Houseplant Care Guide

Tips for Keeping Indoor Plants Happy and Healthy

March 22, 2018
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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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.

My roommate recently acquired

My roommate recently acquired a plant with a crested gecko. She didn't want it in there any more, so I took it from her. When I watered it last, I noticed there were small white bugs about the size of the hole in a sewing needle in the soil. Two questions:

What are they?

How do I get rid of them?

About a third of my purple

About a third of my purple shamrock's leave are drooping. What do I do? I've thinned them out, but it keeps on happening.

Hi Gordon, Shamrocks need

The Editors's picture

Hi Gordon,
Shamrocks need watering about twice a week. Let the soil dry between waterings. They also need warm filtered sun at least 8 hours a day. Is the pot too small? If it is, you may want to repot the plant in a slightly bigger pot.

Thanks. They get the right

Thanks. They get the right sun and the pot is pretty good size. Other than that, I don't know what to do.
Thanks again.

Gordon's Shamrock that needs help

Shamrock's constantly grow new leafs, as well as lose them. It is just their cycle. But if you have had your shamrock for a long time ( year or two ) they sometimes form 'suckers' on the root system. Every few years, I dump all of my shamrock's, scour the pots with soap, and set them up with fresh soil for re-potting. A shamrock root should look like a 'corrugated' orange carrot, of sorts. Any suckers look like small gray rocks, and will be on the end of a long hair like root running from the 'carrot' root. Discard that sucker ! Break the 'carrot root' into pieces about 1/2 inch long and replant them. New leafs will develop withing a week or so. Enjoy your shamrocks !

Plz help me i have alot of

Plz help me i have alot of small white tiny bugs in soil and inside core of plant
Its peace lily
What can i do :/

I just brought in my hibiscus

I just brought in my hibiscus in for the winter. We are in Wisconsin. What can I do to ensure I keep it alive all winter.

Hi, Lois, There are numerous

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lois, There are numerous varieties of hibiscus; we'll assume you mean a tropical plant. The change of environment could cause your plant to drop its leaves. It's normal; your house is drier than outdoors. Humidity—not simply more water—could help recreate slightly tropical conditions. If you brought it indoors in outdoor soil you might want to replant it into a sterile medium designed for optimal drainage. Also consider giving it artificial light for about 13 hours per day.
That said, some experts advise giving the plant a rest by letting it dry out and putting it into a cool room for a couple of months (the darkest) and then bringing it back into a south-facing window, cutting it back a bit (above a bud or lateral branch), and restoring watering.
 

I have a split-leaf

I have a split-leaf philodendron who's leaves have a big black spot and it spreads and the leaves dies. What can I do to save my plant? HELP!!

It sounds like you have

The Editors's picture

It sounds like you have bacterial blight. Remove and discard infected leaves and make sure not to get any water on the healthy leaves and stem when watering. See link below for more information.
http://extension.psu.edu/pests...

Hello, About 40 years ago, my

Hello, About 40 years ago, my kindergarten teacher gave my mother a plant that was called a Johnny Jump Off or something like that. It had a main plant and then little pieces would fall off that would start new plants. I have searched high and low and cannot seem to find anyone who knows what these could be. Do you? They aren't a spider plant or hen and chicks. Best that I can remember, the little pieces that fell off of them had like 2-3 tiny leaf shapes in a cluster and the plant we had was just full of them! I would love to be able to find this particular type of plant. Thanks for any help or assistance you might have!

Its called a (Hen and

Its called a (Hen and chickens, Chlorophytum comosum) Plant hope that would help :)

They weren't hen and chicks

They weren't hen and chicks or spider plants...something different. Thank you for your suggestion though!

You may be looking for a

You may be looking for a Mexican Hat plant as I know them.

Hello, The Mexican Hat Plant

Hello,
The Mexican Hat Plant isn't quite it-this one never flowered. But that is closer than anyone has gotten! (and I have looked off and on for many years!)
Thank you so much for responding. I truly appreciate it.
Teresa

I grew up calling it a mother

I grew up calling it a mother plant, Google has given me good results with that name. Hope it helps.

Thank you Kyndel, I will try

Thank you Kyndel, I will try that and see if I can find what I'm looking for that way!

We had same plants in our

We had same plants in our front flower bed about 65 years ago and my mother called it Johnny jump ups. I have seen packs of seeds at places like Home Depot and walmart.

Mystery plant that turned in

Mystery plant that turned in to many plants. Sounds similar to what you are talking about. I do not however know the name of it. Did you ever find out what it's called?
To give you a better idea of my plant(s); I got a piece of this one out of a pot someone had that had hundreds of them, but she didn't know what they were called. I planted it @ my home and it has grown to approx. 4ft. tall. It looks like a succulent of some type w/ bundles of leaves that cluster in a flower shape going up the plant. Each leaf (I guess you would call it a leaf) has about 70 tiny green & black seeds that outline the leaf. The little seeds fall off very easily and wherever they fall a new flower shape cluster starts to grow! It's really cool. They even grow in my other potted plants outside and I end up with close to, if not over 100 little flower shaped plants. They even grow out of the tiny cracks in the cement on the walls of my stairs! Somehow the little seeds just fall off, land somewhere and start to grow! "The stalks are kind of thick and seem strong. People ask me: "how is that plant standing up so tall!" It just grows, no stake needed to hold it up; though it looks almost impossible it's standing that tall without something to hold it up. I have 2 that are tall like that, just growing like they are headed to the sky & in small pots too! everyone that sees it wants to know what kind of plant it is...but I don't know! I really wish I knew. I have so many of them. The roots come up so easily... I just say "oh, you like it!?" "Here take one!". My sister in law said it looked pre-historic! Honestly, I would be kinda afraid to give it miracle grow...it may take over my entire yard! Any help finding out what this plant is called would be very much appreciated. Thanks! -Maddie

Plant name

It is a maternity plant... I have to cut mine down every two or three years... It is inside and it grows to the ceiling..

Johnny Jump UPS

Tiny and delicate plant looks like a very, very miniature delicate pansy. Grow from seed in the very early spring, does not like heat. Mine always dies out after the first or second year. I have found it in some of our local nurseries and our local FFA nursery greenhouse grew alot of it for their annual plant sale. They add it to flowering baskets. My grandparents in eastern OR had alot it growing around their yard, we have grown it here in Northern ID but our soil is solid clay, prefers rich loamy soil and does not like heat. Good luck !

I remember a plant that I had

I remember a plant that I had that was called a "pregnancy" or "pregnant" plant. The baby plants just dropped off the edges of the main plants leaves and grew! You couldn't keep up with the amount that fell. This was years ago, but your description reminded me of that plant! Hope that helps! Happy hunting!

It's a Kalanchoe

It's a Kalanchoe Daigremontiana "Mother of Thousands".  It's also known as "Maternity Plant", "Mother of Millions", and "Alligator Plant".

Maternity Plant

My mother had these plants in a shallow dish on a windowsill when I was growing up. All of our neighbors had them as well. After moving out on my own I tried for about 10 years to find one, as everyone who had them when I was growing up, had long-since gotten rid of theirs. They are bryophyllum. They used to be classified as Kalanchoe, but are not considered bryophyllum. My brother is able to grow them outdoors,year-round in Phoenix, but here in Las Vegas, I grow them as an indoor plant.

I have a panda plant and it

I have a panda plant and it is beautiful!!! One of the leaves is growing a new plant right now, it is just a suggestion to buy one of these...but I believe the previous posts are spot on with what you are looking for/remembering.

The plant your looking for

The plant your looking for goes by several names , it's sometimes called alligator plant , kalanchoe , mother of millions , or maternity plant .
Good luck finding one :) !! Try ebay , they have tons of them for sale on there and some with free shipping !!
They also have several different kinds for sale on there .
Good luck !! I hope you find some
Ellie

Maternity Plant

I would be happy to send you starts.... not sure how to get to you for name and address..

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