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A Beginners Guide to Houseplants

With the variation we see in homes these days, a lot of people may not have the garden space for big, bushy outdoor plants. Fortunately there is a solution: houseplants. Indoor plants are a great way to cultivate that green thumb if you don’t have much outdoor space, or if you simply want to brighten up your living space. Below, we go into everything a beginner needs to know about houseplants.

Assorted green houseplants in pots

Houseplant Care Guide

Caring for indoor plants can be broken down into three main sections:

Positioning:

  • Positioning is critical for indoor plants. It is always best to keep your plants in bright, indirect light and away from areas that may receive cold air.
  • Each plant will have different light requirements, so it is best to research your plants in greater detail. While they may not die due to incorrect lighting, most will not produce new leaves without sufficient lighting.
  • Be sure to avoid placing next to a radiator as well – indoor plants generally like humidity rather than dry heat. This could lead to brown crispy leaf tips.
  • Remember – while they like bright light,  indirect light is best!

“If you’ve got a really bright, sunny south-facing window which may have been perfect for the winter for a plant, particularly a new one. That could become a bit of a scorching furnace for some varieties. If they’re a bit sun sensitive, you want to move them into a different window that’s not too sunny. That can happen quite a lot. People fail with houseplants quite often when they’ve bought one in the winter then come the summer, it gets baked. It just doesn’t like those conditions too hot” says Chris Bonnett, CEO of Gardening Express.

Food and Water: 

  • Overwatering houseplants can often do more harm than underwatering, so it is always best to make sure that you start with the right pot and growing medium.
  • Soil isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ for houseplants, but a general compost kept loose and moist before potting or repotting is a good place to start. Be sure to make drainage holes in the pot if it does not already have some, as otherwise you may run into issues like root rot.
  • A 20/20/20 fertiliser is also beneficial when added to the soil periodically, though frequency of this will depend on the age and variety of plant, and there are more fertilisers out there, specifically tailored to certain houseplants. 

Pruning:

  • Keeping your indoor plants neat and tidy can make them more aesthecially pleasing, but it is also very beneficial to the health and growth of your plants.
  • To encourage the development of side buds, pinch out the topmost leaves and the stem’s tip. 
  • Sometimes, more attention is needed than pinching out the leaves and stems to keep your plants looking their best. Snip off any dead flowers or leaves with a pair of sharp pruners. To prevent the spread of diseases and pests, it is recommended to use rubbing alcohol to clean the blades of your pruners before beginning to prune another plant.

Care Checklist for Indoor Plants

young woman watering houseplants with a sprayer

Keeping your plants looking their best doesn’t need to be daunting or time-consuming. Indoor plants should bring joy into people’s homes, not simply another list of chores. That’s why we’ve created a super simple plant care checklist to break down what you need to do to keep those plants looking their best. 

Weekly: Once a week is a good rule of thumb for when to water plants, though it is best to just keep an eye on them to make sure. They do not like to get too wet, so be conscious of that – perhaps even just a little misting if the soil is still a bit damp. Houseplants like it humid, so misting can really help with this. 

Monthly: Once a month, it can be beneficial to wipe down the leaves of your houseplants with a damp cloth – this is particularly helpful when misting houseplants often as it will stop too much water collecting on them. Pinching out topmost leaves or stem tips can also be done 2-3 times per growing season, so on a monthly basis in its growing season would be advised. 

Yearly: The ‘real’ pruning of your houseplants would only be advised on a yearly basis, rather than too frequently – you don’t want to cut them back too often. You could also take cuttings to propogate your houseplants at the same time. Heavy pruning would be best in late winter or early spring, though a light pruning could be done at any time of year. 

Top 10 Best Houseplants for Beginners

Success with starting to grow indoor plants will depend on which plants you choose to start out with. It may be tempting to jump straight in with something rare and exotic, but often it is best to start with something simple and work your way up. It’s always better to have a lovely, healthy looking ‘starter’ plant than a big, expensive dead plant. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 Best Houseplants for Beginners, just to get you started on your indoor gardening journey:

1. Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera have many uses and so are quite well-known throughout the world, but they also make a great starter houseplant. As a succulent, they have very distinct leaves which can be broken apart and the juice inside used for many purposes like treating cuts and burns though they also look striking when potted up in the home. They are slow-growing and only need repotting every few years, so make sure you pick a nice decorative pot to start out as it will be a while before you need to think of getting a new one. 

Care:

Aloes need very little water in the winter time, though every three weeks or until the top 2-3 inches of soil gets dry is a good measure for warmer months. Feeding them every couple of months from April to September with a 10-40-10 liquid fertiliser or a specific succulent mix will help them look their best throughout the year. As with most houseplants, Aloe Vera like a bright, indirect sunlight to keep them thriving. 

Tip: 

As a great way to fertilise your Aloe Vera plants and cut down on food waste – save some of your banana peels as they are natural fertilisers. Simply cut the peel up and mix it in with the soil and it will aid in the growth of your Aloe plant. 

2. Monstera Deliciosa – Swiss Cheese Plant

Monstera deliciosa – Swiss Cheese Plant

Monstera are a classic houseplant, with their very distinct appearance giving them a special place in a lot of people’s homes, bringing a small part of the jungle inside. They have cut outs, earning them their name, in their dark green glossy leaves and will add a tropical feel to your living space. They like a lightly moist soil and prefer to dry out just a little between watering – this helps to ensure that you are not over watering them. Humidity is key for the upkeep of monstera, so a light misting every so often will do wonders for their green leaves. 

Care:

When considering which soil to use for monstera, some may be surprised to know that orchid soil is a great choice as it is well draining. To make sure that you keep enough moisture in the soil, though, you can always add some compost, peat moss (or a peat-free alternative) to the soil and it will help balance it out. A good schedule to base the amount of watering on is to only water when the first 2-4 inches of the soil feel dry. A bright to medium, indirect light is best for these plants to keep them happy and healthy. 

Tip:

Why not pair your Monstera with a Philodendron? They are both in the same larger family and have much the same care requirements so they make a happy plant pairing. 

3. Spathiphyllum ‘Alana’ – Peace Lily 

Spathiphyllum ‘Alana’ – Peace Lily in White Display Pot

Spathiphyllum ‘Alana’, also known as the Peace Lily, are an evergreen perennial with lance shaped, dark green glossy leaves and lovely cream, sail-like flowers. As a symbol of peace and goodwill, they will add an element of glamour to any room. Flowering from April to July and reaching approximately 60cm tall and 60cm wide over time, it’s the perfect gift and perfect as a starter houseplant. Peace Lilies don’t like direct sunlight, so it is best to position the where they can receive filtered light. 

Care:

Peace Lilies prefer a soil mix that combines retaining water and adequate drainage. Using a blend of growing mediums will benefit these greatly. Try a mix of peat moss (of a peat-free alternative) and perlite for a good balance. In summer, mist and water the Peace Lily regularly as they thrive in humidity, but in the winter drop down to watering less frequently, but don’t allow them to dry out completely. An evenly balanced fertiliser, as mentioned previously, is good for Peace Lilies, though they do not like overfeeding and so it is best to only feed them occasionally. 

Tip: 

To promote spring and summer growth, try fertilising every 6 weeks starting from late winter using a well-balanced houseplant fertiliser. Growth should occur quite rapidly following this.

4. Ficus Elastica – Rubber Plant

Ficus elastica Robusta – Rubber Plant Tree

Sometimes thought of as a throwback to the 70s, these Rubber Plants are now back in fashion and are a great way to cultivate your green thumb indoors. Positioned in an attractive planter, they will bring some life indoors with their dark glossy leaves. Bright, indirect light is recommended though they are unusually tolerant of low-light for ficus. These plants like being a little pot bound and prefer to have a slightly crowded root system in their pots. 

Care: 

As with most houseplants, these Rubber Plants prefer a humid heat rather than dry heat – so avoid direct sunlight, positioning near heaters, etc. Filtered, indirect bright light is best to keep the green of the leaves, but they are tolerant of lower light levels, which is surprising for ficus plants. Ficus Elastica prefer a well-draining soil which still retains an amount of moisture to keep them happy. To achieve this desired soil composition, you can always add some orchid bark, gravel or other such additives into the soil. During the growing season, you may need to water these as much as once a week and they benefit from a feed once a month in the summer – though they aren’t ‘big feeders’ so it always pays to dilute the liquid feed first. 

Tip: 

Although it may seem counterproductive, pruning can really help to promote new growth, it will also help them to ‘bush out.’ When pruning, you can also take the cuttings and propogate them to grow even more rubber plants.

5. Sansevieria Zeylanica – Snake Plant

Snake Plant – Sansevieria zeylanica – in Classic White Display Pot

Sansevieria, also known as Snake Plants, come in different varieties. Some are variegated, others not – luckily, their care is very similar across the different varieties of snake plant, and they are ideal for beginners. Long, sword-like leaves growing upright from the soil, they are a very attractive and decorative plant. Low maintenance and quite tough, they will do well in a bright position and need very little additional care. 

Care: 

Snake plants like bright light, but it is best to avoid the full summer sun, as they prefer filtered light rather than direct sunlight. This bright light will help those green leaves stay green, but ensure to keep away from radiators, as otherwise you may notice the tips going a bit brown and crispy. They can be grown outside, though they do best as an indoor plant as they don’t like frost or wintry rain and wetness. It is advised to only repot these snake plants when pot bound, as moving them too often may cause unnecessary stress. When you do repot them, it is advised to use a light, loamy soil as it will drain well and should register as quite neutral on the pH scale. Learn more about snake plant care here.

Tip:

Using a specific potting mix or store-bought soil for your houseplants is a great way to limit compaction and any insects or bacteria which can be found in soil from the garden as it should be sterile and free of pests and diseases. 

6. Chlorophytum – Variegated Spider Plant

Variegated Spider Plant – Chlorophytum – in White Display Pot

Spider plants are named due to their shoots which hang down over the side of their pots, much like the dangling legs of its namesake. However, if you wish to do so, you can trim them back, they just won’t create that cascading effect. These are easy to grow, needing a well lit position in the house, water, and an occasional feed. The variegation really does lend to a fantastic display and it has a different overall appearance to a lot of the other houseplants in the list – why not mix and match for some added depth and dimension? 

Care:

The best soil for spider plants is generally a loose, nutrient rich potting soil – they need to be able to retain moisture without risking root rot from it being too wet. A general pre-mixed soil will suffice generally. Try and avoid placing spider plants in direct sunlight, and give them a fertiliser boost during the warmer months. Most importantly, though: don’t stress too much, spider plants are quite resilient and won’t need much specific care to thrive. 

Tip: 

Only water your spider plant when the top 2 inches of the soil feel dry, it is better to underwater than over water.

7. Pothos – Devil’s Ivy

Epipremnum pinnatum aureum – Devil’s Ivy – Pothos

Pothos, also known as Devil’s Ivy come in many different varieties such as Golden Pothos, Marble Queen and more. They have heart-shaped, cascading leaves and are perfect as a trailing or hanging plant while also being able to be trained on a pole or trellis. This makes them a very versatile indoor plant while being quite simple to care for. Pothos love a warm location and most varieties will tolerate a low-light level, though the colouration may vary in lower lighting. Lower lighting can also be a way to avoid scorching the leaves with direct sunlight. 

Care:

For variegated or golden varieties of pothos, brighter light is ideal though it is best to keep them out of direct sunlight. For Jade Pothos or other green, non-variegated pothos, lower lighting will suffice and can reduce the amount of watering needed. Apply a diluted, liquid houseplant fertiliser once a month during the summer to aid in growth and only water when the soil begins to feel dry. Pothos do not like wet soil, so a well-draining potting mix will do wonders for them and you can also add perlite or other such additives just to make sure that they can freely drain.

Tip: 

When caring for variegated or Golden Pothos, brighter light is recommended so that they retain that variegation or colouring – in lower light levels they may revert back to green leaves. 

8. Saint Paulia – African Violet

Saintpaulia – African Violet Plants in assorted Colours

African Violets are perfect for bringing some colour to an indoor space as they are a flowering plant with masses of blooms which come in a range of colours generally in a blue to violet range but also including white, pink, lavender and red-violet. These blooms burst out from a rosette of deep green leaves. Positioned on a bright window sill, these plants are sure to add some joy – they’re also quite easy to manage for a beginner in the world of indoor gardening. 

Care:

Direct sunlight can scorch the leaves of the African Violet, so indirect, filtered bright light is always recommended. A north or east-facing window is the perfect location to grow your Saintpaulia plants. Water once a week to allow the soil time to dry out as this will help to avoid the all-common houseplant issue of root rot. 

Tip:

One way to ensure that your African Violets don’t end up overwatered is to use a wicking system. This involves using a wettable fabric or rope to carry water from a reservoir to the plant’s roots. Cotton is a very common material to use, though this can increase a risk of fungus, so some manmade materials to use are acrylic or nylon.

9. Codiaeum var Petra – Croton

Codiaeum var Petra – Croton

These Croton are a stunning addition to a collection of houseplants – their striking foliage ranges from  pink, red, orange, yellow and green. Petra is a very popular variety of Croton and will brighten up a room, especially in the darker months of the year. These plants need bright light, high humidity and warmth in their positioning, so this is something to be mindful of. They make a perfect starter indoor plant and there is something almost jurassic about them, not just the usual jungle-like appearance you get from most houseplants and so can be paired nicely with ferns which do, in fact, date back to the jurassic era. 

Care: 

Croton leaves are prone to collecting dust, so it is beneficial to wipe them down every so often in order to keep them looking their best. They need for their soil to be kept quite moist in the summer and prefer a higher light level to keep the colouring of their leaves quite vibrant and fun. A potting mix which retains moisture while still draining well is advisable for croton plants; coconut coir is a good medium to use to aid in this balance of drainage and retention. Crotons do require more feeding than other houseplants may tend to do, and they prefer a feed that is higher in nitrogen and potassium with lower phosphorous levels – a fast-release fertiliser is best for these plants. 

Tip:

The best location for croton plants indoors is a sunny spot, such as an eastern, western or southern facing window. Direct sunlight is okay, in moderate amounts and so these aspects are perfect for a 6-8 hour window of full sun.

10. Ferns

Boston Fern in White Display Pot

Ferns are a leafy plant which can be used in many different types of pots, planters and hanging baskets and they make a lovely addition to a bathroom as they like the natural high humidity in there. They like filtered light and warmth, though they will need misting if it is too dry. There are lots of different varieties of ferns that thrive in an indoor environment such as Boston Fern, Maidenhair Fern and more. Certain ferns have more upright foliage while others will hang over the edge of their pots, creating an almost trailing effect – they give a mix of a jungle or woodland feel and look quite striking as their foliage has so much texture. 

Care: 

Indirect light is best, as too much direct sunlight can result in crispy tips. There are no unreachable temperature requirements with ferns as a general rule – they like the same temperature we do, approximately room temperature is best. Between 18 and 23 degrees celcius during the day will keep your ferns happy and healthy. Avoid watering the foliage of your ferns, but mist twice a week to keep them from drying out and water when the top of the soil feels dry – they like some moisture but nothing too soggy.

Tip: 

Indoor ferns like a balanced fertiliser, a 20-20-20 feed, or perhaps 20-10-20, about once a month from early spring to mid autumn should do the trick. 

Common Problems with Houseplants

Houseplants such as the ones we have covered so far are usually quite easy to grow, though a few things to be mindful of are diseases or pests. Pests and diseases occur in all plants, and houseplants are no different they may just be susceptible to different problems than plants grown outdoors. We do have an article which goes into more detail on plant diseases and pests, but here are a few to watch out for and how to identify them:

Diseases

Treatment of strawberries during flowering with a fungicide against pests. Spraying plants with a sprayer. Garden care.

Powdery Mildew: This fungus can be identified by white, powdery spots or patches on the top of leaves and stems and will continue to spread, covering the whole plant and potentially stunting growth if left untreated. Powdery mildew does like warm, less ventilated, moist locations and so houseplants are particularly at risk with their love of humidity. Thankfully there is an easy solution for ridding your houseplants of powdery mildew. To prevent mildew in the first place, wiping down your houseplant’s leaves every so often will help. To get rid of mildew which has started to grow you can use a plant-safe fungicide which you can purchase, or a homemade, more eco-friendly solution. 

Blackspot: This is another fungus which presents with purple-black spots on the top of leaves and grows over time to cover more of the leaf. If identified, isolate the plants away from any others, remove affected leaves and spray with a plant-safe fungicide or a homemade alternative as with powdery mildew. The only difference here, is that this fungus can spread more easily to your other plants. 

Rust: This fungus appears as brownish, rust coloured spots on the top of a plant’s leaves and large, pale spots on the underside of the leaves. Isolate affected plants and remove any affected leaves before destroying them and spray with rust control. Clear any fallen leaves or debris in the pot and avoid splashing water on the remaining leaves when watering as this can spread the rust further. 

Pests

Aphids: Aphids are tiny, green insects which are found in both houseplants and outdoor plants – they like to suck the sap from within a plant and can cause a plant to become distorted or have stunted growth. If spotted, separate the plant from any neighbours and use a spray bottle with water to blast any aphids away. Alternatively, you can also rub them away with your fingers. 

Spidermites: An easy way to identify spider mites is if you can see small brown/yellow spots, your plant’s leaves have started to turn yellow, and they have an overall ‘dusty’ appearance – you may also see webbing as if it is a tightly spun spider web. They can cause stunted or distorted growth if left untreated but can be removed by a simple mix of alcohol and water in a spray bottle. Once the plant has been sprayed, ensuring to gets to all areas of the plant, including the underside of the leaves, simply wipe down the plant with a paper towel, and there should be no further issue. 

Winter Houseplant Care

As winter settles in, the needs of your houseplants change, requiring a thoughtful adjustment in care to ensure they thrive during the colder months. Here’s a comprehensive guide to winter houseplant care:

Adjusted Watering Routine

Houseplants experience slower growth during winter, so adapt their watering schedule accordingly. Water less frequently, only when the soil feels dry to the touch. Overwatering can lead to root rot, a common issue in the colder months.

Strategic Placement

Move your houseplants closer to light sources to compensate for the reduced sunlight in winter. Ensure they receive adequate but indirect sunlight, preventing them from getting too cold or too hot.

Cease Feeding

Houseplants generally enter a period of dormancy in winter, making them less reliant on nutrients. Stop feeding them during this time, allowing them to naturally conserve energy.

Temperature Considerations

Protect your houseplants from extreme temperatures. Keep them away from drafts, which can be too cold, and avoid placing them directly next to radiators or other sources of artificial heat, which can be too hot.

Accept Leaf Drop

Don’t be alarmed if your houseplants shed some leaves during winter. It’s a natural response as they strive to preserve energy. Focus on maintaining a stable environment rather than stressing over dropped leaves.

Pest Patrol

Winter is prime time for pests like aphids, scale, and spider mites. Regularly inspect the undersides of leaves and along stems for any signs of infestation. For small outbreaks, manually remove pests; for larger issues, consider insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Increase Humidity

Combat the dry indoor air by increasing humidity around your plants. Cluster them together or place them on trays filled with pebbles and water. This simple technique helps create a more humid microclimate, mimicking their preferred conditions.

Foliage Maintenance

Take advantage of limited sunlight by keeping the foliage clean. Use a damp cloth or microfiber dusting gloves to remove dust and grime from leaves. A quick rinse in the shower is also effective for overall plant cleanliness.

Avoid Repotting

Resist the urge to repot your houseplants in winter. Save repotting for the active growing seasons of spring and summer to avoid shocking dormant plants.

Special Care for Christmas Houseplants

If you have Christmas houseplants, such as poinsettias, amaryllis, or cyclamen, provide them with specific care instructions. These plants can add festive cheer, but they have unique needs that differ from typical houseplants.

Remember, with a little attention and care, your houseplants can thrive throughout the winter, enhancing your indoor environment even in the coldest months.

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Notes

All our guides and information are provided as general guides and we do always advise our customers to do their own research to ensure that the plants they select are right for them and their environment as no two locations are the same. We cannot accept responsibility for plant establishment and survival in indivdual locations. 

Updated on December 13, 2023

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