How to Grow and Care for Houseplants

I am new to caring for houseplants. Can you tell me some basic things to do so I don’t kill my plants?

 

 

Hi Sandy

LEARNING HOW TO GROW AND CARE FOR HOUSEPLANTS is a little like cooking 101. We can all agree that anyone with a pot can boil an egg or with a can opener is able to open a can of soup. But only truly dedicated bakers, mindful of every detail, can bake the perfectly flaky apple pie. This article is all about the hard-boiled eggs and canned soups of houseplants—nothing fancy, just simple easy rules to follow that will help you care for your houseplants.

 

Don’t Overwater

The reason most houseplants die is because they are over watered. When in doubt, don’t water! If the soil is always wet, the roots start to rot and die. We all know that the roots absorb water for the plant, but they also absorb the oxygen that a plant needs. Wet soil prevents air pockets from forming. If there are not enough air pockets, the plant literally has trouble breathing. Succulent PlantsLearn the definition of a succulent plant and why they are called a "fat plant." store water in their thick leaves and stems and should be watered less often than thin-leafed plants.

An Arrowhead plant (Syngonium or Nepthytis), gets its nickname because of the spade-like shape of its leaves. . 

Thin leafed Arrowhead plant- more water        Thick leafed peperomia – less water

 

Don’t Overfertilize

It’s better to starve your houseplants with too little plant food than to force-feed them with too much. Excess fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small. builds up in the soil, burns the roots, and is the main cause of brown leaf tips. Most plants do not need to be fed in late fall and winter when they are “resting” and not growing. I always recommend diluting the plant food to ½ the recommended strength.

 

Avoid Using Water that has a Great Deal of Salt or Chemicals

Too much salt in the soil causes brown leaf tips and leaf spots. Never use water that has passed through a softener. It is too salty. Too much fluorine or chlorine in the water also causes brown leaf tips and spots, especially on dracaenas and calathea plants. If your water has a lot of chemicals in it, allow it to sit out overnight before using it. Distilled water or rainwater is another option.

Learn why a calathea plant gets brown spots on its leaves at Houseplant411.com

Calathea plant damaged by poor water quality

 

Don’t Rush to Repot

Avoid the urge to move plants to larger pots. Most plants like to be a little rootbound; this allows the soil to dry out quickly and prevents root rot. I like to wait until the root ball has taken on the shape of the pot before I repot. When repotting, always use the next size pot and nothing larger. The new pot should be only 1”-2” larger than the root ball of the plant. There must be drip holes in the bottom of the container so excess water can drain out. When you purchase a new plant, do not repot it for at least six weeks. The plant needs time to acclimate to its new surroundings and being repotted is quite a shock.

Spider plant with over grown roots that needs to be re-potted

Time to repot the spider plant

 

Prune Your Plants Aggressively

Pruning a plant keeps it full and bushy, and you can use the cuttings to start new plants. Immediately remove dead or dying flowers as soon as they appear.

   

Pink Splash needs pruning                             Bare Pothos vines need to be cut off

 

No Direct Sun

There are very few houseplants that can handle direct sun without getting ugly brown marks on their leaves and having their flowers quickly fade.

Fiddle leaf Fig burned by the sun

 

Examine Your Plants Frequently

It’s easier to prevent a serious pest or disease problem than to treat it. Examine your plants every time you water. Check for unusual marks or discoloration and keep an eye out for unwanted visitors crawling where they don’t belong. Dry leaves and good air circulation help prevent plant diseases.

Mealy BugsLearn how to identify and treat Mealy Bugs, a houseplant pest that leaves sticky, white, cottony residue on houseplants. on plant leaves

Keep poisonousPlants are a great addition to homes and offices, but it’s important to know whether your plants are dangerous to children, pets, or even adults. Some plants contain chemicals such as oxalates, solanine, glycosides, or alkaloid lycorine that may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, swelling and redness of the mouth, throat, and lips, and trouble breathing. Touching parts of certain plants, especially the sap, may cause various skin irritations. The weight and age of the human or pet involved, and the part and amount of plant eaten determine how severe the reaction to the toxins will be. Although plants may be listed as non-toxic, they can still cause individual allergic reactions. If there is any question after a houseplant has been ingested or touched, immediately call the Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222.  More poisonous houseplant information and pictures of common plants that are dangerous to children and pets can be found in my book Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants Plants Out of Reach

Many common houseplants are poisonousPlants are a great addition to homes and offices, but it’s important to know whether your plants are dangerous to children, pets, or even adults. Some plants contain chemicals such as oxalates, solanine, glycosides, or alkaloid lycorine that may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, swelling and redness of the mouth, throat, and lips, and trouble breathing. Touching parts of certain plants, especially the sap, may cause various skin irritations. The weight and age of the human or pet involved, and the part and amount of plant eaten determine how severe the reaction to the toxins will be. Although plants may be listed as non-toxic, they can still cause individual allergic reactions. If there is any question after a houseplant has been ingested or touched, immediately call the Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222.  More poisonous houseplant information and pictures of common plants that are dangerous to children and pets can be found in my book Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants and have a toxicity levelThese are general guidelines that describe different poisonous plant toxicity levels. It's possible for an allergic reaction to occur from contact with any houseplant, toxic or non-toxic. If there is ever a concern, call: Poison Control Center: ******1-800-222-1222****** Level #1: Houseplants with low toxicity, may be mildly irritating, especially the sap of the plant. Level#2: Houseplants with medium to severe toxicity. Eating parts of these houseplants may result in vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, skin irritations, and breathing difficulties. Level #3: These houseplants are  very poisonous. When eaten, especially in large quantities,  severe vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, skin irritations, and breathing difficulties can occur. Level #4: These houseplants are extremely poisonous. Eating parts of these houseplants can be be life threatening. Every plant listed in our Popular HousePlant guide has a section explaining whether or not it is toxic and, if so, how dangerous it is. Amaryllis, alocasia, dieffenbachias, crotons, ivies, azaleas, lilies, and philodendrons are just a few of the highly poisonous plants we use in our homes and offices all of the time. If you don't know whether your houseplant can pose a threat, send an email to Ask Judy@HousePlant411.com. Include a picture of your plant and a description. Judy will let you know if the houseplant should be kept away from small children and pets. See colorful pictures and get more information about poisonous houseplants in my book Don’t Feed Me To Your Cat! A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants   you should be aware of. levelThese are general guidelines that describe different poisonous plant toxicity levels. It's possible for an allergic reaction to occur from contact with any houseplant, toxic or non-toxic. If there is ever a concern, call: Poison Control Center: ******1-800-222-1222****** Level #1: Houseplants with low toxicity, may be mildly irritating, especially the sap of the plant. Level#2: Houseplants with medium to severe toxicity. Eating parts of these houseplants may result in vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, skin irritations, and breathing difficulties. Level #3: These houseplants are  very poisonous. When eaten, especially in large quantities,  severe vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, skin irritations, and breathing difficulties can occur. Level #4: These houseplants are extremely poisonous. Eating parts of these houseplants can be be life threatening. Every plant listed in our Popular HousePlant guide has a section explaining whether or not it is toxic and, if so, how dangerous it is. Amaryllis, alocasia, dieffenbachias, crotons, ivies, azaleas, lilies, and philodendrons are just a few of the highly poisonous plants we use in our homes and offices all of the time. If you don't know whether your houseplant can pose a threat, send an email to Ask Judy@HousePlant411.com. Include a picture of your plant and a description. Judy will let you know if the houseplant should be kept away from small children and pets. See colorful pictures and get more information about poisonous houseplants in my book Don’t Feed Me To Your Cat! A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants  s: #1- Plant may cause minor problems if ingested or if the sap gets on your skin. #2- Plant is moderately to highly toxic, stomach issues, skin irritations, breathing problems can occur.  #3- Plant is very, very poisonousPlants are a great addition to homes and offices, but it’s important to know whether your plants are dangerous to children, pets, or even adults. Some plants contain chemicals such as oxalates, solanine, glycosides, or alkaloid lycorine that may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, swelling and redness of the mouth, throat, and lips, and trouble breathing. Touching parts of certain plants, especially the sap, may cause various skin irritations. The weight and age of the human or pet involved, and the part and amount of plant eaten determine how severe the reaction to the toxins will be. Although plants may be listed as non-toxic, they can still cause individual allergic reactions. If there is any question after a houseplant has been ingested or touched, immediately call the Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222.  More poisonous houseplant information and pictures of common plants that are dangerous to children and pets can be found in my book Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants; if eaten, especially in large quantities, it may result in severe stomach problems, severe skin irritations, and severe breathing difficulties. #4- plant is so dangerous that eating even a small piece can be life threatening to a small child or pet. Keep this number for the Poison Control Center easily available in case of an emergency: 1-800-222-1222.

Dieffenbachia is VERY poisonousPlants are a great addition to homes and offices, but it’s important to know whether your plants are dangerous to children, pets, or even adults. Some plants contain chemicals such as oxalates, solanine, glycosides, or alkaloid lycorine that may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, swelling and redness of the mouth, throat, and lips, and trouble breathing. Touching parts of certain plants, especially the sap, may cause various skin irritations. The weight and age of the human or pet involved, and the part and amount of plant eaten determine how severe the reaction to the toxins will be. Although plants may be listed as non-toxic, they can still cause individual allergic reactions. If there is any question after a houseplant has been ingested or touched, immediately call the Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222.  More poisonous houseplant information and pictures of common plants that are dangerous to children and pets can be found in my book Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants

 

Think Twice Before Asking Friends and Relatives to Care for Your Plants

When friends and relatives care for your plants, they often kill them with kindness. If you are going away for a few weeks, water well before you leave and move your plants to a cool, low-light area. Your plants may be droopy when you return, but they’ll perk up once you water.