Houseplant Care: 8 Keys to Success

Learn how to keep your indoor plants looking good with these easy maintenance and care tips.
Ivy topiary and spider plant

Ivy topiary and spider plant

Ivies and spider plants are undemanding houseplants that don't require high humidity or supplemental lighting. Read about your plants before you buy, so you can give them the amount of light and other care they require.

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When you can’t get outside because the weather’s dreary, or you’re stuck at home or in an office, bring a bit of nature indoors with houseplants. Many thrive even in low light, and they do more than brighten up a space. Because they change carbon dioxide into oxygen and help trap pollutants, they’re also good for your health, and they’ll lift your spirits when you can’t work in your garden.

Lots of houseplants are undemanding and easy to grow, but all indoor plants need a little care now and then. Use our checklist below to keep yours green and growing.

Give Them the Right Amount of Light

Tough survivors like cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) or snake plant (Sansevieria), don’t mind dim corners or interiors. Others—especially blooming plants—need bright windows or supplemental florescent or grow lights. Read about your plants before you buy and match their needs to the amount of light you’ll be able to give them.

Don’t Drown Your Plants

Most plants need a container with drainage holes, so water doesn’t stand around their roots and cause rotting. If you keep a saucer underneath your plants to catch drips, empty it after watering. Read plant care tags to know how often and how much to water.

Keep Them Clean

Like anything else in your home, plants get dusty—and dirt can block sunlight. If you see dust, pop your plant in the sink or shower and rinse it with a gentle spray of lukewarm water.

If you’ve got a large potted plant, wipe the leaves with a moist sponge or a dry dust cloth. Gently clean fuzzy-leaved plants, like African violets, with a soft paintbrush or toothbrush. Turn small potted plants upside down and swish them around in lukewarm water to clean them, using your fingers to hold them in place. Let them air dry in a warm spot out of the sun.

Groom When Needed

If you have flowering houseplants, keep the spent blooms picked to encourage more flowers. Take off dead or yellow leaves, too, and cut stems that have lost their leaves to the soil line.

Watch for Drafts

Most plants dislike drafts, so make sure yours aren’t sitting too close to heating or air conditioning vents, or leaky doors and windows.

Add Humidity

If you see brown tips on the leaves of your plants, the air in your home or office is probably too dry for them. Add moisture by grouping plants together, or putting them on top of pebbles in trays or saucers filled with a little water. (Don’t let the pots touch the water so the roots don’t stay constantly wet.) You can also mist your plants or even add a humidifier.

Watch for Problems

Insects and diseases can spread fast, so check your plants regularly for signs of trouble. Look on top of and underneath leaves and check around stems. Common indoor pests like whiteflies and mealybugs can be knocked off with a spray of water in the sink, but if they persist, you may need to use an insecticidal soap, following the manufacturer’s directions. Treat any disease with a product specifically made for it; if you’re not sure what to use, do some research online or visit a garden center or nursery for advice.

Build-up of salts on pot

Build-up of salts on pot

A white crust of salts and minerals can build up on your pots when you water your houseplants. To remove it, take the plant out of the pot and scrape off the crusty stuff with a brush or knife, or scrub the pot with a solution of baking soda in water.

Check the Pot

If your plants start drying out faster than usual, or you see roots poking out of the drainage holes, it’s time to repot. Step up one pot size at a time, and always use fresh potting soil, since the nutrients in the old soil are probably depleted.

Even if your plant hasn’t outgrown its container, you may need to remove it and do some cleanup if you see a white crust on the rim or sides. Potentially harmful salts can build up when you water, so scrub the pot and rinse it thoroughly, or give your plant a new pot.

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