What makes a good indoor plant? Mainly, one that can tolerate dry air and low light levels. It takes good indoor plant care to keep indoor houseplants thriving. Plants are meant to be outside… there are certain species that have adapted to life indoors with the right growing conditions.
Many of our most popular houseplants are selected from wild plants that grow naturally in humid, shady tropical forests. They live in more humid environments with less light than where other plants thrive. They are never exposed to frost or freezing temperatures and their environment is relatively stable and free from big changes.
The better we can emulate the conditions these potted plants are adapted to, the more success we will have keeping them in our own home environment. This indoor plant guide will do just that – teaching you how to simulate the same soil, light, and water conditions to keep them thriving.
Below we have discussed the most important factors in taking care of houseplants.
Indoor Plant Pots
All indoor plants (with the exception of aquatic or bog plants) need a container with good drainage. If the potting medium stays wet, the roots will be deprived of oxygen, and the plant will die. This is referred to as root rot.
Be sure the holes on the bottom of the container do not become clogged. You may need to stand the pot on a bed of pebbles or take other measures to ensure that excess water flows freely through the bottom holes. If your pot does not have a drainage hole you can add marbles, pebbles, or rocks at the bottom to act as a drainage reservoir.
We prefer clay pots (terra cotta) as their porosity allows the plant to “breathe” and dry out faster than plastic or ceramic containers.
Eventually, a plant will outgrow its container and become root bound. The best time to “pot up” is just before the start of the plant’s active growing season in the spring and summer months.
Untangle encircling roots and spread them out as best you can in the new, larger container. Water thoroughly after repotting.
Plant roots need a good balance of water and air flow. The roots take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide. The potting medium must be porous enough to allow these exchanges, while still remaining moist, but never waterlogged.
Commercial indoor potting mixes are satisfactory for most indoor plants. Perfect Plants also specially formulates their own indoor plant soil which is linked above.
You can make your own organic potting soil for typical houseplants by combining:
3 parts sphagnum peat moss
1 part humus, compost or leaf mold
2 parts vermiculite
1 part perlite
For dry climate cacti and other succulents, add 1 part coarse sand, 1 part small pebbles, and small amounts of bone meal and ground limestone. You can also purchase our very own Cactus and Succulent Soil.
For different species of plants you can use different kinds of soils to meet their specific soil needs. Some plants like more organic material, some like materials such as coconut coir.
Indoor Plant Light Requirements
African violets need only a couple hours of sunlight per day, but most house plants need around five hours of bright light each day. If you aren’t using artificial light sources, such as fluorescent light bulbs, LED grow lights, or other “grow” light fixtures, your houseplants need to be near a window to receive the amount of light they need. Be sure to check the type of light intensity before setting up.
South facing windows allow the most direct light into the room; East facing windows and West facing windows experience even less, and North facing windows receive indirect light only.
Some houseplants thrive in a room corner a considerable distance from a window; others need to be right next to a window or even on the windowsill. Experience will help you select the best position for your plants, but we recommend consulting any of the many houseplant books. We especially like the excellent light requirement charts in Growing Beautiful Houseplants by Rob Herwig.
How to Water Indoor Plants
With the exception of epiphytes (orchids and bromeliads), most houseplants get their water and nutrients through their roots. Except for some dry land cacti and succulents, the soil around the roots must never be allowed to dry out completely. And, except for aquatic or bog plants, the soil around the roots cannot be allowed to stay constantly soggy.
Both under-watering and over-watering can be lethal. It is important to provide water when plants need it. Deep, infrequent watering is better than light, frequent watering. You can allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
The best way to water a containerized houseplant is from the bottom. Stand the pot on a bed of pebbles in a tray of water so that the surface of the water is above the bottom of the pot. This will allow water to seep upward into the soil. When the top inch of soil is moist, you know all of it may not be wet.
If you water from above, as is more common, watch for the excess to begin coming out the bottom drain hole and stop watering then. When the soil has dried out too much, the water may just run down the sides of the pot and out the drain hole, not wetting the soil at all. If this happens, you can rejuvenate the potting medium by watering from the bottom as described above or repot the plant with fresh potting medium.
Some plants are not too keen on tap water and prefer distilled. Do your research on specific houseplants if they are finicky.
How Often to Water Indoor Plants?
The dryer and hotter the air inside, the more often your houseplants will need watering. Plants in small pots will need watering more often than those in larger pots. Large, leafy plants need more water than small or compact plants.
Water when the potting medium gets dry, not before. Over-watering kills more container plants than anything else. Your experience is the best gauge of when to water.
You can also use a moisture meter to check the soil. The best time to water your houseplants is when the moisture meter reads the amount of water is too low.
Some succulents and cacti from dry climates thrive in warm, dry air. However, most houseplants need a humid environment of 50-65% relative humidity. This can be provided by standing the container on a bed of pebbles above the water in a tray or shallow bowl.
For some tropical houseplants, it is important to mist the foliage every day or so with tepid water from a spray bottle. If you use rainwater you won’t get unsightly white limey streaks on the green leaves. If your atmosphere is extremely dry, as it can be in winter months, the best solution is to use a room humidifier.
Best Temperature for Indoor Plants
Most indoor plants do best when the daytime air temperature during their growing season (usually our summer) is around 70-80°F (21-26°C), and around 60-70°F (15-21°C) at night. During the winter, when they are relatively dormant, most houseplants are best kept a little cooler; 50-60°F (10-15°C) is fine. Keep houseplants away from drafty vents or windows and keep check on the room temperatures.
Indoor Plant Fertilizer
Plants need six nutrients in fairly large amounts: Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Several trace elements are also needed, but in smaller amounts: boron, chlorine, copper, iron, zinc, manganese, and molybdenum. All of these are provided in commercial indoor plant food.
Fertilize plants only during their period of active growth. Follow label directions. Too much fertilizer can kill small plants. Different types of plants require different amounts of fertilizer.
There are many types of fertilizers including time release slow release fertilizers, water soluble liquid fertilizers, granular fertilizers, balanced fertilizers, and organic fertilizers.
Most houseplants benefit the home or office in more ways than decoration like the Ficus benjamina and Fiddle Leaf Fig. For example, several indoor plants help improve air quality by trapping debris in the indoor air or providing additional oxygen. Likewise, some edible shrubs can be indoors to provide herbs, fruit, and nuts for snacking. Other plants are incredibly low maintenance; they need water every 2 to 3 weeks.
Having plants indoors can be beneficial for mental health and can reduce stress, blood pressure, and provide horticultural therapy. Having plants in your bedroom can help you sleep.
Check out more information on growing Arbequina olive trees indoors here: https://blog.gardeningknowhow.com/trends/growing-arbequina-olive-trees-in-containers/
Below is a list of some of the most popular indoor plants:
We hope this indoor plant care guide has given you information that is useful for growing houseplants. Every plant is different and has its own specific requirements. It is best to do your own research and formulate which conditions are right for you based on your environment.
These are great options for indoor gardeners who do not have availability to a yard or land to have outdoor plants at. Houseplants are great choices as home decor to grow plants indoors. You can choose traditional foliage plants or flowering plants for indoor growing.
What kinds of houseplants are your favorite to grow? Let us know in the comments below.