Houseplant basics include knowing what pots to use, how and when to water and repot, good soil combinations to use and preferable temperatures and light for your plants to thrive in.
Houseplants grow as native plants outside somewhere, but with adaptations they also survive very well inside. It is helpful to know where your plant is a native (tropical rainforest, or desert for example) to help it thrive in your house. Study the plant tag well before you bring a new plant home. If the care doesn’t appeal to you, choose something that you are more apt to be successful with.
Many people admire plants in others’ houses, but insist that they can’t grow anything. That’s not really true and anyone can learn to have a “green thumb!” Having a green thumb is really just about knowing houseplant basics, which starts with choosing an appropriate pot to put your plant into.
Choosing a Pot My all time favorite pots are clay pots. I like them for several reasons. Clay is affordable. It looks natural and it comes in a huge variety of sizes and shapes. Clay pots are porous so it’s harder to overwater a plant than if you were using a plastic or glazed pot, and most come with drainage holes.If you really like a container that is not plant friendly, put your plant inside a clay pot first and then set it in your decorative pot.
If weight is an issue, sometimes plastic is better because it’s lighter and if you are hanging your plant take into account the fact that a freshly watered plant can sometimes be quite heavy.
If your pot does not have a drainage hole put a couple of inches of pebbles or potshards in the pot first before adding any soil. Excess water will drain from the soil into the pebble layer.
If your pot does have a drainage hole, cover it with a potshard or a bottle cap so that water can drain out but your soil will not.
Houseplants are generally happiest in a pot that is about an inch bigger than their previous pot, and they will give you clues to let you know they need repotting.
RepottingHouseplant basics include understanding these repotting clues. New plants that you’ve just acquired often need repotting especially if you buy them in tiny 3 inch pots, as do plants that arrive in a crowded planter. It won’t be long before they start crowding each other out. If possible separate them into their own containers before this happens.
Gift planters are meant to look perfect the day you receive them. To achieve this effect, plants are usually overplanted and crowded to begin with. It’s not your fault that they never look quite the same as when you got them. Choose your favorite, and replant it in its own pot.
If you have to water a plant everyday to keep it from wilting, it needs repotting. If you see roots coming out of the drainage hole or winding around the rim of the pot and pushing out of the soil. It needs repotting.
If you haven’t repotted it in a couple of years a plant might need it, too. Check for roots encircling the sides of the pot. If there isn’t much soil left or it is root bound, it needs repotting.
If a plant that had been growing well starts to get spindly or just stops growing it may need repotting. So now that we know that what should we plant it in?
House Plant SoilThe easiest houseplant soil is already mixed for you and sold as potting soil. It usually contains nutrients for good growth and something to absorb excess water. It is an all purpose soil. Most houseplants will thrive in it, but there are some plants that prefer specialty soils so if you want to grow African violets, bromeliads, orchids or succulents look for a special soil labeled just for them.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can make your own soil mixtures, too. Try using 1/3 part sand, 1/3 sterilized garden soil, and 1/3 peat moss to start with. This is a basic soil that many plants will grow in.
You have already chosen a pot, covered the drainage hole or added gravel. Now add an inch or two of your fresh potting soil, and then gently tip over your plant and knock it out of its old home. Try not to overly disturb the roots, but untwist them some if your plant was root bound.
Set it in the center of your pot so that the crown is about an inch below the pot rim and then fill in around and under it with more soil, firming gently as you go. As I said before, an inch or two bigger than the old pot is all that is required. Too big is just as unhealthy for your plant as too small.
WateringWatering is one of the houseplant basics that can cause the most problems, but it doesn’t have to with a little knowledge of when to water. Overwatering is just as fatal to plants as not enough water, which is why choosing a good pot is so important.
Newly repotted plants should be watered thoroughly (Water until water starts to come out of the drainage hole-and then drain the plant saucer), and then set it out of direct sun for a week or two. Soil should be slightly damp but not sodden. Rewater when the top is dry to the touch.
Generally a thorough watering about once a week is good plan to go by. Water less often when using a plastic pot and perhaps more often but less thoroughly if using ceramics.
The humidity in your house will also determine how often you need to water and the dry conditions in a home that is running a furnace all winter can cause problems for some houseplants. Get a spray bottle and mist your houseplants every few days to combat this problem.
Houses that run their air conditioning a lot also have humidity issues. So check your plants to see if they might need a drink. (Remember the finger trick on the soil?) If your plants are near open windows they might dry out faster, too.
Another way to increase humidity in a dry house is to cluster your houseplants together and set them on trays of pebbles with a tiny bit of water in the tray.
LightVery few houseplants can tolerate full sun all day but a few can grow in fairly dim situations. Most though, appreciate medium or indirect light. You’ll have to do some experimenting but you’ll know when you’ve found the right location for your plant because it will thrive there. If you know that soil, water, and humidity needs have been met, feel free to move your plant around until you find a happy place for it.
Houseplants are hardy and adaptable. You might find that your plant grows well in a situation that wasn’t listed on its plant tag. Go with it and enjoy your success.
If it does start to look spindly or new leaves are considerably smaller than the original ones or yellowish looking insufficient light may be a problem, though. Move it and see if it improves in a bit.
If you have a very sunny spot try flowering houseplants and remember to water a little more frequently when a plant is flowering. Those geraniums you brought in from the patio will love your bright sunny window as will other tropical flowering plants if you keep them moist enough. Cactus and other succulents also like bright, hot conditions.
Sometimes I rotate my plants too so that they get more optimum conditions because there are only so many perfect places in my house and I have more plants than perfect spots for them.
TemperatureIf your windows are drafty, beware that some plants won’t like it-even if the light is perfect. If you can feel a draft, so can your plant. Most houseplants like temperatures that are comfortable for people. Some have special requirements to cause them to flower, but if you’re just interested in beautiful foliage you don’t have to worry about that.
FertilizerSince your houseplants are trapped in their containers, they can get no nutrients except for the ones you give them. So houseplant basics include fertilizing your plants. It’s really very easy. Buy an all purpose liquid fertilizer made especially for houseplants and follow the directions on the label. Many involve adding a few drops in water about once a month-not hard, right?
If you get more involved you might want to try making your own, or buying more exotic products (like fish emulsion), but its not necessary.
That’s about it. If you master these houseplant basics, you too can have gorgeous houseplants that are the envy of anyone entering your home. As always, thanks for gardening with Julie.
More Easy Houseplants
Return from Houseplant Basics to the Gardening with Julie home page.