House Plants 101

Getting into house plants can be a little overwhelming at first. There is just so much to learn! First, you have the plants, and there are so many to choose from! Then there is the soil, which is the right one?! Plus you can’t forget the pots, but some have holes and others don’t? What are these light requirements on the tags? Water needs, what? You can see what I mean. But I’m going to try and help clear up a lot of that initial houseplant confusion in this article.

Angel wing Begonia showing off her new leaf.

Plants: So first lets talk plants, and picking your first ones. The choices are endless when it comes to buying houseplants. However, there are some great plants to start with while you learn, that won’t end in catastrophe. Pothos and Philodendron(vines) are the most forgiving of under or overwatering. They can bounce back from most everything. Some other good starting plants are Angel wing Begonias, Hoyas, Spider plants, Tradescantia (Inch plant), Rubber Trees, Dragon Trees, Dumb Cane, Snake Plants, and ZZ plants. Just be sure to always look up the care for each plant, the tags are not always correct or are very vague. Some plants to avoid are all Citrus trees, Ferns, Fiddle Leaf Figs, Calatheas, Gardenias, Jasmine, Majesty Palms and several Ficus varieties. These plants are a lot needier and require a lot of maintenance to keep happy. I also don’t recommend succulents even though they are often recommended. Succulents have such high light needs that most are never happy inside.

Monstera Deliciosa is a great beginner plant but they get quite large

Soil: Soil choice is absolutely critical for success with your plants. You cannot simply grab dirt from your yard or garden soil from the store. You have to use soil specifically mixed for growing in pots. There are many brands to choose from, like Fox Farm or Mother Earth. Some plants are happy with potting soil right out of the bag, but others need it to be altered a bit by adding in perlite or bark. I always look up each plants soil preference before repotting.

Pots: Picking the perfect pot can be a daunting task, there are so many choices! Big or small, terra-cotta or plastic, drainage holes or no? But let’s clear things up a bit! When picking a pot for your plant you want to get one about 1-2″ bigger than its root ball. This gives it room to grow, without having too much space which can lead to over-watering issues. Another thing to look for is pots with drainage holes, this allows excess water to drain away and prevent root rot. However, if you find a pot with no hole you would like to use, it can be done. Just simply place the plant in its plastic nursery pot inside the decorative pot, being sure to dump any water that may be in the cache pot after each watering. As far as terra-cotta or plastic that really depends on the plant. Plants that like to be drier tend to do better in terra-cotta because it wicks away excess moisture and allows more air to get to the roots. While plants that don’t like to dry out do better in plastic since they take longer to dry out.

Hoya enjoying its place right in the window.

Light: Let me first start by saying, All Plants Need Light! But how much light? Well, that’s dependent on the plant. Most house plants come from the store with a tag that recommends High-light, Medium-light, or Low-light. You are probably thinking, “what does that even mean?!”. Hopefully, I can clear it up for you. Keep in mind these recommendations are for the Northern hemisphere. First high-light, this is generally a place right in an East, South, or West window. Depending on how close you are to the equator you may need to hang sheer curtains to filter the light. Medium-light can come from a North Window, be filtered through other plants, have tall buildings or trees shading your windows, or plants placed 2-3′ from an East, South, or West window. Low light is farther from your window then 3-4′, But just because a plant says low light doesn’t mean you can put it in a dark corner and have it survive. A quick note on full sun plants, grow lights are required to keep them happy inside, a south window just doesn’t cut it. I find most of my plants to be happiest in my east windows where they get morning sun, I arrange them so my high light plants are filtering the light to my medium and low light plants. Also when indoors, all plants do better when they can see the sky through the window. By this I mean stand where you are going to put a plant, can you see the sky from its spot? If not, then it likely needs a new spot.

Pilea Peperomiodes in the morning sun.

Water: Every plant has slightly different water needs so I suggest looking up each plant. However, a good suggestion is to do the finger test and to wait until it is dry at least 2 knuckles down. This doesn’t apply to all plants as some do not like to dry out at all, and others like to be bone dry before watering. A moisture meter can be a big help when you are first learning or for the more picky plants.

Indoor Lemon tree under grow lights, an absolute must when growing citrus inside.

Fertilizer: Just to touch on fertilizer, most houseplants like to be fed a fertilizer formulated for indoor plants at half strength. I don’t suggest using it at full strength because your plants are likely to burn. Once again, it really depends on the plant, so be sure to look up your plants feeding needs. Some plants are light feeders and others heavy.