Houseplant Care Guide

Tips for Keeping Indoor Plants Happy and Healthy Year-Round

July 26, 2019
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 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

  • 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!

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Reader Comments

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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..

Coukd this be a succulent

I believe this may be a succulent called, Mother of Thousands. You can Google it to see photo. Good luck!

Have a rose bush indoor gnats

Have a rose bush indoor gnats and I seen a spider. How do I remove

These pests are related to

These pests are related to the rose bush being indoors for too long. Roses aren't naturally indoor plants and many problems will arise as the mites won't have their natural predators indoors.
You may want to consider freshly repotting in a larger pot .You can also use a miticide such as Bayer's 3-in-1--or, just fill a bucket with soapy water (1/2 tsp dish detergent per gallon if water), and dip the plant upside-down to remove the bugs. Repeat once a week for at least 3 weeks (the mites have a 10-day life cycle), and maybe once a month afterwards. Mist your plant occasionally, too.
However, the main thing is to move your plant outdoors or in the ground as soon as weather allows. 

Brown Algae vs Root Rot

Brown Algae vs Root Rot Help

I was recently (6 days ago) given Purple Heart, aka Purple Queen, cuttings to root & pot. I left the them in water until they rooted, and they now have a brown algae all over the ends that were submerged. I removed them from water, rubbed off the algae and rinsed the ends. I don't see anything I recognise as a root, unless they are a thicker root than I'm used to seeing on a young plant? Is it ok to place them in a pot with soil? Should I dip rinse them with a hydrogen peroxide mixture first? Should I dip them in a rooting hormone? Is this considered root rot? Could it potentially spread to my other houseplants? Thank you in advance for your help.

I have seven plants 1 bamboo

I have seven plants 1 bamboo 1 giant amaryllis 2 bonsai trees and 3 calla summer sunsets and they have seem to be having white critters in the soil not on the plants themselves I don't see any on the bamboo but idk is there will be tho Wat should I do

We tend to use spray

The Editors's picture

We tend to use spray insecticidal soap (which you can buy or make) or Neem oil. Here is a good page listing the main culprits and what you can do, including more serious solutions: http://www.extension.umn.edu/g...

I give my plants left over

I give my plants left over coffee. Just add your coffee to some water, your plants will love it. I wouldn't give them cream or sugar, I'm sure they prefer very weak and black!

I have three yucca

I have three yucca elephantipes and since the summer they have been doing very poorly inside, I pfobably been overwatering them! What can I do? I repotted and cut down on the waterings and started giving them plant food every two weeks along with trimming off the dead leaves. What am I doing wrong?? Help!!

These are desert plants. Give

The Editors's picture

These are desert plants. Give them as much direct sunlight as possible by placing them in the brightest spot available. Allow the soil to completely dry out between waterings (this is very important). Good drainage is also crucial. Fertilize once monthly during the winter months.

Help. My peace lilly and

Help. My peace lilly and anthurium seem to be infested with little flies that resemble fruit flies. When I water the plants I see the bugs flying out.

Most likely you have fungus

Most likely you have fungus gnats. The gnats don't harm your plants but lay eggs in the soil. The larvae of the gnats live in the top of the soil feeding on decaying roots and wet soil.
Remove and discard some of the loose soil around your plants without disturbing the roots. Add fresh sterile soil and a thin layer of sand to the surface of the soil. Let the soil dry out and only water when your plants start to wilt.

Hi, I have this same problem

Hi, I have this same problem too but my plants are herbs. Should I be concerned about layering sandon the soil my herbs grow out of? I do use my herbs to cook with.

Hi, I have a Dieffenbachia

Hi, I have a Dieffenbachia and Candy Corn Plant. I have the same bugs but they started after bringing the Candy Corn in for Fall/Winter and replanting in a different planter. Is this still Fungus Gnats?
Thank you.

My house plant has tiny white

My house plant has tiny white bugs running around in the soil. None on the plant itself. Will the clove of garlic kill them or what else should I try? Thanks so much

It would help to know what

The Editors's picture

It would help to know what kind of houseplant as well as what the bugs look like. You might want to bring it in to a local garden center for identification.

Same issue me 2 its peace

Same issue me 2 its peace lily
Can u help

I have the same problem- the

I have the same problem- the little white bugs that are in the soil but don't appear to be on the plant. I don't' know what kind of plant it is, except that it resembles a bamboo like stem, the stems are brown near the soil, but they turn green as they extend. The branches are too limp to hold up (as a tree would) and it blooms pink flowers sometimes. I need help!

I bought an indoor majesty

I bought an indoor majesty palm an di planted them in a pot with potting soil.i cannot put it inside due to the smell of probably the cow manure from the potting soil.what is the remedy for this ?

The quickest remedy would be

The quickest remedy would be to re-pot the plant using a different type of potting soil--you might ask a garden nursery which brands have the least odor. Also, you might try adding coir or peat, along with perlite, to the new potting soil.

when is the sign in the

when is the sign in the thighs or knees to repot houseplants?

For June 2013: The Moon's

For June 2013:
The Moon's astrological place is in Sagittarius (thighs) on June 21 and 22. In Capricorn (knees) on June 23 and 24.

Saving the water from cooking

Saving the water from cooking pasta for use on houseplants made my day. I have never connected the two. Thank ya' for the great tip!

when can i move my mini roses

when can i move my mini roses into a bigger pot? when is the best time for that?

You can repot anytime--and

The Editors's picture

You can repot anytime--and should. However, it's best to avoid repotting during a very hot summer and better to repot in spring, fall, or winter. Don't expose the roots very long. Before you repot, cut off any dead blooms to just above a leaf attachment. Report, water, and then fertilize with a rose fertilizer every two to three weeks during active growth.

I love you guys, you are so

I love you guys, you are so helpful! I, too, really enjoy the therapeutic benefits of working with houseplants and coming home to my very own "forest/jungle", but have serious issues with aphids to where I have had to get rid of some because they had become over run with them to the point the soil stunk really bad. I am SO looking forward to ensuring this does not happen again once I start using this alcohol/H2O/dish soap mixture and the garlic cloves. Thanks again!

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