Growing Plants Indoors: A Guide to Houseplant Care

Growing Plants Indoors: A Guide to Houseplant Care

In our modern society, most adults spend over 75 percent of their time indoors. It’s no wonder that indoor gardening has seen a massive spike in popularity in recent years; with lush foliage and fragrant blooms, houseplants impart a touch of nature wherever they grow. In fact, there are numerous science-backed benefits of houseplants, including reduced stress, increased productivity, and improved air quality. Whether you’re brand new to plant care or you have a self-determined “black thumb,” after learning a few basic principles, you can successfully grow plants indoors and reap the benefits of nature in your home or office.

How to Choose the Right Houseplant for Your Space

Many of us have made the mistake of bringing home a beautiful houseplant only to find that we can’t provide the correct growing conditions to keep it healthy and vibrant. Acknowledging that all plants grown indoors are technically out-of-their element, doing your homework and choosing plants whose native habitats are most similar to your home or office conditions will set you up for horticultural success. Consider the following variables:


Light is among the most crucial elements to growing healthy plants. Without the correct light levels, it is unlikely that any plant will survive for long. Assess both the strength and duration of natural sunlight in the room to help winnow down your plant options. In the U.S., while south-facing windows provide the most sunlight, east-facing windows offer the most favorable light exposure for many indoor plants. North-facing windows offer the least amount of sunlight; with a few rare exceptions, most houseplants will not survive with only the light from a north-facing window. Additionally, trees, roof eaves, and nearby buildings can all affect the amount of light any particular room receives, so it is important to carefully assess the light in a particular space.

Most houseplants are classified by their light needs. The majority thrive in bright, indirect light, though some varieties—such as Cacti and Succulents—prefer high light, while others—such as Snake Plants (Sansevieria), ZZ Plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), and Corn Plants (Dracaena fragrans)—can tolerate very low light. While you can manipulate the amount of light an indoor plant receives by adjusting its proximity to windows, hanging a light-filtering curtain, or installing an LED or a fluorescent grow light to supplement natural sunlight, be realistic about the amount of light a particular space receives when selecting your houseplants.

Houseplants growing near a window will bend toward the light. To encourage an even, upright habit, rotate your plants one-quarter turn in the same direction with every watering.


Many plants grow slowly indoors, so consider how much space you want your plant to occupy. For small areas, select a tabletop variety or a young plant that will not quickly outgrow the space. For larger areas, consider a dwarf tree or mature plant that can adequately fill the space. Healthy plants can continue to grow for years, so always think about a plant’s growth rate and mature size when making your selection.

Ambient Temperature

Many common houseplants are native to tropical regions and thus thrive in mild temperatures and with moderate humidity levels. Fortunately, most homes maintain conditions that suit houseplants—a temperature of about 70–80ºF during the day and 60–68ºF at night—though there are a few issues to consider. During cooler seasons, windows can become extremely cold and drafty, which can harm houseplants. When temperatures drop outside, ensure your houseplants are not exposed to exterior windows, doors, and drafty parts of the home or located too close to hot air vents that wick moisture away. In the warmer seasons, cool air from an AC unit can produce damaging drafts, so position plants away from air vents.


Some popular house plants contain chemicals that can cause irritation when touched or ingested. While these plants are safe to care for, they may not be ideal for households with cats, dogs, or young children who may be keen to touch or taste their foliage.

Easy-Care Houseplants

The easiest houseplants to grow are hardy varieties that can tolerate various levels of light and require infrequent watering. Some of our top houseplants for beginners include:

Fast-Growing Indoor Plants

If you’re eager to fill your space with nature, consider some of our favorite plants that grow quickly indoors:

Houseplant Care


Some tropical plants have specific soil requirements. For example, Orchids and Cacti require specially designed, quick-draining potting mixes that enable better aeration for their roots. Most other indoor plants grow well when planted in a general high-quality houseplant mix.

If you purchase a houseplant that is already potted in a permanent container, there is no need to repot right away. Otherwise, if your plant requires a more permanent home, select a container about 1–2” larger in diameter than the nursery pot. Ensure your new pot has adequate drainage holes to help prevent root rot.

Carefully remove your plant by turning it upside down and tapping the edge of the pot to loosen the soil until the root ball slides out. If the plant was rootbound, gently tease the roots with your hand to help fan them out, and then place the plant in the new container with fresh potting mix. Water your freshly potted plant, allowing any excess moisture to drain before moving the plant to its permanent location.


Video: How Often Does My Houseplant Need Water?

Although light is the most essential element for proper growth, water is the most critical for houseplant survival. While some experts and apps recommend following a fixed watering schedule, this can result in over- or under-watering plants since requirements vary based on growth stage, season, and ambient humidity. Instead, the best way to determine when a houseplant requires water is to rely on your senses.

With a few exceptions, most houseplants should be watered whenever the top 1” of soil feels dry to the touch. Every few days, check your plants by inserting your finger about 1” into the soil. If the soil feels moist, skip watering and check again in a few days. If it feels dry, water the plant in the sink until the water runs through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, being sure to remove any excess water from the saucer or decorative cachepot. Never allow plants to sit in standing water as this will cause root rot, which can be fatal.

Some plants have unique hydration needs, so always refer to the tag or growing guide that accompanies each plant you purchase to familiarize yourself with the proper watering indicators. Some houseplants are more drought tolerant and prefer to be watered only when the top 2” of soil feel dry, while others prefer to soak up water from a shallow saucer. It may be helpful to keep a list of each plant’s watering requirements and set a recurring reminder to check on your plants every few days so you don’t forget. Fortunately, most houseplants can tolerate underwatering, whereas overwatering is among the top reasons houseplants perish, so it is often best to err on the side of caution and wait to water if you are unsure.

Most tap water is suitable for watering your plants, but if you have hard water, even if you use a water softener, it may be best to use an alternative water source for your plants. Collected rainwater or bottled spring water are good alternatives.


Anyone who has spent time in a cool climate has undoubtedly experienced the drying effect of a heater or furnace. Just as the lack of humidity can make our skin feel dry, it can also dry out our houseplants. One of the easiest ways to increase humidity is to invest in a humidifier, which will benefit both your plants and yourself. Alternatively, you can set plants on shallow saucers filled with water and pebbles, ensuring that the water does not come in contact with the bottom of the pot to avoid wicking up moisture. As the water evaporates, it will help increase the humidity level around the plants. Grouping plants close together is another effective way to increase humidity, being sure to leave adequate space for proper air circulation. For most plants, it is not recommended to mist the leaves as a way to increase humidity, as this can promote disease.


Each time you water houseplants, minerals are washed from their soil. Without natural compost to help replenish the soil around indoor potted plants, they need fertilizing regularly to support vibrant growth. Some plants—such as Orchids—have species-specific fertilizer preferences, while most other indoor plants will thrive with any high-quality houseplant fertilizer. Fertilize houseplants only during active growth periods, which are typically in the spring and summer. We suggest diluting your houseplant fertilizer to ½ strength while following the frequency recommended on the package or in your plant’s care guide.


Some vigorous houseplants require occasional pruning to maintain an ideal shape or size, or to support optimal growth. Try to prune plants only during active growth periods in the spring and summer. Check each plant’s individual care guide for specific instructions regarding the best method for pruning.


Video: When is it Time to Repot a Houseplant?

If you see roots along the top of the soil or emerging through the drainage holes in the bottom of a container, the plant is likely rootbound. This may not be an issue for some plants—such as African Violets, Peace Lily, Spider Plants, and Clivia. But most other houseplants should be repotted when they become rootbound to enable healthy growth.

Video: How do I Repot My Houseplant?

When possible, aim to repot plants only in the early spring as they enter active growth periods. Before repotting, obtain a pot about 1–2” larger in diameter than the previous container, as well as a high-quality houseplant potting mix. Begin by watering the plant, and then turn over the pot and gently tap on its sides until the plant slides out easily. If the plant is especially rootbound, gently tug on the roots with your hand or score them with pruning shears to help them spread out. Then place the plant in the new container and lightly fill it with fresh potting mix, taking care not to compact the soil too tightly around the plant. Water the plant and keep it out of direct sunlight for a few days as it acclimates to its new home. Freshly repotted plants do not require fertilizer for the first month; after that, proceed with plant care as usual.


Video: What's Wrong with My Houseplant?

Most houseplant problems stem from environmental issues, but insects and diseases can also be problematic. Environmental variables that can cause problems include water, light, fertilizer, and temperature. If your plant is exhibiting issues such as drooping, yellowing leaves, or stunted growth, first review the plant’s care instructions and make sure you’re giving the plant proper care. The most common problems with houseplants relate to overwatering, so always check the soil moisture with your finger before watering plants.

Indications of insect damage include notches in the leaves, curling leaves, or white webbing on leaves and stems. Evidence of disease include fuzzy spots or irregular growth. If your plant is showing indications of insects or disease, commercial products are available to target and resolve specific issues. Your local garden center or Extension Office may be able to assist with diagnosis and treatment recommendations if necessary.