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How to Grow Plants Indoors: 6 Tips for Growing Houseplants

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 28, 2020 • 3 min read

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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening

Growing indoor plants is perfect if you don’t have the space for an outdoor garden or simply wish to bring natural beauty inside.

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Ron Finley Teaches GardeningRon Finley Teaches Gardening

Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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How to Grow Plants Indoors

Not all houseplants require the same type of care, but these basic rules provide the general knowledge necessary for indoor gardening.

  1. Learn to recognize when houseplants need water. In general, you should be more concerned with over-watering than under-watering; most houseplants are better off slightly dry than sopping wet. The goal is to provide your plants with enough water to keep the soil moist but not soggy (with succulents being a notable exception to this rule—they require periodic soakings). Pour water slowly into the potting soil until it trickles out from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Most plants only need to be watered once or twice a week, and less during the winter months. An easy way to check if your plant needs a drink is to stick your finger two inches deep into the soil. If it feels dry, then it's most likely time to water.
  2. Be aware of temperature, humidity, and ventilation. Most houseplants thrive in temperatures between 65 and 75°F during the day and about 10 degrees cooler at night. In general, houseplants require a level of humidity similar to that of their natural growing conditions. Air plants (of the genus Tillandsia) take in all their water from the air and thus require regular misting with a spray bottle. For other houseplants, condensation that stays on leaves too long can be harmful, which is why proper airflow is crucial for healthy plants. Placing a fan near your houseplants to circulate air can evaporate excess moisture and prevent dust buildup on leaves.
  3. Ensure that your houseplants get the right amount of light. All plants need light energy for photosynthesis, but different houseplants require different amounts of light. With the exception of desert cacti and other succulents, most houseplants need indirect light rather than direct light. Houseplants that thrive in indirect light grow well near west-facing windows or—for plants that require bright light but not direct sun—a few feet back from south-facing windows. Plants that survive in especially shady, low-light conditions and flourish indoors include ZZ plant, snake plant, pothos, and philodendron; these plants can grow in north and east-facing windows. Some houseplants require artificial light to grow indoors, especially during the winter months and in certain regions where there are fewer hours of light. Normal household light bulbs are not effective in providing light to houseplants, so you'll need to purchase fluorescent or LED grow lights, which have full-spectrum bulbs that provide a balance of cool and warm light to mimic the natural solar spectrum.
  4. Use the right potting soil. A high-quality potting soil will help plant roots grow by providing the ideal balance of nutrition, aeration, and water absorption. Potting soil mixes typically include peat moss, shredded pine bark, perlite, and vermiculite. Garden centers sell generic potting soils, but whenever possible you should choose a potting soil specific to your houseplant. For example, orchids and bromeliads require fast-draining soil, but succulents grow best in porous, sandy soils.
  5. Select a pot that fits your plant. When choosing a pot, make sure to consider its material, size, and drainage capability. Use a pot that’s proportional to your plant's current size—not more than a few inches wider in diameter than your plant’s root mass. Once the plant outgrows its home, you can transplant it into a larger pot. If you instead start a plant in a larger pot than necessary, its roots won't be able to absorb moisture fast enough as it drains through the soil. Plastic pots are lightweight, making them ideal for use in hanging baskets or on wall shelves. Terra cotta pots are heavier, and their porous nature means they don’t hold water as well as plastic pots. Make sure your pot has a drainage hole at the bottom.
  6. Use fertilizer to supply nutrients. To achieve sustained, healthy indoor plant growth, regularly replenish the nutrients in the potting soil. In general, fertilize your houseplants once a month when they're growing or flowering. During the winter months when plants typically stay in a stagnant state, it's acceptable to decrease or pause your fertilizer regimen. Remember that these are general rules, and specific plants may require their own unique fertilizer schedule or specific fertilizer type.

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Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass All-Access Pass and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.

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