Greening up your houseplants is an excellent way to add a pop of color to your home. But, unfortunately, it’s too easy for these plants to get sad and brown without proper care. So what is the trick to making all of your houseplant leaves greener?
You can make any houseplant greener by utilizing soil rich in nitrogen as plants use the macronutrient to create vivid green colors. Ensuring your plant’s basic needs like nutrients, space, water, and light are met will also make them greener and healthier.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the best steps to green up any houseplant and explain the reasoning behind these steps. Keeping a houseplant green isn’t difficult if you know what steps to take. So if you want to learn more about making any plant in your home greener, read on.
1. Understand What Causes Plants To Brown
First, you must understand the causes behind dull or brown plants. The secret to keeping greener houseplants is to never let them become discolored in the first place.
Here are some of the leading causes of browning or discoloration in houseplants:
- Lack of nutrients in the soil
- Build up of too many nutrients in the soil
- Improper lighting
- Inadequate water
- Improper temperatures
- Becoming root bound
These are issues that can quickly make a houseplant lose its lustrous colors. Understanding these causes will allow you to take the necessary preventative measures to ensure your plant thrives and remains green.
2. Select a Soil That Is Rich in Nutrients
Soil is one of the most significant factors to consider when looking to make your plants greener. And since soil is the primary source of nutrients for most plants, it’s important to ensure your houseplant grows in healthy, suitable soil.
Along with providing vital nutrients, soil protects your houseplants from harsh elements that can harm their roots.
Additionally, the type of houseplant you have will determine the appropriate type of soil to use. Each plant will have slightly varying nutrient and moisture needs, exactly why you should get the right type of soil for your specific houseplant.
The Most Important Nutrients for Plants in Soil
Good soil for your houseplants should be rich in organic matter and contain plenty of the three essential nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Together, these nutrients will help your plant form green, healthy leaves. However, it’s still important not to get too much of any one nutrient, as too much can harm your plant.
Below are some of the essential nutrients your plant needs to thrive and become greener.
Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients that can be found in soil. It’s essential for green plant growth, and many other living organisms rely on this nutrient. Nitrogen makes plant leaves large and green, which allows them to absorb more sunlight to increase food production.
Although nitrogen is naturally found in soil, you can increase this nutrient by adding manufactured fertilizers or even by utilizing animal feces like manure or chicken dung. You can also increase nitrogen content by composting organic matter and adding it back to the soil.
It’s also important to note that too much nitrogen in the soil will lead to root burn, maiming the plant and preventing it from properly absorbing nutrients.
Another vital soil nutrient for greening up a houseplant is phosphorus. This nutrient’s job is to create a hardy plant that will survive stress and winter temperatures for longer. Typically, phosphorus helps with the early development of plants’ root systems and increases their ability to absorb water.
Phosphorus helps the plant convert sunlight into energy and produce seeds or fruit. Essentially, it’s responsible for the regulation of protein synthesis, a process where cells create proteins.
These proteins are essential for plants to have enough energy to create the food they need to grow. Without adequate phosphorus, a houseplant will eventually weaken and starve.
This nutrient is responsible for helping move water throughout the plant’s tissues. Potassium also helps the plant regulate its photosynthesis. This nutrient is vital in controlling water, vapor, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels in the plant.
Potassium also helps plants with things like:
- Drought resistance
- Increased root growth
- Plant food creation
- Limiting energy loss
- Aid in disease prevention
These are just a few helpful things that potassium is responsible for in your houseplants. You can add these nutrients to the soil through rock powders, wood ash, or specialized fertilizers.
Most plants require iron in trace amounts, but this micronutrient is essential for the formation of chlorophyll or the green pigment of plants. Iron is available in acidic soil, which is why most plants require a slightly acidic substrate.
As the soil becomes more alkaline, above 7.0, iron becomes inaccessible to most plants, resulting in chlorosis or the yellowing of the leaf veins.
Houseplants typically require less magnesium but still need it to thrive. The nutrient activates some of the plant’s enzyme systems and gives leaves a deep green hue. This nutrient is the core for chlorophyll molecules in plant tissue.
Sulfur is another excellent nutrient houseplants rely on, though in smaller quantities than the first three nutrients. This nutrient is used to create amino acids, proteins, and oils. These are important in the chlorophyll process and for activating essential plant enzymes.
Sulfur is also great for rescuing sodium in the soil and often acts as a conditioner.
3. Add in the New Soil
Once you’ve selected good quality soil to suit your houseplant’s specific nutrient needs, it’s time to add the soil to its pot. It’s important to note that repotting is the best way to ensure a toxic build-up of soil nutrients doesn’t occur.
However, if you don’t wish to stress your plant out with repotting, you can test the soil with a test kit before adding in the new earth.
Adding Soil via Repotting
First, I’ll show you the steps to follow if you plan to completely repot the houseplant. This method is often preferred as you won’t have to worry about the current soil nutrient levels and potential pathogen contamination.
However, repotting can be highly stressful for some plants, so it’s best to research your specific plant type before opting to repot.
What you’ll need:
- A sizable pot
- New soil
- A small spade shovel
How to repot your houseplant and add new soil:
- Gently remove the plant from its container. Carefully grip around the plant’s leaves base and slowly wiggle the plant from the container. If the pot or container is plastic, you can also apply pressure to it to help release the plant.
- Use your hands to loosen the root ball. The roots should be loose so the new soil can get in and start working.
- Discard the old potting mix. You can place the soil in the compost or sterilize it if it’s contaminated. Either way, it needs to be removed. The old soil no longer has the nutrients to sustain your houseplant adequately.
- Dump the new soil into the pot and loosely pack it around the plant. Ensure that all the roots are covered.
If you are more of a visual learner, I recommend checking out the YouTube video below:
Adding New Soil to the Current Soil
If you don’t want to repot your houseplant, it can still benefit from the new soil you’ve picked out. But, again, taking a test to see the present nutrients is essential to ensure you don’t add more than needed and make the concentration toxic.
What you will need:
- A sizable pot
- New soil
- A small spade shovel
How to add new soil to the current soil:
- Remove some of the current soil from the pot. While you don’t have to dig out all of the old soil, most of it, especially the soil at the bottom, will need to be removed. Leftover soil will have trace amounts of nutrients that sometimes cause an imbalance or give nothing to the plant since its nutrients are depleted.
- Sprinkle in the new soil to replace what you removed. Fill the container up with the new soil. Use as much soil as you took from the original pot so that the plant is secure and its roots are safely covered.
- Ensure some of the new soil gets near the plant’s roots. As I said, the plant’s roots need to come in contact with the new soil for optimal absorption. Once watered, the soil nutrients undergo chemical reactions and the plant can absorb them more easily.
Again, it’s always best to completely replace the soil when you can, but adding some fresh soil can help green up your houseplant. Be careful with the roots, and only add enough soil to cover the plant’s roots and base.
Moreover, I recommend continuously adding more soil to potted plants, as shown in my other article: Should You Keep Adding More Soil to a Potted Plant? There, I explained in more detail why potted plants may require more soil added to the pot and provided tips on keeping your soil in good shape to ensure your potted plant thrives.
4. Water the Plant Regularly
Once the new soil has been added, the plant will require adequate moisture. Water helps to activate the nutrients in the soil for the plants to absorb. The frequency and volume of water depend on the plant type. For example, succulents will require far less water than a Boston fern plant.
That said, most plants require a species-specific watering routine. If your plant had watering issues that caused leaf discoloration before, you can adjust your watering routine to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
To test your plant’s watering preference, you can carry out trial and error. For instance, most plant owners would say that succulents require less frequent watering or about every 10-14 days. You can follow the steps below to determine a suitable schedule for the succulent in your home setting.
- Water your plant gradually with a cup. Count how many cups are required before the excess drains out of the drainage holes
- Check the soil after 7 days. Dig into the soil with your finger or chopstick to see if the soil is dry halfway down. If so, it’s time to water your plants again. Otherwise, wait a few more days.
- Record the number of cups one watering session takes. Also, record the number of days it took for the soil to dry enough to warrant another watering.
Following this method is helpful if you have multiple plants at home with varying watering requirements.
For other plants that require different watering frequencies, you can check the soil moisture 2-3 days before the estimated next watering session. For example, check the soil after five days if online resources and experts recommend you water the plant weekly.
As for moisture level, plants that need consistently moist soil need water when the top 1 inch (2.5 cm) is dry. On the other hand, plants that can tolerate slightly dry soil can wait until the top 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm) are dry.
Plants that prefer “completely dry soil” between watering can actually use water when the top half of the soil is dry. It’s important not to let the soil of your houseplants become bone-dry as it can become hydrophobic.
Houseplants with too much or too little water won’t appear luscious and green. Instead, you will have plants with discolored and even dead leaves. That’s why it’s crucial to tailor your watering routine according to your plant’s needs.
Below is a table listing some signs that your plant is under or overwatered.
|Signs of Overwatering||Signs of Underwatering|
|Yellowing Leaves and Stems||Dry Brittle Leaves|
|Drooping Leaves||Shriveled Leaves|
|Root Rot||Soil Pulling Away From Pot Edges|
|Fungus Gnats||Slow Growth|
|Stunted Growth||Dead Leaves in and Around the Pot|
|Leaf Loss||The Soil Has a Pale Crust|
As you can see, there are dangers to overwatering and underwatering, which is why you need a watering schedule if at all you want to have greener, aesthetically appealing houseplants. You can set reminders on your phone to check your plant’s soil. This way, you won’t forget or risk watering again too soon.
Bottom watering is an excellent method for ensuring you give your houseplant just the right amount of water. This method requires filling typically half a container with water and setting the pot into the water. The soil then absorbs the water from the bottom up, only taking the water it can hold.
Bottom watering is fantastic if you have a houseplant more susceptible to root rot. Just remember not to leave the pot too long in the water. Take it out as soon as the soil is adequately saturated. The process usually takes between 10 and 30 minutes.
If you want to learn more about the bottom watering process, you can check out the YouTube video below:
5. Add Some Humidity
Along with proper watering, maintaining good humidity levels is also crucial to keeping your houseplant leaves greener. Again, each houseplant variety will require different humidity levels, so it’s essential to check before increasing the amount of moisture in the air. Adding humidity to a home is essential, as most homes have very low humidity levels.
The primary importance of humidity for plants is its ability to keep open the plant’s stomata for photosynthesis. The stomata help the plant absorb CO2 in the air and regulate its temperature through evaporation.
However, when humidity levels are too high, the plant’s circulation is blocked. It then struggles to evaporate excess water and absorb nutrients from the soil. Extended exposure to too much humidity will eventually result in root rot, especially for plants with a low humidity threshold.
Signs your houseplant needs more humidity include:
- Brown leaf edges
- Yellow discoloration in the leaves and stems
- Crispy leaves
- Fast-drying soil
If you want a more accurate reading of your plant’s humidity, I recommend acquiring a hygrometer or humidity gauge. These gauges are also outstanding because they read temperatures too.
Place the Plant in the Bathroom
The most humid place in your home is often the bathroom. Placing a houseplant in this space will help the plant become greener, provided it enjoys higher humidity levels. When placing a houseplant in the bathroom, you want to ensure the space has adequate light, so a windowless half bathroom isn’t ideal.
Mist the Houseplant Weekly
Using a spritz bottle, lightly mist your plant about once per week. This added moisture will simulate a light rain shower and improve the plant’s humidity levels. It’s best to use purified or spring water since tap water often has undesirable chemicals. Rainwater is also a good option depending on the area you live in.
However, avoid misting plants with fuzzy leaves, such as African violets, as the moisture can sit on the leaf surface long enough to cool and damage the foliage. Other popular houseplants that don’t like misting include succulents like jade plants, aloe vera, and spider plants.
If you’re not sure if it’s safe to mist your plant, err on the side of caution and avoid misting altogether. There are other safer and more effective ways to improve the humidity around your plant.
Install a Humidifier in the Room
Adding a humidifier is a great way to increase a houseplant’s humidity. Install the device in the same room as the houseplant and use filtered water. A humidifier’s job is to add humidity to a space. Be sure to monitor the humidity levels and to regularly clean out the device to prevent toxic mold from accumulating in the sitting water.
Create a Humidity Pebble Tray
Lastly, you can cheaply add some extra humidity to your home by setting up a pebble-filled tray below your houseplants. You’ll then need to add water to the tray gradually, which will add to the humidity levels immediately around the plant as it continues to evaporate. So naturally, the larger the tray under your little plant, the better the results.
6. Keep Temperatures in the Appropriate Range
Another factor that can affect how green a plant’s leaves are is the temperature. Each variety of houseplant will have different temperature requirements, so it’s essential to pay attention to the specific needs.
For example, your desert plants will prefer warm and dry temperatures, while your tropical plants will thrive in warm and humid settings. On the other hand, most spring flowering houseplants need a period of cold in the winter for the blooms to come out in spring.
Most houseplants prefer temperatures ranging between 65-75 °F (18-23 °C) but can tolerate slightly cooler temperatures at night. Any temperature below 50 °F (10 °C) is usually problematic for indoor plants.
Luckily, such cold temperatures are not often found in a home. However, even inside a home, temperature spikes can occur, mainly depending on where the plant is located.
To keep your houseplant as comfortable as possible, I recommend placing them away from potential heat or cooling sources. So try to keep them away from heating and air conditioning vents, sizable full sun windows, and any electronic devices that produce large amounts of heat or cold air. Remember, a happy houseplant is a greener houseplant.
Although you may want to see all the greens in the same area in your home, it’s always best to group your plants according to their temperature, light, and humidity needs. Otherwise, some plants will thrive with lush green growth while others fade and wither.
7. Create Sufficient Water Drainage
Another easy method for keeping your plants greener is ensuring they have proper water drainage. If water is allowed to sit on a plant’s root system, the plant will almost certainly develop root rot, preventing the plant from absorbing nutrients from the soil.
Good water drainage is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy green houseplant. Of course, the soil you choose helps, but the container is essential to create adequate drainage avenues for your plant. Unfortunately, not all pots have enough drainage holes to allow excess water to drain easily.
Additionally, a container that is a bit wider is ideal as the plant will have more room to spread out, as will any extra water. Choosing a roomy container is also great if you want to increase the time between repotting your houseplant.
Other tips for creating better drainage include:
- Choose a pot with an adequately sized drainage hole/s.
- Look for breathable materials like unglazed clay or terracotta pots.
- Add sand or perlite to the soil.
- Regularly check drainage holes for clogs.
These are fantastic ways to improve your houseplant’s drainage, but the best way is always to select a suitable container.
8. Ensure the Plant Is Getting Enough Light
Another surefire way to get your houseplants greener is by providing enough light. All plants need light to create energy and convert that energy to plant food. How much light your houseplant requires varies depending on the species. However, most indoor plants enjoy bright indirect light.
As a good rule, you should attempt to understand the light levels your houseplant requires. Receiving adequate light will certainly green up an indoor plant’s leaves.
Let’s take a quick look at some steps you can take to give your houseplant more light.
Determine the Plant’s Light Needs
Most plants will have different lighting needs to stay as green and healthy as possible. However, houseplants do well in brightly lit rooms just out of direct sunlight. Some indoor plants need more direct light, while others will thrive in low-light areas.
The key is understanding each type of light and when it is preferable.
Direct light is when actual rays of sunlight are touching your houseplant. These plants usually enjoy at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. A houseplant can be directly touched by the sun through a window. Typically, south-facing windows receive the most direct light throughout the day.
A few indoor plants that enjoy direct light are:
- Jade plants
- Snake plants
- Aloe Veras
These are just a few houseplants that will benefit from more direct light sources. Typically the more light these plants get, the greener and happier they’ll be. That said, you have to watch direct sunlight plants for burns, especially during hot summers.
Bright Indirect Light
Bright indirect light is the most common indoor plant lighting need. This type of light is where a room is brightly lit from a window or skylight, and your plant absorbs the light without being in the direct path of any sun rays.
You can create plenty of indirect sunlight by opening windows and setting your plant just out of reach of the actual rays. This is usually about 5 feet (1.5 m) away from a bright window. You can also place your plant next to a window but place a light curtain to filter the brightness.
Some common plants that enjoy bright indirect light include:
- Money plants
- Fern plants
- Birds of paradise
- African violets
- Rubber tree plants
- ZZ plants
This list could go on since most houseplants do so well in this form of light. However, bright indirect light can be tricky if you don’t have a home positioned to get sun throughout the day. Typically these kinds of plants need at least 6 hours of light, though more is always helpful.
Lastly, there is low light. This type of light is always out of the way of the sun’s rays, and these plants prefer dimmer light to indirect light plants. Generally, you place these low-light plants away from windows, more specifically in dimmer spaces. However, the plants still need light, so the space should have a little natural lighting.
Low-light plants include:
- Ponytail palm
- Staghorn fern
- Maidenhair fern
- Peace lily
- Cast iron plant
This list only names a few of the more popular low-light plants. But, again, low-light plants require less light than the average indoor plant and never direct light. Typically a low-light plant requires between 2-4 hours of light each day to thrive.
Rotate the Plant Regularly
Another great way to ensure your houseplant gets enough sunlight to produce bright green leaves is to rotate it regularly. The leaves facing closest to a light source usually grow as expected, while the ones in the back will often crane or grow strangely to get a turn toward the light.
You can prevent this issue by regularly rotating the plant so that each side gets its turn in the light. Rotating your houseplants about 90-180° once per week or every time you water it will usually do the trick. However, keep an eye on the plants. If some leaves still appear craning toward the light, consider rotating more frequently.
Substitute Natural Light With a Grow Light
Another good way to ensure all your house plants get enough light is to use grow lights. These artificial lights are great for homes that are dimly lit and see very little sunlight. Of course, natural light is always best, but these lights can help your plant grow if access to sunlight is limited.
When selecting a grow light, ensure it has the correct color spectrum for your plants. A regular light bulb won’t do the trick, which is why LED grow lights are so effective. It’s also a good idea to find a light easily manipulated into the shape you need to hang over your indoor plants.
Many grow lights can be placed on a timer system to provide light when there isn’t enough for your plants. You can also position these lights on the leaves that receive the least light to prevent awkward growth.
9. Apply Some Fertilizer
One of the most obvious ways to make any houseplant greener is through fertilizing. However, fertilizers will have an adverse effect if your plants don’t need a nutrient boost in their soil. So it’s always a good idea to test the soil before adding fertilizer. Additionally, fertilization is to be done infrequently to ensure the plants don’t get nitrogen burn.
However, many struggling indoor plants will significantly benefit from a bit of fertilizer, although some fertilizers will be more effective than others.
Slow-release is one of the best fertilizers you can use for houseplants. This fertilizer type releases nutrients slowly over time when exposed to water, ensuring your plant isn’t overwhelmed with too many at once. Typically a slow-release fertilizer will provide plenty of nutrients for your plant to feed for around 6-8 weeks.
The Epsom Salt Method
Adding some Epsom salt is a more organic approach to helping your houseplant leaves turn greener. This method is only effective if your plants are low in magnesium. It’s important to note that adding too much salt will scorch the plant. However, it does a great job of greening up a plant when needed.
To lightly apply this fertilizer, mix one tablespoon (15 g) of salt with a gallon (3.8 liters) of water. You can then add some water to the soil or lightly spray the plant to help up its magnesium levels. But, again, do so carefully to avoid burning your plant and its leaves.
If you want to learn more about using Epsom salt on indoor plants, check out the video below:
10. Dust the Plant’s Leaves
One of the easiest ways to make a houseplant’s leaves greener is to keep them clean. Not only will the leaves appear greener because they aren’t dirty, but clean leaves are also known to absorb light better.
A thick layer of dust also inhibits the absorption of nutrients and is quite harmful to your houseplants. Dust blocks the plant from creating food, eventually starving it. It can also get lodged between stomata, keeping them open and affecting the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and transpire.
Luckily dusty leaves are easily remedied, but it’s best to fix them at night when the stomata are closed.
What you will need:
- A damp cloth
- A spray bottle
How to quickly dust your indoor plants’ leaves so they look and grow greener:
- Using a misting bottle, moisten the plant’s leaves: Some dust will drip right off while other particles cling to the leaves. The water will help loosen up the more stubborn particles. Let the water sit for a few minutes for the best effect.
- Wipe the leaves with a wet cloth gently: The goal is to remove all the dirt without damaging the leaves. You want to clean in one direction and rinse your rag if it becomes too dirty.
- Allow the leaves to dry completely and repeat if needed: Repeat the process if the plant still appears slightly dusty after drying. If you usually take long before dusting off your plant, then the build-up will be harder to remove.
So as you can see, the cleaning process is quite simple. However, to prevent dust build-up on your plant’s leaves, you need to plan on cleaning them whenever you notice the dust. A good rule of thumb is to check the leaves each time you water them and give them a quick wipe down.
Some leaves will accumulate dust faster than others due to the soil and the environment they’re placed in.
FAQs About Keeping Household Plants Green
What Causes Most Plants To Look Green?
Chlorophyll causes most plants to look green to the human eye. Chlorophyll is a light-absorbing pigment found inside some of the plant’s cells. The plant uses the red portion of the light spectrum, so the unused green light is reflected back at us, thus giving plants their green color.
What Are the 3 Signs of a Healthy Plant?
The three signs of a healthy plant are green full leaves, regular growth, and resistance to illness or pests. Healthy plants require very little care and appear more vibrant. Caring for healthy plants is also much easier since their needs are already being met.
Is Mayonnaise Good for Plant Leaves?
Mayonnaise is not good for plant leaves and will harm the leaves despite it making them look temporarily nice and shiny. The mayo clogs leaf pores making it difficult for the plant to absorb nutrients. In addition, because mayo goes bad outside the fridge, it can rot on the plant’s leaves.
The easiest way to make any houseplant greener is through proper care. Light, soil, and water will always have the most significant effect on your plants’ colorations. The better your houseplant’s needs are met, the greener they’ll be.
However, you can continually improve your plant’s level of care with tricks like added humidity, fertilizer, and well-draining containers. It’s also important to note that some plants are a naturally brighter green than others.