By Laurel Aiello
Houseplants have become more popular over the last few years, and it’s no surprise why: they add life and color to the home while improving the health and happiness of those inside. However, it’s not always easy to keep houseplants looking as great as they did in the greenhouse, the desert or the rainforest. Here are a few tips to grow happy plants indoors:
Not all indoor plants are the same. Most houseplants prefer bright, indirect light, while a few others (like pothos, peace lilies and snake plants), can tolerate lower levels of light. South-facing windows tend to provide the brightest light, with west-facing windows being the second brightest option. Rooms with east-facing windows provide gentle morning light, and north-facing windows don’t catch much light at all. Investing in a quality grow light can brighten up these naturally darker settings, creating a better environment for plants with higher light needs. Direct sunlight (especially from south and west windows) can burn more sensitive plants, even those that love bright indirect light.
Houseplants also dry out at different paces depending on the level of light and the size and type of plant. Plants in brighter spots will dry out quicker than plants in darker rooms, and plants in smaller pots tend to dry out quicker than plants in larger pots. Time of year matters, too. Houseplants dry out quicker in the summer due to longer, hotter days, and since they are more active during that time, they suck up more water. The best way to check whether a plant needs water is to stick a finger one-to-two inches down the inside of the pot to gauge its moisture level.
It’s important to note that the terms “over-watering” and “under-watering” refer to frequency of watering, not how thorough. All plants need to dry out at least a little between waterings and then be watered all the way through so that water spills out the drainage hole into a saucer, soaking the entire root ball. Some plants need to dry out completely between waterings—think snake plants, ZZ plants, Chinese evergreens, and succulents/cacti—while thirstier plants, like ferns and crotons, are ready for more water when the soil is still slightly damp. When in doubt, wait an extra day or two.
Then there’s the issue of humidity. Northern Colorado has an extremely dry climate, and without humidity, certain plants (especially ferns and carnivorous plants) will crisp up. Set up a humidifier or a DIY pebble tray, and avoid misting, as the water particles can collect on the leaves and cause damage.
Repotting & Fertilizing
Aside from proper light and watering, houseplants need occasional repotting and fertilizing. Most plants need to be repotted every one-to-two years in the summer, or when the roots line the edges of the pot and start to swirl around the bottom. Only go up a couple inches in pot size, gently teasing out the roots so they can find their way into the fresh soil. Use a well-draining potting soil, or a specific soil type for the plant’s needs, such as cactus/succulent soil, African violet soil, bonsai soil, orchid mix or carnivorous media.
Certain plants also require specific fertilizers, but for most foliage houseplants, a balanced formula of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium will do. Only fertilize during the growing season (late spring to early fall), as most plants go through a dormancy in the winter and do not like to be disturbed. Until then, sit back, relax and resist the urge to pick up the watering can.
Originally published on February 2nd, 2023.