5 Simple Tips to Keep Potted Plants Alive

Monday, January 18, 2016

As I've gotten the hang of this container gardening thing, through lots of trial and error (read: many dead plants) and research, I've realized there are some simple things to remember when trying to become a green thumb, or even just a slightly greenish thumb. These simple steps can help you have less dead plants, and more lovely potted plants around the house and yard.

potted house plants

1. A pot without drainage holes in the bottom is actually a vase.

What do we know about vases? You put cut stems of plants and flowers in them and they live in water until you pour it out. So, with that being said, if you have a potted plant and there are no holes in the pot for the water to drain out, your plant either needs to be a swamp loving plant, or it will die from water-logging. 

However, you can buy a decorative pot with no holes in it and keep your plant potted in a pot with drainage holes and just place it inside the decorative pot. When it's time to water just take the inner pot (with the plant) out of the decorative one and water it in the sink. Once the water has drained, you can put the pot (and the plant) back in the decorative pot. Tip: Make sure it's done draining or you could end up with swampy roots. 

Example: Trader Joe's is selling adorable metal pots with mini rosebushes in bloom right now. At $4.99 those are a steal. They would look adorable en masse on a patio or balcony, or even just a couple of them on a window sill. However, if you buy them, you'll need to take the inner pot out of the decorative outer pot when watering, or it will swamp the roots and eventually your adorable purchases will be a pile of soggy, dead roses. 

chair and container garden

2. Not sure if your plant needs water? Stick your finger in the dirt.

It's hard to figure out just how much a potted plant needs to be watered, especially when it's new. One of the things my friends say to me regularly is that they either over-water, or under-water, and then eventually just let the thing die. If you're not sure, stick your finger into the dirt in the pot up to the first knuckle. If it's wet or damp, you don't need to water, if it's dry, water it. 

potted asparagus fern

3. How much water do you give a potted plant, anyway?

Potted plants need thorough waterings, because they are unable to pull water from nearby dirt, being trapped in a pot. When watering, water the plant until water trickles out of the drainage holes. That way you know the plant is getting a deep and thorough watering. If watering a plant indoors, to avoid any water spilling on surfaces where the plant pot is set, you can place the pot in the sink, let the water drain out, and then set it back on it's drainage dish where it belongs. 

Some houseplants require humidity, and do well in bathrooms, but make sure the natural lighting is enough for what they need. You can also mist your plants (except for cactus) now and then to give them some humidity. They'll love it. 

Tip: Regular tropical houseplants, in typical house climate just need a thorough watering once a week. If they dry out faster, they may be root bound and need to be repotted or you might not be watering thorough enough. If they're not drying out, then you're watering too much. Cacti need very little water, as in once a month or just every few weeks. 

indoor herb garden on sunny windowsill

4. If a plant needs full sun, it either needs a south or west facing window, or it needs to be outside.

Ever bought a lush potted basil plant and then had it die a few weeks later even though it was on your brightly but indirectly sunlit kitchen counter? Plants that need full sun will not survive in a dimmer area. Potted cacti and succulents do very well in sunny windowsills. Herbs that need a lot of sun, love a south-facing window as well. 

Example: Every basil plant I've had in my kitchen has died because I set them several feet away from the south-facing window. After a couple weeks, the leaves droop and the stems die back. I don't have anywhere to put the basil where it will get tons of sun all day, so I've given up hope of growing it in my kitchen. Basil loves full sun, and I will have to try it outside once the weather warms up. 

potted monstera deliciosa in sunny bathroom.

5. Check your potted plants occasionally to make sure they're not pot bound.

Potted plants need to be checked about once a year, or once every two years, to make sure they're not overgrown in their pots. 

You can check this by a few different signs: 
+ The dirt levels in the pot may start sinking.
+ When you water it runs right out of the holes of the pot immediately (however, this can happen if it's bone dry as well.
+ Roots will start working their way out of the drainage holes.
+ If you pull the plant out, the roots are growing all the way around the inside of the pot, shaping themselves to the inside of the pot. 

Example: One of my potted vines on the patio is actually lowering the dirt levels in the pot. I need to repot it in the spring to give it some fresh dirt, and to raise the levels back up. As the roots grow, they compact the dirt. 

Now that you know these simple tips, keeping your potted plants alive should be a breeze, and even a lot of fun. 

+++ What potted plants do you have? Please share your comments below, or ask me any questions. I'd love to help you achieve success with your potted plants. 

5 Simple Tips to Keep Potted Plants Alive

[Photo Credits: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5]


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17 comments

  1. I have purple violets, a small lemon tree, and a ginseng plant. I've noticed the lemon tree has yellow spots on the leaves and the genseng plant is looking shriveled around the trunk? I love having house plants, but traditionally we've just had a lot of different plant varieties in our yard. Good tips on keeping a plant from being pot bound!

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    1. I envy your citrus tree. I don't have enough light in a room where one of those would fit. Has it produced any fruit?

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  2. These are great tips. I've never managed to keep a potted plant alive. :)
    Maybe I'll try again.

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    1. If you don't want to worry about them dying again, but love the look of plants, IKEA has really nice fake ones that don't look super fake. Plus you can pot them in adorable baskets or metal pots and they look real! I have two on my desk at work in a room with no windows, and people always ask if they're real.

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  3. My grandmother used to have the most beautiful plants I'd ever seen, then suddenly, they all died. Her secret: she was pouring her leftover evening cocktail into her house plants. When she stopped drinking, her plants quickly died on a water-only diet. Always thought that was funny!

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    1. That is hilarious! I wonder what was in her drink that they loved? Maybe it was acting as a fertilizer or something.

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  4. These are all great tips...maybe now I'll actually be able to have an indoor plant that will live!

    xoxo, SS

    The Southern Stylista

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    Replies
    1. If you get one, let me know what you get. i love seeing what people grow in their houses.

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  5. Thank you so much for these tips! I agree with Jordyn- I may now be able to keep my indoor plants alive! *smiles* Thank you again for sharing!!
    Blessings,
    Rebecca :)
    www.caravansonnet.com

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    1. Keep me posted if you do. I love seeing what people are growing.

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  6. What a lovely blog, and helpful post!! I will be tweeting and saving for sure! I recently learned that bathrooms are too much moisture for succulents. I heard it was hard to kill them, but I sure did!

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    1. Oh yeah, mine are in a sunny window and dry out on the regular. They are similar to cactus in care, but cactus can go for way longer. I hardly ever water mine.

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  7. Or just get aloe and air plants, they are super hard to kill haha. I have to put reminders in my planner to water them, that's my biggest issue.

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    1. Oh yeah. I have had an aloe plant for years, and I can't seem to hurt it even when I forget to water forever.

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  8. I've been wanting to keep a small house plant but had no idea how to maintain them so this was completely helpful. I'm going to send this to my mom because she sucks at keeping plants alive.

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  10. Thanks for posting such a good blog having very helpful information.

    ReplyDelete

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