Plants bring so much life to your living spaces. Research has shown that people feel better when they're connected to nature. The biggest design trends recognize this, with plants featuring in cottagecore, feng shui, boho, and even home office decor.
If you've been reluctant to bring that plant home for fear of killing it, don’t worry — plant care is easier than you think, even if you don’t have a green thumb. Here's how to keep indoor plants alive and thriving, complete with some easy plant care tips.
1. Picking Plants for Your Space
You've fallen in love with that fiddle leaf fig, but will it love your space? The answer to that depends on two major things: whether your home can provide it with the conditions it needs to thrive and how much time you have to put into its care.
Each type of plant has optimal growth conditions — the light, humidity, soil, and temperature it likes the best. Likewise, some plants are needy, while others can thrive on a little benign neglect. The closer you get to providing those conditions and attention, the happier your plants will be.
Before shopping for greenery, quickly survey your living space, especially the places where you'd love to add a little green. Once you know the growing conditions in your home, you can shop strategically for plants that will naturally love your surroundings.
2. How to Choose the Best House Plants for Your Space
To thrive, all plants need a few basic things, but their tolerance for each of these varies by species and type of plant. When deciding on a new houseplant, you should know what it needs in each of the following areas:
- Light (both type and duration)
- Pruning and growth
Once you know what a plant needs, you can choose the best location in your home. Of course, it's easier if you know the conditions in each room in your home before you start plant shopping. That way, you can look for plants that will love your home as much as you do.
If there's one thing you need to get right when you pick out a plant, this is it. Plants need light to live and grow, but they can be picky about just how much light they'll tolerate. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re determining the lighting conditions around your home:
- South- and west-facing windows generally have the strongest light, ranging from direct light near the windows to bright and moderate indirect light the further from the window you go.
- East-facing windows usually have a few hours of direct sun in the early part of the day, but the general lighting conditions will range from bright indirect light to low light, depending on how far from the windows you place a plant.
- North-facing windows get the lowest amount of sunlight, and often get no direct light at all. The light generally ranges from bright indirect light right up against the windows, to moderate and low light further away from the window.
- Trees, buildings, and other outdoor obstructions can reduce the amount of sunlight coming through a window, as well as window blinds, curtains, shades, and screens.
- The size of your windows matters. Bigger windows (obviously!) let in more light.
Types of Light
Plant labels (or their description on your favorite nursery website) will tell you what kind of light a specific plant likes, but it can feel a little cryptic. Here's what the labels mean and how to figure out which kind of light the different areas in your rooms provide for your plants.
This is when the sun's rays shine right on the plant's leaves for six or more hours a day. You're most likely to get direct light from a window that faces south or southwest. It's the window that has sun streaming through it from midmorning to late afternoon.
Plants that thrive in direct light:
- Jade plant
- Aloe vera
- Money tree
- Ponytail palm
- Most succulents
Bright Indirect Light
This type of sunlight doesn't actually touch your plants. It's ideal for many popular houseplants, especially those naturally growing in tropical settings. The best locations for plants that like bright indirect light are windows that face south, west, or east. Remember that screens, dirty windows, and outside trees or structures can reduce the amount of light coming through these windows.
Plants that thrive in bright indirect light:
- Heart leaf philodendron
- Rubber tree
- Umbrella plant
Moderate Indirect Light
This is best for plants that are used to growing on forest floors, where the sunlight is filtered through the tree canopy and other foliage. You can approximate this filtered light in rooms with bright sunlight by placing your plants farther away from the window or using sheer curtains to filter the light. Plants that love medium light conditions will be happy in rooms with windows that face in any direction, as long as you take care to protect them from direct sunlight.
Plants that thrive in moderate indirect light:
- African violets
- Christmas cactus
While not ideal for some plants, there are many that will tolerate (and even grow happily) in low light conditions. Keep in mind that even the most tolerant plants will be happier if you supplement the low light with a few hours of artificial light daily.
Plants that tolerate low light:
- Snake plant
- Lucky bamboo
- Spider plant
- Golden pothos
- Cast iron plant
- Peace lily
4. Temperature and Humidity
Most houseplants like the same conditions you do — room temperature between 68F and 75F, and moderate humidity. If you're comfortable, chances are that they are, too.
Remember that plants lose water through their leaves, and the dryer the air is, the more water they'll need. For example, if your house gets especially dry during winter heating season, try one of these houseplant hacks to help your leafy friends thrive.
- Give them a light misting with plain water once or twice daily.
- Run a humidifier in the room.
- Put a river rocks or gravel layer in a tray or flat pan. Add water to just below the top of the layer of rocks. Place your plants in the tray. Refill the water as necessary.
5. When Should You Water Your House Plants?
The second most important piece of keeping your houseplants alive and thriving is providing them with the right amount of water. While the plant label will give you a basic guideline for watering your plants, it's important to know that their watering requirements will often vary based on other conditions.
So exactly how do you tell when your plant needs water? These pro tips will help.
- Check the soil before watering. Stick your finger into the soil at least to your second knuckle. Soil that looks dry on top may still be moist around the roots.
- Water the soil, not the leaves. Use a watering can, and make sure to get the water all around the plant rather than just pouring it into one spot.
- Allow indoor plants to dry out before watering again.
- Water less often, but more thoroughly. Instead of giving your plants a little splash of water every day, give them a deep soak once a week, or even less often.
- Plants that get more light usually need more water. Likewise, your plants need more water when the weather is hot.
- Water plants in small pots more often than those in larger pots.
- Water plants more often in the summer than in the winter.
One of the most common mistakes people make with indoor plants is giving them too much water. Overwatering a plant can drown it by making it impossible for the roots to get the oxygen and nutrients they need.
When watering, your plant probably needs less than you think. If you see any of these things, you may be giving your plant too much water:
- Old and new leaves falling off the plant at the same time
- Yellow or brown drooping leaves
- Moldy stems, leaves, or flowers
- Brown tips on the leaves
- Foul odor