How to Care for Houseplants

Although many houseplants are easy to care for, no living thing is zero-maintenance. Ensure survival of your new living decor by learning how to care for your houseplants.

| November/December 2011

  • Produce multiples of your favorite plants with a stem cutting.

Houseplant Care Basics

Although many houseplants are easy to care for, no living thing is zero-maintenance. Refrain from bringing a plant home from the garden center, plunking it on an aluminum pie pan on the windowsill, and forgetting about it until it’s crispy. To create a life-filled home, first make sure you’re houseplant-ready by considering five major factors: light, temperature, humidity, soil and water.

Light: Most houseplants are native to tropical climates where they grow in the shade of larger plants. Hence, they’re happy in the lower light levels inside the average home. To determine what type of light needs you can accommodate, watch your windows throughout the course of a full day, and estimate how many hours of sun fall inside, both directly and indirectly. Plant categories include low, medium and high light needs—labels indicate how many hours of sun they require.

Temperature: Most houseplants need daytime temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees and night temperatures 5 to 10 degrees lower—conveniently comfortable temperatures for humans, as well. Be sure to keep plants out of drafts and away from heating and air-conditioning vents. Avoid putting plants against windowpanes where temperatures can be scorching hot or freezing cold.

Humidity: Because most houseplants are tropical (succulents are the exception), they need relatively high humidity. Most homes have low humidity, especially in winter. To counteract this, you can do several things: Group plants together, where they help retain their own humidity; place a tray of pebbles and water under the plant (but keep the pot from sitting directly in the water); mist plants regularly; or set up a humidifier nearby.

Soil: Real garden soil is a no-no for indoor plants. Most soilless mixes (confusingly called potting soil) contain a combination of peat moss, most often unsustainably mined from wetland bogs in Canada and Michigan; perlite, a volcanic glass; and vermiculite, a mineral that sometimes contains asbestos. The majority of potting soils also come with slow-release fertilizers mixed in. A few companies offer handcrafted potting soils with better ingredients (see Resources). At the very least, avoid chemical fertilizers by choosing an organic, chemical-free mix. You can also find peat-free mixes; they cost more, but they last longer because peat tends to break down quickly. You can also make your own potting-soil mix using ingredients such as compost, worm castings, rotted sawdust or wood chips, and sand; find recipes at or

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