How To Keep Indoor Plants Healthy (9 Essential Tips)

Plants are a solid option if you want to decorate your living space. Keeping an indoor plant in tip-top condition can be challenging, even if you’re an experienced outdoor gardener. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your indoor plants healthy all year round. 

Ensuring your plants get enough sunlight is key to their health. Establish a suitable watering routine, adjust temperature and humidity, and fertilize your plants to keep them well-fed. Be on the lookout for pests, use deadheading to speed up growth, and conduct frequent health checks. 

Indoor plants are a gorgeous addition to your home—bringing life and color into your living space. However, you need to meet specific requirements for your plants to survive and prosper. This article is a complete guide and will cover everything you need to know to keep indoor plants healthy and bountiful. 

1. Let Your Plants Get Their Fill of Sunlight

You probably already know that plants need sunlight to carry out photosynthesis, which allows them to convert nutrients from the soil into food. Plants cannot carry out photosynthesis in the absence of light. If you leave a plant in darkness long enough, it will die of starvation. 

Having your plants be exposed to enough sunlight is the first step to ensuring they stay in their best health. To do this, you must determine how much sunlight your plants need. 

We can divide sunlight requirements into three categories. 

  • Full sun. These plants need at least six hours of sunlight a day. However, many plants in this category do best when they receive eight to ten hours of sun. Plants that need full sun are almost always grown in outdoor gardens. 
  • Partial sun / partial shade. These plants need anywhere from two to four hours of sunlight per day. Most indoor plants fall into this category. 
  • Full shade. Plants that cannot tolerate direct sunlight at all. These plants need less than 2 hours of sunlight per day. You can keep them in darker rooms. 

Since most indoor plants need partial shade, the ideal sun requirement for most of your plants will be two to four hours of sunlight per day. Any less and your plants won’t have enough sun to remain nourished. Any more and your plants will be at risk of burns and dehydration. 

Also, something to note here is that plants that fall into the partial and complete shade categories cannot tolerate direct sunlight. What they need is filtered or indirect (reflected) sunlight. Sunlight is filtered when it passes through curtains, blinds, or other vegetation. 

The best spot for your indoor plants will be a few feet from an east-facing window. You can also take your plants outdoors during the early morning to let them get a few hours of weaker sunlight. You should bring them back in before noon, though. 

Opt for a south-facing window or a balcony if you have indoor plants that need full sun, such as daisies and sunflowers. 

Indicators of too little sunlight are:

  • Leggy, unnaturally long plants
  • Asymmetrical growth toward light sources 
  • A loss of variegation 
  • Stunted growth 

The signs of too much sunlight are:

  • Browning leaves or burnt patches
  • Bleached leaves
  • Dry soil 

If you suspect one of your plants suffers from either of these conditions, relocate it to a more appropriate spot. It will recover on its own.

If you want to learn more about greening the leaves of houseplants, check out my other article. I’ll take you through the steps of making any plant in your home greener: How To Make Any Houseplant Greener (Easy Methods)

2. Water Your Plants Generously

Proper watering is essential to a thriving indoor plant collection. This process is what most beginner gardeners need help to get right. They either water their plants too little or too much. 

You could follow a standard weekly watering routine, and while that’s a good start, it’s probably going to be suboptimal. You need to be able to tell when your plants are thirsty. 

How do you tell when your plants need water? It’s probably easier than you think. Take your index finger and stick it deep into the soil an inch or two (2.54-5.08 cm). Feel for moisture. If the soil is still moist, check back tomorrow. If the soil is dry, go ahead and water it. 

You can even leave the soil dry for another day before watering (as long as it isn’t bone dry). Doing so will encourage your plants to sink their roots deeper into the soil in search of water. 

Plants with deeper roots have access to more water and resources, so they’re more drought-proof.

You can also identify a thirsty plant by examining its leaves. Leaves begin to droop when a plant notices a shortage of water. 

In many cases, it’s safe to rely on this visual indicator to be your cue to water because plants don’t immediately begin to suffer from adverse health effects as soon as water supplies run low. Like us humans, they can tolerate thirst for a while.

Remember that drooping leaves can sometimes be due to conditions other than low water. Letting the soil dry out between waterings is recommended for most indoor plants. However, as with all things, there are exceptions. 

Some plants, such as hydrangeas and wisterias, always prefer to be kept in moist soil. These plants can’t tolerate dry soil at all. So, in this case, you’ll water before the soil is allowed to dry out. 

When the time comes to water, be generous. Water the soil deeply and thoroughly. Merely wettening the top layers of soil will do little to hydrate your larger plants as their roots lie much deeper in the soil. 

With plants that need a lot of water, commonly tropicals, you should keep watering until you see water exit from the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole. At this point, you should stop and ensure there’s no stagnant water above the top layer of the soil. 

The goal is to get the soil to absorb as much moisture as possible, but no more. I’ll explain why shortly.

Take Care Not to Overwater Your Plants

As you’ll notice throughout this article, keeping your plants healthy is not doing things to boost their health but rather keeping at bay the conditions and circumstances that can harm them.

Here’s a somewhat surprising fact about indoor gardening: one of the most common causes of the death of indoor plants is overwatering. 

Beginner gardeners often overestimate the quantity of water their plants need. They also sometimes blame a lack of water for the occasional health issues that are bound to pop up sooner or later. 

Also, most plants need a brief period of dryness between waterings which many people don’t know. Many gardeners water their plants so frequently that the soil never dries out. 

Another reason overwatering is so deadly is because of how fast it takes effect. Unlike underwatering or a lack of sunlight, both of which cause the plant to weaken and die over a long time, overwatering acts much faster—being able to kill a healthy adult plant within a matter of days or weeks. 

If plants need water to survive, how can too much of it kill them so fast?

Too much water in the soil prevents the plant’s roots from accessing oxygen. These roots need oxygen to survive. Without oxygen, they begin to die off. Of course, without roots, a plant cannot supply itself with the nutrients present in the soil and follows suit shortly after.

It also doesn’t help that once damage sets in, it’s nearly impossible to control and reverse. If a plant’s roots die, it likely won’t live much longer. 

So, a lesson learned—too much water is bad. But what can we do to prevent ourselves from going overboard?

  • First and foremost, have a good idea of how much water your plants will need. You can easily acquire this information online or from one of the many in-depth plant watering guides on our website. 
  • Stop before water begins to stagnate on top of the soil. Stagnant water indicates that the soil is at its max level of water retention. You should remove it manually if you notice stagnant water that doesn’t drain away within a few minutes.
  • Use a pot with a drainage hole. It gives you much more room for error because any excess water will be allowed to leave the soil. If you’re using a pot without a drainage hole, you need to be much more precise with watering. 
  • Use well-draining soil. This quality goes hand-in-hand with our previous point. You want to use something other than dense clay-like soil that holds water. Choosing the recommended potting mix for your indoor plant will be sufficient. 

As long as you follow these steps, you’ll be able to prevent your plants from ever getting too thirsty and not have to worry about running into overwatering. 

Here’s how to identify cases of overwatering:

  • Wilting leaves
  • Soggy leaves or plant body
  • Decoloration
  • Black roots

Black roots, practically speaking, are almost always caused by overwatering. Fungal growth can also cause roots to darken—but that’s far less common. Black roots are typically a clear-cut indicator of overwatering. 

So, if your plant isn’t doing well and you suspect overwatering, dig a few inches deep into the potting mix and examine the roots.

3. Adjust the Temperature and Humidity

Temperature and humidity are two essential factors dictating your plant’s well-being.

Temperature

All plants have a temperature range within which they feel comfortable and can carry out their essential life-sustaining processes without impediment. 

While most plants will find room temperature satisfactory, you can move your plants around the house to locations that better suit their temperature requirements. 

This process becomes pretty simple if you have temperature-controlled rooms, but there’s a way to use natural heat sources too. An excellent way to increase the relative temperature any particular plant experiences throughout the day is by placing it closer to a windowsill. 

You have to consider sunlight requirements here, but fortunately, sunlight and temperature requirements tend to be synergistic—if a plant wants more sun, it probably prefers warmer temperatures. 

It has to be that way because the two come as a package in nature. Rooms on the top floor tend to be hotter than those below. 

Temperature is also the primary determinant of how fast a plant loses water. Lowering the temperature will reduce the rate of water loss and, therefore, the frequency with which your plants need water. 

If you feel like your indoor plants dry out too fast, try these six clever and convenient ways to keep your plants hydrated for longer. Don’t miss my extended guide: How to Keep Indoor Plants from Drying Out (6 Methods)

Humidity

Humidity is a statistical measure of the air’s water vapor. At 0% humidity, there’s no water vapor in the air, whereas at 100% humidity, the air cannot absorb more water. 

As humidity increases, it gets harder for water to escape into the air. As a result, evaporation slows down, so the rate at which your plants lose water will also slow down.

Plants from tropical or high-heat environments tend to prefer high humidity because, in nature, it helps counteract the effect of high heat on water loss.

Most plants enjoy high humidity, and some can tolerate low humidity. Very few, if any, prefer being in low humidity because even plants that have access to plenty of water don’t have anything to lose from being able to preserve it in their body for longer. 

Therefore, higher humidities are to be preferred, in general. However, one downside to having high moisture is the increased risk of fungal growth. 

Fungi love moist and damp conditions, so humid environments are conducive to their growth. However, fungal infections aren’t a massive problem with indoor plants, so in this case, I’d say the benefits of high humidity far outweigh the cost. 

We’ll discuss fungus in a later section, and I’ll tell you how to deal with it should you run into it. For now, let’s talk more about what you can do to increase the relative humidity experienced by your plants. 

The simplest method would be to place them in a room with a humidifier. The best part about using a humidifier to increase humidity is that you can be extremely precise with the controls and turn up the humidity to the perfect setting. 

However, several alternative options are available if you don’t have one. 

  • Grow plants in bathrooms and kitchens. These rooms are naturally more humid than the rest of your house, making them perfect for plant growth. Plants make for beautiful natural decorations when placed in these rooms. 
  • Place your plants closer to each other. Since plants constantly lose water to the air, grouping them up will form a high-humidity zone around them.
  • Even boiling a pot of water can increase the humidity in a room. However,  this isn’t something you can do regularly. 

Mist Your Plans

Regularly misting your plants is a great way to compensate for the lack of humidity. This method also helps keep your plant cooler throughout the day. 

You can be very flexible with your misting routine since it’s not essential for your plants’ survival but just something to help them get better. Mist your collection weekly, daily, or anything in between. 

Water-loving plants such as wisteria and primulas love daily misting. Drought-resistant plants, on the other hand, do not. It would be best to refrain from misting plants such as cacti, succulents, and other plants with textured leaves. 

These textured leaves can trap water for long durations, which may lead to spotting and discoloration. Read more about plant misting here

Use a Pebble Tray

A pebble tray is an easy-to-assemble, clever construct that allows you to increase the humidity around a plant. All you need is a tray (or a large plate), some large-sized pebbles, and water. You’ll place the stones in the tray and then pour water until the water line sits just below the peak of the pebbles. 

You don’t want the bottom of the pot to contact the water so that your plant’s roots don’t end up saturated. The water in the tray will eventually dry out; replenish it once it does. 

The only restriction with pebble trays is large-sized pots, but that’s solely because their dimensions tend to be difficult to accommodate with regular trays. If you can find a large-enough tray, you can accommodate larger pots too. 

A great benefit to using a pebble tray over a humidifier is that you don’t have to deal with high humidity just for the sake of your plants. High humidity, while great for plants, is quite unpleasant when experienced by us humans. 

4. Use a High-Quality Potting Mix

Your potting mix is what your plant will be spending its entire life in (unless you choose to transplant it to your outdoor garden), so it’s worth taking the time to ensure you’re using the right stuff. 

There are a variety of potting mixes available in the market today. What makes a potting mix great?

  • High-nutrient density. For plants, nutrients are food. You want to get a potting mix that has plenty of the three macronutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – and the presence of suitable micronutrients. 
  • Organic matter. Organic matter helps make a potting mix better in multiple ways. It increases soil fertility, makes it easier for plants to acquire nutrients, makes the soil more aerated, etc.
  • Good water drainage. Your potting mix needs to drain away excess water reasonably well. Denser soils can clog up with water, leading to overwatering. 

As with all other commercial products, potting mixes have unique features and selling points, but these are the primary features you should seek. 

It’s worth spending more on better potting mixes because they last for years. And you run the risk of purchasing a poor-quality product if you consider only the price tag. 

You can opt for pre-made, commercially available potting mixes because you can choose those more suitable for your selection of plants. However, you can make an all-purpose potting mix at home.

Here’s a guide that walks you through making a homemade potting mix. 

5. Use Fertilizer To Add Nutrients to the Soil

The nutrients in your soil or potting mix will last a long time. Still, they’ll decrease slowly, and eventually, the lack of nutrients in the soil will prevent your plants from achieving their full potential. 

You add nutrients to the soil by using fertilizer. Even if you’re not an enthusiastic gardener and buy plants only for their decorative element, I think you can benefit from using fertilizer. 

Commercial-grade fertilizers have high quantities of both macronutrients and micronutrients, which is perfect for your plants.

You can go for all-purpose fertilizer if you are new to fertilizer use. These fertilizers have a little bit of everything and are what most gardeners use to keep their soil fertile and their plants well-fed. 

However, there’s a great variety of fertilizers available, so you can be a bit more selective if you want. Many plants need more nitrogen than other elements, making nitrogen-heavy fertilizers ideal. 

There are also phosphorus and potassium-rich fertilizers, although gardeners usually use these fertilizers in cases where they aim to remedy a soil deficiency. 

Other than the three primary macronutrients, eight micronutrients exist that different plants in different quantities desire. Namely the following:

  • Boron
  • Chlorine
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum
  • Zinc
  • Nickel

Organic vs. Inorganic 

Fertilizers can be organic or inorganic. Both of them have their pros and cons.

Organic fertilizers are made entirely from biodegradable matter that would have degraded completely to form soil nutrients if it had not been collected and packaged. As you can imagine, these fertilizers are all-natural. 

Inorganic fertilizers, on the other hand, have chemical additives. While they are generally safe to use in moderate amounts, a sudden buildup of these chemicals can be toxic to plants.

Even though inorganic fertilizers are richer in nutrients, I recommend sticking with organic fertilizers for your indoor garden. One-off plants don’t need the extreme nutrient counts that inorganic fertilizers offer.

Inorganic fertilizers are best for large-scale fertilization, such as that of farmers and agriculturists. 

Organic fertilizers are much gentler on your plant and lower the risk of over-fertilization. Just like overwatering, overfertilization is a thing. Too many nutrients in the soil make for a toxic environment. 

Most plants only need to be fertilized monthly during their growing period. It would help if you refrained from using fertilizer during fall and winter when plants die down and fall dormant for annual rest. 

In many cases, it’s better to dilute your fertilizer before application. Plants have different requirements and tolerances for fertilizer, so it depends on a case-by-case basis. 

Make Your Fertilizer at Home

Making your fertilizer at home is a time-consuming but straightforward process. You probably already have everything you’ll need. Let’s look at a few different types of homemade fertilizers and learn how to produce them from scratch. 

Compost

Compost is a simple yet effective organic fertilizer that you can feed your plants to help them grow faster and healthier. It’s surprisingly easy to make

You’ll need a compost bin. Well, not really—you could place your organic matter in a large backyard pile, but compost bins keep things tidy and efficient. 

You can use any container as a compost bin; it needs to be sizeable enough to hold your compost—trash cans are perfect. 

In this bin (or pile), you’ll collect organic matter suitable for composting. The list of items you can throw in is pretty extensive. 

A few everyday household items you can compost include the following:

  • Leaves, grass clippings, and dead plant matter
  • Paper, cardboard, and wood chippings 
  • Fruits and vegetables. Most leftover foods 
  • Old potting mixes 

If you think it’s compostable, it probably is. Here’s an excellent resource you can use to identify whether or not you can turn a particular item into compost. 

Some things will take longer than others to decay. Meat and bones, for example, will take months under even the best conditions, so you may want to avoid adding these to your composter if you’re interested in faster returns. 

It would help to let your compost decay completely before use because undecayed organic matter can harbor harmful bacteria and pathogens. 

Composting is best done during the summer, as it can be tediously slow during winter. Summer is also the best time to feed your indoor plants with fertilizer. 

Once your compost is ready:

  • Remove one or two inches of soil from the top layer. 
  • Gently rub in the compost.
  • Replace the removed layer of soil. 

Gardeners usually mix compost with soil, but we only have that option available if we deal with potted plants. Digging into the soil would damage our plant’s roots, so we go for the next best thing. 

Mulch

Mulch is similar to compost, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be all-organic. Mulch is a layer of organic (or inorganic) material that you apply over the top layer of soil. 

While it does provide the soil with a trickle of nutrients, its primary purpose is not to fertilize. 

Mulch helps your plant with the following benefits:

  • Reducing water loss
  • Moderating the local temperature
  • Acting as a physical barrier
  • Protecting your plant’s roots from the elements 

Some ingredients in mulch can also act as deterrents against pests such as cypress, cedar bark, or chips.

All in all, mulch is a great all-around tool in your gardening inventory with multiple benefits. 

Leaf mulch is one of the easier ones to make, and there’s virtually no wait time before it’s ready for application. Here’s a wikiHow guide that tells you how to make mulch. 

Common Household Feed

You can also use coffee grounds, tea bags, and banana peels to fertilize your plants. While you can compost these items—you can also use them individually if you find it more convenient. 

I’d advise you to use only a few coffee grounds, though. While safe in moderate amounts, they can harm your plants due to their acidic qualities. 

6. Watch Out for Pests on Your Indoor Plants

A pest infestation—is something no gardener wants to have to tackle. Your indoor plants are relatively safer from pests than their garden-based counterparts but not entirely immune. 

Pest infestations start small but, if left unnoticed, can grow and spread across multiple plants. It would help if you never let a pest infestation remain untreated for any longer than you have to. 

The most common indoor pests are aphids, mites, gnats, and flies. Some of these are so small that you can’t see them unless you get up close, which makes regular checkups necessary. 

Fortunately, you can cure nearly all pest infestations using suitable pesticides. You can even formulate some makeshift pesticide at home in a pinch.

The key is to act fast once you notice an infestation. The longer you wait, the more it will grow. 

Most plants will heal up on their own following an infestation.

Fungal Growth

Fungus tends to grow in dark and damp conditions. Earlier, we discussed how raising the humidity increases the risk of fungal growth. 

When it comes to preventing fungal growth, sunlight is your best friend. Move plants closer to the sun; the increased temperature and direct UV rays should be enough to ensure no fungus grows. 

Also, make sure your rooms are well-ventilated. This necessity is essential not only for the health of your plants but also for your health. 

Stale, unmoving air offers less oxygen and is much more accessible for harmful spores to traverse.

7. Utilize Pruning, and Deadheading

Pruning and deadheading are two effective age-old tactics we can use to manipulate plant growth. 

Pro-tip: When cutting stems, make the incision at a 45-degree angle. This angle ensures that water can’t stagnate on the exposed surface of the stem. 

Deadhead Flowers

If you have indoor plants that flower in the late summer, such as daisies and roses, you should deadhead the flower heads right after the blooming season.

Understandably, you would not want to cut off the most beautiful part of your plants, but it makes sense once you learn why you’re doing so. 

Flowers begin producing seeds once they bloom—a lot of seeds. If you let these seeds disperse naturally, you’ll likely end up with an overcrowded pot next year. 

Seed production takes up a lot of energy. By cutting off the spent flower heads, you can prevent seed production from ever taking place. All the resources this process would have used will now be available to your plants for further growth. 

You want to avoid nature running its course in this case. You can also get a second bloom if you deadhead your flowers early enough into the blooming season. 

Here’s a video that illustrates the process.

Cut Off Dead Parts of the Plant

Damaged body parts do a plant no good. If you notice any dark brown or black, it needs to go. Unfortunately, these colors usually indicate that the leaf or limb in question is past the point of recovery. Your plant will likely waste its resources trying to recover. 

Like deadheading, cutting off damaged parts preserves the plant’s energy and redirects it to healthier foliage.  Rotting matter can also lead to an infection of the entire plant, so it’s best to eliminate it without hesitation. 

Sanitize Your Cutting Tools Before Getting To Work

A pair of scissors is perfect for pruning. A sharp knife will also work just as well. In some cases, you can get away with using your bare hands, but I wouldn’t recommend it—you can hurt yourself on prickly plants or cause damage to the healthy part of the plant.

You should sanitize your cutting tool before getting to work, especially if you’re working with multiple plants at a time. Tiny pests can latch onto the tool’s surface and travel from plant to plant unnoticed.

Dealing with a pest infestation on a single plant is tedious enough, let alone several infestations simultaneously. 

8. Use a Suitable Container

People sometimes need to appreciate the importance of an appropriately sized container. You want your containers to be a manageable size for your plants. 

Containers that are too large tend to hold too much water for the plant, which increases the risk of overwatering. Containers too small will not provide enough water—and restrict root growth. Less soil in the container also means a lower supply of nutrients. 

Your pots should be an inch or two (2.54-5.08 cm) wider than your plant’s roots. A little deviation is okay and to be expected since you will probably be eyeballing these measurements when choosing a container. 

Two inches (5.08 cm) in diameter is plentiful and gives the plant ample space to grow. 

Your Plant Can Outgrow Its Container

As the plant above the soil expands in height, so do its roots—more or less proportionally. Most plants will outgrow their containers every few years until they’re fully grown adults, at which point you can comfortably leave them be. 

Growing plants, though, you’ll likely have to repot. As you can imagine, plants that grow faster will have to be transplanted sooner, whereas slow-growing plants can sit in one container for much longer. 

Here’s how you can tell that your plant has outgrown its current container and needs transplanting to a larger one:

  • Visible roots above the soil. 
  • Your plant’s roots emerge from the drainage hole. 
  • Stunted growth. 
  • Dehydration – the soil dries up too frequently. 
  • Coiled roots. 

If you notice the soil drying up faster than it used to but haven’t adjusted your plant’s exposure to temperature and sunlight, it may be because it’s outgrown its current pot. 

Small pots with little soil can only hold so much water. Water storage remains limited while the demand increases. 

Don’t Repot Too Often

It would be best to move your plants only when necessary. Repotting takes its toll on the plant; it needs some time to adjust to the new soil and get back up and running. If you transplant them too often, plants can wilt or perish.

When you transplant, try to use a similar potting mix and eliminate any unfavorable conditions to speed up the readjustment period. 

Use Containers That Have Drainage Holes

It would be best if you use containers with drainage holes. These drainage holes allow excess water to escape, significantly reducing the likelihood that you end up killing a plant by giving it a little too much water.

While you could theoretically get away with using a pot without a drainage hole and being ultra-careful while watering, it’s not worth the hassle.

Also, you can only leave containers with drainage holes outdoors during rainfall. That’s out of the question because, with no way for water to escape the container, you for sure will end up with an overwatered plant. 

9. Check Your Plants Frequently

Check your indoor plants frequently. Diseases, infections, and ailments can pop up unannounced and propagate to other plants before you know it, so it’s best to be ready to tackle these problems before they can establish a foothold. 

Check for symptoms of malnourishment or thirst. Make sure your plants have access to the sun all year round—and keep a close eye out for tiny bugs and critters. Check the undersides of your leaves and look for any visible signs of ill health. 

Key Takeaways

To keep your plants healthy:

  • Give your plants lots of sunlight. Consider sun and shade requirements. 
  • Water generously, but let the soil dry out in between waterings. Take care not to overwater. 
  • Adjust temperature and humidity. 
  • Use a high-quality potting mix from the get-go, or use fertilizer to enhance your potting mix. 
  • Take care of pests and infections before they get out of hand. 
  • Deadhead flowering plants before seeds form. Remove damaged or dead plant matter. 
  • Use a suitable container. Change containers as your plant grows. 
  • Carry out frequent health checkups to make sure there are no problems.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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