Houseplant Care for Beginners

by | Last updated Oct 8, 2019 | Plants

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As some of you know, I’ve been really into plants lately. Like, really into them. Indoor plants to be specific. Being around houseplants is relaxing and it makes me super happy to watch my plant buddies thrive. If you feel like you’re not meant to keep your plants alive, this houseplant care guide will change your mind.

Throughout the years, I’ve lost many plants. I would take one home and they’d pretty much die within a month. It was frustrating to say the least. And to make sense of the situation, I used to tell myself that plants just don’t live very long.

These days, my plants are healthy, happy, and thriving. Why? Because I took some time to research basic plant care. After days of reading articles and watching care instructions on YouTube, I came to realize that all my old plants died from too much love. I’ll touch more on this later.

If you’re looking to add some greenery to your space but know nothing about plants—don’t worry, I got you.

Caring for plants doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, after reading this, you’ll learn how to keep your indoor plants alive for a long, long time. With proper care, they might even outlive you.

With that said, I want to share what I’ve learned so far to help you keep your plants alive.

Now let’s get you that green thumb you deserve.

Side note: This is a beginner’s guide. The houseplant care advice here should be used as a general guideline. Some of these tips may need to be modified depending on what plant you have. Not all plants are created equally. Each plant has specific needs, so do a little research about your specific plant to ensure the livelihood of your little buddy.

In this post, we’ll be covering:

Choosing a plant
Lighting
Location
Watering
Fertilizer
Soil
Potting
Propagation
Maintenance
Useful Items

Choosing a plant

If you’re like me and never really had any success with houseplants in the past, or you’ve never taken care of an indoor plant in your life, know that plants have difficulty levels. Before you jump into expert mode, it’s important to learn the fundamentals.

Fact is, some plants are easier to take care of than others. But what is it that makes one plant easier than other plants? The simple fact that they are harder to kill.

Beginner plants are low-maintenance. This means they don’t require a lot of attention. If you make mistakes caring for your plant or neglect the plant for an extended period, there’s a much higher chance it won’t die on you.

Some great plants for beginners include snake plant (sansevieria), pothos (epipremnum aureum), and succulents.

Lighting

In order to survive, plants need light. So placing a plant in front of a window with the sun shining down on it is the way to go, right? Not necessarily.

Plants require certain lighting conditions. Some love bright, indirect light, while others prefer low-to-moderate light. Just like people, too much sun exposure can cause a plant to burn, so it’s important to know the lighting conditions that work best for your plant.

I’ve noticed that a large majority of houseplants enjoy bright, indirect light. This means they like being in a well-lit spaces where sunlight isn’t directly touching them.

If you have a specific place in mind for your plant that doesn’t match the required lighting conditions, you can always use artificial grow lights or filter your window with curtains.

Location

We take many indoor plants out of pristine living conditions, like a greenhouse, and bring them into our homes. Will your plant’s new space provide a similar environment that meets all their needs? Probably not, but choosing the correct location can help acclimate them into our homes.
Many plants go through shock and stress when they’re moved to a different location. It can take time for them to adjust to factors like temperature, humidity, and lighting in their new space. Imagine leaving the comfort of your home and moving to an unfamiliar country—It can be a little scary and uncomfortable at first, but with time, things get better.

Fortunately, plants are resilient. They can adapt to less-than-perfect conditions as long as there isn’t an immediate threat to their livelihood. These threats include air vents like air conditioners and heaters, high-traffic areas where people are constantly brushing against their foliage, and animals or children that want to play or eat them.

If you’re familiar with the Konmari method, Marie Kondo suggests giving every item a home. Having a general idea of where your plant will live can make their transition into your home a lot easier. If you don’t get it right the first time, moving your plant around until you find a perfect spot is completely normal. When the lighting conditions are correct and the temperature isn’t freezing or scorching hot, your plant will settle in just fine.

Watering

The biggest reason indoor plants die is because they are given too much or not enough water. This is the one thing I wish I had known about houseplant care, and it’s exactly why the plants of my past didn’t survive. I didn’t neglect my old plants; underwatering was never an issue. Instead, I did the exact opposite: overwatering. And what happens when you overwater a plant? Root rot.

Was I trying to drown them? Of course not—I just thought they were thirsty. As I mentioned earlier: I gave my old plants too much love. I failed to realize that I was giving those poor plants more water than they could handle.

So what’s the correct way to water plants?

First, make sure your plant’s container has drainage holes at the bottom. These holes allow excess water to drain out of the container, reducing root rot.

Many plants are ready to drink when the top 1-2 inches of soil dries out. Since planter sizes vary, I prefer to water when the top 1/3 of soil is dry. To check your soil’s moisture, stick a finger about a third of the way down into the soil. If your finger feels wet when you pull it out, practice patience and wait. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can use a moisture meter.

When the soil is dry, place your plant on a saucer and pour distilled or filtered water evenly over the top of the soil until water leaks from the drainage holes. Allow your plant to sit in the excess water for about 15-30 minutes to make sure the soil is completely saturated. Wetting a plant’s foliage is useful for removing dust or pests; otherwise, avoid pouring water on the leaves.

Watering schedules don’t always work. Environmental factors like temperature and pot size can affect the soil’s ability to retain moisture. Plants in smaller pots and warmer temperatures will need to be watered more than plants in larger pots and colder temperatures.

Fertilizer

From time to time, indoor plants need to eat. Outdoor plants receive natural fertilizer from their surroundings. Since houseplants grow in containers, they live in a controlled environment and don’t really have access to all everything nature can provide. That’s why it’s important to feed your plants with the proper nutrients to survive.

Fertilizers usually have 3 numbers that represent nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). All necessary for your plants to thrive.

I use an all-purpose fertilizer diluted in water. To simplify things, I fertilize my plants with every watering session except during winter.

Soil

Soil is where plants grow. Potting soil and cactus soil are common growing mediums for indoor plants. There are other varieties of growing mediums out there, but the important thing to remember is that most houseplants prefer to be in well-draining soil. Why? Because this gives roots enough time to absorb water without having to sit in water for too long. Soil that holds on to too much moisture can lead to root rot.

When potting or repotting my plants, I typically use 50% potting soil, 40% cactus soil, and 10% perlite.

Potting

Pots or planters (often used interchangeably) are the containers that hold the soil and the plant. Stores often sell houseplants in 4”, 6”, 8”, and 10” nursery pots with drainage holes at the bottom. These measurements come from the diameter at the top of a pot. I keep all my plants inside their nursery pot because it allows me to move my plant from one decorative pot to another with ease.

You may have noticed that nursery pots increase in size by 2 inch increments. Over time, plants outgrow their current pot. A tell-tale sign that a plant needs to be repotted is when roots start coming out of drainage holes. When roots have nowhere else to go, this is called being rootbound or pot-bound. A rootbound plant can stunt growth and cause problems.

To remedy the situation, you can help your plant by moving it into a larger pot. Plants inside pots that are 10” or smaller should be upgraded by two inches. For example, if your plant is in a 6” planter, repot it into an 8” planter. Planters larger than 10“ can be upgraded by 2-4 inches.

Why is it necessary to move up 2-4 inches instead of skipping straight to a large planter? Because roots need time to develop. Larger planters hold more soil, which retain more moisture. When you move a small plant into a large pot, you run the risk of giving your plant too much water.

Propagation

Do you want to increase your plant collection for free? You can do this by propagating your plant.

Simply put, propagation uses one plant to create more plants. The methods of propagating vary from plant to plant, but a quick way to do it is by rooting a cutting from a parent plant.

To do this, you’ll need clean and disinfected shears or a knife, a plant, a container with water or soil, and a lot of patience.

You must cut part of your plant, making sure there is a visible node attached. Plants typically require a node for roots to grow, although some plants don’t need one. Place the cutting in water or soil with the node submerged. With time, roots will grow. The process can take days, weeks, and even months for a cutting to root. Once the roots reach a desired size, you can transfer your new plant into soil (or whichever growing medium you prefer).

Just like that, you have a new plant. Welcome it to your plant family or give it to someone you love.

I usually propagate in water so I can watch the roots grow. I wait until the roots are about an inch long, or a third the size of the cutting before I transfer to soil. It’s important to keep the soil moist for about a week or two to help with transition your new plant from water to soil.

Keep in mind that roots grown in water will have a harder time adjusting to soil if it’s kept in water for too long. Don’t let the roots of your cutting grow too much in water unless you plan to keep it there.

Maintenance

Some plants only need to be watered once a month to thrive, while others need more frequent care. Some plants need bright, indirect light, while some are fine with a few hours of sunlight. Some plants like their soil to dry out completely, while others prefer the moisture.

Observe your plant. Keep an eye out for discoloration and drooping leaves. If you notice dead or damaged leaves, prune (trim) them. This will divert energy towards healthy leaves.

Check for bugs that may hide underneath the foliage and get rid of them to keep your plant and all other surrounding plants healthy and prevent a pest infestation.

For plants that like humid environments, mist them from time to time or invest in a humidifier. To ensure even growth, try rotating your plants every other week.
Always research your specific plant to make sure you understand all their needs. A little care goes a long way to ensure a healthy, thriving plant.

Useful Items

Houseplant care is a lot easier with the right tools. These accessories can help you in your plant care journey. I use all these items to care for my plants and if you want the best for your plants, I believe they will help you, too.

Moisture Meter
Take the guesswork out of watering your plants. I use this to make sure my plants never get overwatered or underwatered.

Elastic Cord
Some plants (like monstera deliciosa) can take up a lot of space if they’re left to grow on their own. I a cord to tie some plants to poles so they can grow in an organized fashion.

Pruning Shears
Keep your plants healthy and remove unsightly leaves. I use shears to remove brown and yellow leaves from my plants.

Storage Box
Store all your plant items in one place or reduce the mess caused by repotting. I use a large storage box when I repot plants to make sure all the soil stays in one place. I also keep unused soil and other items in these containers to stay organized.

Watering Can
Graduate from that cup you’ve been using to water your plants and get a watering can. I use this because it holds a lot more water and allows me to get into hard to reach places. The stream from a watering can also prevents water from splashing soil out of the pots.

Fertilizer
Don’t starve your plant. Plants can only live so long with water and sunlight. I use an all-purpose fertilizer diluted in water for all my plants.

Rooting hormone
Increase your success rate when propagating your plant. Unfortunately, some cuttings won’t root. I use rooting hormone to give my cuttings a better chance to root.

Soil
A necessity when it comes to potting and repotting. I use cactus soil mixed with potting soil and a little perlite for most of my indoor plants.

Spray Bottle
Humidity is necessary to keep some plants happy. I spray the underside of many of my plants to raise humidity levels. It’s also really fun to mist plants.

Humidifier
A step up from a spray bottle. Although I have both, a humidifier provides more consistent humidity for my plants. Humidifiers aren’t just for plants, they provide many health benefits to people like preventing illnesses, reducing snoring, and improving skin and hair.

Conclusion

Plants can live a very long time if we treat them like living things. With proper houseplant care, you can reap all the benefits that come with having indoor plants. Knowing all the basics will increase your plant’s chances of surviving exponentially. Now you can diagnose problems before they get worse, and you have an arsenal of solutions to keep your plant happy.

What are some of your favorite plant care tips for beginners?

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