Do you have a hard time keeping your houseplants alive? Or find that they never seem to thrive like the ones you see online? With a little homework and consistency, anyone can have a thriving indoor jungle and no sorcery or magic touch needed!
Maintaining indoor plants can seem overwhelming at first, but for the most part, many of them have the same basic needs. The key is lots of patience, letting them adjust to their new surroundings, avoiding overwatering and weekly monitoring.
Even though I live in Alberta, Canada where we have several months of short winter days, I’ve still got a house full of thriving potted plants ranging from tropical varieties to cacti.
This guide to indoor plant care for beginners shares my most helpful tips to help your houseplants thrive no matter where you live.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may make a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
1. Take 5 Minutes and Research the Plant Before You Buy It
Before you bring home your new plant, take a few minutes and do a quick Google search for your plant and its needs.
Some trendy plants, like the Pink Princess Philodendron, are so gorgeous, but have specific needs that might be too much work for newbies.
Other plants may need huge amounts of humidity or long periods of bright light. If you live in a northern climate (like me in Canada), chances are your home’s air will be too dry and the only way tropical plants will survive is if you use a humidifier.
Other plants will do just fine in low light conditions. Some plants need particular soil, like cacti and succulents, which needs specific well-draining soil.
Knowing the specific, non-negotiable needs of a plant before you bring it home can prevent future frustration!
2. Don’t Re-pot it Right Away
When you first bring home your new plant from the greenhouse, keep it in it’s nursery/grow pot for a while.
It’s been growing in perfect greenhouse conditions for some time, so bringing it home will be enough of a shock at first. Allow your new houseplant to get used to its new home and adjust.
Plus, more indoor plants like being snug and rootbound than you would think.
I kept my Monstera in its nursery pot for a year before I repotted it.
3. Don’t Move it Around the House
Part of allowing your indoor plant to acclimate to your home also means leaving it alone in one spot for a while.
Most plants don’t like to be moved around, especially the Fiddle Leaf Fig and rubber tree, especially the variegated kind.
Once you’ve determined the type of light it needs, choose a spot and leave it alone! Try to leave it in one spot for at least a month before moving it somewhere else if you think it needs a better spot.
Tip – most plants will thrive with bright, indirect light. This usually means soft morning light and gentle evening sun.
4. Give it Less Water Than You Think
One of the biggest mistakes people make when caring for plants indoors is overwatering them! Most plants will generally do way better with too little water than too much.
Think of it this way – it’s always easier to give them more water than to take away too much water.
Compared to outdoor plants, indoor plants are dealing with less direct sunlight and heat, and no wind – meaning they don’t dry out as fast.
You can usually tell the difference between overwatering and underwatering pretty easily. If the plant foliage and stems are limp and wilted looking, this means it’s suffering from too much water (especially if the soil is still damp or moist).
Conversely, if the leaves feel crispy, dry or delicate, then this is a signal that your plant needs more water.
5. Check the Soil Before Watering Instead of Watering on a Schedule
Most plants like a good watering when their soil is dry about 1-2 inches down. Stick your finger in to your first knuckle or so and if it feels dry and very little dirt sticks to your fingers, it’s time for a drink.
6. Try Bottom Watering
My best indoor plant watering tip is to water it from the bottom! A lot of plants will do much better with bottom watering. If you know your plant has a long root system, or if it’s a more mature plant, this method works wonders.
However, this only works with plants that have a few drainage holes on the bottom. Just fill a plastic tub with a few inches of water and place your pots in it.
Let them sit for about 15 minutes to soak up the water that it needs and that’s it!
7. Tap Water Isn’t the Best (but it’s better than nothing)
Ideally, distilled water is the best way to water your plants. Tap water contains chlorine and fluoride which aren’t necessary for your plants and will eventually leave a residue build up in the soil.
You can, however, boil your tap water or let it sit out on the counter for about 24 hours to ensure there are no traces of chlorine or fluoride.
That being said, the best water to provide your plants is the water you can access!
Paying for and finding bottles of distilled water can get expensive and tiresome, so don’t sweat it if you only use tap water.
8. Humidity Hacks
Bring your tropical loving plants in the shower with you! Seriously.
Once a week, bring your plants into the bathroom and as soon as you get out of the shower, throw them in there and then close the door behind you. Leave them like that for a couple hours.
You should also group humidity-loving plants together. This will help them produce and soak up more humidity compared to being placed somewhere by themselves.
You can try misting your plants, but you’d have to do this almost everyday. For your tropical plants to really survive (and stay healthy to be less susceptible to plants), you do need your humidity level to be above 50%.
This is why I always recommend investing in a humidifier. Having consistent and proper levels of humidity is one of the best things you can do to care for your indoor plants.
I love this humidifier on Amazon because it’s small, quiet and runs for quite a while before it needs to be filled again.
Also, it seems to go on sale often!
9. You Can Soak the Roots if You’ve (accidentally) Neglected Watering
If you’ve missed waterings for a bit and they’re looking dry and crispy – you might still be able to save your plants.
As long as they’re still young and small-ish (no bigger than 6-8 inches), gently pull them out of their pots. Place the entire root ball in a bowl of water for about 15 minutes to give the roots a really good soak.
Then, lay it out to dry for a full day or 24 hours before putting it back in its pot. The roots will be very saturated so you don’t want to place them back in the soil and have the moisture be trapped.
I’ve had many recover this way. Sometimes there is new growth growing among the dead stems that you might not be able to see.
It doesn’t always bring them back to life, but it’s worth a try.
10. Use Clay or Terracotta Pots
Using a clay pot is probably the easiest trick to growing indoor plants and keeping them healthy.
They dry out the soil faster by pulling away excess moisture from the soil.
Most beginner houseplant parents tend to over water their plants at first, so using a terracotta pot (instead of plastic or metal) is like an added step of protection.
Plus, when you use a clay pot, it’s easy to tell when your plant needs water. The soil will start to pull away from the sides of the pot.
Read more about choosing the best type of clay pots here.
11. Use Pots with Drainage Holes
There are so many adorable pots to choose from these days, but for some reason, many do not have drainage holes. Ideally, find a pot with a drainage hole and a matching saucer underneath.
This makes watering so much easier, so that you don’t have to move all your plants over to the sink when it’s time for watering.
And once you start to have multiple plants (or dozens), you’ll really wish you had saucers!
If you don’t have matching saucers, I keep a pile of different sizes of plastic saucers to keep underneath.
When you do find the perfect decorative pot that doesn’t have drainage holes, just keep the plant in a nursery pot and place it inside.
I don’t recommend using rocks or pebbles on the bottom of your pot for drainage. The water will still be trapped in the bottom of your pot and over time this will cause too much build up of moisture. In larger pots for houseplants that require a lot of sunlight, you might see success using pieces of old terracotta pots.
12. Size of Pot is Important
Most indoor plants do well in a pot that’s only about an inch or two wider and deeper than it’s current pot or rootball size.
Repotting houseplants in pots that are too big is a commonly overlooked problem.
Bigger pots hold more soil which means it will hold more water than it needs. This usually leads to root rot. Many plants do not do well in soil that stays wet or moist.
This is when fungus gnats and other disease can happen.
As long as it continues to produce new growth, you should keep it in its current pot. If you’ve had your plant for a while (2 or more years) and growth has become stagnant, it’s time for a slightly bigger pot.
Or when you see roots growing out the bottom, it’s time to size up!
13.Fertilizer is the Key to Success
If you’ve ever been envious of a friend who seems to have a house full of luscious plants – it’s because they are using fertilizer or some type of plant food boost.
Water and sunlight will keep your plants alive, but you need to give them some food to see them thrive.
When you’re first starting out, it doesn’t matter what type of fertilizer you use, as long as it’s formulated for houseplants.
I do recommend finding one that contains organic matter, especially worm castings.
Personally, I love using Fox Farm fertilizer (it’s easy to find on Amazon) and use it every other time I water in the growing season (spring and summer)
I’ve also had lots of success with a product called SuperThrive, which gives an added boost to the cells of your plant to help develop a stronger structure. I use this every time I repot or propagate a plant to alleviate stress.
It also helps minimize the stress from moving a plant and can help it if it’s in an area where it doesn’t get as much light as it would prefer.
Even adding crushed eggshells to your plants is an affordable way to fertilize them.
14. Regular Pruning and Maintenance Helps a Lot
It’s normal for mature and bottom leaves to turn yellow and slowly die off.
I recommend pruning these back to help direct more energy into helping your plant grow instead of trying to keep the dying leaf alive. You can do this year round.
Plants also like haircuts! Pruning them back can help shape your plant before it gets too out of hand.
For best results, if you’re going to do a more serious prune job (perhaps to do some propagation), this should be done at the beginning of the growing season (spring).
15. Choose Easy to Care for Houseplants
The easiest indoor plants to take care of are snake plants (sansevierias), zz plants and cacti!
First, snake plants and zz plants are perfect for low light conditions and don’t need much water. You can pretty much set them and forget them and they will do just fine.
A cactus is also a good starter plant because they need barely any water and will thrive in a very sunny spot.
Each of these plants will do well with some neglect.
Pothos is another great option for a beginner houseplant – they do well as long as they get a few hours of indirect light and the occasional watering. They’re also very easy to propagate from water if you’ve got a friend who will give you a cutting!
If you want an easy large houseplant, the Monstera Deliciosa is pretty easy to take care of and generally quite hardy.
Spider plants are also great and they’re fast growers. Plus, they grow very well from cuttings.
Do you have any other tried and true tips for taking care of your houseplants? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear them!