Caring for Houseplants

Caring for House Plants

Caring for house plants varies considerably depending on the plant, but in general, important factors to consider include moisture levels, light sources, planting soil, room temperature, humidity levels and the pot itself.

If you have any experience with house plants, you will probably be aware that over-watering can be just as damaging as under-watering. Always go by direct observation—never by scheduled watering dates. Check the soil with your finger to decide if it needs water. Most plants benefit from a watering cycle that allows the soil to become fairly dry between waterings. Depending on your plant, you may want to water by pouring directly on the soil and letting it drain from the bottom; by misting the leaves; or by setting the plant in a bath of cool water and allowing moisture to absorb upwards. Always allow plants to drain before placing them back in a non-draining pot.

Lighting and Temperature
House plants have different light requirements. In general, direct or semi-direct lighting from a window or skylight is optimal. Plants do best when they are exposed to light for at least 8 hours per day. If natural lighting is limited, consider the option of an electric spotlight (grow-light) directed at the plant. In this case, remember that fluorescent tubes are much better than incandescent. For green plants, choose bulbs with a blue cast; for flowering plants, try bulbs with a reddish cast. Because house plants must survive inside homes that typically are fairly warm year-round, most common varieties are actually tropical species. If you are having problems raising a particular type of house plant, make sure that it is suited to your indoor temperature.

Potting Soil
A potting mix is key to nurturing house plants—which generally do not grow well in outdoor soils.

Indoor Humidity
Most house plants are adaptable to a range of humidity levels, but homes that are typically kept at a very low humidity may be too dry for indoor plants. If your home is very dry, it may help to arrange house plants close together, where they can provide humidity for each other and to avoid areas with drafts.

While it is never a good idea to over-fertilize house plants, nutrient replacement is important at intervals. If you have a plant that is thriving but has been in the same pot for a year or more, it may be time to fertilize. Err on the side of caution: a good rule of thumb is to apply a dilution that is half the strength of the recommended mix.

A house plant’s pot is its home. Choose a pot that is the right size right now. An oversized pot will hold too much moisture for a small root ball, while a pot that is too small will crowd growing roots. A rule of thumb is that a pot will last for about two years before the plant outgrows it. There are porous (usually clay) and non-porous pots (glazed pottery, plastic, metal, etc.). Porous pots are a better choice because they allow airflow and moisture control. It is essential to look for pots with drainage holes at the bottom. If you want to display a house plant in a pot that is solid on the bottom, put the plant in a pot with drainage holes and then set it into the larger, solid po