houseplants 101

houseplants 101

Posted by Megan Nichols on Feb 1st 2020

Houseplants are taking over! IG feeds are full of people’s homes that are full of plants. Plant parenting is a thing. Besides just being great to look at, growing plants indoors come with a bevy of benefits including cleaner air, calming effects, a connection to nature, and they provide a relaxing (and mostly unplugged) hobby.
If you are new to plant parenting, though, the amount of information available (especially online) can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to know where to start. Houseplant care is a little easier to understand when you know why we keep the plants we do inside, so we’ll start there.
Houseplants are those that grow naturally in tropical or desert climates, so they adapt well to the conditions of our homes, even in winter. Though they do go dormant in winter, for these plants it just means very slow growth, unlike plants that live outside in Minnesota that completely die back and reemerge in spring. So even though they’re not growing extensively we can still enjoy them through winter.

A little info can go a long way in maintaining the health and vigor of plants grown indoors, so here we go.


Plants eat light. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert light into energy so they can live and grow. Not all plants need the same amount of light, however. Too much light will cause leaf burn and bleaching, too little will cause the plant to stretch and be depleted of energy. The easy part is finding out what kind of light a plant likes. A little more challenging is figuring where, if at all, that type of light can be found indoors.  

Low Light
This is a Northern exposure or Eastern exposure with tree coverage, or if the plant is set far back in an otherwise bright room.

Medium or Bright Indirect Light
This can be an Eastern exposure or dappled Southern or Western exposure. Near a bright window in a sunny room but not directly touched by light also counts, as well as a room protected by sheer curtains.

Bright (or direct) Light
This is full-contact bright light, or where the cat likes to sleep.  


Like humans, plants need water to live. Different plants have different watering needs, though, and water needs can also be dependent on the time of year and whether the plant is actively growing or not. Here some key terms you may here tossed around, and what they really mean.

Water when top inch of soil is dry: your finger is a very good water meter. Stick it in the soil if the surface looks dry. If it’s dry an inch or more down, give it a drink.

Keep soil evenly moist: Soil should be damp to the touch, not dry, not soggy. When soil begins to dry, water well and let drain.

Don’t let plant stand in water: let it drain completely in the sink, or dump the saucer out if it’s been collecting water.

Let dry between watering: let the soil dry out completely, then water through, let drain, and let it dry again. This is common for cactus, succulents, and Lithops, or any plant that holds water in its leaves and stems.


Soil is more than a place holder for plants. Soil holds the water, nutrients, and air plants and their roots need to survive. The composition of soil is important to its ability to drain. It’s possible to dig up a clump of dirt from outside, but it will come with pests, diseases, and weed seeds as well as likely be too dense and not offer enough drainage for plants in a pot.
Most potting mixes are blends of a few key elements. Peat, compost, perlite or vermiculite (or both), and bark are common ingredients. These ingredients come together to aid both in water retention and drainage. Plants need to have water available to them when they need it, and a soil that is too sharply drained will dry too quickly and can’t consistently provide water. Roots also need air, so soil that is too dense will hold onto water and remain soggy with no space for air to circulate around roots.


As plants grow and water filters through the soil the nutrients in the soil are depleted. Fertilizer helps replace these nutrients and can provide nutrients that might otherwise be found in a plants natural environment. Plus, it can give plants a boost and help them grow larger and more vigorously during their active growing season.

A general houseplant fertilizer should be good for most plants, but there are specific fertilizers for plants that have more specialized needs (like orchids and cactus).

Looking for Suggestions?

Here are a few of our easy-care plant picks to get you started.

Low Light

  • Sansevieria
  • Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
  • Pothos
  • Philodendron
  • Bird’s Nest Fern
  • Peace lily

Medium or Bright Indirect Light

  • Peperomia
  • Pilea
  • Bird’s Nest Fern (again)
  • African Violet
  • Dracaena 
  • Spider plant
  • Lipstick plant
  • Hoya

Bright or Direct Light

  • Cactus
  • Euphorbia
  • Most succulents
  • Ponytail Palm
  • Norfolk Island Pine

Happy Houseplanting!