Small Space Gardening
How to Care for Houseplants
A few easy tips can keep your botanical family feeling loved, all year long.
- Pick the right lighting and soil to properly care for your houseplant.
- Check the top inch of soil before you water, and adapt with the seasons.
- Water your houseplants in the morning with room temperature water.
- Feed your plant regularly so it has the nutrients to thrive.
- Clean or prune your plant to keep it feeling fresh and lively.
Houseplants provide many benefits. Not only do they liven up your home with natural greenery, but some can also clean the air, reduce your blood pressure, and improve your sleep. But, your plant family is only as strong as the support you give them. Follow these simple tips to keep them—and you—feeling happy all year round.
Choose Plants That Suit Your Space
If you have an apartment with just a few north-facing windows, it can be hard to grow certain sun-loving houseplants without the help of a grow lamp. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of options—some plants actually prefer less light (have a look at our list of low-light houseplants for ideas). Similarly, if your home is more like a greenhouse, choose plants that enjoy this type of tropical setting, and not just when it feels like a holiday. Read the plant tag before you buy an indoor plant you’re not familiar with to know if your house is a match for its needs.
Start With The Right Soil
In addition to light, a houseplant also needs soil that resembles the environment in which it naturally thrives. Take a minute to learn about its native habitat and then nestle it into a potting mix that can give it the best chance for success. For instance, cacti like soil that drains quickly, while African violets are happier in something slightly acidic. Classics, like philodendrons, spider plants, and dieffenbachia, do well in a formula designed for container plants, like Miracle-Gro® Indoor Potting Mix. Once you’ve chosen the right kind of soil, make sure the pot it sits in has drainage holes. Without those, it’s only a matter of time before your beloved houseplant will get root rot, and that’s no fun for either of you.
Know When and How Much to Water
Because indoor conditions tend to be drier, it's important to take a few steps to maintain moisture around your indoor greenery. Think of it as a spa day for your plant.
- Check the soil. Before watering, do a moisture check by sticking your finger at least 1 inch deep into the soil. If it feels dry, water your plant. Another option is to place a wooden stick in the soil, such as a plain chopstick or a popsicle stick. Leave it there for 10 minutes, then remove it and check to see if the stick is damp. If not, it's time to water.
- Maintain moisture. Water your plant with a longneck watering can so you’re able to reach the center of the container. Use room temperature water, and pour enough so that some comes out of the drainage holes and into the saucer or tray underneath. An hour later, remove any water in the saucer so your plant isn’t oversaturated (plants don’t like sitting around with a wet bottom, either). For best results, water in the morning so the soil has a chance to dry out during the day (if your plant sits in wet soil for too long, it can develop root rot). To help maintain soil moisture, you can also place a little moss, mulch, or even some pebbles around the base of your plant.
- Water with the seasons. Even though it’s in a relatively stable environment indoors, your houseplant's water needs will still vary with the seasons. Most, though not all, tend to grow more rapidly in spring and summer, and slow down in fall and winter. Know its growth spurts and give it a drink only when it needs it.
- Avoid over-watering. As much as we like to stay hydrated, houseplants are a little different. Overwatering can block airflow, which causes our favorite antagonist—root rot—to take over. Too much water is a common mistake, so don’t be hard on yourself if this happens. Just stay on the lookout for yellowing leaves, wilting, or drooping, all of which tend to be signs of stress from overwatering. If you see these symptoms or it’s not looking its usual perky self, try drying out your plant or repotting it in fresh soil.
Create a Feeding Schedule
Houseplants need nutrients, so feed them regularly so they won’t get hangry and to help keep them growing strong and lush. Make things easy by choosing an excellent all-around indoor plant food, like Miracle-Gro® Indoor Plant Food. Or, use one specifically designed for your plant's nutritional needs, such as Miracle-Gro® Succulent Plant Food. Whichever you choose, be sure to follow the label directions; it will also let you know if you need to take it down a notch during the colder months. Even though your plant is indoors, its growth ebbs and flows with seasonal changes, so it may not need as much food during winter.
Clean, Groom, or Prune
Depending on your houseplant, it may need a little polishing or pruning. Broad-leaf varieties, like monstera deliciosa, appreciate a light dusting every now and then. You can wipe its leaves with a damp cloth or a feather duster. Other plants, like Boston ferns, need pruning when their fronds dry up. And others, such as pothos, do well with re-shaping if you like it to look a little bushier. Keep in mind there are also plants that don’t like to be messed with much (we’re looking at you, fiddle leaf fig), so know what your houseplant enjoys before you go at it with a duster or scissors.
Plants really are like people in that some of their needs might be a little unique, but they all appreciate basic TLC. They will show it if they’re not feeling so great, or seem peppy if they’re happy. Look after your plants and they will look after you. That’s what family’s for!