Thriving houseplants make your home feel more alive. Their greenery and flowers bring color and life into the rooms — but they’re more than just pretty faces. Healthy houseplants can help clean the air and even retain humidity in dry climates. Keeping your plants healthy and happy may seem complex, but it’s easier than you think when you know a few simple rules.
Keep Them Watered Without Overwatering
To water or not to water, that is the question. Being able to gauge when your plants need water is the single most important gardening skill you can learn.
When to Water Your Plants
Because so many factors affect how thirsty your plants are, avoid sticking to a fixed watering schedule. Instead, water plants when they need it. But how do you tell when your plants need water?
The Old Farmer’s Almanac says you should water your plants when the lower two-thirds of the potting soil begins to dry, and suggests sticking your finger at least 2 inches into the soil to check. If you prefer not to get your fingers dirty — or don't trust your sense of touch — a soil moisture meter will give you an accurate reading. Just insert the probe into the soil, wait a minute and read the result.
Generally, the best time to water your plants is in the morning.
How to Water Your Plants
There are a number of different ways to water your plants. Choose one that works best with your routine and makes your plants happy. Air plants, for example, require a different method of watering than typical house plants potted in soil.
Use room-temperature water. If your tap water contains lots of chemicals, use filtered water.
Option 1: Water over the top of the soil - not from above the plant. Empty excess water from plant saucers to avoid root rot.
Option 2: Water from the bottom. Stand your plants in a saucer or tray and add about an inch of water. Add more water as necessary until the top of the soil is moist.
Option 3: If the soil is especially dry, completely submerge the pot in a bucket of water and let it stand until air bubbles stop rising to the surface. Set the plant aside to let excess water drain out.
Signs of Overwatering
Believe it or not, you’re more likely to kill your indoor plants by overwatering them than by underwatering them. Roots need to be able to take in oxygen. Giving them too much water can drown them and contribute to root rot. These signs will help you spot overwatered plants in time to undo the damage:
Droopy, limp leaves, often with brown edges or tips
Mold on plant stems
White, crumbly crust on the soil
How to Rescue an Overwatered Plant
Yes, you can rescue a plant that’s been drowned, but a lot of the advice is counterintuitive. Here’s what to do if you realize you’ve been watering your houseplants too much:
Stop watering them
Move the plant. If the plant is in a sunny window, it will keep trying to grow, but the roots aren't in any condition to support the leaves. You want to slow down the growth until the plant has a chance to recover.
Provide drainage. A lot of plants come potted in containers that don’t have sufficient drainage holes. Depending on the pot’s material, you can try adding more drainage holes with a drill or nail.
Repot the plant into a larger pot if you can. This gives you a chance to wash away the soil and examine the roots. Cutaway damaged roots — rotted ones will often peel off with the soil — and repot the plant in fresh, well-draining soil.
Only water the plant when the soil is dry.
Mist the leaves gently between waterings.
Give it time. Most plants will start perking up and looking healthier within a week to 10 days.
Keep Tabs on Humidity
Many of the most popular houseplants come from humid, subtropical or tropical climates. They thrive in high humidity — sometimes up to 80%. Others, including trendy succulents and cacti, prefer the air to be practically arid. An inexpensive indoor humidity sensor can help you keep tabs on the moisture in the air so that you can take the appropriate action to make your plant happy.
If the Air is Too Dry
Run a humidifier nearby.
Place plants in a pebble tray and add water to the tray. Be sure to keep the water level in the tray below the pots so that you don’t accidentally overwater the plants.
Group plants together. Plants give off moisture as they breathe, so grouping several plants near each other helps create a moister microclimate that will benefit them all.
Mist your plants regularly. That adds moisture to the air without waterlogging the roots. You’ll have to mist several times a day for the plants to see any real benefit.
Try moving your plants to the kitchen or bathroom, where there is more humidity.
Give Them the Right Amount of Light
One of the most important things to know about each of your plants is how much sunlight it requires for happy growth. Once you’ve determined that, you can figure out where in your home to place them.
Plants that need full sun are happiest in south-facing windows that get at least eight hours of sun a day.
Flowering plants, such as orchids and African violets, should be no more than 3 feet from a window.
Plants that prefer filtered light or partial shade, such as ficus and philodendron, do well in east- or west-facing windows.
Plants that like shady conditions, such as snake plants and cast-iron plants, will be happiest in north-facing windows or away from windows.
If you don't have a suitable window, or for plants that require very high light, you can supplement sunlight with grow lights.
If you supplement with artificial light, remember that all plants also need a period of darkness. Give them no more than 16 hours of light a day.
Feed Them When They Need It
Garden plants can grow their roots to find the minerals and nutrients they need. Because houseplants live in closed environments, they need you to provide food for them. Check these tips before starting to feed your houseplants:
Use a fertilizer that’s appropriate for each type of plant. This is less complicated than it seems — most houseplants will be happy with a fertilizer labeled 10-10-10. You can learn more about choosing a fertilizer for your houseplants here.
Follow the package instructions for mixing and applying the fertilizer.
Generally, fertilize during the spring, summer and autumn.
Stop fertilizing during the winter, when plants are in a resting phase.
Keep an Eye Out for Pests
Your houseplants can also suffer from pests and diseases, including aphids, whitefly and powdery mildew. This tip sheet from UPenn Extension can help you identify and treat common houseplant pests and diseases.
Modify Houseplant Care in Winter
If you live in a colder climate, your plants may need a little extra care to thrive during the winter months. Follow these tips from the Cornell Cooperative Extension to help meet their special winter needs:
Keep daytime temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and nightitme temperatures between 60 and 65.
Watch the humidity. Indoor air can be notoriously dry during winter. A room-temperature and humidity sensor can help you monitor conditions. If the humidity is too low, see the tips earlier for ways to increase the ambient humidity around your plants.
Move houseplants away from radiators, heat registers and cold drafts.
Water and feed less often during the winter
Watering, feeding, light needs, humidity — it may seem like a lot to take in all at once, but once you’ve got your plants settled in, you’ll find it becomes second nature. With the help of AcuRite monitoring products and your own instincts, you'll soon be taking care of your indoor plants like a pro.