The beginner’s guide to happy & healthy houseplants

The beginner’s guide to healthy & happy houseplants

Photography: Michael Nangreaves | Story: Style at Home - High/Low: Botanical Home Studio


The beginner’s guide to happy & healthy houseplants

Want to add some greenery to your home but have a track record of accidentally killing cactuses? These tips will have you growing healthy, happy plants in no time.

From the decor in your favourite new restaurant to the windowsills of your friends’ houses (to say nothing of your Instagram feed), there’s scarcely a surface left these days that isn’t populated by houseplants. But if you haven’t had much luck growing plants in the past, that’s no reason to fear owning them in the future! Follow these simple guidelines, and you'll grow greenery like a pro. 



First and foremost, make sure to buy the right plants for the conditions in your home. 

With regards to natural light, even though it might seem as though all plants should want plenty of it, that’s not necessarily the case. Certain plants will tolerate (or even thrive in) direct sunlight or extremely low-light conditions, but for the most part, plants tend to enjoy bright indirect sunlight. North- and south-facing windows are good for providing this, whereas east- and west-facing ones are less so. Check to make sure the plants you’re getting are going to be happy with the kind of light available in your home. 

In terms of moisture and watering preferences, plants differ vastly on those accounts too, and are just as easily killed by over-watering as they are by under-watering. Read up on the kind of watering schedules your plants like, and stick to them. To prevent your plants from getting root rot, pot them in containers that have good drainage holes at the bottom (and fill the bottom inch or so with stones before adding soil on top to ensure the water has room to escape). And if your home is generally dry, avoid buying tropical plants that like to be in humid conditions—or invest in a decent misting bottle and accept that spraying the air is a part of your new responsibilities. 

When it comes to soil, a well-draining potting mix is generally best, but certain plants (like succulents or cactuses) prefer a drier soil, generally cut with perlite, gravel or sand. The nutrients available to your plants in potting soil will eventually expire, generally between six months to a year after planting, so you’ll have to fertilize plants to keep them healthy and growing. Fertilizer comes in many different kinds, though the drops that are mixed into water are very easy for home use. Take care, though, to fertilize plants in tune with their natural growth cycles, beginning in early spring and lasting through to the late summer or early fall. In winter, plants (even indoor ones!) generally prefer to go dormant, and fertilizing them then will cause more stress than good. 



Oxalis Triangularis
These whimsical, shamrock-shaped plants come in a variety of colours, with dark purple being the most common. Not only do they sprout delicate, pale blooms, but they also open and close their leaves in response to light, opening wide in the daytime and tucking together at night. This happens to be a helpful watering cue, to boot! If your oxalis remain tucked closed during the day, it’s time to give them a soak. This plant likes a well-draining potting mix and bright indirect light and can tolerate some direct light as well. 


Commonly called Snake Plants, these have tall, winding, sculptural leaves and come in green and variegated varieties. They’re the ideal low-maintenance plant, since they thrive on neglect, requiring very little light or water in order to survive. They can go for months, in fact, without being watered. The sharp edges of their leaves earned them the nickname Mother-in-Law’s Tongue in certain parts of the world. Pot them in a well-draining soil mix. 


These waxy plants come in a wide variety of colours, shapes and sizes. Peperomia needs well-draining soil with a little extra air circulation, so use a mix that contains perlite or sand. They retain water in their leaves, so it’s fine (even encouraged) to let the soil to dry completely between waterings. A drink once a week should suit them just fine. Ideal light conditions include moderate light and partial shade. 


These climbing and hanging plants can add intrigue to any ledge with their gorgeous, cascading leaves. Pothos come in a wide variety of colours, including neon green, silver-dusted satin varieties, dark jade, variegated and everything in between. They grow well in low or medium-low light and can tolerate bright indirect light, but they won’t thank you for a direct sunbeam. Water them thoroughly when the soil is dry, then allow them to dry out almost entirely before the next watering. Pothos also happen to be very easy to propagate: Simply snip off a leaf just beneath a node in the stem, and allow it to root in water for a week or two before replanting. 


Zamioculcas Zamiifolia
This hard-to-kill plant is called ZZ (that is, zee-zee, not zed-zed) for short, and makes a great plant for beginners as it’s resistant to both drought and low light. It is a natural air purifier, and it generally only grows to be about 2-3 feet tall, so it won’t become too big for its initial container in a hurry. ZZ plants barely need fertilizing, though if you do, you should use half-strength fertilizer so as not to overwhelm it. With some well-draining soil, some moderate indirect light,and the very occasional watering, you’ll find it will soon be thriving even in the most neglected corners of your home. 



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The beginner’s guide to happy & healthy houseplants