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General House Plant Care Guide

Posted by Sunset Garden Experts on

general house plant care guide


Growing conditions are different in each home.  Learn the requirements of each type of plant then try to meet them as closely as possible.

Soil & Repotting
Most foliage plants don’t need to be repotted until they become pot-bound. Flowering houseplants often must be pot-bound (lots of roots in pot) before they will flower.

Your pot size when repotting is determined by the size of the root ball. When repotting use only one pot size larger. A general rule is try to only increase the diameter of the pot by 2" at a time when potting up. This rule should only be broken if your plant has a very robust root system which can handle an even larger pot, or if your plant is already in a 10" diameter or larger pot it typically can go into a pot a little larger than 2" more in diameter.

Clay pots are porous and the soil usually dries out more quickly. For this reason they are good for cacti & succulents which like their soil on the drier side. They are also good for people who typically overwater their plants as the extra water will dry out more quickly. Fertilizer salts may accumulate on the rim and through the sides of a clay pot. This will require a bit of cleaning once or twice a year.

Plastic pots help retain moisture and are easily cleaned. For this reason they are better than clay pots if you are someone who forgets to water more often. 

To repot, first see that the container is clean. In the bottom of the pot place some broken pieces of clay pot or small stones over the drainage holes (this is so that the water drains more slowly and does not pull soil through the hole with it). Put a handful or two of soil into the pot but don’t pack it down. Place the plant into the pot, keeping it at the same depth that it was at in its previous pot. Add soil around the roots until the pot is full. Keeping the stem(s) straight, press the soil firmly around the roots.  Water thoroughly.

The type of soil to be used depends upon the plant. These include general type soils such as potting soil or tropical plant mixes, African Violet soils, and cactus/succulent soils.

The best general rule is to water the plants whenever the soil begins to appear dry. Probe into the soil with a finger or moisture meter to test for moistness. Soil should dry between watering. You can also lift smaller pots and determine if it is dry based on how heavy it is. The rate at which plants dry out varies according to the season, the household humidity and temperature. Large pots dry out at a slower rate. When water is required, water thoroughly, until it drains out the bottom of the pot. Empty excess water from the saucer. Soil that is constantly wet will encourage root rot causing the death of your plant. A little water every day in not good. It only wets the top layer of soil – i.e. not reaching the roots below. This can also result in the plant’s death. If watering is done carefully all plants can be watered from the top. A long-spout watering can is the easiest to use. A bulb type baster is good for small plants. 

Moisture in the air is also important. Humidity can be increased by grouping plants together on pebble trays containing water. The pebbles keep the pot out of direct contact with the water in the tray so that it does not accidentally soak up the water and become overwatered. As the water in the tray evaporates it increases the humidity in the area.  As well, daily mist spraying helps improve humidity, particularly during winter months. This is because we tend to turn up the heat in our homes during the winter which dries out the air.

Using water that is at room temperature tends to minimize shock to plants.

Proper light is essential for good plant growth. The direction the window faces determines the “light quality” coming in. Indirect sunlight is best for most plants. This is achieved by avoiding direct sunlight in a very well-lit room. To do this one option is to place your plant back somewhere from the window (ex: on a table further back in the room). You can also place you plant in the corner of the room so it is no directly in front of the window. Sheer curtains between the plant and direction of sunlight will also create a favorable light condition. West and South facing windows tend to be the brightest and require more attention to making sure that you do not place your plants directly in the window. East and North facing windows tend to have less light and putting your plants closer to your windows tends to not be as much of an issue.

NOTE: sunlight intensity is reduced during winter months, thus a south facing window in winter is equivalent to an eastern exposure during summer months.

Artificial lighting can help supplement some hours of light but the plant also still requires 8-10 hours of darkness for proper functioning of plant life cycles.

Soil nutrients are necessary for plant growth. These nutrients can come from many sources such as decaying/breaking down organic matter, and fertilizer. Soil nutrients are constantly consumed by the plant and must be replenished.

Water-soluble fertilizers are best for indoor plants as they dissolve immediately and are readily taken up by the roots. The three major elements required for plant growth are Nitrogen (N.), Phosphorous (P.) and Potassium (K.), referred to as the N-P-K- ratio. Nitrogen promotes healthy green growth; phosphorous promotes development of flower buds and root growth, while potassium promotes plant strength. Thus, for fertilizing foliage plants the ratio should be favored towards nitrogen – i.e. 20-10-20. For flowering plants one requires high phosphorous fertilizer – i.e. 15-30-15. A good general purpose houseplant fertilizer would be more balanced – i.e 10-15-10 or 20-20-20.

NOTE: follow label directions for accurate application. As a general rule feed plants once a month from March to November. Rate of growth diminishes during winter months, therefore reduce fertilizing frequency by half.

The most common plant pests are aphids, spider mites, scales, mealy bugs and white flies. Many chemical controls are available, both general and specific, for a variety of pests. Seek advice from a professional garden center for proper identification and control. Well maintained plants resist pests more readily.

Summer Care
With proper shade and adequate water, most house plants thrive outdoors during summer. A few such as cactus and geraniums can take full sun all day. Most others should be placed where they are in partial shade from 11 a.m. to about 3 p.m. Tuberous begonias, gloxinias and African violets require shade all day. These plants, particularly hanging ones, will dry out rapidly. Check every day and water as necessary. 

It is worth while to bring your plants outside during the warmer months if possible as the extra light will not only help create strong healthy growth but it will also accelerate the growth of your plant. To get the quickest growth out of your houseplants putting them outdoors in highly recommended if you have a spot for them.

When bringing plants into the house in the fall check closely for insect pests and spray them if needed before bringing indoors.

Houseplants can add pleasure for many years when given proper care.

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