It’s been a while since I’ve written a post about plant care, so I figured this was long overdue. My previous beginner’s guide to caring for your houseplants has some advice that I still believe to be helpful (which you can read here), but I was still pretty new to caring for plants when I wrote that, so I felt like I should put together an updated guide on what I find helpful today.
Remember that not all plants are the same. For the longest time, I always thought that as long as I watered my plants every day and gave them a lot of light, that they would survive. From years of experience, believe me when I say that that mindset is 100% wrong. Different plants need different amounts of water, sunlight, and even types of soil. Do your research on what plants you have in order to determine what they need to survive. You’d be surprised to know that some plants will perish if given too much sunlight or water.
Watch the leaves. Sort of building off of the first tip, watching the condition of the leaves on each of your plants can tell you a lot about its health. This might not apply to every plant out there, but for me, I usually follow this guide when it comes to watering:
Brown crispy leaves = Needs more water
Wilted or yellowing leaves = Overwatered or lacking nutrients
Black spots/holes = Sick or diseased
Growing towards your windows = Needs more sunlight
Adjust with the seasons. Just like we adapt to the weather, our plants need to as well. The amount of water and sunlight that works for your plant in the summer will not be the same in the winter.
Not too hot or too cold. I’m talking about water. You don’t want to scald your plant friends or give them an ice bath. Warm/room temperature is perfect. Think tropical rain shower type of temperature.
Overwatering leads to bug infestation. The number one question I get in regards to my plants (considering I have so many) is “How do you deal with all of the bugs?!“ The simple answer is: I don’t have that problem. The more complicated answer is that most people tend to overwater their plants - leaving a puddle of still water within their pots (which is a breeding ground for gnats). Check whether or not your pots are draining properly, and if they’re not, cut back on the watering to see if that helps your bug problem.
Pick the right pot. Plant pots aren’t just meant to look pretty - having the right one for your plant is actually pretty key to its survival. When picking out a pot, the first thing I do is check the bottom to see if it has a drain hole. Do all plants need pots with a drain hole? YES - unless you’re a master of knowing exactly how much water your plant needs. When watering, I always give enough until I can see the water coming out of the bottom drain hole. This water needs to escape out of your pot, otherwise it just sits there at the bottom, rotting your roots and giving bugs the opportunity to flourish.
Repot those puppies. Weird as it sounds, my plants are my babies. I want them to grow big and strong enough to fill my apartment to jungle status. Just kidding. (Maybe.) So, rather than holding them back from their full potential by keeping them in the same pot they’ve always been in, once they start to grow, I repot most of my plants into bigger ceramic pots. As your plants age, their roots need to spread out in order to grow larger, and the only way they can do that is by having more room. If you’re wondering why your itty bitty houseplant is healthy (but isn’t growing any bigger or longer), it might be time to upgrade your pot.
Shop with your home in mind. I can’t tell you how many plant species I wish I had for my apartment. However, considering I live in a studio with medium, indirect sunlight, I know for a fact that there are certain plants that would just not work with the amount of light I have. Furthermore, I also have pets, so even though they don’t eat any of my plants, I try to stay away from pet-toxic breeds or keep any of those types of plants in a place that won’t tempt them. Trust me, shopping for plants that conflict with your living situation leads to failure.
Avoid supermarket or department store plants. Honestly, you do you. If you want to buy that IKEA palm tree for $20, go for it! Though I will say, most of the time, those plants are not very healthy or treated well to begin with. You could be bringing home a sick plant that’s already on its way to Houseplant Heaven, regardless of whether or not you’re doing everything else right. Most of my plants come from the flea market, my family, or specialty shops where I can pester the owners with all of my questions. Knowing everything I need to know about my plant before bringing it home helps me make sure I’m caring for it properly.
Don’t get discouraged if your plant dies. First, I’d like to say that I’m incredibly proud of my eight foot long philodendron named “Planty“, my one-year-old Maranta leuconeura named “Maranta Stewart“, and an Aloe vera plant that I’ve cut down so many times when my husband gets sunburned that I’m surprised it’s still alive. Second, and I hate to admit this, but I’ve killed SO many plants over the last three years. Being a plant mom is truly trial and error for me, but it’s one of the best feelings - almost therapeutic for me in a way. If you’re determined to be a plant owner, don’t let a couple of duds get you down. Be prepared for the next plant and try again!