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Tips to Help Indoor Flora Thrive

This article was written by Victoria Hittner and was featured in our September issue of Home By Design magazine. To visit the original Home By Design article and view more photos, click here.


Let’s face it: Not everyone has a green thumb. Luckily, you don’t have to be a master gardener to introduce a bit of life inside your home. Keep your succulents and other houseplants happy year-round with these simple reminders and tips.

Photography provided by Delmaine Donson/E+/Getty Images.

“ . . . slower growing species like succulents may only need a soil refresh to keep them growing well . . . ”

Choose Carefully.

Set yourself up for success by selecting species that fit your lifestyle—and experience. Classics like the monstera (Monstera deliciosa), snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata or Dracaena angolensis), and golden pothos (Epipremmum aureum) are popular for a reason. These hardy favorites pack an aesthetic punch without much coddling, providing the perfect place to start for plant-parent newbies. Looking for something smaller? Try a succulent like aloe, jade plant (Crassula ovata), or Echeveria. Like their leafier counterparts, these options are simple to care for and beloved for their air purifying properties.

Work your way up to showstoppers like orchids, fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) and Calathea, which can be finnicky about sunlight and temperature. For households with curious pets and kiddos, however, pickier plants may be the way to go. Many ferns, orchids, and Calathea are nontoxic if ingested.

Keep It Contained.

No matter the species, you’ll want to take special care when potting new additions. Proper drainage and soil composition are key to keeping houseplants happy. Preventing water from accumulating at the bottom of your pot is crucial to avoid rot and bacterial growth. If your chosen container does not have predrilled holes, make sure that your potting mix contains rougher elements like crushed rocks to create pockets for the water to pass through. Placing a layer of pebbles or rocks at the bottom of a container is a common mistake—instead of encouraging drainage, the rock layer pools water in the soil above, saturating the roots.

For pots with drainage holes, pair a tray with a coffee filter or newspaper to prevent water and soil from escaping. Drainage trays can help promote humidity, too; simply fill the tray with a layer of rock or pebbles to promote moisture in the air directly around the plant.

And don’t forget: Plants can outgrow their pots! As a general rule of thumb, think about repotting every one to two years. Slower growing species like succulents may only need a soil refresh to keep them growing well. Exposed roots, rapidly dropping leaves, and unseasonably slow growth are all indicators your plant may need a new home. Make sure your new container is both wider and deeper than its predecessor.

Water Wisely.

Once you’ve identified the ideal soil composition for your plant, it’s important to determine the level of saturation you need to maintain. For healthier plants, ditch the watering schedule and stick to observation. The best tool to use is one you already have on hand—literally! Stick your finger an inch or so into the soil to determine when it’s time to water. Most plants like to dry out between waterings; if you touch damp soil, it’s best to wait a little longer. Depending on your location, you may need to water more frequently during the spring and summer.

Water from the top to flush excess minerals that may be hiding in your water and soil. If your home has softened water, make sure to dilute it with distilled water or even rainwater to better hydrate your plant. Most indoor plants like a bit of humidity; invest in a squirt bottle that produces a gentler mist. It’s important to note that plants that have fuzzy leaves or require little moisture, like succulents, shouldn’t be misted.

Prioritize Placement.

Pay attention to the amount of sunlight in different areas of your home, and make sure your plant’s location corresponds with its needs. Succulents, for example, enjoy the bright light found on windowsills, while pothos and snake plants thrive in moderate to low light. The direction of the nearest window plays an important role, too. North-facing windows offer a cooler, indirect light, while south-facing windows provide the brightest, warmest environment. Keep in mind that the insulation of your house and vent placement can play a large role in localized temperature, too.

Ultimately, your houseplants will tell you when they’re unhappy and need an adjustment. With a little patience and care, you can learn their signals of distress and keep your indoor greenery growing, well, like a weed!