These are the few things you can do to every houseplant to keep them happy, healthy and thriving.
Houseplants bring color, life and cleaner air to any space, but learning to care for them can be mildly intimidating. Kim and I happen to be former black thumbs that used to be capable of killing any plant we laid eyes on. Now, our homes are filled with dozens of thriving plants. We stepped up our plant game by starting simply. A couple of hardy snake plants and ZZ’s got us started, and now we feel comfortable caring for most common plant varieties. The steps below are a simple (but probably not fully comprehensive) guide to getting started or stepping up your plant game.
1| Add a Drainage Hole and Saucer
The two most common plant care mistakes are overwatering and underwatering. Most of the plants in our home prefer slightly damp soil. Not soggy, but also not dry and crumbly. A drainage hole allows excess water to escape and evaporate through the bottom of the planter. This keeps roots from rotting and allows the plant to absorb the water it needs.
The plant saucer, also known as a drip tray, collects the excess water that makes it through the drainage hole. While the water should be allowed to escape, we certainly don’t want it leaking all over our shelves, dresser tops and floors! An appropriately sized saucer is sometimes included with the planter or can be purchased separately.
2| Dust the Leaves
Like any surface in your home, plant leaves collect dust. Unfortunately, this can choke out the oxygen and sunlight they need to thrive. Clean plants are happy plants! For larger leaf plants like the Sansevieria Jaboa above, we use a damp microfiber cloth to clean each leaf individually. For plants like pothos that have far too many leaves to clean individually, we move smaller plants into the sink or tub and give them a rinse (more on that later)!
3| Maintain a Watering Schedule
There are all types of devices available to measure the moisture content of soil, but we prefer to simply dip a finger into the soil and feel for ourselves. Only touching the surface of the soil will give a rough idea of where the soil stands moisture-wise, but you’ll need to feel the soil about one knuckle deep to get a feel for how the majority of the soil is doing.
Most commercially available houseplants will thrive in common home humidity environments, so a set watering schedule us usually OK. Most of our plants need water every 7-10 days, so it can be helpful to pick a specific day of the week to water all of your plants. If schedules don’t allow for a set watering day, utilizing a recurring calendar event can be helpful!
4| Try a Full Soak Once Every Month (or Two)
Watering plants with a simple watering can will usually keep them happy and healthy, but plants that are easily moved will often benefit from a full-on shower! We like to give our Ficus Audrey and some of our more substantial plants a full on spray down and soil soak very month or two.
Once they’re bathed, we allow them to sit in the empty tub for 30 minutes or so to get rid of excessive moisture. This process keeps them well-watered (tip 3), clean (tip 2) and properly drained (tip 1). While the process of moving the plants back and forth can seem daunting, a proper bath can check a lot of boxes in one simple act! Your plants will thank you for it.
5| Don’t Skip the Plant Food
We’ve talked a lot about our watering processes so far, but don’t forget that plants also need food to thrive! We prefer concentrated Plant Food from Happy Happy Houseplant since it is so incredibly simple to use and works incredibly well. The instructions call for 1ml of concentrate per gallon of water and it is recommended for use at every watering. We’ve been using Plant Food for a year or so and we simply cannot underestimate how well it has worked for us.
When placed in proper lighting conditions and watered appropriately, our plants grow at a rate that is almost unbelievable. We’ve purchased small 4″ starter plants of a handful of rare varieties that we were apprehensive to splurge on. After a few months, they’re often spilling out over their containers. We’ve had a few plants double or triple in size in a year!
6| Try Neem Oil
Neem oil is often the first product we reach for when a plant is struggling. Neem oil kills insects, mites and fungus and also works incredibly well as a leaf shine! The concentrate we use can be mixed with water into a spray bottle or wiped on with a rag. We don’t generally quarantine our new plants due to a lack of space (and impatience!) but have had largely good luck with bringing home healthy specimens.
On the rare occasions that critters have hitched a ride into our home on a new plant, we’ve had lots of success wiping them out with neem oil. We even mix it up for use in our gardens when bugs have infiltrated our outdoor plants!
Using these basic tips, we’ve gone from certified plant killers to thriving plant parents! While there’s certainly a lot more to learn, we think these simple tips are a great starting point. If you’ve got any other great tips, we’d love to hear them!