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Beginner Basics,  Indoor Gardening

Houseplant Care 101: The Ultimate Guide to Happy & Healthy Indoor Plants

Ah, houseplants. The object of desire for so many! And what a worthy “object” indeed! Having houseplants is a fantastic way to bring a little of the great outdoors inside. There is no doubt they add a very special visual appeal to any space, creating a sense of freshness and calm. Speaking of freshness, houseplants actually cleanse the air around you! Through photosynthesis they increase oxygen in the room, and through phyto-remediation they absorb and reduce harmful pollutants and gases.  

One of the best things about houseplants is that they’re something everyone can enjoy. No matter your space – big or small, urban or country, dimly lit or full of sunshine – there are houseplants that can fit and flourish with your situation! All you need to do is figure out which types suit you best. Also, learn how not to kill them. So…

Let’s talk about some of the basics when it comes to keeping houseplants alive and happy. While each plant may have slightly different needs, there are definitely some tips and best practices that can be applied to all types of houseplants! The right light exposure, watering schedule, container choice, soil type, and feeding regimen will determine if your houseplants thrive, or flounder. We’ll go over all of these things, along with tips for potting up, hanging plants, and a few words about houseplant pests like gnats… and cats. 



Want to hear some good news? 


Caring for houseplants isn’t all that complicated! More often than not, people literally love their plants to death. They fuss over them more than necessary, and very commonly – water way too much.

While houseplant care may seem like a mystery to some, I promise you this: I fuss over our 30-something indoor plants far less than our outdoor garden. They get close to zero percent of my time and attention… except for my admiration of course. Some of our houseplants are over 12 years old now!

Let’s dig in, shall we?


CHOOSING THE RIGHT PLANTS


When you’re out plant shopping (aka the Best. Thing. Ever) and a green beauty catches your eye, take a moment to read up on its needs before bringing her home. I’m sure most of you have your phone with you when you’re out, right? Do a quick Google search. Does it like bright direct light? Low indirect light? Lots of water? Not much? Ambient warm temperatures and no cold drafts? Humidity, or arid conditions?  How large will it get? Knowing these things will help you decide what kind of soil and container to get for it as well. 


Choose plants that should work well for your space, and what you feel like you can manage.


Low-maintenance houseplants

I will put together a more detailed follow-up article about the best low-maintenance houseplants, but here is a quick low down: Personally, I have found that the easiest, no-fuss houseplants include snake plants (Sansevieria), Pothos (aka Devil’s Ivy), Monstera, Dieffenbachia, Philodendrons, cacti, and succulents like jade or aloe vera. I also have no problem growing fiddle leaf figs like weeds, but I realize many others struggle with them! We’ll talk more about fiddle leafs to follow, I promise. 

Over time, you’ll find what kinds of houseplants jive well with you and what you have to offer, and which seem to hate you. I know I have! Yes, I have killed many a houseplant over the years. Don’t beat yourself up if you do too. It happens! For example, ferns and I don’t get along. They do well outside on our shady porch, but not inside, for whatever reason. 

So guess what? I just stopped trying to keep ferns indoors, and other finicky plants too. Instead, I stick with the trusty friends that I know won’t let me down… even if I neglect them a little. Because let’s be real: I don’t have time to baby our houseplants. If they can’t thrive with my super basic care routine, they’re out.


A two photo collage showing the corner of a house with various types of indoor houseplants and sizes. A shelf is displayed on the wall with little plants here and there while there are bigger plants on side tables and stands. They range in type from rigid leaves to hanging plants, cacti, etc.
One of our plant corners, several years ago versus now. Some plants come and go! Like that beautiful striped zebra plant. It always had brown spots and was way too finicky to keep looking nice. So she’s gone. Snake plants and ficus never let us down though! That tiny fiddle leaf fig is about four feet tall now, living in another corner. The new cubby shelf is full of air plants, which deserve a post of their own.


Edible houseplants

In addition to the classic ornamental houseplants listed above, consider growing food inside! A popular and fun choice is keeping culinary herbs in your kitchen window. Basil is the perfect container-friendly, easy-to-grow herb for this. If you need some tips, here is an article all about growing bushy basil – which can be applied to indoors, or out!

If you have the space for it, potted dwarf citrus trees can also be grown indoors. Hell, most dwarf fruit trees can live inside, though their ability to provide fruit may vary – depending on if they’re self-fertile, or if they need cross pollination. Another fun and easy edible you could grow indoors are sprouts and micro-greens.

Additionally, many people start their garden veggie seedlings indoors under grow lights. Check out this article for seed starting 101. While the typical intention is to eventually move them outdoors, there is no reason you couldn’t keep on growing them inside. That is, as long as you have adequate light and space for them!



LIGHT


Plants need light to live. They derive their energy needed to grow from light through photosynthesis. But you know this, right? So that means that no, sorry, I can’t suggest a type of plant for a room with zero windows and awful dim artificial lighting. That just isn’t going to end well. 

While some light is necessary for all houseplants to be happy, the amount they’ll thrive in varies drastically. The tags or descriptions for most houseplants will say things like “full sun”, “bright indirect light”, “moderate light”, and so on. But what do all these things mean, exactly? 


Full sun or bright direct light

Full sun is exactly what it sounds like. The suns rays beat directly down on the plant, a majority of the day. A plant in a sunny windowsill, especially a south-facing one, would receive bright direct light. In my experience, most house plants don’t love the hot sun rays beating down on them directly. Even more, the light and heat is amplified through window panes, and can cause sunburn and yellowing of the leaves. 

Plants that love bright, direct light: Succulents and cacti. Some of the others listed below will tolerate some direct sun, particularly in the morning or for short periods of time. Plants may also survive in direct sun, but not look their best. Staghorn ferns are a perfect example, who turn yellow, sunburning slightly. Our happiest staghorn gets zero direct sun on our shaded north-facing porch.


An outdoor patio table that has an assortment of sun loving houseplants such as succulents, cacti, snake plant, fiddle leaf fig, and various others. There are garden beds in the background with vegetables growing in them and a couple wine barrels that have a small fruit tree planted in them.
When I got an office space with a large, south-facing window, I was ecstatic! But I knew the only plants that would be happy along that hot sunny windowsill were cacti and succulents. These were all the plants I loaded up to bring to work. The fiddle leaf, snake plant, and dieffenbachia went in a corner away from the window.


Bright indirect light

This is the type of light that most houseplants love and flourish in. A location in a brightly-lit room with windows, a skylight, or glass doors nearby, but with little to no direct sun contact. Make sense?

Plants that love bright indirect light include: Monstera, Ficus (including Fiddle Leaf Figs, Weeping Ficus, and Rubber Trees), Alocasia (Elephant Ear), Spider Plants, Parlor Palm, Prayer Plant, and air plants. These guys will also tolerate moderate light, but may not be quite as content in low light.


A room in a house that is centered with a bay window. There are houseplants sitting in and around the bay window, enjoying the suns rays that are shining in. There is a huge hanging pothos plant in the corner and there are also three cats dispersed evenly throughout the room, not paying much attention to any of the plants.
The plants in the bay window receive direct sun, but only for a couple hours in the morning. The rest of the day, this is the perfect spot for plants that love bright indirect light. Shown from left to right are a fiddle leaf fig, a hanging swiss cheese philodendron above it (trailing across the window), a corn plant, a large Alocasia aka elephant ear, snake plant in the basket on the floor, and a marble queen pothos hanging in the corner. Tucked off to the left of the bookshelf (not shown) is a darker corner with low to moderate light, where we have a rubber tree, hanging satin pothos, and another fiddle leaf fig.


Moderate to low light houseplants

If your house, apartment, room, or other living space has fairly low-light, don’t lose hope! There are many houseplants that will live in lower light conditions.  As long as a room has a window, even small or north-facing, enough natural light should filter in to keep some plants growing happily. Please know that not all of the rooms in our house are as bright as the ones I am showing today. Our bedrooms are much darker, but they’re full of plants happily growing too!

Some low-to-medium light loving plants that are easy to care for are Sansevieria (Snake Plant), Pothos (Devils Ivy), Dieffenbachia, Ivy, ZZ Plant, Philodendron, Calathea, and Chinese Evergreen, and many types of ferns. Of these, pothos, snake plant, and philodendron will grow well in the least light.  The fun thing is, there are many varieties of each of these too! For example, there are green leaf and silver spotted philodendrons, marbled or plain pothos, and dozens of types of snake plants.


Maximizing light

There are ways to maximize the natural light your houseplants receive, such as by hanging plants in front of a window that doesn’t get direct sun rays – such as one that overlooks a covered porch. Many plant enthusiasts use open-concept shelving to increase the amount of light that reaches their plants, as opposed to traditional solid bookcases. The use of mirrors and light colored paint may also help amplify light in a room. 


A corner of a room is pictured with a fireplace and mantle off to the left, there are houseplants or various sizes and shapes littered about the room, some even on the mantle.
This is one of our sunniest corners in the house, with bright ambient light (but no direct sun). I am standing at our south-facing sliding glass door, looking in. Knowing this was the perfect space for plants, we loaded it with shelves, mirrors, and plant stands – to fit the most plants in the ideal space as possible.


Artificial light

When adequate natural light isn’t readily available, you can always supplement with artificial light! Houseplants grow surprisingly well in office environments with ample fluorescent lights, no where near windows! The same idea can be applied in your home. You could pick up an individual grow light or two to keep your plant friends happy!

Typical household incandescent bulbs aren’t the best for fueling plants. Instead, you’ll want fluorescents or LEDs. We use these fluorescent grow lights to start our seedlings, which can be mounted to the underside of a shelf or similar. When it comes to using LED, do take precaution that it is not good for your eyes to be around the ones that put off pink light. There are also some flexible, modern LED light options that look more like sunlight and are easier on the eyes, like this one.

It is best to turn on grow lights for 8-12 hours per day, mirroring the time of natural daylight. If you want to take it a step further, there are some pretty badass light shelving units out there made for growing seedlings or houseplants inside, like these sleek LED bamboo shelves. 



HOUSEPLANT CONTAINERS & POTS


Drainage 

I will cut straight to the point: Do not pot your houseplants in a container that doesn’t have a drainage hole. It will die. All plants need drainage, and will rot away without it!

Some pots already have drainage holes along with a built-in or attached drip pan around the bottom. Others may need a separate saucer added below. This can be as simple as a clear plastic one, an old plate, or a nice matching ceramic option. Some saucers or pots sweat moisture from below, so I usually place our pots and trays on top of a sizable cork coaster to further protect the furniture or surface it is sitting on.

If you find an adorable pot that you can’t live without but it lacks a drainage hole, you have a few options. One is to plant your houseplant in a slightly smaller container with drainage holes, and nest it inside the larger one. Use a few rocks or other clever insert to prop up the inner pot, creating a space below for excess water to drain to. Dump the collected water as needed. The same concept applies to placing pots with drainage holes and drip trays inside decorative baskets.

The second option is to create a drainage hole in the container. We have used a ceramic drill bit to carefully add holes and modify some of our pots. 


A two part photo collage showing the possibility of placing a smaller pot with proper drainage inside of a larger pot that doesn't have a drain hole. The second part of the photo shows a pot sitting on a cork coaster to help protect the wood shelf it is sitting on.
Two examples of “nesting” smaller pots with drainage holes inside larger ones that do not have holes. Each inner pot will sit elevated above the bottom of the other, creating space for moisture to drain away. Also, a cork coaster is being used under the one on the right. Even though it doesn’t have a hole, the stone pot sweats.


Size

The size of the pot that your houseplant lives in will generally limit the size it will grow to. Restricted roots can lead to restricted foliar growth. For the average small houseplant, it is not much of a concern. Furthermore, some types of houseplants seem less impacted by small containers. For example, our pothos vines grow to extremely long lengths for years and years in the same modest pot. 

However, if you are trying to encourage your monstera, fiddle leaf fig, elephant ear, rubber tree, or other potentially large houseplant to grow to impressive heights, keep this in mind. It is best to gradually pot-up your plant into slightly larger containers every year or two as it grows, giving its roots more space and enabling the plant to reach its full potential. Read more about potting up below.

In addition to allowing for larger growth, one additional benefit of a bigger pot is better moisture retention. The majority of the plants we have indoors are fairly drought tolerant, so we want quite the opposite. Yet a few of our plants love water. One such plant is our large Elephant Ears, or Alocasia. As tropical plants, they are thirsty little devils! To overcome the need to water them more than once a week (when everyone else gets watered), we plant them in larger pots. More soil means more water-holding capacity


Potting up or re-potting houseplants

When it comes time to transplant your houseplant babe into a new pot, be it when you first bring it home or as part of routine care later, keep in mind that most plants do not like to jump from a small pot to a drastically larger one. Size up gradually. 


An outdoor photo showing an Elephant Ear (alocasia) in a nursery pot sitting next to a large ceramic pot that is empty. The empty pot will soon be planted out with the Elephant Ear plant.
Potting up an Alocasia (elephant ear) to a modestly larger but not massive pot.


Potential reasons to pot up houseplants:

  • The plant has been in the same container for a long time, looks sad, and has stopped growing.
  • When water runs immediately through the soil and out the bottom, signaling poor soil structure or root binding.
  • When roots are poking through the bottom drainage hole, or severely winding around themselves.
  • If a plant is top-heavy, overgrown, and/or toppling over.



Tips for potting up houseplants:

  • When removing the plant from the old container, do so gently. Do not pull up on the stem. 
  • Tip the pot on its side and try to ease the root ball out. As needed, use a trowel or other tool to loosen the soil along the inner walls of the container.
  • If the roots and soil look good and healthy, try to disturb them as little as possible.
  • If the roots are tightly wound around themselves, also known as being “root bound”, gently loosen and unwind some of the outer and lower roots. Do this with your hands, or cut them free with a clean, sharp knife. 
  • If you are re-using an old pot, make sure to clean it well first with soapy water and even some hydrogen peroxide. This prevents spread of disease or pests to new plants. Read more about sanitizing garden supplies and pots here.
  • Place a fresh layer of potting soil in the bottom of the new container. We usually like to cover the drainage hole with a little piece of breathable weed block landscape fabric before adding soil, which prevents loose soil from coming out of the hole. 
  • Set the plant in the new container and assess the depth. You want to avoid burying the stalk with new soil, or having the root ball sit too high without soil around it. Adjust your soil level as needed. 
  • Add fresh potting soil around the sides of the plant. Make sure to fill it enough to not leave voids of empty space, but do not pack the soil in. Compacted soil doesn’t absorb or drain water well.
  • Water thoroughly after potting up, but avoid using fertilizer for a few weeks to prevent any shock or burning.
  • If you really want to spoil your plant and help reduce any possible transplant shock, check out this article to see how we feed our plants with aloe vera!



Tips for hanging houseplants 

We love hanging houseplants. Some of the easiest-to-grow plants are trailing ones, such as pothos and philodendron. Additionally, it is one of the best ways to keep plants up and away from cats, dogs, or kiddos.  Don’t worry, we’ll talk more about cats shortly! 

Hanging plants can be extremely heavy, especially if you use clay or ceramic pots, so you want to take care to do this safely. We use these ceiling hooks that are rated up to 35 pounds of weight in drywall. They do put a rather large hole in the ceiling, so I highly suggest having a helper hold up your plant to visually assess the location before committing! Alternately, you could locate a stud or hang plants from a beam.

Trailing plants can be allowed to dangle down from their pot all the way to the ground, creating a dramatic effect. Small hooks can also be used to train long vines up along doorways, ceilings, or walls. One of our pothos plants trails along the perimeter of two long walls! Another loops up and down from the ceiling several times to fill out an otherwise empty corner. To keep the vines in place, we often use tiny little screw-in hooks. However, many houseplant enthusiasts prefer to use small damage-free command hooks.


A three part photo collage that shows the various types of hanging possibilities for different houseplants. Some are trained along the edge of a wall using hooks, others are allowed to hang straight down.
A few of our hanging plants that wander the house. The top and lower left are pothos, one green and one marbled queen. The lower right is a swiss cheese philodendron.


Because they’re so heavy and high, I try to avoid taking hanging plants down for watering. Therefore, we prefer to have sufficient drip saucers under the pot, either as part of the pot or tucked within the hanging sling.


Check out some of our favorite macrame plant hangers, stands, and other houseplant supplies here!


SOIL 


Similar to what I preach for raising seedlings, I do not suggest potting your houseplants with random old soil from your outdoor garden. It may not be the ideal consistency for your houseplants, and also could contain pathogens or pests that you do not want to bring indoors! 

Instead, use a bagged potting soil, or one that is otherwise labelled as good for container gardening. It should be fluffy and well-draining, and always contain some perlite or pumice. Some potting soils will come amended with compost, chicken manure, and other fertilizers. While this isn’t essential for houseplants, these higher-quality soils will give your plant a nice strong start. Furthermore, it will reduce your need to fertilize your plants as soon or as frequently. 

When planting cacti or succulents, choose a bagged cactus potting mix. It will contain even more perlite or pumice to promote good drainage. This is pretty essential for cacti to be happy! For other types of plants that are also known to be drought-tolerant and appreciate good drainage, consider mixing half regular potting soil and half cactus mix. 

On the other hand, if you are growing tropical houseplants that like a lot of moisture – such as monstera or alocasia – you may want to amend your classic potting soil with a little compost or worm castings. This will help increase the moisture retention and create a richer environment that they will enjoy. 


A two part photo collage of a flowering Elephant Ear in a bay window. The leaves are huge, the second photo shows a closeup of the flower.
As a large, thirsty, tropical plant, this elephant ear gets a little extra compost and water. She has rewarded us with frequent blooms, which is quite unusual for indoor alocasia! You can smell the pungent flowers the moment you walk in the door, before you even see them. They’re like a mix of vanilla, coconut, jasmine, and a hint of floral musty “old lady perfume”.



WATER


If you are struggling with houseplants, improper watering is a very likely culprit. I’d even venture to bet that overwatering is the number one killer of all houseplants! Particularly if this practice is combined with a lack of drainage holes in the pot.


How much should I water my houseplants?

When it comes to watering houseplants, more is not better.

The recommendation for many houseplants is to allow the soil to slightly dry between waterings. Maybe not entirely dry, but your plant should certainly not be sitting in wet, soggy soil all of the time. They breathe through their roots after all!

I can’t tell you an exact amount of water to use, since this is going to vary depending on your climate, size of pot, soil type, and so on. A few of our largest pots may get several cups each time they’re watered (elephant ears), some small and drought-tolerant plants only get a little splash (cacti and snake plants), while others get something in between. You’ll develop your own groove and learn what your plants like with time.

In general, the goal is to provide enough water to dampen the soil for the roots, but not so much that it is pouring out of the drainage hole excessively, or not able to dry a bit between waterings. Which leads us to….


How often should I water my houseplants?

Again, your schedule may vary slightly from mine, but I do suggest you get a regular watering routine down. Your plant friends will appreciate a consistent watering application. Plus, developing a routine will help you remember when to water or not! I water all of our potted houseplants once a week on Sunday, and the air plants usually every other week.  Some of our plants could easily go two weeks or more without water, but it is easiest for me to do them all at once than remember individual schedules. Therefore, I simply vary the amount of water given to each plant to meet its needs.

If you aren’t sure about the moisture content of your soil, do a little exploring! Poke. Poke. Even if the top layer of soil looks dry, it could be quite damp an inch or two below the surface.

When in doubt, water less. But if a plant begins to wilt, you’ve let it dry out too much.

Here is a good example: We were recently gone for two weeks on vacation. My mom was house sitting and gave a few of our most thirsty plants a little drink. Yet rather than trying to have her guess and adjust for the rest of them, I told her not to bother watering at all.  We watered once before we left and again when we got back, and everyone survived. The plants at my office went for nearly three weeks without water during that time! The fiddle leaf fig there looked quite limp and wilted, but perked right back up after being watered. It didn’t even drop a leaf. Brown spots or leaf drop on fiddle leaf fig leaves is usually caused by overwatering. 


Humidity

Many common houseplants enjoy slightly humid air. Certain plants, like a lot of ferns, can’t live without it! Our Staghorn ferns are the only ones I find the need to mist routinely. We have low to moderate humidity here. I would certainly not call our climate humid – nothing like the south or east coast! Nor are we arid like Arizona. Being a mile away from the ocean here on the Central Coast of California, we get a lot of foggy days. This keeps the air adequately humid for our plants.

In drier climates, you may find the need to mist your houseplants on a weekly basis. Serious plant enthusiasts commonly use a humidifier to keep their houseplants happy – which is also great for your skin and respiratory system!


A stag horn plant is hanging outside of a house under a shaded porch. There is a giant rubber tree next to it and the top of the plant is almost touching the overhang of the porch.
Because of our very mild, temperate year-round climate, we can keep many “houseplants” outdoors also. This staghorn fern and variegated rubber tree live on our shaded north-facing front porch. They get bright ambient light, but never direct sun.


Other watering tips

When you water your plants, drizzle water evenly over the entire top of the soil. Meaning, don’t just dump water right in the center or on one spot all the time. That causes water to rush through that one area, and possibly leave other sections totally dry. Even water distribution encourages healthier root development and better water retention. 

Also pay attention to how the water is behaving when you apply it to the soil surface. Is it quickly absorbing? Or does it just sit there, pooling? It is not uncommon for the top of the soil to cake up. Also, the soil may pull away from the sides of the pot. So when you go to water, it may run right off the surface, down the insides of the pot, and out the bottom drainage hole. If you aren’t paying attention, you may think you’re overwatering – but it is actually totally bypassing the soil and roots!

To solve this, use a chopstick, pencil, or small stake to poke holes in the top couple inches of the soil and lightly break it up. The result is increased aeration and pockets for the water to better absorb!


A closeup photo of an indoor potted plant that is having its soil loosened and aerated by repeatedly poking holes in the soil surface with a chopstick.
Poking holes in the caked soil to increase aeration and even water absorption.


I don’t bother to move our plants on watering day since they’re all equipped with drip trays. Some people collect all their houseplants and water them in the sink, bathtub, or shower. I don’t have time or space for that, with 30 plus plants and all! Every once in a while I do have an overflow that I need to mop up with a towel. No biggie. The exception to this is air plants. I do collect them, dunk them in water, and allow them to dry upside down on a wire rack in the spare shower.

To water, I find it easiest to use a small watering can that has a long narrow spout, especially to get to the hanging houseplants without making a mess! 



FOOD


I will be the first to admit: I am not good about feeding my houseplants. More attentive plant parents may stick to a monthly fertilizer routine. Me? Our babies are lucky to get fed once or twice per year. It’s okay – they seem to forgive me! I do think they’d probably appreciate a bit more often – like every 3 months or so – something I am trying to get better with.

To feed our houseplants, we either water them with dilute seaweed extract, an aloe vera soil drench, or homemade actively aerated compost tea (AACT). To read more about these things, check out the following articles: 


Of all these methods, using seaweed is definitely the most simple and straightforward! This is the seaweed extract we love and use in our garden. Just follow the dilution instructions on the bottle.



ONGOING HOUSEPLANT CARE


Pruning

Do not be afraid to remove dying foliage! It is totally normal for plants to shed their oldest (usually lowest) leaves as they grow. Much like pruning trees or removing large fruit from vegetable plants, taking off those old crusty leaves will help encourage a boost of new fresh growth. The plant can redirect its energy elsewhere now. If they don’t pull off easily, carefully remove old leaves with a clean sharp knife or trimming shears.  You can also trim off brown tips of leaves that look otherwise healthy.


A photo of a yellow leaf from a plant with sun rays gleaming in the background.
Remove old yellow leaves!


Training

Certain plants will appreciate a little support. This is true for fiddle leaf figs, who typically need a stake along each of their main stems. To attach the plant to the stake, we like to use this reusable soft wrapped wire – which we also use in our outdoor garden!

Monsteras also tend to sprawl and flop, but are more tricky to stake since they lack a main stalk. We have this 24-inch moss pole to support our largest Monstera. The idea is that you’re supposed to keep the moss wet, which will attract the aerial roots, who will then cling to it and hold up the plant. We are not good about keeping it saturated so it doesn’t work that way for us. But it is still a nice thick and natural-looking stake that we can tie several leader branches to.  Many people use these moss poles to train vining plants upwards, such as pothos, ivy, or philodendron.

If your houseplants lean forwards or bend towards the light, you can rotate them in place every few weeks to help them grow more straight. We do this regularly for our two Alocasia. 


Dusting

Other Instagrammers always ask me “What do you do to keep your plant leaves so shiny?!?” Honestly? Nothing. We don’t find the need to dust our houseplants. I am not sure why, because dust sure does settle on other objects in the house! Our leaves just stay clean? Or clean enough I guess.

However, I do know that many other people do dust their plants. One option is to take them into the bathroom and give them a little shower. On a cloudy day, they could also be sprayed down outside, or even set out in the rain. Do heed caution here though! Don’t accidentally leave them out in extreme temperatures, sun, wind or other conditions they aren’t accustomed to. I accidentally fried the crap out of one of our oldest and most majestic houseplants once. 

A damp cloth can also be used to wipe down individual leaves as needed. 


A corner of a house that has houseplants displayed on various levels. Some are on the ground, some are on side tables, and others are on higher shelving units and fireplace mantle.
Shiny leaves. No dusting needed here!


Soil refresher

With time, the soil in your pots will likely sink down and compact. If you aren’t up for repotting the plant, you can still give it a nice fresh bit of soil! To top off a houseplant with fresh soil, first lightly loosen the top inch or two of old soil. You want the old and new soil to be able to mix and become one. Also, if the soil has pulled away from the insides of the pot, either push some of the old stuff back, or slip new soil in the void. Add a couple inches of fresh potting soil, but don’t compact it or bury the plants stem. 



HOUSEPLANT PESTS


Okay guys, we are almost done here. But before we go, I have to address two of the most common questions I get about house plants: What to do about fungus gnats, and how to successfully co-habitat houseplants and cats?


Fungus Gnats

Soil-dwelling fungus gnats and fruit flies love moisture. This is just one more reason to avoid over-watering your plants! If you have standing water in your drip trays or overly soggy soil, you will likely also have a little gnat problem. They go hand-in-hand. Check out this article to learn all about fungus gnats, including 3 ways to prevent gnats and 5 ways get rid of them – organically!


Other pest insects

I am not going to cover all the different insects that may inflict your houseplants today. Thankfully, since they’re protected in the safety of your home, houseplants are far less likely to have pest issues than outdoor plants! Aside from fungus gnats, the next most common indoor plant pest that is worth a mention are mealybugs. 

Mealybugs are small, soft-bodied, usually white and slightly fuzzy insects who are related to aphids. If you see these guys, it is best to act quickly before the infestation gets out of hand! They usually hide on the underside of leaves, or in the nooks between leaves and branches. To kill mealybugs, I suggest mixing up 1 tablespoon of Dr. Bronners liquid castile peppermint soap with one quart of warm water, and spraying the solution directly on the mealybugs. It must contact them to kill them. You can also soak a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol, and swab the mealybugs one-by-one. This also kills them.  

See a full tutorial on making and using homemade soap spray here, which also works for aphids, whitefly, and spider mites.


A closeup photo of a large leaf that has a mealybug infestation. The mealybugs are different sizes showing that they have started a population on the plant.
Mealybugs on the underside of one of our staghorn fern leaves. I chose to swab these guys with rubbing alcohol instead of using a soap spray. For most plants I would use soap, but staghorns have sensitive foliage and natural spores that wouldn’t like being completely coated.

To learn more about common pest insects, you may enjoy this article: “Organic Pest Control, Part 2: How to Identify the Top 18 Garden Pests & Beneficial Insects”


Cats

I am only half-joking by including cats in the “pest” category. Because just as much as our kitties can pester our plants, many houseplants can also be harmful to our cats! And dogs. And kids. Given who else you have at home, do your due diligence and research the plants you choose to keep inside!


Tips for keeping cats out of houseplants

We are pretty blessed. Our cats aren’t assholes. I mean, every cat is a little bit of an asshole… but when it comes to plants, ours leave them alone for the most part. It isn’t just by pure luck though. All three of our kitties have been around plants since they were babies, so there isn’t that “Ooooh, that’s new! Let me check that out!” factor. When they do get overly curious, we give them a very firm and loud NO.

To keep cats from digging in the soil, we place large rocks on top of the soil surface in the pots that they can access. Also, keeping pots that are on the floor inside tall narrow baskets make it much more difficult for the cats to get into. Some folks use a sprinkle of cayenne or chili powder on the soil surface to deter them, or cover the top of the soil with something like chicken wire, though we haven’t found that necessary. Keeping plants up on shelves and hanging out of reach also helps! 


A closeup of  a plant that has just been transplanted into a larger pot. There are rocks placed throughout the inside of the pot on top of the soil surface, this is to help keep cats from scratching and playing in the soil.
Rocks to block the cats from digging.

Over the years, we have figured out which types of plants our cats cannot resist, and which ones they’ll generally leave alone. This can only come by trial and error for you personally.  Our cats love to munch on thin, skinny leaves that resemble grass most, like those on some Dracaena or Parlor Palms. So we just don’t bring those types home anymore. Thick wide leaves like those on a fiddle leaf fig are not interesting to them. It also helps that our cats are older, and two are pretty fat and lazy. Kittens are definitely more difficult to… chill. 


Pets and “Toxic” Houseplants

When you do a Google search, damn near every house plant is listed as “toxic” to cats and dogs! However, the severity of toxicity widely differs between various plants. Furthermore, “the dose makes the poison”. Meaning, chewing one little leaf likely won’t send kitty to the ER, while a puppy may be more likely to mow down an entire plant and have serious repercussions. 

Many houseplants cause an upset stomach, vomiting, and temporary mild reactions such as mouth irritation. Honestly, most of the plants we have in our house fall into this category, including pothos, fiddle leaf figs, alocasia, and dieffenbachia. Snake plants will also cause a mild reaction. Hopefully your animals will be smart and learn to stay away, if they do take a nibble and experience an unpleasant reaction. If they cannot help themselves, then you should probably keep the plants out of their reach, or out of your home. Stick to the plants on the “safe” list below.

On the other hand, some are extremely toxic and can cause organ failure and even death. For cats, the two worst ones I am aware of are lilies and azalea, so it best to avoid those all together. Keep that in mind if you ever have bouquets of flowers in the house too!

Use google for a more complete search of plants types and their level of toxicity. Most importantly, know your pets. Since ours do not munch on the plants, we feel safe with what we have around. That doesn’t mean yours will be same unfortunately. 

A photo showing a room with a bay window surrounded by houseplants of various types. There are two cats sleeping on a rug directly in front of the window, showing that they don't care about the plants around them.
Our chill kitties. Lover boys Quincy and Figaro on the rug. Our OG Dalai is in the window, sleeping in the sun behind the fiddle leaf.


Safe Houseplants for Cats and Dogs

When in doubt, or if your animal just can’t help themselves, stick with some of these houseplants that are generally regarded as safe for cats and dogs:

Spider plant, Money tree, Boston fern, Bird’s Nest fern, calathea, orchids, bromeliads, Swedish Ivy, Prayer Plant, African Violet, Parlor Palm, air plants, and the entire echeveria family of succulents. (Speaking of air plants, I promise to do a post about them soon!)



And that, my friends, are the basics of houseplant care 101.



If you follow these tips, your plants will be in good hands. Maybe you knew a bit of this already, but I hope you learned a few new things too! Let me know in the comments, including any lingering questions you have.


Please feel free to spread the love, and help out other crazy plant ladies & gentlemen by sharing this post. Pin it below!


I thought you may enjoy this little tour of our home as well.




DeannaCats signature, Keep on Growing

15 Comments

  • Susie

    NO PLANT SURVIVES IN MY HOUSE.

    It’s true. When the house went up 30+ years ago, I opted for the energy efficient low-e (low emissivity) glass throughout (it was a good choice since I lived in the shell a few years before I could get HVAC installed). Since low-e blocks ultraviolet light, *nothing* grows here (without artificial light). But I lost ALL my plants before I figured that out.

    If others have issues keeping plants alive, it’s one thing to check…

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