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Eight Tips for Extending the Life of Your Houseplants

Follow our advice for healthy, happy plants.

transitioning tropical plants
Photography by: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

If you've ever accidentally killed a potted plant, you know how frustrating it is (not to mention guilt-inducing!) to not understand what you did wrong. Since greens and flowers liven up any space and are, at least in our opinion, a necessity when it comes to decorating a home, we've rounded up some of the best tips on extending the life of your potted plants.  

 

Related: A Guie to Transitioning Tropical Plants Indoors

 

Take Your Light Into Account

Maybe that huge, statement-making birds of paradise plant is all you've been dreaming of, but if it doesn't make sense in your home, it won't thrive in your space. "You want to set yourself up for success from the start," says Erin Marino, director of brand marketing at The Sill. "If your space has huge floor-to-ceiling south-facing windows, don't opt for a shade-loving fern that will fry. And visa versa—if you have smaller, west-facing windows that receive moderate light, don't bring home a giant sun-loving cactus."  

 

Be Realistic About Your Time


If you have a specific plant in mind, make sure you understand how much maintenance is required before committing to it. "Think about your work and travel schedule. If you're traveling for weeks at a time, you'll want to pick drought tolerant plants that will only need watering once a month or so," says Marino.  Furthermore, you should be realistic about the amount of effort you're willing to put in.  If you know you're going to forget to water a delicate and fussy maidenhair fern with ice cubes every day or so, then choose a plant that's more your speed. 


 

Fertilize


Although this can seem like an extra step, fertilizing your plant when it first gets home and then periodically after will help it thrive. If you've always skipped this because you assumed it was too daunting, you'll be pleased to learn that there are so many ways to fertilize easily. Many plants just need fertilizer spikes that you simply embed a couple of inches into the soil and replenish every few months.  

 

Don't Be Afraid to Prune


If a leaf or flower is looking peaked, it's probably time to cut it off. "As plants grow and mature, older foliage reaches its expiration date and starts to look lackluster. Don't let yourself over prune—but you should definitely snip those mature leaves that are on their way out. Pruning your plants regularly can invite new, healthy, young growth," says Marino. 

 

Related: Low-Maintenance House Plants that Will Live Even When You're Away

 

Know the Signs of a Thirsty Plan

Instead of being by-the-book in terms of keeping a watering schedule, touch the soil (the top two inches should generally be moist), and take notice of how the plant is looking. "It's important to remember factors both indoors and outside can impact your plant's thirst so always check the potting mix before watering (to make sure it's dry) and look for signs your plant could use a drink, like wrinkling or wilting leaves," Marino says.  


 

Choose the Right Container


When repotting a plant, make sure that the soil will be able to drain properly. There's nothing worse for a potted plant than having its roots sitting in a puddle of water. To ensure proper drainage, choose a planter with holes on the bottom and add a layer of rocks to the pot before adding in the soil. Additionally, know what size container your plant needs, says Joe Ferrari of Tend Greenpoint in Brooklyn. "When it's time to transplant your plant, only go up about one to two inches in planter diameter. If you go much bigger you'll end up watering excess soil that the plant isn't using," he explains.

 

Rotate When Needed


Since your plant is most likely getting its light from one direction, it may start to lean towards the closest window. To make sure your plant is growing evenly, take the time to rotate it every week or so, which will ensure that it's getting proper sun from every side.  

 

When in Doubt, Leave Your Plant Alone


The answer as to why your plant is acting sad usually isn't because you're not doing enough, Ferrari says. "Chances are you're showing it too much love. The answer is almost never 'more water' so just let be for a bit and see if it starts improving."