Love the look of indoor plants? Me too. But I just can’t seem to keep most of them alive. Apparently my give-water-every-now-and-again plant care system just isn’t cutting it. Time to learn the rules.

Keeping Indoor Plants Alive

I’ve killed so many plants, it’s pitiful. I’m never quite sure what I do wrong but I imagine it’s because I treat all my plants the same way: I throw in a little bit of water every now and then and keep them all semi-close to a window. That’s it. If a plant starts to die, I move it closer to the window and keep my fingers crossed.

Errr….maybe I should pay a bit more attention to what they need. Turns out there’s not too much to it if you keep the most important things in mind.

There are three main considerations when it comes to plants –

  1. How much light the plant needs
  2. The watering needs of the plant
  3. Is your plant getting fertilizer, aka food?

How Much Light Does your Plant Need?

One of the first things to figure out is what direction your windows face. The strongest light comes from the South and West, less strong from the North and East. There are other factors that affect how much sunĀ  you get such as if you live in a two story house (top floors usually receive more sun), if you live on a hill, or if you live in a foggy area. But these guidelines will still be helpful when trying to keep your plants alive.

Most plants require low light, bright light, indirect light or a combination of these.

Here’s the layperson’s lowdown on what plant lighting terms mean:

If the directions say the plant needs Low Light, it means:

  • there doesn’t have to be much light so the window can be a bit obscured
  • light from a northern or southern window
  • low light plants still require light
  • needs light from between 2-4 hours

If the directions say the plant needs Bright Light, it means:

  • light from a southern or western facing window
  • usually this requires no window coverings or any type of shade
  • 5-6 hours of direct light

If the directions say the plant needs Indirect Light, it means:

  • light from eastern facing window OR
  • interior light (plant may not be right by window) from a southern or western window that gets lots of light
  • usually cannot handle any type of direct light
  • 5-6 hours of indirect bright light

Beware of this Winter Mistake that Kills Indoor Plants

Keep in mind that as the seasons change, you need to reevaluate where a plant is located. One winter mistake that people make is moving a bright light plant to a window that receives lots more winter light. Oftentimes, it is very cold by these windows and these low temperature or drafts can harm the plant.

Easy Indoor Plant Watering Gauge

The other consideration is the amount of water a plant needs. This is important when you take a second to think about the purpose of roots. Plant roots allow water to be brought into the plant and the roots absorb oxygen from the soil. If a plant is over watered, the roots will rot and the plant cannot get enough oxygen

One thing to note is that some plants, like succulents, like the soil to dry out a bit before you water. For most other plants, you want to avoid overly dry soil. Here is how to water your plants:

  1. If the soil is dry to the touch, water your plant.
  2. Water your plants until water comes out of the drainage hole.
  3. Make sure your plants don’t sit in excess water.

Three Surprising Things I Learned about Watering my Plants

First of all, I think I realize why my plants keep dying. When you water your plants you want to encourage the roots to grow deep into the soil. To do that, you want to water well (water coming out through the drainage hole) versus just giving the plant a little water here and a little water there. (That’s what I have been doing with the water I’m not drinking!)

Second, you may have to water plants twice a day.

Third, water your plants in the morning so they avoid sitting in water overnight.

One Thing Indoor Plants Need and One Thing they do NOT Need

Another thing to remember is that your plant needs fertilizer. One with a 10-10-10 ratio {nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium} works for many houseplants. Fertilize them 1 time every 2-3 months from March to September. In the winter, most plants do not need fertilizer.

Something to keep away from your indoor plant is ground up coffee or tea bags – this encourages bugs!

An Easy Way to Make Sure you Keep Your Indoor Plants Healthy

Here’s an easy way to start giving your plants the love they deserve.

  1. Write down the name of your plant on a sticker and put it on the bottom of the pot so you can always refer to it.
  2. Use colored toothpicks or popsicle sticks with colored tops to denote how much sunlight your plant needs. (Green for bright light, yellow for indirect, etc.) This way, you don’t have to keep the information in your head and can simply glance at the plant to see how much light is suggested. You can push the toothpick far down if you don’t want it to show.
  3. When buying indoor plants, buy for one area with similar plant conditions. For instance, buying plants to go on the sill of your western facing bedroom window will require plants that need bright light. Buy all those together.
  4. Set a reminder on your calendar to check your plant’s health at the beginning and middle of each season so you can make the necessary changes.
  5. Keep track of plants that thrive and plants you have trouble with. This way you can try different arrangements or buy plants you have better luck with.

Next up, check out the list of indoor plants that have a good track record of staying alive and looking good.