101 tips for keeping your house plants alive

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I’m as interested as you to see if I can come up with A HUNDRED AND ONE tips for keeping your house plants alive. 

I mean, 101.

That’s loads.

We’d better crack on!

BEFORE WE START, you may find that there are some plants that…simply hate you. Here’s a list of plants I can’t grow EVEN THOUGH they’re plants that are usually described as easy care. It sucks, but it’s probably not you, so much as your house.

1 – Let the top inch of soil dry out before watering again

UNLESS you have a plant that needs to be kept moist all the time, such as a carnivorous plant.

2 – Get a moisture probe

So you don’t have to guess when your plant needs watering.

3 – Water them when the level is at 2 or 3.

You can let cacti and succulents get to one.

4 – You don’t need to run out and get a fancy watering can 

I use an old teapot.

5 – Set a reminder on your phone to check your plants over on a weekly basis 

Check for damage, pests, and if it needs watering or fertilising.

6 – Don’t bother trying to come up with a regular watering schedule.

Plants don’t work like that. 

7 – Some plants need more water than others.

A plant from the rainforest will need more water than an African violet.

8 – Plants have different watering requirements

Depending on the time of year, temperature, humidity, and whether or not they’re putting out a new leaf.

9 – Don’t fertilise your plants until you’ve had them for a year.

The potting medium they’re in will provide plenty of nutrients for the growing season, and it won’t need any food over winter.

10 – Unless they’re potted in nutrient-free potting mix.

If it’s only potted in something like coir, then maybe give it a feed.

11 – Don’t fertilise your plants in winter.

They don’t need it, and you can end up giving them root burn.

12 – They won’t need as much water either.

Use your bloody moisture probe!

13 – Make sure they dry out properly in winter – damp soil attracts PESTS.

It’s even more important to let the surface of the potting medium dry out completely – damp conditions and a dormant plant is a great recipe for bug infestations.

14 – Mix perlite in with your potting mix to aid drainage a ratio of 2 parts potting mix to 1 part perlite’ll do.

You can also add orchid bark – they add drainage and provide nutrients as they break down.

15 – Don’t repot plants until they’ve had the chance to acclimatise to your home. A week or so will be fine.

They’d gone through a big change, so give them some settling in time

16 – Big plants in big pots won’t need watering as often as small plants in small pots.

Because there’s more potting medium to hold onto the water. I have a yucca that has needed watering twice this growing season. TWICE.

17 – Don’t pot a small plant in a big pot to cut down on watering time – it’ll probs die.

For a start the soil will hang onto too much water, so the plant may get root rot. It’ll also give the plant a severe shock.

18 – When you repot, only go an inch or two up in size, so the plant doesn’t go into shock.

Well, depending on how root bound you let your poor plant get.

19 – Don’t put plants in your bathroom in winter -unless you’re SURE it’s warm enough.

In summer, FINE. Well, provided there’s a window (check out this post if you want to put a plant in a windowless room). But bathrooms tend to be cold, so if you live in a temperate climate, maybe move your ferns into the kitchen.

20 – Philodendrons are easier to care for than alocasia and some look very similar aesthetically.

They require lower light and they can put out more than one leaf at once, so you don’t have to nuture them so much. They’re just easier to care for in general.

21 – Stay away from maidenhair ferns until you’re pretty sure you know what you’re doing.

I’m going to get one soon, I think (even though it’s the wrong time of year really) because I have the perfect spot for it in a medium-light part of my kitchen near my calathea and Boston fern. We shall see!

22 – Just because a plant is drooping doesn’t mean it needs watering.

It might have been overwatered. Or not be getting enough light. Or have a pest problem. Don’t blindly water it and hope for the best, you could end up killing it.

23 – It could do though – use your moisture probe.

Drooping IS a sign of dehydration in some plants.

24 – Sometimes old leaves drop off – it’s nature, don’t panic.

Leaves get old and die. Sometimes the plant sacrifices and old leaf to push nutrition into a new one. It can be a sign of overwatering though, so be careful.

25 – Make sure variegated plants get plenty of light

The white parts don’t have any chlorophyll in them, hindering the plant’s overall ability to produce energy.  Some plants can revert back to their non-variegated form, making a once expensive plant cheap again.

Apparently if you cut off all green leaves, you can get the variegated ones back.

Some variegated plants don’t revert – the variegation is in the genes, so don’t panic.

26 – If you find pests on a plant, the first thing you should do is isolate it.

Keep the outbreak contained!

27 – The space between the curtains and your windows traps the cold in winter – make sure any plants on your window sills can hack it.

It’s literally the purpose of curtains. I’ve shifted all my non-hardy plants into the kitchen.

28 – Like cacti. They don’t mind a bit of cold.

In fact, they need a cold snap.

29 – Neither do yucca.

If you have a big, bright spot to fill (preferably next to window), Yuccas are great. They don’t even mind the cold, so I put mine next to my French doors.

30 – Once you found your spot for your fiddle-leaf fig tree, DON’T MOVE IT.

I don’t know why they hate it so much, but apparently they do.

31 – Also, make sure it’s not in a draught. 

Because they’re PICKY BITCHES. Although, tbf, a lot of plants aren’t draught fans.

32 – Most plants don’t mind being moved about a bit though.

Not that mine get a choice.

33 – In fact, decide where it’s going to live before you bring it home. If your plant’s leaves touch cold windows, the leaf tips can go brown.

There are many reasons leaf tips can go brown – it’s often a sign of low humidity – but my Dracaena has just touched too many windows.

34 – Sometimes plants just die. You can’t win ’em all.

I have killed two Dieffenbachia and I have NO idea what I did wrong.

35 – Rotate your plants to stop them from growing unevenly towards the sun.

I have to rotate my jade plant nearly every day.

36 – Propagate your plants

Take a cutting with a leaf node and stick it in water. They make great (free) gifts. String of hearts and pothos are suuuuper easy.

37 – Terracotta plants are great for drawing moisture away roots. It is porous and water can evaporate through it.

I keep the majority of my plants in terracotta but mainly because they’re cheap, don’t need cover pots, and they look good.

38 – Though be careful with plants like hoya – their roots can attach themselves to the terracotta and you can cause damage if you repot. 

But be clear: this is not crime of the century that a lot of hoya experts claim it is. It’s certainly not impossible to get a hoy out of a terracotta pot relatively unscathed.

39 – If you need to repot a hoya that’s been in a terracotta pot, try soaking it in water to loosen the roots.

Or just very gently snip them with sterile scissors. I know it’s hard but it beats ripping them off like a gorilla.

40 – Rainwater is best to water plants with, but tap water is fine for most plants.

I literally leave a watering can outside to catch the rain and a couple of trays if there’s a heavy downpour. 

41 – Water from your fish tank is really good.

Full of nutrients and dechlorinated from the…dechlorinator.

42 – Let it sit out for a few hours since too-cold water can send the plant into shock.

It also lets a bit of chlorine evaporate BUT not all of it. Certainly not enough to make it safe for your Sundew.

43 – Don’t water Calathea or carnivorous plants with tap water. They need rainwater or distilled water.

Although I have forgotten and use tap water on my calathea. Still it’s very forgiving and just reprimanded me with a couple of crispy tips.

44 – The only sure-fire way to up the humidity in a room is to invest in a humidifier.

Preferably one with a warm steam option, but they’re more expensive. ‘Luckily’ I live in a damp house. I need a dehumidifier to bring the humidity down to 60%.

45 – Misting doesn’t alter the humidity of the air surrounding a plant significantly BUT

46 – Grouping plants together creates a microclimate which does cause a slight increase in humidity.

Misting is fun though, and ultimately harmless (hmm since I originally write this I’ve heard rumours that it can spread disease and encourage fungus to grow). It can actually wash the odd bug away.

47 – Plants will not grow in rooms with no lights.

So stop asking for suggestions.

48 – There are pros and cons to top and bottom watering. A mix of the two is ideal.

I think bottom watering is largely better, and once you have your routine down its similar in terms of how much effort it takes me. Read this article for a comprehensive insight into the pros and cons of  various watering styles. 

49 – Top watering can result in soil compaction and can attract pests

It’s also quick.

50 – But it’s more convenient and flushes away salt and mineral deposits.

And excess fertiliser.

51 – Bottom watering can result in build up of salts but encourages stronger roots systems and create a less habitable environments for pests.

But it can ages for your plants to absorb the water. Hence my use of pasta bowls as saucers.

52 – Keep neem oil on hand to clean your plants.

It smells weird af. Like peas and gravy.

53 – Dust your plants as often as you can be bothered. I do mine on a Saturday night with a glass of wine.

Erm, sometimes. When I remember. Probs not often enough.

54 – After you’ve wiped the leaves, go over them with a piece of kitchen towel with neem oil on.

It’ll not only make the leaves shine, but it’ll stop any little beasties in their tracks, and potentially stop infestations.

55 – If you want a big statement plant but don’t have enough bright, indirect light for something like a Monstera Deliciosa or Bird of Paradise plant, look for a philodendron Golden Dragon (or similar big leaved Philodendron).

They need less light to grow and they grow pretty quickly. Massive philodendron fan over here if you hadn’t realised.

56 – Check the moisture levels of Alocasia every other day when they’re putting out a new leaf

They get significantly more thirsty and if you let them dry out too much you’ll compromise the new leaf.

57 – If you’re worried about light levels in winter, invest in some grow lights.

You can get ’em on Amazon.

58 – Don’t buy a plant if you’re unsure of either what it is or if you can meet its requirements

(She says, whilst looking at ponytail palm she will NEVER have enough light for.

59 – You don’t need a fancy propagation station.

Buy sauces that have interesting jars you can repurpose when you’ve eaten whatever came in it. Empty jars are invariably more expensive than full ones, for reasons I cannot fathom.

60 – DIY bug spray

Add a teaspoon of washing up liquid and a tablespoon of white vinegar to a spray bottle of water. Apply to buggy plants.

61 – You can also add neem oil

But apparently, once you mix neem oil with water it has a fairly short shelf life in terms of effectiveness.

62 – Be careful about buying plants from the reduced section.

Check they haven’t been invested pests – you don’t want to invite in a full-scale epidemic.

63 – Do check the reduced section though, especially in supermarkets.

Oftentimes the plants look very sad because they’ve been overwatered, and can still recover if left alone.

64 – If you buy an overwatered plant, check its roots

If they’re black and gross, cut, ’em off and repot it in well-draining soil. Cross your fingers and pray to Persephone that you’ve not just wasted a tenner on a dead Monstera Adansonii (they’re always sat, sad and drowning, in the reduced section).

65 – Repot your plant when its roots start to grow through the drainage holes.

Or even out of the top, in the case of my curly spide plant.

66 – Don’t put rocks in the bottom of your pots 

It doesn’t help with drainage.

So stop it.

67 – Cover the drainage holes

With coffee filters, kitchen towel or a crock/stone to stop the potting medium from leaking out the bottom.

68 – You can get plant-grade potting bark cheaper from exotic pet shops than from plant shops.

69 – lol. If you’re making your own potting mix, worm castings make great fertiliser.

Mix it with bark, perlite, and coir for your own bespoke mix. Or just use commerical house plant potting mix and perlite.

70 – Prune pothos and similar and put the cuttings back in the pot to create fuller plant.

I find rooting them in water first helps.

71 – You can buy organic fertiliser if you don’t want to use weird chemicals or DIY it.

I use a seaweed one. You can get fish one, but I’m vegan and that ain’t my thing.

72 – Use different fertiliser macronutrient ratios depending on your plants needs.

Nitrogen (N) affects vegetative growth and chlorophyll, Phosphorus (P) for fruits and blooms, potassium (K) for general health. 

73 – The numbers on the back of the fertiliser bottle will show the ratio in this order N-P-K.

I tend to go for ones with more nitrogen.

74 – Don’t let your plants reabsorb water that’s already dripped through the soil

In case they reabsorb harmful salts.

75 – Use a turkey baster to suck up the water the runs into the saucer.

I’m on the lookout for one, but no look so far. It might be an Amazon job.

76 – Keep your windows clean for maximum light exposure

I really should practice what I preach here, but apparently not.

77 – Medium-light is when it’s dim but bright enough that you can read a book without having to put a light on.

Bright light casts a clearly defined shadow, and low light, is when you need to put a lmap on to read a book. If it’s too dark to see it’s too dark for a plant.

78 – If you have a south-facing window with sunburnable plants, cover it with a sheer curtain.

Few plants can tolerate full, bright sun for significant periods of time.

79 – You may have to wait for your peace lily bloom

If you buy a peace lily in bloom, but can’t get it to do it again, chances are it was treated with a hormone to force it to bloom when it’s still a juvenile. It’ll bloom again in time, but only when it’s old enough to do so naturally.

80 – Remove any debris from the top of your soil

You may think it’ll provide your plants with nutrients as it breaks down, but it’ll just attract fungus gnats.

81 – If you have a fungus gnat issue but don’t want to use pesticides, there a few things you can do:

Bottom water, making sure to keep the surface of the soil dry, top your gravel with sand or pebbles, or try sprinkling cinnamon on top of the soil.

82 – Carnivorous plants are also GREAT for eating up fungus gnats.

I have a sundew and a couple of pitcher plants. They NEED rainwater though, and quite a lot of it, since they’re bog plants.

83 – Cinnamon can also allegedly help with creating healthy roots.

Couldn’t hurt to give it a go, could it.

84 – If you’re a plant murderer, try a ZZ plant. If you kill it, maybe try fake plants.

And take a good long look at yourself in the mirror.

85 – Ivy is notorious for harbouring pests.

Wash it weekly or keep it for outside.

86 – Find washing plants a ballache?

Take them into the shower with you (just make sure to turn the temperature if the water right down.

87 – Make your own plants from avocado pits.

Simply wrap the pit in a damp paper towel and put it in a freezer bag on the windowsill. Once the pit splits and the root emerges, sit it on the neck of a jar filled with water and watch it grow!

In twenty years you’ll have your own avocados!

88 – Keep your African violets away from cats.

Apparently they love to eat them. Why? No idea.

89 – If you’re going away for a couple of weeks, chances are your plants will be fine.

Don’t risk a friend over excitedly overwatering them. If you have plants that you worry will dry out, either sit them in the bath with an inch or two of water in or stand them in a bowlful of water.

90 – Or make plant savvy friends that live nearby.

There’s a business idea here somewhere. Would you pay for a plant sitter? Or should I buy a massive green house and get people to bring their plants to me (fiddle-leaf figs aside, ofc)?

91 – Good bathroom plants are ferns, calathea, and spider plants.

They’ll actually LIKE the humidity, rather than just tolerate it.

92 – Plants like snake plants can survive in the bathroom

But won’t appreciate the humidity, and won’t thrive. And that’s just sad.

93 – Reserve west and south-facing windows for cacti, who can hack the bright sun.

It’s too bright and direct for most house plants.

94 – Unless you have something blocking a lot of it.

I, for example, keep an Oxalis triangularis in my south-facing window, because the sun is blocked by next door’s house.

95 – East facing windows are the best for a lot of plants

Just because they get full sun in the morning when the rays aren’t as strong as they are in the afternoon. 

96 – Plants are more prone to disease and pests in winter

So be sure to keep an eye on them, and don’t overwater them.

97 – If you’re after cheap cover pots, charity shops ALWAYS have a few.

TK Maxx usually has a few really nice big-ass plant stands too.

98 – Terracotta saucers will only protect your furniture from water damage if they’re glazed (since terracotta is so porous)

So I use cheap white pasta bowls are saucers instead. They also make bottom-watering a breeze.

99 – If your plant is looking leggy (big gaps between leaves), it’s usually a sign that it’s not getting enough light.

If you like the look, leave it where it is. It can be a pretty cool look on some trailing plants, like Golden Pothos.

100 – Don’t waste energy on trying to get your plants to bloom

They may be too young, for a start. Concentrate on getting the light, watering, and fertilising right, and it’ll bloom when it’s ready.

101 –  Looking after house plants is a marathon, not a sprint

It’ll take you a little to understand what your plant is asking of you (kind of like when you first get a dog). Don’t beat yourself up. Just buy yourself a fucking moisture probe.

Done. Congrats on staying to the end.

2 thoughts on “101 tips for keeping your house plants alive”

  1. I absolutely love your attitude & knowledge! I have my own Trial & Error Club it started about when the pandemic started. I have bulbs, flowers & a potho. I practically killed it with kindness. Burnt everybody with fertilizer organic, all of them. My fav is the elephant ears. They started as gangbusters then took a turn. Everybody is indoor & I wanted their 1st transplant to be into the Playboy Mansion wrong! Yes the trial & error club flourished with Error. My E Ears have like a boo boo on both stems. I checked hard to no avail did I see or detect movement. My new quest is to find out what’s causing this plight to both ears. I know it’s bad they’re safe living in Hearst Castle but in isolation. If you’ve got an inkling on what it may be Please send us a clue & we will all be in debt to you forever! I’m not in the best locale for my new projects
    Northern Nevada. I built 2 outstanding display tables. Rounds, sanded & stained- Mahogany. Yeah I joined the Home Depot Garden club. If the libraries would open I’d be up to my ass & elbows in DIY books. Anywho love your articles & I’m now a proud subscriber . Tracey K.

  2. Oh no! Well, we live and learn. Can you send me a picture of the boo boo (email caroline@planethouseplant.co or message me on Instagram)? I’m thinking scale if it doesn’t move. Well done for building the tables – my DIY skills are terrible, but I’d love to improve!

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