Houseplants bring nature indoors – a touch of green that softens hard lines and strong light in our homes or offices. Houseplants can even improve air quality indoors. Many differ in their specific cultural requirements, but here are some general tips to help keep yours healthy.
Match plants with light conditions. Houseplants vary in their light requirements. Some prefer the strong light found next to a south-facing window. Others thrive in the soft morning light of an east-facing window. Distance from the window will affect light intensity and quality. And to make matters more complicated, light intensity and patterns vary with the seasons. One thing for sure, all houseplants do best with some light from outdoors. Some need less than others (view our list of low-light houseplants), but the better you match the plants with the light conditions where they will grow, the happier you and your plants will be.
Your plants will also tell you if they are getting too much or too little light. Too much light usually turns the foliage dull green to yellowish, and the leaves may also wilt even if the plant has plenty of water. If plants are not getting enough light, they will get leggy and less compact.
Choose the right container. It is important to consider size, material and even color.
Use good-quality potting soil. Good potting soil (never use regular garden soil in containers) promotes healthy roots by providing a balance of proper aeration, nutrition and moisture-holding capability. Nurseries and garden centers carry an excellent selection of packaged potting soils.
Water properly. Like all containerized plants, houseplants need frequent, thorough watering. Wet the entire root ball, and let excess water run out the bottom of the pot. Don't leave standing water in the catch-tray for more than a day or two. Doing so can promote root diseases. Allow the soil to partially dry before watering again. To check soil moisture, stick your finger into the top 2 inches of soil. If it is dry, it's probably time to water. You can also tell how dry a plant is by lifting the pot. It will be heavy after watering, lighter as it dries out. To prevent salts from building up in the soil, water especially heavily (refilling the container four or five times) once every month or two. This is most easily done by placing the plant in a sink or taking it outdoors.
Fertilize and control pests. The frequent watering required by most houseplants leaches nutrients out of the soil. These must be replaced by regular fertilization. And insects, such as Aphids, Scale and Whiteflies, can be problematic indoors. Regularly inspect your houseplants for signs of insect pests and treat when necessary.
Increase humidity and prevent drafts. Indoor conditions can be dry and drafty. Keep plants away from heater vents, doorways and drafty windows. Increase humidity by setting plants on trays layered with small pebbles and filled with water. Or, place them in naturally humid areas like kitchens or bathrooms if there is adequate light. Misting plants increases humidity only temporarily and is of little help, plus it can increase chances for foliage diseases.
Keep foliage clean. Dust that accumulates on the leaves of houseplants will block light and harbor insects. Clean leaves by wiping them with a moist towel or, in mild-winter areas, take plants outdoors and hose them off.