How to Keep Your Houseplants Alive – Simple Tips for Beginners

Here it is – the beginning of the houseplant content I have been promising for months! If you follow us on Instagram then you will know that my love for house plants runs deep, and we live in a part house-part jungle at this point. About two years ago I couldn’t even keep a cactus alive, and I was convinced that I was destined to kill every plant that I brought over the threshold. Randomly, I won a competition on Instagram and was sent a garden centre voucher which I decided to use to splurge on the most expensive plant I’d ever bought – a Monstera Deliciosa. By some miracle that plant survived (it’s still my very favourite and my largest), and it helped me have the faith to buy a few more, and ultimately caused the houseplant obsession I have today.

Now our house is filled with plants, and new plants and plant pots are always on my wish list. I get a lot of messages about plants on Instagram, mostly from people who are like me two years ago, who feel like they can’t keep even the most basic plant alive. I’m absolute proof that anyone can have success with houseplants, so today I’m going to share some basic tips on getting started, so that everyone can make their homes a little greener.

Disclaimer:

These posts are not written by an expert, they are written by someone who spent years thinking they couldn’t keep anything alive and has finally figured out how to have some houseplant success. It’s all based on things I’ve read or researched, as well as things I’ve found from personal experience, and has been written to help other houseplant beginners so if you’re already a pro then this may not be for you.

Monstera Deliciosa plant - How to Keep your houseplants alive

My first Monstera Deliciosa, which is now mother plant to 8 propagated babies

Why Do We All Need House Plants?

I really want these posts to reach people who believe they can’t keep a plant alive, and have stopped trying. Why do I care so much? Why don’t we all just buy plastic fake plants to make our homes more Instagrammable? Houseplants have so many benefits and honestly I think everyone needs at least a few in their lives. Lots of plants are proven to improve air quality by removing airborne pollutants, so they have a really valuable use within your home. Research also shows that plants can improve your mood, increase productivity, reduce stress levels, and even help with pain tolerance.

On a personal level I find looking after my plants is a great way to practice mindfulness and actually feels like self care. It’s a proven fact that plants can be good for your mental health, and they definitely make a room look prettier (check out our living room) – so basically you need a few immediately.

How To Keep Your House Plants Alive

Choose Wisely

The first thing you need to consider before starting your collection of houseplants is what kind of plants are right for you. Most of us (me included sometimes!) probably choose a plant purely based on which one takes our fancy in the shop, but depending on how much care and light your chosen plant needs you could be setting yourself up for failure straight away.

Try your hardest not to make impulse plant purchases (this is the most hypocritical thing I’ve ever said) and instead research a little first to determine which plants are best for your space. If you want a houseplant to keep on your kitchen window sill you may need a plant that is happy in direct sunlight. Or you might want something for a shadier spot in your living room – then you will want a completely different plant. Homes with limited natural light will mean limited plant choices, and you may want to rotate your plants a bit so that they all get a turn in the bright natural light spots. If you’re set on a plant that needs lots of light and you want it in a shadier position then consider getting some grow lights to help keep your plant happy.

flowering pilea babies - how to keep your houseplants alive

Flowering happy Pilea Peperomioides babies. All these Pileas have been propagated from one mother plant

Shop Smart

A very wise friend of mine once told me this – lots of people think they can’t keep houseplants alive, but are those the types of people who are buying plants from places like supermarkets and IKEA? I’m a die hard IKEA fan so no shade, but I know that those plants are kept in dark warehouses and probably aren’t at their healthiest before they even leave the shop. It’s very possible that these supermarket plants are dead or doomed before you get them home – regardless of how healthy they look externally when you buy them. Have you ever read the tag of a succulent you’ve bought from somewhere like Tesco? They are guaranteed for 7 days!

If you’re serious about houseplants, and want something that will grow and last then consider where you’re buying them from. Seek out local suppliers; independent garden centres are usually great, or look on places like Facebook marketplace for people selling their propagated plants. These are more likely to have had a really good start, and are much more likely to be healthier and give you the best possible chance to keep them that way.

There’s nothing wrong with buying supermarket plants, and I do it regularly myself. But if you’re having a bit of a rough time with houseplants then make it easier for yourself by buying one with the best chance. I don’t often lose a plant, but all the plants I’ve lost lately have been from places like Aldi and Sainsburys. The plants I have bought from local shops and garden centres are now years old and flourishing – and those are the ones I propagate (more on that in a future post!).

pilea babies - how to keep your houseplants alive

More Pilea babies from the same mother plant

Pot Drainage

One of the most common causes of houseplant death is over watering – which can cause the roots to rot. I think that this fact makes everyone terrified to properly water their plants, and means people go around giving their thirsty plants just a tiny sprinkling of water, which causes it’s own problems. Over watering is really only a thing when your plant is in a pot with limited drainage, as long as your plant has decent drainage you should water very generously and allow the excess to drain out from the bottom. This means that the water will get all the way down to the roots where it is needed, but the soil will be able to dry out afterwards – avoiding rot.

Unfortunately a lot of the fancy and pretty pots you see on the ‘gram don’t have drainage holes, and could (will) cause problems for your plants. To combat this you could drill small holes into the pots of your choice and place a tray or plate underneath to catch the water, or you could choose to keep your pots in a plastic or terracotta pot (with drainage) which you place inside the pretty pot to hide it away. When re-potting a plant, add a few stones or pebbles to the bottom of the pot, to help with drainage.

When to Water

How frequently you should water very much depends on the type of plant, and the specific conditions. Generally speaking most plants should be allowed to dry out in between being watered. Once the soil at the top of the pot feels dry to the touch, go ahead and water generously again *allowing to fully drain after*. Water the soil, not the leaves. In warmer months you’ll find that plants dry out fast, especially if they are in bright spots in your house. Conversely in winter most plants need watering much less frequently as they will take longer to dry out and also won’t be growing as much. Plants like succulents and cacti need much less water than other houseplants (incidentally I think succulents are much harder to look after then people make out, so if you’ve had a few succulent fails don’t assume you are rubbish with all houseplants).

I water most of mine weekly at the moment (summer), and once a month or so I take them all into the bath and give them a lovely long shower before leaving them to drain. Most plants prefer moisture in the air, so I also have a spray bottle which I use every few days on my plants, and I also keep my smaller babies in a tray filled with gravel and water which helps keep the air from getting too dry.

jade plant - how to keep your houseplants alive

A propagated jade plant – also known as a Chinese money plant

Pay Attention To Your Plant

Most plants are actually pretty good at communicating, and if you pay attention they will alert you to any problems they are having. As you get more experienced with house plants you will be able to read your plants better and solve their issues quickly.

If you have a plant that is growing a little strangely or unevenly – it’s probably growing towards the light. Consider moving it to a closer position, and rotate it regularly to get more even growth. Another problem I’ve come across is fungus gnats, which are annoying little flies that can sometimes plague your house plants. The best way to get rid of them is to allow the soil to dry out; there are all sorts of other methods online and I’ve tried a few but none seem to help that much.

Yellowing leaves, brown spots, loosing leaves and wilting plants are all signs of a problem. Google your plant + the issue you’re having and you will find tons of great information on how to fix it.

A lot of plant care (in my opinion any way) is trial and error. Position your plant somewhere you think it should be happy based on it’s needs, and water when it seems to need it. Pay attention to how it grows and acts, and change its position or your routine where needed. Most plants won’t die over night (a few might..), so as long as you react to what it’s telling you then you should be able to get it straight back to good health. Good luck!

Coming Up Next..

Look out for the next posts in my houseplant series – my favourite houseplants, and tips for propagation.

pilea peperomioides - how to keep your house plants alive

Pilea Peperomioides – the mother plant

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