How to Keep Houseplants Alive

I’ve always liked having plants around the house. Mine usually live for a few months to a year, and then they die and I replace them. Well, lately I’ve noticed that my houseplants aren’t dying. Right now I have 17 plants around the house, because I keep buying replacements expecting some to die like usual, but they just don’t. In fact, they are growing! I’m no pro and there are a few houseplants I still can’t keep alive (maidenhair ferns hate me), but for the most part I’m doing all right. Now that I’ve figured out how to best care for my houseplants I thought I would share a few tips.

how to keep houseplants alive

Houseplant Care Tips

1. Plants need light. Put your plants near windows, or in room that is bright with natural light. If a plant starts looking sickly shortly after you bring it home, try moving it to a different spot in your house to see if it improves.

2. Don’t forget about them. This was my biggest problem. Finally I came up with a regular watering schedule so I wouldn’t neglect my plants for a weeks at a time. I’ve gotten in the habit of watering my houseplants every Monday, and they are thrilled.

3. Don’t overwater. On your designated watering day, stick your finger about an inch deep into the soil of each plant to see if it needs water. If the soil is still moist, skip watering that week. If the soil is dry, add a little water.

4. Fertilize. I didn’t do this for a long time because it seemed like it would be a hassle. Then I found this liquid houseplant food that you use by squeezing a few drops into your watering can every time you water. It’s really easy, and I’ve noticed lots of new growth since I started using it.

5. Talk to your plants. This is silly, but I talk to my plants. They like a little encouragement (“Good job little guy! I see you have a new leaf coming out!”) and a pat on the leafy head.

If you are still dubious about houseplants, here are two that you won’t be able to kill. Seriously.

houseplants you can't kill

Philodendron
They come in several colors, will survive in everything from low to bright light, and can go a while without water. They’re also satisfying to grow because they quickly vine all over the place. I got tired of one of my philodendrons and tried to kill it by neglecting it for a few months—finally I just threw it out still alive. These are tough plants!

houseplants you can't kill

Snake Plant
I’ll admit I’ve killed one snake plant. I didn’t water it for 3 or 4 months, and then I overwatered it to compensate and its roots rotted. As long as you don’t do that, you’ll be fine! I’ve had one in my basement for a few years that hardly gets any sunlight. I always forget to water it, and it still looks great.

> > >

The houseplant problem I’ve yet to solve is fungus gnats. If anyone has tips I’d love to hear them! My big terrarium is infested due to gnat larvae being in the soil of the succulents I bought. So sad. I’ve tried all sorts of remedies like cinnamon, letting the soil dry out completely, mosquito dunks, peppermint tea, and two types of insecticides—none of which seem to bother the gnats in the least!

41 comments

  1. kay*

    Great tips – and I love your terrarium! So looking forward to moving out so I can start buying some plants (yes, things like that excite me!).

  2. kimberly

    fungus gnats: apparently some hydrogen peroxide in water is what my boyfriend recommends. It will kill the larvae…1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide to 4 parts water. should do the trick :)

  3. la domestique

    Such a great post! I love the shape of that snake plant, and just might have to go find one. We just moved and the only way to grow things at my new place is indoors. I started with some herbs (thyme, basil, rosemary, mint) and after two weeks everyone is still alive and accounted for. :) Happy days!

  4. barbara

    hi
    you can get rid of fungus gnat by using this bacillus (the israelensis strain) http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05556.html. it’s safe, non toxic and does not harm beneficial insects etc. here in europe you can get tabs to dissolve in your watering can. it has worked well for me in the past.
    it takes about 2 weeks to work, as the article points out it is not an overnight cure, but i have found it to be very thorough.

    – i have not been able to kill off my philodendron either, it has survived drought, fungus gnat and neglect. it’s not fair really, i have vowed to be nicer to it!

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      Oh, thanks Barbara! Who would have thought gnats could cause so much trouble?

  5. dana

    Just a little trivia for you…the Snake Plant is also called “Lengua de Suegra”, which means “mother-in-law’s tongue” in spanish. That always makes me laugh!

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      Funny story: My mother-in-law asked me what kind of plant it was, and when I first got it I didn’t know it was also called “snake plant.” So I answered “umm… mother-in-law’s tongue…” and she just raised her eyebrows and stared at me. It was pretty uncomfortable for a minute there!

  6. martina

    I love the plant in the 3rd row of photos! It’s in the pot with the rocks… do you know what it’s called?

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      That is my favorite plant! It’s called a chinese money plant or Pilea peperomioides. Isn’t it the cutest?

  7. Maile

    Dana beat me to it…the other name for the snake plant, that is. Love that name, mother-in-law’s tongue. Easy to remember and hard to forget. This is about the only plant I can keep alive.

  8. Grete

    I would love to have plants.. but I now live with my boyfriend and two other guys in a small apartment and our room is in the north side of the home. I don’t have enough light :(

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      Try the snake plant! Trust me, it hardly needs any light. Our basement doesn’t even get enough natural light to read by, and mine is surviving.

  9. Caleb

    Not sure if this will work for your type of gnats, but it worked ours: fill an old jar with some apple cider vinegar -> poke holes in the lid (large enough for the gnats) and set it in close proximity to where the gnats are. They’ll fly in the jar to have a little sip of vinegar and POW! Dead gnats!

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      I’m not sure of the name, it didn’t have a tag when I bought it. It looks very similar to the string of pearls plant though.

  10. Brooke

    I know this comment is on a kind of old post, but I’m hoping you can help! Have you put that Miracle-Gro fertilizer on your succulents? I don’t want to hurt mine, but that’s all I have in my house and want to keep them healthy! :) P.S. I love your blog!!

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      I’ve been using it on my succulents and so far they seem fine. :)

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      I finally seem to have beaten them! First I didn’t water for a few weeks to let the soil dry out. Then I watered with 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide to 4 parts water (as Kimberly suggested above), and THEN I I topped the soil with about 1/2 inch deep of sand/small gravel which I heard would keep them from laying more eggs in the soil. Geez, those gnats are tough! Let me know if this works for you!

  11. Sarah

    I love your site! So clean and lovely. I am loving your terrariums! Do you happen to remember where you found them? :)

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      I do, the big one is from West Elm and the hanging on is from Score + Solder.

  12. Laura Barnes

    Amanda – I was never able to get them to go away! I ended up moving the worst plant outside and the rest of the inside plants seem fine. The gnats are still on the plant I moved outdoors.. ha oh well! Thanks for the advice!

  13. Chelsea

    Okay, also. If people want to give houseplants a go but are too afraid of wasting money in case they die. Go to Home Depot. There’s a one year warranty on plants with your receipt. (The lady cashier told me this as I was buying my fiddle fig leafs)

    1. Jennyusagi

      OSH has the plant guarantee too.

      The one that looks similar to string of pearls is a Senecio “Fish Hook” there is another similar one called string of bananas and another called burro’s tail.

  14. Emme

    The mysterious hanging plant is a succulent called fish hooks or hanging bananas (I think). They look very similar so it’s a little tough to tell. Hope this helps…

  15. marlie graves

    You’ve done a good job discerning some basic principles of houseplant care – congratulations. I’m an interior horticulturist, and I’m working on a series of plant care tips on YouTube at youtube.com/theficuswrangler. You’re welcome to stop by, see if there’s anything useful for you or to pass on. By the way, the plant you’re calling a philodendron is actually a variety of pothos called Silver Satin. Pothos is in the same family as philodendron, but is a different specie. They are wonderful plants; you can easily cut them back to fit wherever you want them to be, and just stick some of the cut pieces back into the soil to make the plant fuller – I’ll be covering something similar in an upcoming video.

  16. Erica

    Your plants are beautiful! I too love plants they really brighten up your home. I use a really good plant food called Eleanor’s VF-11. The bottle states “Seems like magic” and I believe it! I have used it and a capful goes a long way. My plants just love it!!! You can purchase this product @ any nursery.

  17. Afarin

    I really like this neat site! I’m definitely going to try those tips as I’m also known for my inability to keep plants alive. It’s true about the philodendron plant. We have one that’s been in our family for years and somehow it’s survived even at times of neglect. I don’t think you mentioned how much to water your plant when you notice that your plant is dry. This is the problem I run into. Besides forgetting to water (that pick a day of the week is a good tip to solve that) I end up overcompensating for not watering it the week before. Any measurement would help.
    Thanks!

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      I just water enough to wet the top 1/2″ or so of the soil in the pot. Not very much.

  18. Lynn

    Dawn dish soap and water in a spray bottle works the best!! Don’t be afraid of the soap you want the water to be the color of the soap and just spray it into your soil and in the plant itself do this for a few days and see how it’s looking! Good luck oh and it has to be DAWN

  19. Baso;

    What helped me to get rid of the gnats after I babysat an infected plant.

    Sticky yellow paper bough at a big garden center. They didn’t sell it because they use it themselves.

    It was a great treat that rather flying in front of my computer screen to look at the little strips of the stuff that I had cut and placed with a wooden skewer in several rooms in the most infected pots (different soil types)

    Within a minute I had already a handfull. Within a day some of the papers were black and you noticed them a lot less.

    After four weeks they were all gone.

    Take out the skewers and you have no mess no chemicals in your soil.

    1. Amanda (wit & whistle) Post author

      Oh, thank so much! I’ll try that next time I have an infestation!

  20. Evelyn

    years ago , I got this urge to start growing house plants . my first plant was a lipstick plant . it was dyeing when it was given too me . I met someone at that time that suggested that I start putting egg shells a jar with water and let it sit . I did so and found out it is a wonderful plant fertilizer . my plant started gaining it leaves again and was very beautiful.Then I ended moving to another state and got into even more house plants . I would only take starts and test my own green thumb . I did go and buy book on house and got a lot of knowledge from them .at one point I had 72 house plants and every one of them were my babies .

  21. Misty

    Thanks for the inspiration! I am looking for a houseplant that will look nice in my home, purify my air, and something easy to maintain (I have a black thumb). I am writing a blog about my search for the perfect plant and will be using yours as a reference (if you don’t mind).

  22. MISTY BLUE

    I have been known for being a plant killer :( just because I love them soooo much, they have so much to offer, and ask for so little.
    Anyway, I realized that I wasn’t giving my plants food, just water and sun, and they were root bound,(getting to big for their pot) so I went to Walmart and bought miracle grow, soil with plant-food in it, and of course bigger pots. Naturally they started to thrive, UNTIL the nats came along, I too tried everything, and one of my friends told me to take my used coffee grinds, and mix it in with my plant soil, and ever once in awhile give them left-over coffee, because the caffeine in the coffee makes them, hhmm how do I say this….they die from caffeine over-dose, plus, the coffee acts as a fertilizer, and my plants LOVE it they took off growing, I had to get bigger pots, and also split them off, into new growth plants, in their own pots. This has always worked for me the once know, “plant killer”, now known as, “the plant whisperer” haha.
    I hope some of the things that have worked for me, also work for you and your plants. P.S. they LOVE to be talked and sang to. hehe.

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