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Passionate about plants? So are we! Costa Farms is a wholesale grower that discovers, develops, and grows plants for your home and life -- indoors and out. We’re your online gardening resource for plant info and inspiration. Our articles, blogs, tips, and photos help you use plants to beautify your living spaces and enhance your life.

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Houseplant Basics

By Doug Jimerson

Keeping a houseplant healthy and happy is easy—even if you’ve never raised a plant before. The needs of plants are so simple: when you offer the right amount of light, water, and food, you can’t go wrong. Here are the THREE things you need to know about to keep your indoor plants in top form.

Fittonia 'Frankie' Houseplant1. LIGHT
All plants need light, but the amount varies, in part, by where the plant originally came from. For example, houseplants that are natives of the jungle floor have evolved to thrive on the filtered light that sifts through the dense jungle canopy. Desert plants, on the other hand, are sun-worshippers because there is little shade in their world. Plants such as succulents and cacti grew to be bathed in direct sunlight all day long, so they are engineered to tolerate shady conditions. 

To be successful, match the light conditions in your home to the plants that will thrive there. Unobstructed, south-facing windows are ideal for desert dwellers, but light-sensitive ferns, philodendrons, and orchids may develop scorched leaves in bright light. East- and west-facing windows generally receive partial sun and work well for plants such as dieffenbachia, dracaena, and ficus. Darker locations that face north are best for low-light plants such as snake plant, English ivy, cast iron plant, and ferns.

Of course, you can modify the light a plant receives by adding shear curtains to reduce sunlight or adding fluorescent lights to boost the light levels, especially during winter when there are fewer hours of daylight and more overcast days. 

The plant tag will tell you how much light a plant needs. Here’s how to tell if a plant is getting too much or too little light.

Too Little Light 
-- The plant dramatically starts to lean towards the light.
-- Lower and/or interior leaves on the plants simply fall off.
-- Leaves curl upwards.
-- New growth is much smaller than original leaves and may have less color.
-- Plants grow spindly with elongated stems.
-- Flowering plants stop producing blooms.

Too Much Light
-- The plant develops brown or sunburned spots on its leaves.
-- Leaves begin to yellow and fall.
-- Plants with colorful foliage will begin to fade.
-- The entire plant looks scorched.
2. WATER?All plants require water, but different plants require different amounts. Desert natives can get by with minimal moisture while some tropical plants wilt dramatically if they go without water for just a couple of days. The plant label will help you determine how much water—and you should consider this before you purchase a houseplant. If you travel frequently (or are forgetful), avoid plants that need a lot of  moisture. Instead, look for species that prefer dry conditions such as sansevieria, ponytail palm, cactus, succulents, and ZZ plant. Consider also that the pots themselves affect soil moisture. Terra cotta pots, for example, are porous and allow soil moisture to evaporate while the soil in plastic pots dries out more slowly.
2. WATER?All plants require water, but different plants require different amounts. Desert natives can get by with minimal moisture while some tropical plants wilt dramatically if they go without water for just a couple of days. The plant label will help you determine how much water—and you should consider this before you purchase a houseplant. If you travel frequently (or are forgetful), avoid plants that need a lot of  moisture. Instead, look for species that prefer dry conditions such as sansevieria, ponytail palm, cactus, succulents, and ZZ plant. Consider also that the pots themselves affect soil moisture. Terra cotta pots, for example, are porous and allow soil moisture to evaporate while the soil in plastic pots dries out more slowly.
2. WATER?All plants require water, but different plants require different amounts. Desert natives can get by with minimal moisture while some tropical plants wilt dramatically if they go without water for just a couple of days. The plant label will help you determine how much water—and you should consider this before you purchase a houseplant. If you travel frequently (or are forgetful), avoid plants that need a lot of  moisture. Instead, look for species that prefer dry conditions such as sansevieria, ponytail palm, cactus, succulents, and ZZ plant. Consider also that the pots themselves affect soil moisture. Terra cotta pots, for example, are porous and allow soil moisture to evaporate while the soil in plastic pots dries out more slowly.

Houseplants2. WATER
All plants require water, but different plants require different amounts. Desert natives can get by with minimal moisture while some tropical plants wilt dramatically if they go without water for just a couple of days. The plant label will help you determine how much water—and you should consider this before you purchase a houseplant. If you travel frequently (or are forgetful), avoid plants that need a lot of  moisture. Instead, look for species that prefer dry conditions such as snake plant, ponytail palm, cactus, succulents, and ZZ plant. Consider also that the pots themselves affect soil moisture. Terra-cotta pots, for example, are porous and allow soil moisture to evaporate while the soil in plastic pots dries out more slowly.

Watering indoor plants isn’t rocket science, but there are a few tips we suggest you keep in mind. First, water whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Apply lukewarm water until it runs out of the drain holes of the pot (be sure to use a drip tray to protect furniture). Then, allow the soil to dry before you water again. Overwatering is probably the number one cause of early houseplant death. Here’s how to tell if your plant is suffering from too much or too little moisture.

Signs of too much water
-- Stems rot where they touch the soil.
-- Fungus grows on the soil surface.
-- Water stands in the drip tray.
-- Young and old leaves fall off at the same time.

Signs of too little water
-- Leaves and stems wilt and shrivel.
-- Lower leaves curl and yellow.
-- Some leaves become translucent.
-- Flowers or leaves drop prematurely.

3. FOOD
Lucky for you, most houseplants are potted in soil that contains slow-release fertilizer. This means that you won’t have to add more nutrients to the soil right away. Over time, however, you might want to feed your houseplants in one of two ways. You can sprinkle a dry, slow-release houseplant fertilizer over the surface of the soil, or you can add a dilute solution of liquid houseplant fertilizer every time you water. Liquid plant food can be absorbed faster than dry food and is especially useful for flowering houseplants such as African violets, anthurium, and peace lily. Dry food, on the other hand, feeds the plant over several months. Plus, you won’t have to worry about mixing and measuring fertilizer.

Learn how to repot your houseplants.
Make your home more comfy with houseplants.
DIY project: Make your own terrarium.

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