? The plant will not flower, show little new growth or spindly grow, lose its lower leaves.  

On the other hand, if the leaf edges scorch, or the leaves bleach out or appear dull, then the light may be too bright.

Spider plant


Believe it or not, more houseplants die from overwatering than from anything else! Most houseplants can not tolerate soil that is always wet. Some succulent plants (such as cacti or jade) can survive a month or two without watering. Learn the preferences of you rplants. 

The first step, of course, is to ensure the bottom of your pot has drainage holes. Otherwise, you will need to repot the plant.

When to Water

  • Starting in late fall, water houseplants sparingly until daylight hours begin to increase again in the new year.
  • The best time of day to water is in the morning, except when it is cloudy or rainy outside and there will no sun. Avoid watering on a fixed schedule; instead, check the soil and water when needed.
  • Water when the roots, in the lower two-thirds of potted soil, begin to dry. Push your finger into the soil of a 6-inch diameter pot to a 2-inch depth. If the soil feels moist, do not water. Repeat until the soil feels dry, then water. Push you finger to a 1-inch depth in smaller pots. (If it is not possible to pushing your finger into the soil, the soil may be compacted and need pourous material or the plant may be root-bound and could benefit from being transplanted.) Alternatively, lift the potted plant dry and then when wet. You may learn to “feel” its needs.
  • Starting in late fall, water houseplants sparingly until daylight hours begin to increase again in the new year.
  • Water houseplants in unglazed clay pots more frequently, as the porous clay will absorb and evaporate some of the water.

How to Water

  • 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.
  • Always water until the excess water drains out of the holes. Even plants that prefer dry soil should be watered this way (just not as frequently).
  • Water gently over the top of the soil; avoid water on the plant leaves or crown. A long-spouted watering can works best.
  • If water is not almost immediately absorbed by the soil, drainage is poor. Mix perlite, vermiculite, or sand into the soil; for best effect, remove and repot the plant in the amended soil, if possible.
  • Watering from the bottom can benefit plants, too. Set a plant pot (that has holes in the bottom) on a saucer or in a shallow pan. Pour water into the saucer or pan to about an inch depth. Add more water as necessary until the surface of the soil in the pot is moist. Remove the plant from the saucer or pan and set it aside to let excess moisture run out.
  • If the soil is exceptionally dry, water may not be absorbed but instead flow rapidly down the sides of the pot and out into the catch basin/saucer, bringing no moisture to the plant’s roots. If this happens, submerge the whole pot in a deep sink or pail full of water until air bubbles stop being released. Remove the plant from the water and set it aside to let excess moisture run out. Consider repotting the plant into a looser medium mix.
  • Mist under the leaves of houseplants frequently to discourage spider mites.


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.
  • Place plants in a bathroom or kitcehn where humidity is higher. 
  • Set plants on shallow trays of moistened gravel to raise humidity. 
  • Pack damp sphagnum moss between pots in plants.
  • Occasionally turning on a humidifier near your plants can be effective at combating indoor dryness. 

Flowering cactus


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 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.


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 in August. 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

  • Add a few drops of ammonia to one quart of water used for houseplants; it will improve foliage color and increase growth.
  • 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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Winter Watering for House Plants

During the winter months, when I water my house plants I use luke-warm water. I do reduce the amount of water I would normally water the plants, as we should during the winter. I find that the plants thrive better during the winter.

Winter Watering for House Plants

During the winter months, when I water my house plants I use luke-warm water. I do reduce the amount of water I would normally water the plants, as we should during the winter. I find that the plants thrive better during the winter.

houseplants: green ivy

I had one ivy that just grew and grew to the point of my own exasperation. My housekeeper helped me take cuttings which we put in glass jars filled with water. In no time at all they started growing roots which called for more pots and potting soil. Luckily I had a large window with plenty of room for these plants. My hint here is coffee. I started giving each plant some coffee at least once a week. They loved it! Usually this was leftover coffee from a mug that had gotten cold. Rather than my throwing it down the sink, I hear (or see) my plants saying "Thank you! Thank you!" It is amazing how they all thrive from this, even the mother plant which was in truth looking a little pitiful.

Peace Lillies

Is it recommended to use Aqua Globes to water my Peace Lilly Plant?

Coffee now plants

I have and Love my ivy plants, now some will take plum off but have a couple for the life of me won't die (which is great) but won't seem to take off. Now u say coffee, how do u use that in watering?

Dracaena Corn plant browning leaves

IT is one year old and the lower part of the plant where leaves are browning appears dull. I moved the plant from bright light to indirect light and water only once a week with tap water. Seeking advice and treatment plan.

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

The Editors's picture

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


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.

I started doing this also!

My plants have exploded and I think it's due to using the aquarium water! Such an easy way to give the plants nutrients.

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?


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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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.


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

The Editors's picture

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.


I was told many years ago to place the cacti outside after the danger of frost has passed. I place mine on my porch out of the direct sun. I leave it outside until we get some cold nights, usually around early October but that depends on the temperature at night. Once I feel it's been chilled I start looking for buds, when I see that I take my plants inside and place it at a north window for the light but not sun. My plants do well and the blooms are beautiful.

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!


The Editors's picture

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?


What causes the tips of leaves turning brown?

Houseplants tips of leaves turning brown

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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?