How to Care For Popular House Plants — Even If You Have a Black Thumb
I have over 16 house-plants. And I love each one dearly.
So much so that I created a crop top and pillow scribed with “crazy plant lady”.
I am not a plant expert, and my expertise simply comes from years of experience both killing and curing plants. So today I’m sharing the tips and tricks for what works best for my indoor plants. (It might be worth noting that I live near Toronto, Ontario for anyone curious about the climate I grow my plants in. You may have to adjust some things if you live in, say, California or Russia.)
Before I dive into specifics for each plant I own, I first want to share a few tips that apply to all of my plants, as well as some common problems and their solutions.
- Keep them clean: Wipe and dust them using a damp micro-fibre cloth (what I like to use best, but a damp paper towel will do). Try to take your time and clean each leaf, front and back.
- Mist regularly: Most of the plants I own are tropical, which are meant to grow in humid environments, so I mist my plants almost daily. This brass mister is my favorite, along with this 10-Ounce Brass Mister. Do not, however, mist succulents. They are desert plants and don’t like humidity.
- Invest in good (+ proper) soil: Don’t purchase soil from the dollar store if you want your plants to live. And be sure to get the right soil for your plants: get cactus or well-draining soil mixes for succulents and cacti, generic potting mix for more common plants, and cutting/rooting soil for propagating plants. Pay attention to the type — ones with built-in fertilizer are ideal.
- Stick to a Schedule: One of the most common causes of death to plants is over or under watering. Every Sunday, my phone goes off at 11am to remind me to check on my plants. It’s only on this day that I water my tropical plants (weekly), and succulents/cacti (bi-weekly). I also take an hour to wipe them all down and mist them. Consider making a recurring calendar notice and think of it as a time to check up on your plants and evaluate the soil, wipe them, give ’em a kiss.
- Drainage holes are a must: 95% of my plants are in pots with drainage holes, but after a gem named Julie commented to mention that they’re a necessity, I felt the need to mention it and echo her! All of the plants that died on me in the past were in pots with bad soil and no drainage, so be sure to invest in pots with holes that let the water escape — and remember to empty excess water that pools in the catcher.
Common Problems and Solutions:
- Leaf tips turning brown: Your plant needs moisture and/or humidity. Either mist your plant more regularly, adjust the humidity in your home, or if the soil is very dry, water more often.
- Leaves turning yellow: This problem is two-fold. If the leaves are yellow, but moist and rotted, the plant is being over-watered. If the leaves are yellow and/or brown and dry or crunchy, the plant needs more water. Lastly, if you know you’re watering the plant properly, it could also mean that your plant is lacking nutrients and needs fertilizer.
- Bugs: If caught early, you can treat bugs using Safer’s soap or with a homemade solution of hand-soap or Horticultural oil diluted in water. Mealy bugs (which will look like tiny grey oblong dots that create a cottony-looking substance) can be dabbed directly with some rubbing alcohol on a q-tip. Generally, if you notice spots on your plants, or if the soil is topped in white-caps, you may have mites or bugs on your hands. Clean your plan well with a cloth soaked in warn soapy water and spray with the solutions mentioned above. Be sure to check your other plants if you notice one plant has bugs. Catching them early is the best way to prevent them!
Below, I’ve outlined all of the plants I personally own and how I care for each of them. I’ve also rated them on a scale from 1-5: one being easy to kill, five being easy to care for — even if you have the blackest of thumbs!
Philodendron Selloum — 3
- Water: 1 x per week — soil should remain moist, but not soggy
- Mist: Daily
- Fertilize: 1 x a month
- Soil: Loose, nutrient-dense, well-draining
- Light: Bright
Umbrella Tree — 4
- Water: 1 x per week with tepid or old water that’s sat out for a while — soil should be moist, but not soggy
- Mist: Every 1-4 days
- Fertilize: Every few weeks, but not in the winter
- Soil: Well-draining (or ensure a pot with drainage holes)
- Light: Bright/indirect
Monstera Deliciosa — 4
- Water: 1 x per week — soil should get dry 2-3 inches deep between watering
- Mist: Every 1-4 days
- Soil: Well-draining soil such as peat moss with perlite or sand
- Light: Bright/Indirect
(Philodendron and monstera are similar in care needs to a fiddle leaf fig)
Succulents + Cacti
Succulents — 1
- Water: 2-3 x per month — soil should get very dry between watering but when watering, do so liberally
- Soil: Well-draining cactus soil such as peat moss with perlite or sand — no need for fertilizer
- Light: As much sunlight as possible
Jade — 2
- Water: 1 x per week — soil can remain somewhat moist if in direct sun
- Light: Medium-High — does good with direct sun
- Soil: Well-draining
Mother of Thousands — 4
- Water: 3 x per month — soil should get dry between watering but after watering, drain excess
- Light: Bright/Indirect sunlight
- Soil: Does best in a cactus soil, ensure draining holes are present
- Fertilize: Every few months
- Propagation: Place every baby that drops from the mother leaf (seen above on the shelf) onto cactus soil, root-side down
Rattail — 5
- Water: 2-3 x per month — soil should get dry between watering and after watering, drain excess
- Light: Bright/Indirect
ZZ Plant — 5
- Water: 4-8 x per year — this plant can go months without watering, but regular watering (a little bit every month or so) will make it grow faster
Pothos — 5
- Water: 1 x per week — water thoroughly and allow the soil to dry out between waterings, although this plant can grow in water as well
- Light: Bright/Indirect
- Soil: A well-draining, all-purpose soil mix
If you have any specific questions on any plant, please comment below and I’d be happy to answer! Happy gardening.
Thanks for the post. I’m learning as I go along but I m embarrassed to say I have killed many plants including cactus:( I have bought a eucalyptus re entry and it started to look really sad- wish I could enclose a photo! The leaves are shrinking- we have been watering more than other plants but it’s not helping:(
I have a Z Z plant in my office and it keeps dying! It was passed on to me by a coworker who left the company and she was able to keep it alive and thriving for a long time, but as soon as it came to me it seems to be suffering. All the leaves on an individual stalk begin turning yellow and then the stalk dies. Any recommendations or help!?
I also have a Yuca tree that keeps getting yellow leaves with brown spots. Any help for that one as well? (I truly do have a black thumb, any help would be wonderful!)
All my indoor plants are either losing leaves, turning yellow or brown or hardly holding themselves up.
There’s a bit of misinformation about succulents over here 🙂
Succulents are desert plants and *don’t* like humid environments. Don’t mist.
Jade also needs full sun, yours is etiolated and reaching for more. Fertilize your succulents every other watering during growing season.
All pots need a drainage hole! The rocks at the bottom is a myth.
Lovely blog though, happy planting! 🙂