Houseplants are easy to grow if you'll follow a few simple steps. This segment has tips on where to place your plants, how much to water, when to water, how to fertilize your plants and much more. The key to enhancing your interior décor is to have the right plant in the right place.

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Basic Care of Houseplants

Most of those plants we use for houseplants come from the tropical rain forest. What we’re trying to find are houseplants, that when they’re in their native environment, are growing in a level of light that’s equal to what we have in our homes. That means growing in what we call low, medium, or high light levels. Remember, high light indoors is a very, very low light when outdoors. It’s not just the shade of a shade tree, but many shade trees of different plant levels going down.

The proper way to do it is to go around your house and say, “This room would be so much nicer to live in, if only I had a plant here. And, in this location, I have this amount of light. Now, let me buy a plant that will grow well in that much light.” Then, you’re more likely to be successful.

Plants in windows don’t enhance the interior décor, they detract from it. We need to learn how to choose plants for the location with the amount of light we have. So, we don’t have to force them into windows. Then, we’re not destroying our interior décor. It’s counter to everything we do when we put a plant in front of a window.

So that’s the light part of it. The other part of basic care of houseplants is how to water. Watering is a two part process – how much and how often. How much water to give a plant is very easy. Always totally saturate it. Whether it’s a regular houseplant like this spathiphyllum, (or it’s a fern, a cactus, or succulent) it doesn’t matter. We’re going to water them all the same. We’re going to totally saturate it.

But then, it’s “When do I do it again?” On a cactus, you’ll need to let it dry to the extreme before you water it again. As a standard measure on most houseplants, if they’re in a six-inch diameter pot, just poke your finger in a hole. If it’s completely dry an inch below the surface, it’s time to water again.

On a larger pot, such as a 10-inch diameter pot where the plant may be three feet tall, poke your finger in as deep as you can. If it’s completely dry two to three inches below the surface, then it’s time to water again. If you feel any moisture at all, then you may want to wait a few more days before applying water.

Then, on fertilizer – because we have low light indoors - we don’t want to stimulate a lot of new growth. New growth requires more light. What we want is a steady, even growth. So, you’ll want to give it a little bit of fertilizer every now and then to keep it healthy. Then, it won’t be deficient in nutrients. But, we don’t want to push a lot of growth. It works best if you take any houseplant fertilizer, (most brands are good), and dilute it in half. If it says two tablespoons per gallon of water, just use one. Just mix it half-strength, and use it about every three to four weeks from April through October. And, don’t fertilize at all during the winter months from October through February. Those are low light months of the year where the day length is shorter, so we have less daylight for plant growth. And we have a less intense light.

The other thing to remember with houseplants is to avoid drafts. You don’t want to place them where you open the door and the cold winter wind, or the hot blast of the summer heat comes in and blows on the plants. You don’t want to put them near a window. For many reasons, as I’ve already explained. Also, windows are cold. Particularly those that are older and don’t have insulated glass. If it gets very cold at night, the cold penetrates the window and creates a chilling injury around the plant, even though the room has been heated. You also don’t want them to be near a heater or air conditioner vent that blows on them. So, it’s important to pay attention to drafts as well.

If you do those simple things, houseplants can do well indoors. It’s not a mystery. But the most important thing is to put the right plant in the right amount of light, and everything else becomes very easy.

This feature story prepared with Alan Stevens, retired Kansas State University Research and Extension State Leader, Horticulture. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at

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