How to Grow Healthy Houseplants

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Houseplants – the gateway experience enticing people into hardcore gardening. Who can resist bringing a little bit of the outdoors indoors? It starts with an innocent spider plant in the living room. Next, you move on to growing annuals in containers over the summer. Finally, you start ripping up great swaths of lawn to make room for a perennial garden and a vegetable garden. You get hooked!

Growing plants inside comes with a few challenges. Light, humidity and temperature all play a part. Most houseplants grow better in bright light. Some like bright, but indirect illumination, while others love basking in the sunniest window available.

Having enough humidity often depends on how you heat your house. Modern homes often come with humidifiers built into the furnace. They work best for providing adequate and even moisture. No humidifier? Try grouping your houseplants together to take advantage of the water vapor leaves give off through tiny openings called stomata. Setting containers on pebble trays might help. Fill the tray with pebbles, and then add water until it reaches just below the surface. As the water evaporates, it provides humidity to the plants above.

Houseplants adapt well to the same indoor temperature favored by humans. Our temperature requirements coincide during the day; however, plants like it a little cooler at night, ideally 50 to 65 degrees.

More people kill their houseplants with too much TLC than by neglect. They overwater and overfertilize. Unfortunately, the symptom of not enough water manifests the same as too much water – drooping leaves. Feel the soil with your finger. It should be completely dry before adding more water. Cacti can go a month between watering, but most plants prefer one- to two-week intervals.

Do not fertilize your houseplants at all during late fall and winter. Their metabolism slows down as daylight hours decrease. Too much fertilizer builds up salts in the potting medium, which will harm the plant.

When the plant needs a larger pot, go only one size larger. If the ratio of soil to root ball increases too much, the plant stays too wet. Choose spring or summer as the best time to repot.

Ask the Expert


What are some easy houseplants to grow?

Try pothos, jade, spider plant, arrowhead, ZZ plant and Norfolk Island pine. They are all easy to find and easy to grow.

I’ve heard molasses makes a good fertilizer for plants. Is that true?

Yes, but mostly no. The sugar in molasses feeds beneficial bacteria in the soil, which then feeds the plants. Unfortunately, bad bacteria also like sugar. As the bad bacteria grow, they rob the soil of other nutrients your plants need, eventually resulting in reduced growth.

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