May 24, 2018

GARDENING 101: Tips for Happy Houseplants


So, I have a few houseplants.

Just a few. 😊

28, to be exact.

Photo of “Marguerite,” the Marble Queen Pothos, and me by Gina Zeidler.

Before you call me the crazy plant lady (which I fully accept as a term of endearment!), let me explain. When you buy “one” houseplant at a store, if it has more than one stalk coming out of the pot, it’s entirely possible that it’s actually 2-4 plants in one pot. Growers want to get full-looking plants onto retail shelves, so they sometimes include several little guys in one because they fill a pot faster. If I have a plant that has some brothers and sisters, I carefully separate them when I get home from the store, turning “one” plant into many!

Also, I just really love plants.

They make a space look fresh. I would have 100 plant friends if I had space for them. The copper shelves below make a great space for a plant family portrait with room for everyone.


They clean the air. Plants remove toxins from the air—up to 87 percent of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every 24 hours, according to NASA research. Crazy!

They make you feel good. A study at The Royal College of Agriculture in Cirencester, England, found that students demonstrate 70 percent greater attentiveness when they’re taught in rooms containing plants. In the same study, attendance was also higher for lectures given in classrooms with plants. Cool, right?

“Jade” the Jade Pothos (creative name, no?) is in this pot from Wayfair. The nesting tables are from Ballard Designs.

Convinced? Want to add a few green beauties to your house but think you couldn’t keep them alive? My friend, I am an unlikely gardener. I did not come out of the womb with a green thumb. Over time, though, I’ve grown to love growing things and tending to them little by little. All this to say—if I can do it, you can, too!

But still, you have questions: How do you pick the best plants for your house? And how do you not kill them?

Welcome to Happy Houseplants 101!

Marble Queen Pothos’ pot is from Anthropologie. The Illuminated Bible (that has some beautiful plant and floral art inside!) can be found here, and this candle is my favorite!

Which houseplant is right for me? It depends on your light, space, how cold or warm you generally keep your home, and the humidity of the space. Sound complex? Here’s a great quiz on Better Homes and Gardens to help you find the right plant for your particular space and climate (the quiz requires that you to enter your email, but you can opt-out of their newsletters!). For example, it’s pretty humid here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and my house stays at about 68 degrees most days. I have several houseplants by our kitchen sink window, so they get some added humidity from the sink and good morning light from an eastern-facing window.

My orchids, a begonia, and my two pink cyclamen , and the money tree that we moved inside from Grace’s fairy garden this winter have been really happy together in this spot (wow, I need to prune the top of that money tree up there—it’s like it is wearing a fascinator!). In my office, I get mostly diffused light and my pothos seem to like the warmer climate (my skylights make it hot in this space!). Decide where you want houseplants to live and match your space up with the right fit. I hope that quiz helps you!

And now, a special note because many people ask me about our winter citrus grove! If you follow me on Instagram or have read Cultivate, you know that come frost time, we have our annual migration of the citrus trees from outside in the garden to my living room, dining room, and wherever we can fit them. They don’t love being indoors away from the heat of summer, but it keeps them alive through the cold and snow. And the best part? Citrus tend to bloom in winter, which is the most glorious perfume at Christmas. I just love it! Having several large pots on our dining room table all winter? Totally worth it! We even decorate them for the holidays. Here is a great article on growing citrus indoors.

More plant-hunting reading:

25 Hard to Kill Plants

Choosing the Right Indoor Greenery

Where do I buy houseplants? I have found most of my houseplants at local garden stores like For Garden’s Sake and on occasion… Walmart! (Our Walmart has plants from local growers like this one near Charlotte that I reallllly want to visit for a homeschool field trip!) I’ve even found a few mail order plants on Amazon and I’ve gifted plants to friends from ProPlants and Blooming Bulb.

Look for plants that have healthy leaves with no signs of disease (yellow or browning leaves), healthy roots (pick up the pot and if there are roots growing out of the bottom, it might be rootbound), and no signs of bugs (look under the leaves for pests and eggs). Most of all, have fun plant shopping!

A very special orchid above that I wrote about in Cultivate.

How do I NOT kill them? Before you take in a new plant friend, think of this as a mutually beneficial relationship. Plants need light and tending. Even cactus and succulents and aloe need some love now and then. In exchange for your tender care, your plant will generously reward you with its presence. The good news is tending to houseplants is easy!

Some tips:

— Give your plants consistent and even watering. I have killed more plants by overwatering than by underwatering! Like my kiddos, each plant has different nurturing needs. Here are some basic tips to follow. (One note, though: my orchids don’t love sitting in water. A few teaspoons of water does the trick for us! And once a month, I spray them with this magic potion.)

Make it easy to remember to water your plants. I have a recurring reminder on my to-do app (Things) to water the plants each Tuesday. I also keep a little watering pitcher under every sink in the house to make it easy to get this task done.

Plants need light for photosynthesis to occur. I try to keep them in brighter spots, but not always. I have a beautiful plant here on my desk that doesn’t get a ton of light. Read the labels on houseplants to find the light requirements. Some need bright window light, and others like being tucked away in shadier spots. Just like you would follow the cooking directions on a recipe, read the labels and they will give you some great info on how to take care of your new plant friends.

Fertilize! A couple times a year I use these houseplant fertilizer sticks to give my indoor plants a boost.

I prune my plants when they get crazy (here’s a great article on how to prune).

More plant-care reading:

8 Clever Tips to Keep Houseplants Happy

How to Care for an Heirloom Houseplant

5 Reasons You’re Killing Your Indoor Houseplants

What about containers? I have found some at Terrain (but only if they are on sale!), on EtsyAnthropologieand Amazon has an amazing marketplace for unusual planters. Remember, you can get creative here, too. You can plant things in tea cups, Mason jars, and all kinds of containers!

A bonus tip? Make it fun! I let my kids name our plants. We even have an office mascot named Judy the Neon Pothos! : )

There you have it, friends! Houseplants 101! I hope these basics give you some encouragement and knowledge to invite some green friends into your life. You can do it! And remember, they’re just houseplants! If you lose one, try your best the next time around. Give them love, and they will give back.

Your turn! I’d love to hear: do you have houseplants? Have your eye on one? Any tips that have worked for you? Fill me in! One lucky duck who comments will get a copy of my book, Cultivate, and I’ll send you one of my favorite houseplants, too! : )

P.S. I’d love to know what new product ideas you have and how we can help you cultivate what matters in our Cultivate survey!


  1. Brianna on May 25, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    I live in dry west Texas, so succulents do super well for me!! I also love my pothos varieties and ivy, but would love to branch out with some new plants!

  2. Bekah Walters on May 25, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    I have a snake plant from my college days that almost drowned because both my husband and I were watering it for a period of time. I also have a Dracaena Marginata that was a gift. I water every Sunday and that seems to work!

    • Lara on May 25, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      How fun! We have a big snake plant outside on our covered porch and it’s so happy!

  3. Angela on May 25, 2018 at 1:12 pm

    I am hoping to find a plant for my desk at work which does not have any natural light. Thank you for the tips! 🙂

  4. Laura on May 25, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    Currently I do not have any but would love to add some!

  5. Anna Bradshaw on May 25, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    This encourages me to try a houseplant…again. I tried growing an ivy plant last year…. it seemed so promising at the beginning…plenty of thick green leaves….the perfect gray pot….it lasted less than a month. But I want to try again! I love the healthy benefits of houseplants and the quiet, natural energy they bring to a room.

    • Lara on May 25, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Here’s to a fresh start! : )

  6. Brooke Bullard on May 25, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Great article! Right now I focusing on planting a garden outside at our new house. I have a dead orchid in my bathroom that I need to figure out how to bring back to life. Maybe re-pot it with new soil? I think about you whenever I see it and think of the potential it has!

    • Lara on May 25, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      That makes me so happy to hear! I’m no expert, but when I moved my orchid to a spot with more morning light, it seemed to like it more. You may already have that, so perhaps a little orchid fertilizer will help perk it up or certainly a new home might do the trick. Here’s an article I found that explains more!

  7. Danielle on May 25, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    I have always found nice plants for $1.00-3.00 on clearance at Lowes. Usually nothing wrong with them, most of the time, it’s just because they have finished flowering. I love the philodendron family of plants. Pretty easy to care for.

    • Lara on May 25, 2018 at 2:17 pm

      Yes!! Walmart also has a great clearance plant section in the back. Lots of gems there!

  8. Bekah on May 25, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    I like houseplants but don’t have many places to put them. I’ll need to take a new look. I grew up with a mom who loved houseplants and basically had an indoor garden. An easy plant I’ve had before is a peace lily. It didn’t need too much light, and I could tell when it needed water because it would get a little droopy but perk right up again after a drink.

    • Lara on May 25, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      I had a college roommate who had an indoor garden of houseplants as well and it was so lovely!

  9. Kristine on May 25, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this post! I am one of those people who has never been able to keep house plants alive, but after reading your tips, I am motivated and encouraged to give it another try!

    • Lara on May 25, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      Yay! I’m excited for you!!

  10. Chris on May 25, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you so much for this joyful and helpful article! We have a few houseplants, but are definitely interested in getting the kids involved in caring for more. 🌱

  11. Bethany on May 25, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    I have two Golden Pothos plants and a rosemary plant – not much, but it’s a start! I am notorious for killing plants, but I’ve had Golden Pothos plants for a few years and they seem to handle my forgetfulness well. 🙂

  12. Natalie on May 25, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    My mom gave me a snake plant that is doing so well. I love how much interest plants add to a space!

  13. Jeanne on May 25, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    We have a spider plant that was gifted to my son at the end of his second grade year. I’m happy to say that we have kept it alive for the past 3 years! I do love houseplants because they bring cheer, but they do not last long in my house. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  14. Alicia on May 25, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    I have just started my journey with houseplants! So far so good! I only have a few and am excited to collect more. Here’s to hoping my thumb remains green!

  15. Kimberly on May 25, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Just ordered the fertilizer sticks for my little oxalis plant— hoping I can get it to grow a little more full. Thanks for the tips Lara!

  16. Kimmy on May 25, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    My lemon tree is my fav!! It lives in our dining room until summer!

    (I commented just a min ago but it said i was spam… sad)

  17. Lauren on May 26, 2018 at 12:17 am

    I’ve had my eye on a beautiful plant called String of pearls. Have you seen it? We just moved an I am hoping to get one because they are so lovely. Also there are some beautiful succulent variety in pinks and reds.

  18. Mary on May 26, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Such a great article! Thanks so much for all the wonderful tips. I have a few house plants that I’ve managed to keep going but this information is good to know. Thank you so much for the tips and resources!

  19. Cassidy on May 26, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    When I moved across the country I was sad that my two plants that I had been caring for could not make the journey. Fortunately, my sister had agreed to take one of them. Unsure of what to do with the second (her roommate, for some reason, was not interested in 2 houseplants), I stealthily left the second one in a sunny, quiet corner of her apartment. She didn’t notice for 2 weeks and also, fortunately, she accepted that one into her care, as well. I smile at them when I visit her.

  20. Rachelle on May 27, 2018 at 1:55 am

    Thanks for the inspiration. I’ve never had a green thumb and need something super low maintenance. Hubby won’t want houseplants if they get to be a mess!

  21. Hope Easter on May 27, 2018 at 8:46 am

    I actually received a little succulent garden pot, and I wanted to separate them, and sort them throughout the house, so this was perfect timing. I now want to go buy more plants to fill my room. I have a darker room unfortunately, so its great to see I can still have plants! 🙂

  22. Janneke Marquez on May 28, 2018 at 2:34 am

    This is great, thanks Lara! I really want more plants in my bed and bath but it’s on the north facing side of my home and gets very little light except on the edge of my soaking tub. The front half of the house gets great light but are my kids’ windows and then my front room with no ledge or table to put them on! I like the plants on your bookshelves – do you rotate plants from location to location to give them opportunities for different light? My kitchen windowsill is also north facing and gets good indirect light all day and then bright afternoon direct light. My succulents live there and get very leggy. Doesn’t help that most winter is overcast here in the NW. can you talk about repotting when they start to grow bigger than when you bought them?

    I killed my orchid but would like to try one again. I have your classic succulents from IKEA (which I have been having fun propagating over the last 3 years), an aloe that when I gave it some fertilizer sprouted 50 new arms and looks like a crazy hairdo (maybe there are more individual baby plants I could repot???), a small snake plant that I think has a sibling I could transfer to another container, and a small palm like plant that I think has gotten rootbound! Time for some tlc. Thanks for being so Inspiring! I love the color and freshness your pictures capture. I like how you name them, too.

    • Lara on May 30, 2018 at 4:21 pm

      Hi! I do sometimes rotate plants around in different seasons (mostly between fall and winter and then back again after winter) because the light changes dramatically here. And I most definitely repot things from time to time. If a plant keeps growing so big I need to prune it, I will consider repotting. I’m no expert though! For succulents that get leggy, it’s usually because they are seeking light and it’s perfectly okay to prune them and use the cuttings to make new plants. : )

    • Lara on June 21, 2018 at 12:29 pm

      Janneke! You are the winner of the houseplant giveaway! Send me your info to and I will get it to you! : )

    • Janneke on June 22, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      Oh yay! Thank you, Lara! Since this post I repotted my palm. I’m excited for a new plant!

  23. Garden Dad on May 29, 2018 at 10:29 am

    Thank you so much for such wonderful tips! I bet they will definitely come in handy. 🙂

  24. Lisa on May 29, 2018 at 11:37 am

    I’ve just recently started a mini succulent garden and have a new scheflerra that reminds me of my Momma. They make me smile every time I see them. 😁

  25. Valerie W on June 1, 2018 at 8:23 am

    I don’t have many houseplants, as my cats will eat them. I do have a “mother of millions” that came from a dear neighbor when we moved a few years ago that I’ve managed to keep alive and healthy.

  26. Berta on June 1, 2018 at 10:00 am

    Long time plant lover moves to house with huge sunroom. Goes crazy! My husband does a count from time to time. We’re up to 78 and counting.
    I moved three huge old timers that I’ve had for 40 years or more. There’s a ton of root pruning in my future,

    Loved your article and I am happy to buy your book. Thanks

  27. Emily on June 14, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Lara, Metrolina Greenhouses is definitely worth your time and the trip! The VanWingerden’s story is truly special and inspiring. The property is beautiful and it is amazing how many plants they produce. I hope that this inspires you to make a trip happen and that you have a wonderful time!

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