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Houseplant Care: 8 Tips for Success

Learn how to keep your indoor plants looking good with these easy maintenance and care tips.
When you can’t get outside because the weather’s dreary, or you’re stuck at home or in an office, bring a bit of nature indoors with houseplants. Many thrive even in low light, and they do more than brighten up a space. Because they change carbon dioxide into oxygen and help trap pollutants, they’re also good for your health, and they’ll lift your spirits when you can’t work in your garden.

Lots of houseplants are undemanding and easy to grow, but all indoor plants need a little care now and then. Use our checklist below to keep yours green and growing.

Give Them the Right Amount of Light
Tough survivors like cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) or snake plant (Sansevieria), don’t mind dim corners or interiors. Others—especially blooming plants—need bright windows or supplemental florescent or grow lights. Read about your plants before you buy and match their needs to the amount of light you’ll be able to give them.

Don’t Drown Your Plants
Most plants need a container with drainage holes, so water doesn’t stand around their roots and cause rotting. If you keep a saucer underneath your plants to catch drips, empty it after watering. Read plant care tags to know how often and how much to water.

Keep Them Clean
Like anything else in your home, plants get dusty—and dirt can block sunlight. If you see dust, pop your plant in the sink or shower and rinse it with a gentle spray of lukewarm water.

If you’ve got a large potted plant, wipe the leaves with a moist sponge or a dry dust cloth. Gently clean fuzzy-leaved plants, like African violets, with a soft paintbrush or toothbrush. Turn small potted plants upside down and swish them around in lukewarm water to clean them, using your fingers to hold them in place. Let them air dry in a warm spot out of the sun.

Groom When Needed
If you have flowering houseplants, keep the spent blooms picked to encourage more flowers. Take off dead or yellow leaves, too, and cut stems that have lost their leaves to the soil line.

Watch for Drafts
Most plants dislike drafts, so make sure yours aren’t sitting too close to heating or air conditioning vents, or leaky doors and windows.

Add Humidity
If you see brown tips on the leaves of your plants, the air in your home or office is probably too dry for them. Add moisture by grouping plants together, or putting them on top of pebbles in trays or saucers filled with a little water. (Don’t let the pots touch the water so the roots don’t stay constantly wet.) You can also mist your plants or even add a humidifier.

Watch for Problems
Insects and diseases can spread fast, so check your plants regularly for signs of trouble. Look on top of and underneath leaves and check around stems. Common indoor pests like whiteflies and mealybugs can be knocked off with a spray of water in the sink, but if they persist, you may need to use an insecticidal soap, following the manufacturer’s directions. Treat any disease with a product specifically made for it; if you’re not sure what to use, do some research online or visit a garden center or nursery near your home for advice.

Check the Pot
If your plants start drying out faster than usual, or you see roots poking out of the drainage holes, it’s time to repot. Step up one pot size at a time, and always use fresh potting soil, since the nutrients in the old soil are probably depleted.

Even if your plant hasn’t outgrown its container, you may need to remove it and do some cleanup if you see a white crust on the rim or sides. Potentially harmful salts can build up when you water, so scrub the pot and rinse it thoroughly, or give your plant a new pot.

Indoor Houseplants You Can't Kill

(Well almost  - some people are natural born plant killers.)

Those spiraling leaves certainly look cool, and they'll really thrive on your desk or bedside table. Aloe loves indirect light, plus a good soak every week or two.

Spider Plant
What's better than one spider plant? Lots of spider plants. The fast-growing shoots actually produce little "babies" you can repot for added greenery elsewhere. Just stick to well-lit spots, and don't forget weekly watering.

Peace Lily
Peace lilies can grow between 1 and 6 feet tall, so check the variety's estimated height before you buy. Bonus: These powerful plants can also filter toxins from the air, according to NASA.

English Ivy
You could let the long tendrils hang from the mantel, but the climbing plant is also game for topiaries (or stadium walls, like at Wrigley Field). Chicago Botanic Garden recommends Cascade, Domino and Irish Lace as some of the best potted varieties.

Dragon Tree
Save some room on your windowsill and tuck this low-light variety in an unloved corner. Just be warned: Dracaena marginata is toxic to both dogs and cats, so keep pets far away.

"Peacock plants" are grown for their foliage alone, and it's easy to see why. The purple, green pink and red leaves put on quite the show. For the best display, keep the plant moist (not drenched) and avoid bright light.

Rubber Plant
Rubber trees can measure over 100 feet tall in their native Asia, but regular pruning can keep the ornamental variety in check. If the broad leaves get a little dusty, bring out the mayo for a florist-approved polishing trick.

Cast-Iron Plant
The sturdy cast-iron plant lives up to its name, surviving low light, poor-quality soil, spotty watering and a wide range of temperatures. Aspidistra elatior is the scientific name; elatior is Latin for "taller," which is apropos thanks to foliage that grows up to two feet high. The dark-leaved stunner likes to be left alone, so don't be too attentive, warns Nejman.

This succulent, water-retaining plant grows colorful, bell-shaped flowers. "It takes very little care," says Nejman. Kalanchoe welcomes dry climates and temperature swings. It's even fine with 45-degree winter weather, she adds.