5 Tips for Houseplant Care: The Basics of Keeping Your Plants Alive

Sorry cats and dogs, houseplants are the new preferred home companions. They don’t need to be walked or played with or given expensive food—but most importantly, the some of them are super easy to maintain and keep alive! The trick is knowing how to give them the right amount of water, sunlight and nutrients.

Many of you who have lost your prized houseplants are now thinking, "easier said than done." While true that different plants require unique expertise to keep alive, there are a few rules of thumb to follow that will ensure the lion's share of your plant friends flourish.

Don’t overwater your plants.

As we mentioned above, one of the biggest mistakes people make when they start growing houseplants is they overwater their plants. You should never give your plant so much water that the soil is completely saturated and water drips out of the bottom of the pot. Housesplants need a certain amount of water to stay healthy, but they also need to be able to breathe. If you bury the roots in water and they can’t breathe, they’ll rot, and your plant will die. So the trick is to find the right balance between not watering your plant enough and watering it too much.

Check the soil for moisture level before watering.

The best way to make sure you’re not overwatering your houseplant is to check the soil for moisture level before you water your plant. Ideally, you invest in a moisture meter ($9 and up at most retailers). Don't have a meter? Then try squeezing a handful of soil and if it feels dry, then you should water your plant. If it’s still damp or wet, then you don’t need to water it yet. Try to not water your plant on a daily basis, but only when the soil is dry. Watering plants too often can lead to root rot and other problems.

Give your plants the right amount of sunlight.

Many houseplants actually prefer less sunlight than you might expect. Many tropical plants are used to indirect light because in their native jungle habitat, the rainforest canopy allows very little light through to the ground. Some indoor plants that need high light levels include African violets, ferns, orchids and philodendrons. If your plant is in this group, then you’ll probably want to place it somewhere with bright, indirect sunlight, like near a window that gets lots of sun but doesn’t get too hot. Plants that need low light levels include aspidistra, Chinese evergreen, rubber tree and sword fern. These plants should be kept in partial shade or indoors, close to a window but not in direct sunlight. You may also want to invest in a grow light if your houseplants are still not happy.

Watch out for plant pests and disease

Keep an eye out for pests like mealybugs and mites, which can infest your houseplants and make them unhealthy. In some cases, they can even kill your plant. If you think your plant is infested, you can use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to kill the pests and their eggs. You can also purchase an insecticide to treat your plant. Watch out for disease on your plants, like leaf spots or blights. In most cases, the best way to treat disease is to remove the infected leaves. You can also try spraying your houseplant with a fungicide.

Add fertilizers to the soil.

If your plant is still not growing as well as you’d like it to, you can try adding a fertilizer to the soil. Just be careful not to overfeed your plants, as this can cause more harm than good. Start with a very small amount and increase it slowly, as too much fertilizer can burn your plant’s roots. If you’re not sure what kind of fertilizer to get, ask an expert (that's us!) or read the label on the product to make sure you choose the right one for your plant. You can also add things like coffee grounds or peat moss to your soil to help feed your plant.

Houseplants are finicky — ask an expert

The bottom line is, no two plants are the same. Like humans or pets, they require different combinations of help and support to thrive and grow. The above points are a great beginner's primer on healthy houseplant rearing, but if you have any questions, it's best to talk to your local nursery employee or plant shop expert. They're the plant nerds that have gotten your new plant baby to the healthy place it is today.