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Caring For Indoor Plants

indoor plants

What makes a good indoor plant? Mainly, one that can tolerate dry air and low light levels.

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 other plants. 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 plants are adapted to, the more success we will have keeping them in our own environment.

Below we have discussed the most important factors in taking care of house plants.


indoor plantsAll 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. We prefer clay pots 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.

Untangle encircling roots and spread them out as best you can in the new, larger container. Water thoroughly after repotting.

Potting Mix

Plant roots need a good balance of water and air. 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 potting mixes are satisfactory for most indoor plants. You can make your own potting mix for typical houseplants by combining:

3 parts sphagnum mossindoor plants

1 part humus, compost or leaf mould

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


African violets need only a couple hours of sunlight per day, but most houseplants need around five hours of light each day. If you aren’t using artificial lights, such as florescent bulbs or other “grow” lights, your houseplants need to be near a window.

indoor plantsSouth facing windows allow the most direct light into the room; East and West facing windows 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.


With the exception of epiphytes (orchids and bromeliads), most houseplants get theirindoor plants 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. 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 soil at the top is moist, you know all of it is 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.

indoor plantsThe dryer and hotter the air, 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.

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. If you use rain water you won’t get unsightly white limey streaks on the leaves. If your atmosphere is extremely dry, as it can be in winter, the best solution is to use a room humidifier.

Temperature & Nutrition

indoor plantsMost 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.

Plants need six nutrients in fairly large amounts:  Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur. 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 fertilizers.

Fertilize plants only during their period of active growth. Follow label directions. Too much fertilizer can kill.

Benefits of Indoor Plants

Most houseplants benefit the home or office in more ways than decoration. For example, several indoor plants help improve air quality by trapping debris in the air or providing additional oxygen. Likewise, some edible shrubs can be indoors to provide fruit and nuts for snacking. Other plants are incredibly low maintenance; they need water every 2 to 3 weeks. Below is a list of some of the most popular indoor plant.

Check out more information on growing Arbequina olive trees indoors here:

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Indoor plants

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