How to Keep Plants Healthy

Keeping plants healthy doesn't have to be difficult. Lean on these tips for simple care that best suits your home garden.

Gorgeous, Colorful Raised Flower Garden Lined With Large Rocks in Side Yard

Gorgeous, Colorful Raised Flower Garden Lined With Large Rocks in Side Yard

Large boulders create a separation from the perfectly trimmed grass in this side yard up to the planted section of colorful outdoor flowers. Yellow, lavender and burgundy blooms add beautiful and bright natural color to the brown and gray rocks and vivid green grass.

Photo by: Mickman Brothers, Inc.

Mickman Brothers, Inc.

All plants need moisture, nutrients, sunlight, and a suitable temperature for healthy growth and optimal development. However, they will need different levels of each depending on the natural habitats in which they have evolved. 


Water is vital for plants since it is used in photosynthesis and to keep leaves and stems firm and upright. Plants have a variety of methods to absorb and store it. Most take up moisture through microscopic root hairs and lose it via the leaves in a process called transpiration. This cycle enables sugars and nutrients to be circulated. Plants from arid regions, such as cacti, often have a reduced leaf area and a waxy coating to control moisture loss. Water-loving bog plants, such as gunnera and some irises, need moisture-rich sites at the margins of garden ponds and pools.


Plants are classified according to hardiness: tender specimens tolerate temperatures down to 41ºF (5ºC), frost-hardy to 23ºF (-5ºC), and fully hardy to -4ºF (-20ºC). Every plant has specific temperature requirements; young plants are especially vulnerable and usually need protection to survive. Seedlings that have been raised indoors should be gradually introduced to cooler outdoor temperatures, a process known as “hardening off.” Frost-sensitive plants should be wrapped up in situ or  moved to a frost-free location over winter. Tender, exotic plants, such as cacti, aloes, and agaves, require a warm, dry site and need protection against frost in cold winter climates.


Sunlight powers plant growth in the process of photosynthesis. The green parts of plants, which contain the pigment chlorophyll, absorb light and use it to convert carbon dioxide and water to sugar and starches. These compounds make cellulose, the building block of plant tissue. Shoots and leaves will move to trap light as efficiently as possible, but if they receive an insufficient amount or a restricted spectrum, they become pale and drawn, or “etiolated.” Plants that are adapted to heat and bright light tend to have small or narrow, even needle-like, leaves and may have various “sunscreens,” such as dark masking pigments or silver-gray felting. Shade-adapted plants often have broad leaves or large leaves made up of smaller leaflets, which allow them to absorb as much light as possible. In full sun shade plants may scorch since they are unaccustomed to the high light levels. The large surface area of the leaves of the banana plant enable it to absorb light.


Plants need three key elements and a range of trace elements for healthy growth. Nitrogen (N) governs the growth of leaves and shoots; potassium (K), or potash, is required for flowering and fruiting; and phosphorus (P) promotes strong root growth. Adverse growing conditions, such as underwatering or incorrect pH, can inhibit absorption. When plants run short of these, they show deficiency symptoms including stunted or distorted growth or discolored foliage. Specially balanced fertilizers are available for some plants. Fast-growing plants such as Rosa ‘The Fairy’ have greater nutritional demands than plants that are adapted to poor or dry soils.

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Plant and Grow Persimmons

Experts pick their best tips on how to achieve persimmon perfection.

How to Plant Evergreens in Containers

Learn how to properly plant evergreens in containers to keep color alive in your garden all year around.

How to Grow Zucchini Plants

Zucchinis are a winner for being one of the quickest — and easiest — members of the squash family to grow.

How to Make an Easy Macrame Plant Hanger

By using basic supplies from the hardware store, you can make this easy macrame hanger to display your favorite houseplant. This project can be adjusted to fit any planter, and since the rope is polyester, you can also hang this project outdoors.

How to Plant Perennial Flowers & Plants

Perennials are the mainstay of the traditional flower garden. When planted correctly, they are long-lived.

How to Sow and Plant Fruiting Vegetables

Large leaves, golden flowers and heavy yields make squashes, zucchini and cucumbers ideal plants for productive pots.

How to Choose the Best Indoor Lighting for Plants

Whether it's for your full-grown houseplants or starter seedlings, check out these ideas for indoor lighting.

How to Save and Replant Forced Seasonal Bulbs

In general, the most resilient candidates worth saving are small bulbs that naturalize or reproduce readily in the garden.

When to Plant Garden Mums

Want your garden mums to survive winter? Learn tips for planting fall garden mums to help them return next spring.