Helpful Hacks

9 Easy Plant Care Tricks to Keep Your Houseplants Alive and Thriving

written by JESSICA FRIEDHOFF

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My plant collection started with a few tiny potted succulents I bought on a whim for my college apartment. When they were still thriving several months later as I moved into my first “adult” apartment, I decided it was time to try something a little trickier. I soon brought home a fiddle-leaf fig tree—a plant that is notoriously fickle and hard to care for—and somehow kept that alive, too. From there, the obsession really took off. A few years and lots of trial and error later, I’m now the proud owner of more than 30 different indoor plants. I went from knowing next to nothing about plant care to owning a thriving collection in all shapes and sizes, and I’m here to tell you it’s not as difficult as it might seem.

I have a few plant care tricks that make it easy to keep all my indoor plants thriving, and you don’t have to be an expert to follow these tips. So for anyone who thinks they can’t keep a plant alive to save their life, these tricks might just prove you wrong.

1. Get to know your plants

All houseplants are not created equal, and if you’re treating a monstera plant the same as a cactus, you’re going to have some problems. When you bring home a new plant (or, preferably, before you even purchase it), take some time to familiarize yourself with that specific variety. What kind of light does it need? How often should you water it? Do you need to fertilize it? The answers often differ depending on the type of plant, so do some research first so you can choose the best indoor plants for you.

2. Prioritize the proper lighting

Correct lighting is literally a matter of life or death when caring for indoor plants. Check the care tag your plant came with or Google your plant’s name to determine what kind of light it needs. If your plant requires direct lighting, you’ll need to place it directly in front of an unobstructed window, ideally a south-facing one that receives lots of natural sunlight. Other varieties, including most low-light indoor plants, prefer indirect lighting. That refers to spots where light is obstructed or filtered by things like sheer curtains. Choosing the perfect spot for indoor plants is partly an aesthetic choice, but you also need to find a spot that suits their sunlight needs. Otherwise, you’ll likely find yourself with another addition to your greenery graveyard.

Source: Sunny Circle Studio

3. Water your plants less than you think

Finding the right watering schedule can be tricky, but it’s not too difficult to figure out if you simply pay attention. Since most plants will fare better with too little water than too much, it’s best to err on the side of less frequent waterings. My best tip is to check in with your indoor plants at least once a week and only water them if necessary. (If you need help remembering to do this each week, set a reminder in your phone—I do mine on Sunday mornings.) The easiest way to tell if your plant needs water is to stick your finger into the top couple inches of soil. If it feels totally dry, your plant likely needs a drink. If it still feels moist, come back in another day or two and check it again then.

Adding this plant check-in to your weekly routine makes it easy to stay on track and avoid forgetting to water your plants for weeks at a time, but it also leaves room to be flexible. Your plants’ water needs might change depending on the time of year and how humid it is, so it’s important to check them regularly.

4. Keep your plant in its grow pot

Another hot tip: Leave your plant in the container it came in for at least the first few weeks after you bring it home. Plants can get stressed when acclimating to a new environment, and uprooting your plant at the same time can make things worse. Simply leave your new plant in its plastic grow pot and set the whole thing into your decorative planter of choice. Since nursery pots have drainage holes, excess water can run out the bottom and be caught by the decorative planter, saving your plants’ roots from just sitting in water. This plant care hack also saves you all the mess of repotting!

If you do eventually want to repot your plant, make sure to buy a pot with a built-in drainage hole. And of course, if you’re using this pot indoors, you’re going to want to place a saucer or tray underneath to catch the drainage. You can even add a cork mat under the pot to absorb any excess water if you’re worried about messing up flooring or furniture. 

indoor plant care
Source: Élevae Visuals

5. A little trim can make a big difference

Don’t be afraid to give your plant a trim if needed. The first time I noticed one of my plants had a leaf that was turning yellow and drooping, I panicked. Not knowing what to do and worried about messing things up even further, I just left it there, hoping maybe the wilted leaf would perk back up again. As it turns out, that’s not really how indoor plants work. It’s totally normal for older leaves to wilt and die off, and cutting off these dying leaves is a good thing. It allows your plant to focus its energy on helping the healthy parts thrive, instead of trying to keep the dying leaf alive. Plus, it makes your plant look so much better!

6. Listen to your plants’ needs

Whether your plant is wilting, poking its roots out of the pot, turning a different color, or losing its leaves, it’s sending you a distress signal, and it’s in your best interest to listen. If you’re not sure what’s going on with your plant, Google is your friend here. There are also tons of plant care apps (such as PictureThis) that can help diagnose the problem by analyzing a photo of your plant. Sometimes the solution is moving it to a different spot better suited for low-light indoor plants, watering more or less, adding fertilizer, or treating it for pests. And if one solution doesn’t work, try something else! Plant care involves a lot of troubleshooting, and it’s OK if it takes a while (and a few dead plants) to figure things out.

7. Inspect your plants for bug problems

It’s important to regularly check your plants to ensure they aren’t serving as the new home for pesky insects. To easily work this into your routine, take a good look at the leaves and stems each time you water your plant. If you do happen to see some creepy crawlers on your plants, there’s no need to stress out. Once again, do some Google searching to identify what kind of pests you’re dealing with and how to get rid of these bugs on indoor plants. For common houseplant pests like aphids and spider mites, often all you need to do is rinse the plant with water. For more stubborn pests, you may need to use sticky traps or spray the plant with a bit of dishwashing soap mixed with water.

Source: @lifewithleeanne

8. Fertilize strategically

Fertilizer is like the gummy multivitamin of the plant world, helping your plants thrive by providing essential nutrients and correcting deficiencies that might inhibit their growth. However, there is a fine line between helping and hurting your plants, as over-fertilizing them can make it more difficult to soak up water. Under-fertilizing is better than overdoing it, so start by using half the recommended strength in your fertilizer’s instructions and see how your plants do. It’s best to fertilize according to a plant’s growth cycle, which can differ slightly by each plant type. As a general rule, most indoor plants slow their growth during the winter when there’s less sunlight. That means you should typically start fertilizing in the spring and follow a regular fertilizing schedule throughout the summer, basing your frequency on the instructions for the specific fertilizer you are using.

9. Give indoor plants the humidity they need

Tropical plant varieties—such as ferns, fiddle leaf figs, and orchids—require more moisture in the air than low-maintenance plants like succulents. To keep these humidity-loving plants happy, there are a few simple things you can do. Misting plants with room-temperature water daily is a super simple way to keep the air moist. Another easy trick? Place your planter on top of a tray filled with some gravel and water—the water will evaporate over time and add moisture to the air. You can also add a humidifier to your space, keep your plants in more humid rooms like the bathroom or kitchen, or group plants together to create more humidity through a process called transpiration.

Ready to upgrade your plant game? These plant-care essentials will help:

plant care
Amazon
Watering Can

If you’re going to make watering your plants a part of your weekly routine, you might as well make it cute.

3 colors available

Shop now
plant care
Amazon
Glass Plant Mister

For plants that like a little more humidity, this mister makes it easy to add some extra moisture to the air. Plus, it doubles as shelf decor.

3 colors available

Shop now
plant care
Amazon
Ceramic Indoor Plant Pots Set

I love the modern look of these planters and that each one includes a removable saucer that catches extra water drainage.

6 colors available

Shop now
plant care
Amazon
Full Spectrum Grow Light

If your plants need more light than your living situation can give them, these grow lights are a genius solution. Stick the end straight into the soil and adjust the height to give your plants a boost of light that mimics natural sunlight.

3 colors available

Shop now
plant care
Amazon
Cork Plant Coasters

Place one of these cork mats under your plants to protect your furniture or flooring from scratches and absorb accidental drips or splashes from watering.

Shop now
plant care
Amazon
Soil Moisture Meter

If you’re really clueless as to how often to water your plants, this moisture meter will take the guesswork out of it. The easy-to-read numbers tell you whether your soil is too dry, too wet, or just right.

2 colors available

Shop now
plant care
Amazon
Gardening Scissors

These pruning scissors are great for trimming off dead leaves or cutting back overgrown plants.

2 colors available

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plant care
Target
House Plant Care Essentials Kit

Start your indoor plant journey off on the right foot with this simple houseplant care kit. It has all the products you may need, including fertilizing powder, grow concentrate liquid, and a protective spray.

Shop now