Portrait of Alice Vincent (Photographer - Giles Smith)
Alice Vincent (Photographer - Giles Smith)

Hands up if you’ve got a crispy-leaved, fungus-gnat-riddled, dry, rotting, or generally miserable houseplant in the vicinity? Don’t fret - chances are, if you’ve several tropical plants hanging out in a centrally heated home, at least one of them might be under the weather. House plant care can be simple, straightforward and not too demanding of your time once you crack the basics. Here are some of my favourite tips.


Put them in the right place

A maidenhair fern in a bathroom
A maidenhair fern in a bathroom

This is the number one mistake made by new plant owners: bringing home a beautiful plant, and then shoving it in a dark, draughty or overly bright spot. If you put your plant in the right place, you’ll be making it a lot easier to look after in the long run. I keep most of my plants in the south-facing bay window in my lounge where they get plenty of sunlight. The shade-lovers, meanwhile, hang out in a north-facing window, where the light is less intense.

Think about where your plant would grow naturally, is it found in the depths of a rainforest, in need of humidity and shade? And then think about where could offer those conditions in your home - probably your bathroom!

Make sure you’re watering properly

Watering a house plant
Anthurium 'Pink Champion'

One of the few things new plant owners know is the importance of watering plants. What many people don’t realise, however, is that knowing how and when to water is crucial. How? Thoroughly, ideally under a tap, allowing the whole of the plant’s root base to be drenched and then release run-off down the sink - rather than languishing in a pot without drainage. When? When the top two inches of soil are dry. Stick your finger in, if it’s moist, check again in a few days, if it’s not, give it a good drink.

How to water house plants

More like this

Be aware of seasonal change

Aspidistra elatior against a wallpaper background
Aspidistra elatior

Tropical and arid plants, which many of the plants we keep in our houses are, are not used to the artificial light levels and dry air that our homes often provide, to say the least. This becomes particularly pronounced in winter, when we have less natural light and more central heating. Your plants can also slide into dormancy at this time, meaning you may need to ease up on watering and certainly feeding your plants. Make sure your plants aren’t near a radiator or underfloor heating, or chilly draughts. Accept that they may not look their best during the colder months.

Winter care for house plants

Re-pot them in spring

Hands firmly pressing down around a newly re-potted swiss cheese plant
Re-potting a swiss cheese plant

Much as houseplants struggle in winter, they come into their own in spring and summer. You can help them along by replacing the soil they’ve been reliant on for nutrients for months and even increasing the size of the pot they’ve been growing in, giving them room to expand. Make sure you use peat-free compost, and check the needs of your plant to ensure they’re getting the best drainage and nutrition possible.

Cut off the crispy bits

Someone cutting off a dead orchid stem
Removing a dead orchid stem

Alas, that brown leaf on your beloved plant is never going to go green again. You’re better off removing it, and awaiting new growth. Dry, crispy, brown and yellowing leaves are a useful indication that something isn’t quite right with your plant care. It could be that the air is too dry, and the plant needs a mist (diffusers are great for this). It could be that the sun is too bright. It could be a lack of nutrition or the wrong amount of water. Check over your care routine and adjust accordingly. Remember, plants want to live!