How to Not Kill Houseplants

Updated on June 20, 2019
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge is an avid reader who enjoys learning about beautiful garden plants. Among other things, she has worked with a florist.

Group plants near each other to keep humidity and moisture levels high.
Group plants near each other to keep humidity and moisture levels high. | Source

Indoor plants can turn a dreary spot into someplace cheery. But keep that area looking cheerful by keeping your houseplants healthy and clean.

Maintaining houseplants isn’t difficult and doesn’t take much time. So whether you believe it or not, it’s fairly simple to not kill houseplants.

Selecting a Houseplant

When selecting houseplants at the nursery, or grocery store, it's best to compare like plants together.

  • Look for plants that look bushy (not leggy).
  • Avoid plants with exposed roots at the top, or bottom, of the pot.
  • Choose flowering plants that have both blooms and buds on it. These plants will tend to a longer blooming time, because the buds will replace spent or dying blooms.
  • Inspect leaves for good color and signs of disease. Check the underside of leaves for yellow or brown portions.

Potting Houseplants

While those plastic pots are fine as a temporary home for your plant, once you get the houseplant home, it’s best to transplant it into a more permanent pot.

Houseplants need adequate drainage. Without drainage, your plant will likely develop root rot and die. Although most pots have drainage holes, ensure that your desired pot does before transplanting it. If needed, place the plant in a plastic pot with drainage holes before setting it into an ornamental pot (without holes).

Placing Houseplants

  • When deciding where to place your houseplant in the home consider its natural habitat. For example, is your houseplant tropical? Consider placing it in your bathroom or near your kitchen sink.
  • If placing it in one of those two areas just isn’t possible, amp up the humidity by placing the pot over a dish with pebbles and standing water.
  • Add even more humidity to your plant by misting the leaves with distilled water in the morning. Avoid getting water on the blooms though, if applicable.
  • Group plants together to increase humidity of all the plants.
  • Consider what level of light your plant requires and place the plant in an appropriate area. Most houseplants require bright indirect sunlight. So an area about 3 feet away from a north, east, or west-facing window should be just fine.
  • Avoid areas with major temperature fluctuations throughout the day, such as near air vents or windowsills, or near doorways to the outside. Blasts of cold or hot air may shock your pant.

Watering Houseplants

Houseplants die from improper watering practices more than anything else. Even if you are unsure of the type (or name) of plant you have, there are some basic watering tips everyone should abide by.

  • Water most plants from above, at the soil line, all around the plant until the soil is evenly moist-but not wet. Avoid splashing leaves and especially blooms. If your plant has fuzzy leaves, water it from below by setting a pot in a saucer of water for about 30 minutes a day.
  • Learn your plant’s watering schedule. Plants typically need watering when the top 1/2–3/4 inches of soil are dry.
  • Water less frequently in the winter when plants are not actively growing.
  • Avoid waterlogging plants, which can kill them more quickly than underwatering. If your pot perpetually has standing water, remove the plant from the pot, remove excess soil, and wrap the root ball in newspaper or paper towels until excess moisture is drawn out. Repot the plant in fresh soil and keep it out of direct sunlight for a few weeks.

Maintaining Houseplants

Inspect your plants regularly to see if your plant needs more than just sunlight and water.

  • Fertilizer: Most plants need more than just water and sunlight. For optimal health, you’ll need to add fertilizer. Avoid fertilizing plants during the winter months though, unless you have a winter bloomer.
  • Liquid Fertilizers: Apply liquid fertilizer to moist soil in spring and summer. Always follow package instructions, and don’t be tempted to over-feed.
  • Slow-Release Fertilizers: Insert slow-release pellets or fertilizing sticks in the potting mix, according to package instructions. As you water normally, the slow-release fertilizers will release the food.

Grooming Houseplants

Clean large, waxy leaves with a damp, clean washcloth to remove dust. Use a paintbrush to remove dust from fuzzy leaves. Leaves with excess dust can’t receive all the sunlight they need to grow.

Remove old, brown leaves and deadhead spent blooms with sterilized clippers. Eliminating damaged or unhealthy portions of the plant allows the plant to send energy to other blooms and leaves.

Regularly inspect plants for signs of infection of disease. Indoor plants rarely have insect issues, unless they are taken outdoors or if exposed to insects while at the nursery.
Regularly inspect plants for signs of infection of disease. Indoor plants rarely have insect issues, unless they are taken outdoors or if exposed to insects while at the nursery. | Source

Houseplant Diseases

Indoor plants aren’t normally susceptible to pests, but they may succumb to disease, most of which is due to improper watering practices.

Gray Mold

Gray mold can be found all over a plant and most commonly occurs when plants are located in cool, damp, or overcrowded conditions.

Remove affected areas of the plant with sterilized clippers. Scoop out moldy soil. Treat the plant with a fungicide and water it less frequently.


Rot can occur in any part of the plant, including root, stem, and crown. Plants may look wilted and yellow or brown.

Root rot occurs when plants are over-watered, and roots are left in standing water. Remove the plant from the pot and inspect the roots. Snip mushy roots with sterilized clippers or knife. Replant in a sterilized pot with fresh potting soil.

Stem and crown rot most commonly occur when water splashes leaves and plants are left in colder locations. Remove affected areas with sterilized clippers, and treat with a fungicide, making sure to follow package instructions. Avoid over-watering the plant, and ensure the plant is properly ventilated and not overcrowded.


The tips in this article focused on general houseplants. Some houseplants, such are orchids or succulents, require much different specific care, such as significantly less frequent watering, and specific light requirements. Always follow specific instructions that come with your plant.

Succulents and cactus require a lot less watering than traditional houseplants.
Succulents and cactus require a lot less watering than traditional houseplants. | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      12 months ago from UK

      You give some great advice, which I could really do with, as my success rate with houseplants is not great.

    • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

      Jennifer Jorgenson 

      12 months ago

      Great article. I love my outdoor plants but for whatever reason I've felt intimidated by houseplants lol. This definitely has me reconsidering. Thank you!

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      12 months ago from Norfolk, England

      This article has been very useful, thankyou. I've not had much luck with house plants so far.


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