Tips for Keeping Indoor Plants Alive

Plants1I always thought I would have a brown thumb because my mom wasn't very good at keeping plants alive. Well, lo and behold, I actually have a green thumb. One of my favorite things to do with my husband is to go plant shopping. He goes to nurseries looking for fruit trees and I check out the indoor plants, and we both usually come home with something.

Keeping plants alive isn't as hard as you think it is. Here are a few tips on how to care for your indoor plants…

Plants41. Water: Overwatering is probably the most common reason a plant doesn't thrive. They are a few plants that like to have very moist soil, but most of the time, plants do better when you let the soil dry out a bit between waterings. Stick your finger an inch into the soil (closer to the edge of the pot), and if it's dry, it's time to water. After doing this a few times, you'll get to know your plant and have a better idea of what kind of watering schedule it should be on. 

I like to gather all my plants in the sink to water them. To water, lift up the leaves and water the soil until you see a little bit of water trickle from the bottom. If you have a saucer to catch the excess water, be sure to dump it after about 30 minutes. It's not good for plants to be sitting in water. Plants like a shower, but they don't want to soak in a bath.

Plants32. Drainage: I find it works well when I put a 1/2" – 1" layer of pebbles at the bottom of the pot. The pebbles will keep the water away from the roots. Also, for some plants that like a little humidity, if there is a little bit of water in the pebbles, that will help provide that. When repotting (which is probably another post on its own), use a pot with drainage holes. Good drainage is critical to plant health. Pots with no holes will keep all the water in, and more than likely root rot will occur.  

Plants23. Light: Always pay attention to the care label of your plant when you first purchase it, or do some research online. You need to know if your indoor plant wants full sun, partial sun, or shade. My fig tree loves the sun, so it's by a big window to get bright light. Now fig trees also grow towards the sun, so I have to rotate it once in awhile to prevent it from leaning one direction. Typically, most plants like really sunny rooms, but there are a few like the snake plant or ZZ plant that do moderately well in low light environments. 

Pay attention to see if the plant is lanky or has paler foliage. This may be an indication that it is not getting enough light. If so, gradually move it to a spot where it can get more light. If a plant has been in a certain spot for a long time, it can go into shock if it's moved too suddenly, so you want to gradually transition it to a new area.  

Plants3If you want to ease into indoor plants, these are some of the hardy ones that are almost impossible to kill: philodendron, aroid palm, and the snake plant

It's still winter, and we were gone for two weeks for Christmas, so I can totally tell some of my plants feel a little neglected (some seem lankier and not as green), but I'm hoping they will perk back up with some TLC. Though I do have four kids, so they get my attention first. And of course, with kids around, the occasional torn leaf or broken branch happens too. Or in the case of my cactus, they made indents all over it with their nails because they thought the thickness was interesting (oye!). Anyway, plants add so much beauty to a space, so don't get intimidated, and start with one. As long as you don't overwater, you're pretty much good! –Rubyellen

Credits // Author and Photography: Rubyellen Bratcher. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

  • Have you ever had any luck with orchids? I’m ashamed to say I’ve tried a few using different methods online, and they all died.

  • These are great easy to follow tips. Thanks! I usually try and remember to buy pebbles and always forget. I’m writing it down this time. Haha. I wanted to point out that all 3 of the recommended hard to kill plants are toxic to dogs and cats, so if your animal is a chewer (2 of mine definitely are) I would try and find alternate plants.

  • Thanks for these tips! I love having plants in my flat, but after some months somehow they die on me. I’ll try to be more careful to not overwater the plants.

    Rita
    “http://heyrita.co.uk

  • I really, really, really want a fiddle leaf fig lol, but our house is dark inside. I went back and forth on buying one this Sunday actually, guess this answers my question! Thanks.

  • This is a really timely post – my bf and I have been thinking of adopting a plant, but we are so scared we are going to kill it! Thanks for saving me the research – I think we will be picking up a palm this weekend! Can’t wait to green-ify my space =P

    Jill
    Champagne for Everyday – A San Francisco Based Lifestyle and Fashion Blog

  • Awesome! I appreciate the tips. I have an African Violet and it has yet to bloom. It’s healthy (or at least it looks like it is) but it has not had one flower on it and I got it in October ๐Ÿ™
    Any tips for African Violets (other than that you water from below, which I do. lol)

    athisfeetdaily.blogspot.com

  • I love my plants, especially cacti, but they seem to die on me. Any idea what to do with a cactus that’s hanging a bit limp? I gave it some water (haven’t done that in a month or so) and put in near a window so it has more light (and warmth), but it doesn’t seem to be working…

  • I’ll need ‘almostimpossibletokill’-plants, I’m used to forget to give them water. *looking at my almost-died plant on my windowsill* Oops… I’ve got some cacti lately, I hope i can keep those alive!

  • My husband bought me 40 (!) succulent clippings for Christmas, and it was pretty much the coolest gift ever. Hopefully I don’t kill too many. I have a huge aloe that my dad gave me that has moved from TN, to NYC, and now to OH with us. It even got stuck for over a month in a box in a storage unit with no sun or water while we were trying to find a NY apartment and it survived, though it looked a little albino when we unpacked it. I’d say aloe is a great one to start with, plus it’s nice to have on hand for burns.

  • My mom has tons of orchids and it’s like that : you have to forget you got the plant. Water from time to time, and let it be on the window. I in other hand, have a cactus collection, and i have to change my watering schedule according to seasons. But it’s easy to keep indoor plants ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Great post!
    Thanks so much for sharing!
    Your place is super cute!! ๐Ÿ™‚
    -Adrienne. xo

    Citizen of the World
    Citizen of the World

    Check out my new online boutique!!
    Wanderlust Boutique

  • This is a super helpful post! I was wondering if you’ve ever had a bamboo plant, and if so, do you have any tips for their care? I haven’t killed it in a few months so I think that’s a good start but I don’t know where to start when it comes to repotting it or making it actually grow ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reagan
    hellonvmbr.blogspot.com

  • Great tips! My new year’s resolution was to grow some things this year and not kill them. I love fig trees, but I think I will start out with a Philodendron. (:

  • Fantastic post! I have had the same philodendron for 5 years (moved it 3 times, including across the country) so you are right – they are hardy! I recently moved to Texas and bought a bunch of succulents because they’re supposed to be so easy to grow in this dry climate…definitely over-watered and killed all but one pretty quickly. I read a post once suggesting that if you really struggle, research and get plants that fit the way you can care for them. If you need to water everyday to avoid forgetting, get something that loves water. If you have few windows, don’t get something that needs a ton of light, etc. Great tips!

    http://www.boxesandjars.com

  • I can confirm the Aroid palm is impossible to kill. I’m having zero green thumbs and both plants are still alive and well, long after I managed to kill the succulents and aloรซ vera bought at the same time.

  • Your plants it’s so beautiful…I love plants inside the rooms and in house in general but i think that i iwll be able to keep them alive ! After these tips maybe i will try again to see how it will be going ^_^

  • I am definitely going to try out that pebble trick! Great posts. I hope to see more plant posts in the future.

  • Thanks for the tips!

    I’m afraid I’ve killed nearly all my succulents, my jade plant, and my aloe plants. My aloe is actually quite large, and the bottom leaves have dried up and fallen off..and it grows at weird angles.

    My jade plant was under watered so the leaves shrivelled up and fell off, but even watering once in a while has caused the stems to soften and rot. The soil itself is very draining- the water goes right through! Thanks Ikea plant. ๐Ÿ™

  • I struggle keeping plants alive outdoors – ha. But, my apartment is in need of some fresh green, so I’ll definitely be putting these tips to good use.

  • Great post! I tend to kill a lot of my plants. I will definitely try the pebbles for drainage next time I attempt to grow plants in my home. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Great post! A lot of my plants tend to die, so I will definitely keep these tips in mind for next time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hi! We have several orchids from supermarkets/flower shops/IKEA at home and they all do well. Only one was in bad condition, and that one was in communal space, where it was watered like every other household plant โ€“ in my opinion, it didn’t have enough light and too much water. Now we have them all in light rooms (south but with shades). My sister gives them a “bath” once a forthinght โ€“ she leaves them soaked in water with nourishing for orchids overnight. I however water mine regulary, cca every 4 days, I have another plant, that soggs its leaves, looks at me sad, and then I know it’s time to water all, but orchid only a bit. Plus once every few months it gets the same bath sister’s do. They all bloom nicely. My sisster has bought some of them in bad condition for a good price (cca dollar) in IKEA and nourished them into blossom. Hope you’ll get luckier! We don’t give them much special care.

  • Thank you for the great read. It might be nice to feature a similar style article for those living in colder climates, that can not have fruit trees or much available sunlight in the winter. Us north / midwest folks would sure appreciate it!

  • I’m definitely guilty of over watering my plants. I stopped buying plants because they would always die. I want to start going to more nurseries, or plant suppliers because my room could really use some greenery! If all else fails, there is always bamboo available! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Monica – Mocha and Moccasins

  • This is really helpful! I have a plant that I’ve had since college — I joke that it’s everlasting. Other than that, I haven’t had as much luck. I love the look of plants, but I’m no expert. You’ve inspired me to give a larger plant (like the one above “light”) a try!

    Always, Anita

  • Great tips! I usually have terrible luck with plants, and then I got a cat who sped up the expiration of the plants (whoops).

  • Is that a maidenhair fern in the last photo, bottom right? Where did you get one with such large leaves? Or is it something else?

  • You’re so right, overwatering is the enemy of most houseplants. The Fiddleleaf Fig is one of my very favorites. They grow in the landscape here & get to be 25′ tall – just gorgeous with all those big, glossy leaves!

  • Hi!

    Do you guys have any tips for keeping succulents alive all year round indoors? I live in the mountains of Western North Carolina and my house is a 1960’s ranch style with limited window lighting. Any tips for the winter months?

  • HI! I love indoor plants and have a fiddle fit as well as a snake plant myself. I was wondering if you have had any problems with gnats?? Since I have gotten my plants I have had a consistent problem with gnats. So I let the soil dry out completely, and then this past weekend took my plants outside to be watered and discovered so many gnats in the bottom of my pots and even some larve. I put my plants in the garage for now, but I miss them being inside and wondering if you possibly have any solutions for this?

  • I totally needed this advice! I plan on getting more plants around the house. I have one plant I got as a Christmas gift and I’m afraid I’m already killing it. I think I am watering too much!

  • Hi Denise, I buy my orchids from Trader Joes and they will last for months on end, on occasion I will soak the roots for about 10-15 minutes, maybe once every two weeks or so, other than that I put a handful of ice cubes in them once a week and this has seemed to work very well, best of luck!

  • Great article, thanks for sharing. I recently purchased a tall fiddle leaf fig, so beautiful, the leaves were already browning when I bought and I’m not sure if this was due to over watering or not enough light. I was told woith teh fiddle leaf fig it’s best to use an indoor plant fertilizer every two weeks in addition to watering, I was checking the soil in the center of the pot but will now check towards the outer corner, thanks for the tip!

  • Can I just say, I love how you guys have taken reader comments and slowed down your posting schedule! Love your blog and all your content, but I also love that I can come back and not feel like I missed anything!

  • Hi girls! I like these new everyday features your making ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have a few post ideas that have been on my mind for some time. I call them “the office lives”. Since you’ve been growing so much during the last couple of years and have a lot of writers, it sometimes looks like the posts just pop’s out of nowhere! Now, I do know that it takes a looot of work and planing etc. so I would love to learn more about how you guys work. Like on idea would be “a day in a life” kind of post, where youd maybe share a photo per hour for a day and tell what was going on at the house in just one day. Another would be “week in a life” more broadly, what all do you do in a week, must be crazy amounts! And last would be “from thought to post” does Laura just imagine a perfect cat-shaped mirror and then just makes it, or how does the prosess goes? Do you have meetings where you pits the idea or does Laura make it all by herself, like all the shoping etc.

    I’m just generally super interested about you as a company. We here in Finland doesn’t have nothing like this. It’s been super fascinating to see you grow from Elsie doing it by herself to THIS!

    I hope you could give these ideas a go ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I love this post! I finally feel comfortable with the impossible-to-kill plants (I’d add rubber tree and jade to the list), but this summer I got a little over-confident and promptly killed 2 venus flytraps. Whoops, sorry fellas!

    Can you tell me the name of the plant on the table in the first photo–the one in the white pot and orange/terra cotta dish?

    I’d love to see a post about re-potting once we get a little close to springtime! Love & tail wags from St. Louis!

  • My tip when I leave for a weeklong vacation is to soak white cotton cord, like Upolstery wilting or even rope in cool water. Wrap it around the plant stem closer to the rim of the pot. Place other end in a jar or deep bowl of water. Your plant will absorb whatever water it needs. Works on all my plants!

  • Hi,
    beautiful pictures! I am looking a while now for the larger plant in the last picture (also in the first, the larger one on the left of the table) but I can’t recall it’s name. Could you help me? Thanks!

  • Glad to know about the plants going into shock..i have a small african violet, and so glad after more than year its still doing good and developing new leaves regularly.. Just repotted it, and the process gave me such pleasure, that i might get into some more indoor gardening this year.. ๐Ÿ™‚

    xo
    Hems
    agoldentulip.blogspot.com

  • Oh my gosh, what is the plant with the small light green round leaves? So pretty!!! Reminds me of Maidenhair Fern but with less, larger leaves.

  • I am SO glad you posted this! I have an apartment full of plants – entirely ABM inspired – and I am having a hard time keeping them alive and kicking. So helpful, thanks.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve really been needing simple tips for keeping plants alive in the house. I’m a newbie and being a plant momma, so this is super helpful!

    Circus & Bloom

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve really been needing simple tips for keeping plants alive in the house. I’m a newbie and being a plant momma, so this is super helpful!

    Circus & Bloom

  • I’ve never really been that great at keeping plants alive, either. But about a year and a half ago, my mother-in-law sent me a houseplant as kind of a sympathy bouquet (one of my grandfathers had just passed away). I’m not 100% sure what this plant is, I think it might be a peace lily, but it’s awesome because all I have to do is wait for the leaves to start drooping, water it, and then it magically perks right back up! I guess at some point, I should think about giving it a larger pot, but the one it came in looks so nice and contains the water so well. Which is good, since I have to keep it on top of the fridge so our dogs don’t eat it.

  • I needed some tips. I just lost a cactus and can’t get my money tree is heading that way. I’ve had luck with my fig tree but with most plants I have a black thumb!

  • I wish you would clarify what the plants in the photos are (as is always done with clothes, for example). Ie, you list some hardy ones at the end, but that’s not all the ones you show……..

  • I’m experimenting with growing Avocado trees from seeds. I did my research on the internet and did just as they suggested but somehow none of my four seeds started to show any signs of becoming a plant. Is there anyone out there who tried to grow Avocado and succeeded with it?

  • I’ve always wanted to start with an indoor plant garden or like some cacti and succulents. However, My nephews and niece are 3-ish and I always get the feeling of “poor plant, save it the trouble” lol also, with My university and job, I’d only be getting more work for Mommy…
    I do like the post ๐Ÿ™‚ once I travel and move out I am so definitely doing this!

    -SJay
    The Chronic Dreamer

  • I am the opposite of you…my mom was a florist and a gardner, and I thought I would innately have a green thumb and mine is most definitely black! i’m getting a little better and you are right, my biggest problem is overwatering!

    -meg

    http://www.waterlilyshop.com
    @waterlilyshop

  • Love the black pot in the first picture. Any details on where (and if) it can be ordered online?

  • I love buying indoor plants too. I find it nice that most plants like a bit of a dryness between waterings since I don’t always keep right on that. I think it’s a lot to do with getting to know your plants and their “preferences.” You’ll know when something’s not right.

    .. Laura ..