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Houseplant care: 10 mistakes to avoid and what to do instead

Posted by AMH Team

6m read time

Jun 30, 2024

Houseplants are a breath of fresh air to any home. Plants provide plenty of benefits, including reduced anxiety and stress levels, better focus and productivity, and a boost in happiness and self-esteem. Of course, these plants require care and attention to grow, from correct watering habits to the proper nutrition. It’s easy to go astray, but we’re here to help. Our houseplant care guide features 10 common mistakes, plus what to do to let your plants thrive and be the best they can be.

 

Mistake #1: Overwatering your plants

 

Ask any gardening expert about houseplant care mistakes, and this will likely top their list. It’s an understandable error—we need to drink water daily (and so do our pets!), but plants can withstand more extended periods without water.

 

What to do instead: Follow the instructions if your houseplant comes with them. If not, indoor plants respond well to deep, infrequent watering. For some plants, this might mean once per week; others may only require deep watering once or twice a month.  

 

Mistake #2: Too much (or not enough) sunlight

 

You might recall learning about photosynthesis in elementary school. In case you need a refresher, it’s the process of turning sunlight into energy. So, just plop your plant by a window and call it a day, right? It’s not quite that easy. Like humans, plants can get sunburned if exposed to too much sunlight. The leaves might wither or break off the plant entirely. Similarly, some plants require regular sunlight but get tucked in a dark corner. 

 

What to do instead: Most plants grow better with indirect sunlight. Move them further away from a window so they’re not sitting right next to it, or use semi-transparent blinds or curtains to let sunlight poke through without frying the plant. Alternatively, consider a low-light plant like a cast iron plant, peace lily, ZZ plant, or lithops.

 

Mistake #3: Using the wrong-sized pot or planter

 

Your houseplant will typically come in a container, but you generally won’t want to keep it there for long. The containers and soil that hold plants in transit or at stores are short-term solutions, so you’ll need to upgrade for your home. A pot usually refers to something that holds one plant indoors, while a planter is more spacious and can hold multiple outdoor plants, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. Whichever route you go, give your plant the proper amount of room.

 

What to do instead: Many plants have an indicator of their pot size when you purchase them. If they don’t, use a tape measure or ruler to check the diameter. When you repot, you’ll generally want to upgrade that diameter by 1-2 inches, giving roots more space to grow while allowing water to drain.

 

Mistake #4: Poor nutrition habits

 

If you ate an entire cake every day, it would eventually catch up to you. Despite the initial deliciousness, you’d feel sluggish, cranky, and unproductive. Plants are the same way (though hopefully, you’ve never fed them cake). They need organic material from the soil to thrive.  

 

What to do instead: Fertilize your houseplants to ensure they’re getting enough nutrition. Once a month is a good rule of thumb during spring and summer, and you can reduce that to once every two or three months in the fall and winter.

 

Mistake #5: Using pots without drainage holes

 

We talked about how overwatering can damage your plants. A pot without drainage holes can cause similar issues because the roots start having problems when sitting in water. It’s similar to how your kitchen attracts pests if you leave dishes in standing water for too long.

 

What to do instead: Buying a pot that already has drainage holes is the simplest solution. However, if you have a pot you like that doesn’t have any holes, use a drill to evenly add a few at the base of the container before planting. Everyone will be too busy admiring the blooming plants to notice any holes. 

 

Mistake #6: Mishandling the repotting process

 

Repotting is one of the less frequent parts of plant care, though it’s still worth knowing how to do it correctly. Plants don’t like having their roots disturbed—it’s why “uprooted” is rarely used in a positive context. Being moved to a new pot that doesn’t have suitable soil can stress the plant out and stunt its growth. 

 

What to do instead: Limit the number of times you repot. Do it shortly after bringing your plant home. After that, a yearly repotting cadence works for many plants. Keep an eye on how the plant is doing; if it’s not responding to water or sunlight, it could need repotting. Make sure to use a soil mix similar to what the plant was previously in, or use a blend specifically for houseplants.

 

Mistake #7: Overlooking humidity needs

 

Since plants grow worldwide, many are accustomed to more humid settings—ideally 60% humidity or greater. If they’re in a dry space in your home, the leaves may turn brown or droop as they struggle with the lack of humidity. 

 

What to do instead: Use a humidifier to create ideal humidity settings for your plant. Alternatively, add your plant to a room that naturally gets more humidity, like the kitchen, laundry room, or bathroom. What better way to help turn your bathroom into a soothing spa than with a houseplant or two?

 

Mistake #8: Choosing the wrong plants

 

Some plants thrive outdoors, while others are more suited for cooler temperatures inside. Picking a plant that needs a lot of direct sunlight and then tucking it into the corner of a room with minimal light is setting your plant up to fail. Similarly, a larger plant like a mastera deliciosa or a ponytail palm might feel too cramped if you have a small nook space.   

 

What to do instead: Select a plant that prefers environments that closely resemble your home. It requires a bit of initial research but is worthwhile in the long run. Here are some of our favorites.

 

Mistake #9: Underwatering your plants

 

We’ve come full circle with water. Overwatering your plants is a more common cause of plants deteriorating, but underwatering can be just as impactful. Think about a time you’ve returned from vacation to find your plants in worse shape than when you left, looking withered with once-green leaves turning yellow or brown. Plants don’t always need much water, but just about all of them at least need some. Even dry plants like cacti require water every 4-6 weeks.

 

What to do instead: Remember to water your plants. When you do, distribute the water evenly and research what’s best for each type of plant. A good goal is to water enough so that the top level of soil is moist but not soggy. 

 

Mistake #10: Not learning from your mistakes

 

While every plant is different, there’s science involved with their growth. Suppose a plant dies quickly, especially from a mistake like overwatering or using an improper pot. Then, you buy a second one without changing anything. It’s only going to lead to more frustration. Mistakes will happen along the way, but if you learn from them, you and your plants will grow.   

 

What to do instead: Keep going! See how your plant reacts to things and adapt your care along the way. Did it perk up when you gave it some water? That could be a sign it was dehydrated. Does it not seem to do well on your desk? Try moving it to a different room. Some plants struggle in one environment and thrive in another. 

 

Caring for plants is incredibly rewarding, and watching your potted friends grow—and perhaps even giving them names—can brighten any day. Best of luck in your houseplant adventures. You’re always welcome to share your results with us on Instagram or TikTok!

 

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