Houseplants, much like pets, are completely dependant on us to give them everything they need. We need to water them and we need to feed them.
Out in the wild, they get water from rain and nutrients from the soil. But when we bring them into our home they have a finite amount of nutrients in the soil and no rain.
Watering your houseplants is fairly simple, but every living thing needs food to survive too so you need to know how to feed houseplants if you want them to thrive.
Feeding houseplants is often overlooked, but those luscious green images of rooms filled with healthy plants that you see on Instagram are thanks to a good feeding routine.
Don’t worry, there’s nothing complicated to it and you can even use things around the house to do it if you don’t want to buy a fertiliser.
Why Do Houseplants Need Fertiliser?
Plants are not just made of water, so if we only give them water we can’t expect them to grow properly. Seems legit, right?
In the wild, a plant will take in all sorts of nutrients for various purposes. It gets these from the surrounding soil which is constantly being replenished as plants and animals around it die and and decompose.
Obviously that isn’t happening in a 8″ plastic pot on your kitchen table.
The main nutrients a houseplant needs are:
- Nitrogen (N) – Used to grow strong stems, leaves and shoots as well as enhancing the colour of foliage.
- Phosphorus (P) – Used to grow strong roots and healthy flowers.
- Potassium (K) – Used to resist disease and help early growth.
There are many more, such as Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg) and Sulphur (S). These all have different jobs in helping a plant grow strong and vibrant.
Can a houseplant grow without these? Sure, but it would eventually get less green and would grow more slowly until it exhausted all it’s stores of nutrients. It would take a while, but it would eventually perish.
On the flip side, with all of these nutrients readily available, a houseplant will thrive. It will grow quickly (relative to its own natural growth rate, fertiliser isn’t magic fairy dust!) and it will be easier to look after.
Feeding your houseplant will make your life a lot easier. Pests and disease are more common in weak, poorly fed houseplants and trust me, you don’t want to experience these if you can avoid them!
What Type Of Fertiliser Should You Use On Houseplants?
There are three main types of houseplant fertiliser:
Each has different pros and cons, but I don’t want to beat around the bush. I only use liquid fertiliser because it is far easier to apply. It s also something you can make yourself from your food waste.
While I do make my own liquid fertiliser, I also have a bought liquid fertiliser ready to go if I need it. For simplicity, just use an off-the-shelf fertiliser to start with and you can get into DIY liquid fertilisers when (and more importantly, if) you’re ready!
My favourite is Baby Bio which is more of a UK/European brand, but I have heard great things about Espoma Indoor Houseplant Food in the US.
Follow the dosing instructions on the side of the bottle and make adjustments as needed throughout the year. More on that next!
How Often Should You Feed Your Houseplants?
Your houseplants will give you signs when they need water, more light or some other requirements. They might wilt when they don’t get enough water or their leaves will start to go pale if they don’t get enough light. All you need to do is give it what it wants and it will usually improve.
It will take a long time, however, to notice that your plants are not getting enough nutrients. Usually the signs will come too late to save your plant.
With this in mind, you will have to stick to a feeding schedule to regularly give your houseplant fertiliser so that it has what it needs without getting to the point of no return.
Every plant is slightly different, but I like to make things as simple as possible so I break them down into flowering plants, foliage plants and succulents/cacti. The nutrient requirements for these are a little different (more Phosphorus for flowering plants, more Nitrogen for foliage plants, more potassium for succulents and cacti).
A general purpose liquid fertiliser will do just fine for all of these, but if you want to get the absolute best out of your flowering plants and your succulents or cacti, then you can go for a more specialised fertiliser. These can be found alongside the general purpose stuff.
If you’re not interested in flowering plants and just want a wall of green then it makes things a bit easier for you!
One other factor that determines how often you feed houseplants is the time of year.
In the spring and summer months, your houseplants will be doing their best efforts to grow and therefore will need more nutrients. In the autumn/fall their growth starts to wind down and in winter it is almost non-existent.
With this in mind, you need to change how much you feed a plant throughout the year.
Start your feeding routine about 2 months before you expect the last frost. If you don’t get a cold winter where you live, congratulations, I’m so happy for you. You probably won’t need to alter your feeding too much through the year.
I only use a liquid fertiliser because it is so much easier to apply. You simply mix it into the water you use to water your houseplants.
From the moment you start feeding in spring, you’ll need to make sure you feed your plants at least every month. I recommend you experiment on the frequency yourself, between 2-4 weeks. Every home is different!
For the first 2 or 3 feeds, use a half-strength mixture to break your houseplants in gently.
Summer is very simple, just feed your houseplants at regular intervals. I feed mine every 3 weeks and they reward me with luscious growth!
Winter is coming and your plants will be winding down in preparation. If you keep feeding them at the same rate they will suffer from overdosing!
Taper down your feeding by halving the strength every feed from about 2 months before a frost is expected.
This means going from a full-strength summer feed to a half-strength feed next time around, then a quarter-strength feed, then an eighth-strength. This will be easier to do than you think as a liquid fertiliser is measured by drops.
Again, an easy period of time because you don’t need to feed! Your houseplants are relatively dormant due to the low level of light in comparison to summer.
Of course, if you’re in a year-round hotbed then just keep up the regular feeding schedule.
Scheduling Your Houseplant Feeding
All of this means you need to keep track of your feeding, but that doesn’t mean it has to get complicated.
A simple reminder on your phone every two or three weeks will do the job. Alternatively, there are several houseplant tracking apps that will help you in your houseplant care routine. These will not only remind you about feeding but also watering, repotting and more.
My favourite is Planta which is really easy to use.
You don’t need to make feeding your houseplants more complicated than it needs to be. It’s just about adding some liquid fertiliser to your water at scheduled times and keeping an eye on the time of year.
Of course, there are further things to get into such as making your own liquid fertiliser, experimenting with the frequency of feeding, trying out different kinds of fertiliser. But ultimately, you want to keep things simple and manageable.
Don’t get anxious about how to feed houseplants, just get excited by how great they will look after you have fed them.
All those amazing houseplant images on Instagram? That’s the result of a good houseplant feeding routine.