We all start as houseplant beginners. Some of us believe there isn’t a single green finger to be found on either hand. But this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the many benefits of owning a houseplant or two….or seventeen. You just need some basic houseplant care guidance to get you going.
I learnt as I went along. Initially, it was about keeping them alive. Then it was about helping them grow by giving them the right conditions. Finally, I moved onto a point where I was confident I could buy a plant and it would thrive.
This beginners guide to basic houseplant care gives you all you need for that first stage, the stage when you just want to make sure you don’t let any of your new houseplants die.
From then on, it’s just about learning on the job as a new houseplant parent!
Minimum Viable Houseplant Parenting
You can’t possibly know everything about houseplants straight away. Even one particular species of houseplant.
You just can’t. Give yourself some slack!
But you can very quickly get to a point where you will be giving it the bare minimum care.
After that you can dive a bit more into what really makes your houseplant tick.
Let’s start with minimum viable houseplant parenting.
Minimum viable houseplant parenting is about knowing three things:
- Buying a plant that is right for where you want to put it.
- Giving a new houseplant time to adjust to its new surroundings.
- Watering your new houseplant in the right way.
Buying a New Houseplant
Don’t panic if you’ve already bought a houseplant, or that you’re reading this because your plant looks like it’s dying. This advice is still relevant, just think about your plant as if it were new.
Before you even bring a houseplant into your home, have a think about where it might go. But to be a good plant parent, make sure you think about the plant’s needs rather than your own.
“..to be a good plant parent, make sure you think about the plant’s needs rather than your own.”
Often, a houseplant is bought to make a certain part of the home look better. But if it’s not a good spot for the plant and the plant slowly goes downhill, then it won’t make that part of the house look great anyway!
So, why not put a nice ornament there instead and place your plant somewhere that it gets enough light.
Look around your home and get a feel for where the light is brightest, which windows are exposed to the sun and which are not, the potential plant positions that will have a view of the sky.
The right amount of light is the number one requirement for any houseplant.
When you buy a plant, there should be a rough guide on the pot or a label stuck in the soil that tells you what kind of light it likes.
This could be ‘direct light’, ‘bright indirect light’ or ‘indirect light’. There might be some variation in the wording.
If it says ‘low light’, don’t take that at face value. This means that it will survive for a while in low light, but it’s not ideal.
- Direct light means that it needs to get direct sunlight for a large part of the day.
- Bright indirect light means that it needs to see a lot of sky, but not get direct sunlight for more than a couple of hours.
- Indirect light means that it needs to see some of the sky, but not get any direct sunlight. If you can’t see any sky, it’s not ideal for a houseplant, unless there is lots of light reflected or diffused around the room.
Which parts of your home could you place a plant and satisfy these categories to some extent?
Good plants for direct light are succulents, cacti, crotons and string of pearls.
Plants that prefer bright indirect light include pileas, prayer plants and monstera deliciosa (swiss cheese plant).
Plants that are good for indirect light are snake plants, boston ferns and spider plants.
These are all good beginner houseplants and they all look great, in my humble opinion!
If you can place a houseplant in roughly the right light conditions, you are 90% of the way towards keeping it alive and even moving towards helping it grow well!
“If you can place a houseplant in roughly the right light conditions, you are 90% of the way towards keeping it alive.”
Let Your New Houseplant Baby Settle In
Once you have bought your new houseplant and found a great spot for it that satisfies it’s lighting needs, give it some time to settle in.
Most plants just like to be left alone, so you should only give them one drastic change to deal with at any one time.
Coming into a new environment, with new temperatures, humidity levels, light and air conditions will be enough for it to deal with for now. Leave it in the pot it came with and don’t be tempted to water it straight away (unless it’s bone dry, but read the part about watering below first!).
Give your houseplant at least a week to settle into its new surroundings, while giving yourself time to find out a bit more about how to look after it properly.
“Give your houseplant at least a week to settle into its new surroundings, while giving yourself time to find out a bit more about how to look after it properly.“
How To Water Your Houseplant Properly
Watering a houseplant is always seen as a bit of a tricky thing to get right.
It doesn’t have to be.
It starts with the pot it is in. Hopefully, if you bought the plant from a garden centre or online plant shop, it will have come in a plastic pot with drainage holes at the bottom. This is good.
If your plant is not in a pot with drainage holes then you will need to repot it because you don’t want the roots sitting in water. If you can see roots growing out of the bottom of the pot then you probably need to do this anyway.
Sorry if repotting sounds daunting, but repotting, in its simplest form, is just this:
- Getting a new pot (a plastic one with drainage holes is fine). If your houseplant looks like it needs a bigger pot, get one that is about an inch or two bigger than the one it is in now.
- Adding a bit of potting mix to the bottom of the new pot.
- Taking your plant out of it’s current pot and loosening the soil around the roots.
- Placing it in the new pot and adding new potting mix around it as necessary. Then pat the soil down gently.
Before you do this, just make sure you have given your plant time to settle in. Remember: one drastic change at a time!
Once it is in the right pot, let’s make sure it is watered in the right way.
For most houseplants, you just need to water them when the top inch of soil feels dry.
“For most houseplants, you just need to water them when the top inch of soil feels dry.”
Just stick your finger gently into the soil and if it feels dry, it’s time to water.
But wait! Not all water is made the same.
Rainwater is the perfect water to use, but if you don’t have a water butt to hand (I don’t either! 😢), you can fill a jug with tap water and leave it for a day so that chemicals like chlorine evaporate off. The water will also warm to room temperature which will be good for the plant.
The best way to water most houseplants is to put them in a sink, bath or shower and thoroughly soak the soil. Let the excess water drain off and then put the plants back in their container pots or on their trays.
“The best way to water most houseplants is to put them in a sink, bath or shower and thoroughly soak the soil. Let the excess water drain off..”
Starting a Houseplant Care Routine
So, you have the basics sorted. You’ve got through the first few weeks of being a proud houseplant parent. Your new houseplant is still alive.
Now you need to settle into a care routine that will ensure your houseplant stays this way and even thrives!
- Check the soil to see if your houseplant needs watering.
- Check the leaves and stems for anything that shouldn’t be there (creepy crawlies, mould, brown spots).
- Remove any leaves that have turned completely yellow or brown (this is perfectly normal if they are the lowest leaves).
- Rotate your houseplant so that a different side is facing the light.
- Give your houseplant’s leaves a gentle wipe with a damp cloth to remove dust so that they are getting full access to light and air.
- Remove dead leaves and branches and prune back long branches that you don’t want. When doing this, cut just after the first leaf node on that branch to allow new growth. Place any cuttings in a jar of water if you want to try growing a new plant!
- Check the bottom of the pot to see if the roots are coming out and the plant might need repotting.
- When you stick your finger into the soil, if it’s starting to feel more solid then you can use a chopstick to gently loosen the soil around the plant.
- Take a picture, on your phone, of your plant and check it’s progress every month. This is a great way to see how well (or not so well) it is growing. If there seems very little change month-to-month then the first thing to think about is whether there is enough light for it.
- Spring is peak growing time, so if your plant can wait for repotting until the spring it would be a better time for this.
- Most houseplants do well with some plant fertiliser in the spring. The requirements for this will vary by plant, but will generally involve a drop or two of houseplant food, such as baby bio, in the water you use to water your plant.
- In really cold months or really hot months, you will need to water at different frequencies. As long as you stick to the ‘finger in the soil’ method you should be fine. But how often you need to do that will vary.
Enjoy Your Houseplants!
The best way to look after your houseplants is to fall in love with them. When you love your plants, you look after them as if they were your own children (sort of!).
Houseplants are so beneficial to us in so many ways. The least they deserve is some basic houseplant care.
Even if you are a beginner, this is really easy to do. Getting stuck into a passion project like this is just one of the benefits a houseplant gives you.
Have fun looking after your houseplants! Let me know how you get on and whether there is anything I can help you with!