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Houseplant Care and Maintenance Resources

There is a wide variety of houseplants to choose from, from cacti to ferns. Some require more careful care than others. Be sure to avoid overwatering as this is the most common killer of houseplants.

The most common killer of houseplants is over watering.  Make sure that you choose a plant that will fit the size of your home and that will receive the light and conditions it needs for proper growth.

How to select a houseplant

Before purchasing a plant, it's important to know what conditions your plant will be living in. It is easier to purchase a plant that requires the same environmental conditions of your home rather than alter the environment to suit the plants.

Below are more tips for choosing the right plant for your home:

  • Check foliage of plants for insects and plant disease, especially the undersides of foliage and the axils.
  • Select plants that look sturdy, clean, well potted, shapely, and well-covered with leaves.
  • Choose plants with healthy foliage. Avoid plants which have yellow or chlorotic leaves, brown leaf margins, wilted or water soaked foliage, spots or blotches and spindly growth.
  • Avoid leaves with mechanical damage, and those which have been treated with "leaf shines" which add an unnatural polish to the leaves.
  • Choose plants which have new flowers and leaf buds along with young growth since they are usually healthier.

How do I get my plant home safely? 

Getting your plant home during the summer or winter can be potentially harmful to your new plant's health. 

In the summer, don't leave your plant in a hot car. Avoid burning your plant's foliage by shading it while in the car.

In the winter, protect your plants from the cold. Many plants can be badly damaged if they are exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, even if it is just a few minutes. Keep your plants as warm as possible when you transport them. 

Once your plant is safely home, you will want to make sure you acclimate it to your home's living conditions. Place your plant in an area with lots of light and gradually move it to its permanent, darker location over 4- to 8- weeks.

What growing conditions do I need to be aware of for my houseplant? 

All houseplants need the right amount of light, water, heat, humidity, ventilation, and fertilization to grow properly. 

Remember: Sunlight is plant food! 

Your houseplant can be classified according to how much light they need to be healthy. Plants can be considered to have high, medium, or low light requirements, and this light requirement corresponds to the nearness of the light source (like a window, for example). 

The direction of your window will affect the intensity of light your plant receives. 

  • Southern exposure. Southern-facing windows have the most intense, warmest light. 
  • Eastern and Western exposure. Windows facing the east or the west have about half the light intensity of southern facing windows. 
  • Northern exposure. Northern-facing windows have a quarter of the light intensity of southern-facing windows, and tend to be the coldest. 

Most flowering plants are indifferent to the length of the day. If you are looking for increased growth of your plant, you might consider increasing the hours of light your plant gets each day. Be mindful that plants require some period of darkness to develop correctly and shouldn't be exposed to light for more then 16 hours a day. 

Too much sunlight can be as harmful as too little sunlight. If your plant gets too much direct light, the leaves can become pale, sunburn, and ultimately kill your plant. Protect your plants from too much direct sun, especially during the summer. 

Warning: Overwatering is the top threat to houseplants!

Your plant's water needs are determined by what type of plant you have and its environmental conditions. 

Wait until the bottom two-thirds of your plant's soil drys out before you water it. The best way to check you plant's moisture is to stick your index finger directly into the soil. If the soil feels damp, don't water. Keep repeating this until the soil is barely moist two inches into the pot. 

When you do water your plant, make sure water runs out of the bottom of your plant's pot. This makes sure you are watering your entire plant and you are washing out excess salts from the soil. 

Most house plants can tolerate normal temperature fluctuations. In general, foliage house plants grow best between 70-80 degrees during the day, and 60-68 degrees at night. 

Keep in mind that excessively low or high temperatures can damage or kill your plants. 

Some house plants require higher levels of humidity to thrive. Thankfully, you can increase the humidity of your plant's living conditions without turning your home into a sauna. 

  • Put a humidifier near your plants. This might be the most high-tech option for increasing humidity around your plants, but does require buying a humidifier. 
  • Place a gravel tray under your plants and fill the tray with water. As the water evaporates, the humidity around your plants will increase. 
  • Group your plants close together. This will help retain some of the humidity that your plants need. 

House plants are very sensitive to drafts and heat. Be mindful of where you place your houseplants in your home. 

All plants need nitrogen (N), phosphate (P), and potassium (K) to grow properly. You can buy houseplant fertilizer at most garden centers. Make sure to follow the instruction label before you fertilize. Improper application can damage or kill your houseplant. 

As a general rule, fertilize your plants every 2 weeks between March and September. Don't fertilize your plants during the winter. 

Over time, fertilizers can cause soluble salt build-up in the soil of your houseplant. As the salts in the soil becomes more and more concentrated, plants find it harder and harder to take up water. This can make your plant grow less and become more susceptible to infection and disease, root damage, and wilting. 

The best way to prevent soluble salt damage is to stop the salts from building up. Make sure you water your plants correctly by allowing some water to drain through your plant's pot entirely. Do not allow the pot to sit in water. The salts you washed you can be reabsorbed into the soil through the drainage hole, or directly through the clay pot. 


Care Tips for Popular House Plants 

The amaryllis, or Hippeastrum, is a tender bulb plant from tropical America. It produces large, trumpet-shaped flowers, growing as large as eight inches across in clusters of four to six flowers per stem. The leafless, hollow stems can grow to be two to three feet tall. Colors include shades of red, orange, pink as well as white and striped ones.


How should I buy amaryllis?

You can either purchase a pre-packaged bulb already planted in a container, or the bulb by itself. Some nurseries and florists will also sell plants already in bloom, or ready to burst into bloom. Regardless of how you start with it, this is a bulb that will re-bloom every year with proper attention.

If you are starting out with a bulb that hasn't begun to grow, be sure that at least half of the bulb is exposed out of the potting soil. The container should be only slightly larger than the bulb. Water sparingly until growth starts. Excessive watering is harmful and may cause the bulb to rot.


How do I care for amaryllis?

Soon you will see the flower spike begin to start growing out of the center of the bulb. Once growth has begun, move the plant to a sunny location and make sure that it stays moist. Turn the plant frequently to keep it from leaning. Temperatures during the day of 70 - 75 degrees will force the plant into flower earlier, but may also give you extremely tall plants, which will need some staking for support. Once the blooms begin to open, give the plant cooler conditions and move it out of direct sunlight to extend the length of bloom. Your plant should be in bloom within four to six weeks from the time growth begins.

It is normal for the plant to produce a lone flower stalk, with the leaves appearing after bloom. Occasionally you will be lucky and have two flower stalks. Each flower stalk will have a minimum of four blooms, with some of the larger, older bulbs producing up to six flowers per stalk.

Once the flowers have faded, cut the flower stalk back to within several inches of the bulb. The foliage needs to be kept actively growing following flowering to insure a flower for the next season. The deep green, strap-shaped leaves average one and a half inches in width and can grow to be 18 to 24 inches long. Fertilize with any houseplant fertilizer after blooming and put the plant in a sunny window.

Many people would like to plant their bulbs outdoors for year-round growth. Although some people have had success with this by mulching the plants heavily, it is preferable to bring them indoors each year. Besides the chance of losing the bulb to a hard winter, you need the color and enjoyment of these flowers indoors during the winter months more than you need it in the garden in the summer. There is a variety of amaryllis that is hardy and will come back each year in the garden.

If you want to extend the season of bloom for a long period of time, purchase several bulbs and stagger the planting.


Spring and Summer Care

When all chances of frost have passed, move the plant outside to a sunny environment. You can sink the pot in the ground to reduce your watering schedule. Make sure that the plant receives at least half a day of sunlight. Fertilize the plant monthly.


Fall Care

By September, gradually reduce your watering, lift the plant out of the ground and quit fertilizing. With the cooler temperatures, shorter days, and drier conditions, the leaves should begin to fade. Bring the bulb inside, cut off the old foliage and let the bulb rest on its side for a month or two. This resting period will usually end on its own when you see the bulb beginning to sprout out. Then you start the cycle all over again.

When you begin the cycle again, check to see if the bulb needs to be repotted, or if offsets (small bulbs) need to be removed. Amaryllis will bloom better if slightly potbound, so don't put them in too large of a container. Use well-drained potting soil. If you are removing any offsets, pot them in small three-inch pots. They should grow into flowering size within two to three years. Don't leave them attached to the mother bulb, since they will be competing for water, sunlight, and nutrients.


How do I grow amaryllis from seed?

Amaryllis can be grown from seed, but it is a somewhat long process. If you want to try it, leave the flowers attached after bloom, to allow for seed production. This will slightly weaken the bulb, so be sure to fertilize well afterward. Sow the seeds soon after harvesting. In about four weeks the seedlings should be up and growing. When the second set of leaves forms, move them to an individual three-inch pot. Keep them in a sunny location, and don't allow the leaves to die down for the first year. Seedlings normally can take up to three to five years to produce their first bloom.


How much should I expect to pay for amaryllis?

Bulbs may average from $5 to $10, while the blooming plants can sell for as high as $50.

Azaleas require direct sunlight to remain healthy. Keep the soil constantly moist. If the leaves should turn yellow, the soil is not acidic enough. Use an acid fertilizer sold especially for azaleas. Do not use softened water. When repotting, use a mixture high in acid peat moss.

Azaleas can be planted, pot and all, in a shady spot in the garden during the summer months. Examine them frequently and keep them watered during dry periods. Greenhouse azaleas are not hardy, and need to be brought indoors before freezing weather.

Azaleas need a cool rest treatment before they are forced into bloom. Place the plants in a room with a temperature between 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and filtered light. During this rest period, flower buds will develop. Then place in a well-lighted warm (65 degrees Fahrenheit.) room around January 1 and the plant will bloom. Unless you have the proper growing conditions for the azalea, you should not attempt to carry the plants over.

At least three related species are sold in addition to several cultivars. All have similar cultural requirements.

They will develop buds and bloom if given bright light, short days, and night temperatures between 55- and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Christmas cacti bloom best when somewhat pot-bound. Repotting is necessary every 3 years. Full sunlight is beneficial in midwinter, but bright sun during the summer months can make plants look pale and yellow. These plants grow naturally shaded by a canopy of leaves.

Christmas cacti require less water from October to March than they do when growth is active from April to September. Dormancy should be started about the middle of September and continued for 8 weeks. Care should be taken that soil never becomes waterlogged during the dark days of winter.

Cyclamen require full sunlight and a night temperature of between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They are heavy users of water and must be watered whenever the surface of the soil is dry. Flower buds will fail to develop if night temperature is too high or if light is poor.

Cyclamen can be carried over. Let the plants die down after they finish flowering. Repot the fleshy corm in June with the top of the corm above the soil line. Allow resting bulbs to dry but not become shriveled.

Shade Ferns
Shade ferns for the garden are a diverse mix, including hundreds of species. Some good starter small ferns include: Maidenhair fern: Adiantum pedatum -- this fern has fronds which hang down like locks of damsels tresses, thereby its name. It has a bluish green foliage, and will add delicate texture to your garden. Another small fern which is also evergreen, and is the most hardy native fern, both in shade and drought tolerance, is the Christmas fern: Polystichum acrostichoides. This fern has a more upright growth. It is named Christmas fern because its  green foliage was gathered and brought indoors during the holidays and made into wreaths and garlands during the Civil War era, up through the early 1920's. Sensitive fern: Onoclea sensibilis is another interesting low growing fern. This fern changes its form when disturbed by early frosts or by hot weather in spring. This leads to various leaf forms. In the fall, this fern is one of the first to lose its leaves. It also prefers a moist environment.

Shield Ferns
Moving up the scale, (three to six feet in height) are the shield ferns: Thelypteris spp. Shield
ferns will generally tolerate more drought and have a more lacy appearance to the leaf. Shield
ferns are what define our definition of a fern leaf or frond. There are more than 100 varieties of
shield ferns in the commercial trade, ranging in height from two feet to four feet. The leaf color is generally a lighter green to hunter green, and tends to grow in a vase shape of fronds. Log
ferns: Dryopteris spp. tends to be larger -- up to six feet in height, and a darker green in color.
They have a fuller, coarser leaf, with less cutting in the fronds. There are several hundred
varieties in the commercial trade, and six native species.

Cinnamon and Royal Ferns
Cinnamon and royal ferns: Osmunda spp. are common throughout Arkansas and were one of
the first ferns that homeowners began finding in garden centers. Royal ferns can grow up to six
feet in height, and generate many fronds. In time they form dense colonies of plants, giving a
bushlike appearance in the landscape. They will die back completely to the ground in the winter.
The cinnamon ferns new fronds emerge covered in a reddish hair, and are called fiddleheads.
This is not the edible fiddlehead of commerce -- don't eat the Arkansas natives. As the fronds
age, the red hairs drop off, but a few are retained where the little leaflets join the main stem of
the leaf. The spore bearing leaves come up first and are quite red in color. The sterile persistent
green leaves follow, and are also covered with reddish hairs initially. The spore bearing fronds
only last a few weeks, and will wither away, leaving behind the large green bushy leaves.

Sun-loving Ferns
If you are a fern lover, but don't have shade, don't despair. There are sun-loving ferns. It is even
possible to grow some of the shade lovers in the sun, but soil preparation and water are crucial
to survival. An easy family of ferns to grow is the Lady ferns: Athyrium spp. There are two native
species and several hundred cultivars in the trade. They differ by the amount of cutting in the
leaves, with colors ranging from reds to greens. Some cultivars are dwarves -- no taller than a
foot, with other varieties growing upwards of six feet. The southern lady fern is supremely
adapted to a wide range of sun and soil characters. They can be quite drought tolerant, after
they are established. These plants will grow in both full sun to total shade, but will require more
water, and a more organic soil in the sun.

Bracken Fern Pteridium aquilinum
Another sun lover. Give it space, for it is aggressive. It will tolerate the shade, but prefers the
sun -- growing three to four feet in height. It tends to kill out other plant species in its shade, so
give it its own space, and let it grow -- and more importantly give it room to grow.

Mosquito FernAzolla spp
An aquatic sun-lover. This diminutive fern turns bright red in the fall, then dies back and settles
to the bottom of the pond, and waits for the warmer water of spring. This species is common in
the waterways of Arkansas. It is a fern of true global economic importance--it is the green
manure crop grown in Asia which is plowed under to fertilize the rice crop. It is not invasive in
Arkansas rice fields, but it can be aggressive in home water gardens. Fish, such as the
ornamental Koi tend to harvest it in your water features and keep it under control.
There are some other fern allies -- not technically ferns, but like ferns, they reproduce by spores
versus seeds. These spore bearing plants include: Scouringrush and Horsetail: Equisetum spp.
They are striking plants, resembling bamboo, and are found native along the major rivers in
Arkansas. They will grow in full sun or shade, as long as they have a moist environment. In a
drier environment they will not grow as rapidly as in the wet soils, but they will survive. They are
winter hardy and evergreen. The difference between the two is that scouringrush has
unbranched stems, while the horsetail has whorls of branches.

As with any group of plants, culture and care will vary by species. Some general guidelines for
all ferns: prepare the soil carefully. Loosen the soil and add in well-aged compost or leaf mold.
Avoid tight, heavy soils. Have your soil tested, if the pH is below 5.5 add some pelletized lime.
Most ferns prefer a soil pH between 6.0 - 7.0. Raised beds make for excellent fern displays but
will need extra winter protection -- with mulching. Raised beds have lower winter soil
temperatures which can be harder on the ferns. Container gardening of these ferns can be
difficult both in summer temperatures and winter lows. Wrapping of the pots or using larger
containers may help. Container production of hardy ferns should be limited to some of the
smaller ferns, which don't produce as large of a rhizome and root system.
While many of the ferns can be drought tolerant once established, most ferns will benefit from
supplemental watering. Ferns appreciate an occasional leaf mold or aged compost supplement,
but don't respond well to commercial fertilizer. For the most part, if proper soil preparation was
done, they should do fine on their own.

Ferns prefer to be left alone to multiply -- they like benign neglect -- and don't like to be divided
on a regular basis. So allow room for them to mature and spread. Division is a method of
propagation, but will set back their growth for a year or more.

The red poinsettia still reigns supreme among flowering holiday plants. Yet, poinsettias are more than the traditional red, flat-bracted blooms. Today, poinsettias come in a range of colors, including shades of red, pink, white, yellow, and purple. There are speckled ones and curly flowered ones called Christmas Rose. They come in the standard four inch pot, or in miniature or large tree forms. There truly is a poinsettia for every home.


If you want to branch out, there are other plants besides poinsettia that can add cheer to the inner landscape. Other choices include amaryllis, anthurium, azaleas, cyclamen, Gerber daisies, holiday cactus, Kalanchoe, orchids and paper white narcissus.


When receiving a holiday plant, you need to know something about plant care, to keep it attractive the longest. With poinsettias, give them fairly bright light and even moisture. Avoid dark areas with drafts. The new varieties have been bred to hold their color for months, and can add color long after the holiday season. While they can re-bloom for another season, it is best to start with a new plant each year. Enjoy them while the color lasts, and then add them to the compost pile.


Amaryllis are sold from the dry bulb stage to the bloom stage. For the longest enjoyment, start your own bulb or choose one just beginning to show color. If they are in full bloom when you get them, they may not last too long. The bulb can linger for years and re-bloom each season, much easier than with most other blooming seasonal plants.


Anthurium is a rather new addition to our indoor plant repertoire. The Hawaiian flowers have the right colors to choose from-red, white or pink spathes of color, which can last for months. Some people use them as a green houseplant after bloom, since it is difficult to re-bloom them. Let them dry out slightly in between watering.


The florist azalea is different than those we plant outdoors. Keep it cool and in indirect bright light and it too can last for four to six weeks. While many gardeners attempt planting these outdoors, many don't survive the winter.


Cyclamen plants come in a range of reds, pinks and whites. These plants grow from small bulbs called corms. They prefer cool temperatures, and will decline quickly if kept warm day and night. They prefer bright light and even moisture-too much water can cause the bulbs to rot. While many toss the plants after bloom, they can re-bloom with proper care. As the foliage begins to die back, withhold water for a few months. After a rest period, gradually begin to add water.

When you see signs of new growth, increase water and sunlight.


Gerber daisies are a semi-hardy perennial in our outside garden, but can last several weeks indoors as a potted plant. Coming in a wide range of colors, they prefer to be kept on the cool side with plenty of sunlight.

Holiday cactus are also readily available. While some call them Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus, these blooming cactus can give enjoyment year after year. Once it is in bloom, it will last longest in indirect light with even moisture. Leading up to bloom it needs cool nights and sunny days.


Kalanchoe is a succulent plant with a long blooming cluster of flowers. Flower color ranges from reds and oranges to yellows and whites. They like short days and long nights and warm, dry conditions. Don't over water this plant.


You may not think of orchids during the holidays, but what showier blossom can you think of that will last for six to eight weeks with very little care. They can also live to see another day, if you so choose.


And last but not least, paper white narcissus. These lovely forced clusters of white blossoms often come artfully arranged with greenery and berries. Like the amaryllis, they are available in all stages, from dried bulbs to blooming plants. Enjoy them while they last, and then move on to something else. Re-blooming is not advised.


The holidays are upon us, and who wouldn't welcome a blooming plant? While the care of these plants isn't difficult, re-blooming may be, and in most cases is not worth the effort. To ensure the flowers last the longest, in general, keep holiday blooming plants in a cool room, with bright, indirect light. Make sure you have an even supply of water-but avoid over watering, which is most common. Extremely warm rooms can cause flowers to fade quickly. Try to have at least a slight differential from day to night temperatures. With so many choices to choose from, why not select several. With just minimal care, these seasonal favorites are sure to add a boost to any holiday decor.

Gardenias grown indoors need special care. They demand an acid soil and should receive the
same nutritional care as azaleas. The night temperature should be near 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
and the humidity around the plant should be kept high. High temperature and low light intensity will result in flower bud drop.

The poinsettia requires bright light and should be kept away from drafts. A temperature between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. is ideal. Avoid temperatures below 60 degrees and above 75 degrees. Keep plants well watered but do not over- water. Some of the newer, long-lasting varieties can be kept attractive all winter. Gardeners frequently ask whether they can carry their poinsettias over to bloom again next year. It is questionable whether the results are worth the effort as the quality of home-grown plants seldom equals that of commercially grown plants. However, for those who wish to try, the following procedure can be followed.

After the bracts fade or fall, set the plants where they will receive indirect light and temperatures around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Water sparingly during this time, just enough to keep the stems from shriveling. Cut the plants back to within about 5 inches from the ground and re-pot in fresh soil. As soon as new growth begins, place in a well lighted window. After danger of frost, place the pot out of doors in a partially shaded spot. Pinch the new growth back to get a plant with several stems. Do not pinch after September 1. About Labor Day, or as soon as the nights are cool, bring the plant indoors. Continue to grow them in a sunny room with a night temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

The poinsettia blooms only during short days. To initiate blooms, exclude artificial light, either by covering with a light-proof box each evening or placing in an unlighted room or closet for a
minimum of 12 hours of darkness. Plants require full light in the daytime, so be sure to return
them to a sunny window. Start the short day treatment in about mid-September to have blooms
between December 1 and Christmas


How do I train and groom my houseplants? 

Once you have the basics of successful houseplant care under your belt, you might want to consider training your houseplant to look a certain way. In general, remove all dead flowers, leaves, and branches. Keep leaves dust free by washing plants with warm water. Trim leaves that are brown and dry.

Pinching: If you want to stimulate new growth in your plant, pinch off 1 inch or less of a new stem or leaf. Pinch just above the node. If you want your plant to stay small but filled out, you will need to pinch often.

Pruning: If you want your leggy plants to grow bushier and more compact, prune the growing tip of the tallest stem. Sometimes an entire branch or section of a plant should be removed for the sake of appearance.

Bud removal: Make sure to remove the buds of young plants or plant cutting that have been recently rooted. This gives your plant time to grow stronger before flowering.