1. Read up on your plant.
Plant needs vary widely. You can’t treat a fern the same way you could a cactus, so if you acquire a plant of a type you’ve never grown before, find out what type it is, and look up what it needs to thrive. It may have come with a little tag telling you about its needs, but that’s just the Cliffs Notes version. There is a lot of advice online about how to care for nearly any type of houseplant. If you buy it in a small plant shop, ask the people who work there for advice on care for a particular plant. They’ll probably be happy to tell you all about it.
The only difficulty you might have with this is that sometimes, especially at big box stores, the plants aren’t labeled with their names, or they even have the wrong name. If you end up with a mystery plant, you can try browsing lists of common houseplants or you can try an identification guide, though you will likely have to look up some botanical terms.
If you don’t have a particular plant yet, but are thinking of getting one, read about its care before buying the plant. It may be beautiful, but extremely demanding in ways that you are unable to provide for it. Some plants absolutely must have regular watering and bright light to survive and may not be right for your basement apartment and globetrotting lifestyle, but you may decide you can settle for a low-maintenance lookalike that tolerates a bit of neglect.
2. Location, location, location.
You need to meet a plant’s light, humidity, temperature, and water needs, and by putting it in the right place, you can make it more likely you’ll be able to give it the right care. The light in a particular location is key for the survival of your plant, but some plants are a lot more flexible than others. Some will just die in the wrong light, while others, like the snake plant or zz plant will just grow more slowly. This is why doing your research is key!
Through trial and error, I’ve learned that I need to put plants with demanding water needs near a sink, otherwise I’ll neglect them because they’re too inconvenient to water. Although you may love the look of having a tropical plant in your room, your room may not have enough light and your plant will suffer.
Another mistake I’ve made is putting a plant that needs lots of water in an out-of-the-way spot where I don’t see it often, or out of reach. Out of sight, out of mind. Or in the case of a difficult-to-reach plant, perhaps having a high maintenance plant in this type of spot is a bad idea.
3. Don’t ignore early signs of problems.
The lesson I’ve learned is that being vigilant and observant is important for the health of your plants! The longer you let a bug or disease problem go, the harder it will be to treat, and the more plants it will affect. But it can be difficult to recognize the problem, so pay attention, and immediately google any out-of-the-ordinary symptoms.
If you notice your plant leaves are falling off too much or that you are starting to see the leaves turn colour, hit up google immediately! You will quickly learn what your plant looks like when it's being overwatered and what it looks like when it is being underwatered. If you can't figure this out, there are hundreds of articles online about what you need to do with your plant with photo examples of what your plant would look like in either of those cases.
The longer you leave a problem, the more your plant suffers!
4. Don’t ignore drainage needs.
You’re going to need to know whether or not your plant requires a planter with drainage. Even some of the easiest plants to take care of can quickly die if you pot it in a planter with no drainage. For most houseplants, if the soil and roots are kept constantly soggy either by overwatering, lack of drainage, or both, the roots will rot away, and the plant will die. You can save a plant that has root rot by cutting away the rot and re-planting in a pot with sufficient drainage, but let's try to avoid getting to that place before we pot it.
Many plants need planters to have holes in the bottom, and plants need to be in the right soil. That means sandy, fast-draining soil for plants that are particularly sensitive to moisture, like succulents and cacti. If the pot you’re dying to use doesn’t have holes in the bottom, put the plant in an inner pot with holes, then put this in the outer cachepot. Just make sure to dump the excess water out of the cachepot after it drains through the plant.
5. Find a routine, and stick to it, but adjust as necessary.
Once you figure out what works for each plant watering-wise, make yourself a watering schedule. This can be in your head, written down, or in your electronic calendar, whatever works for you. Some people can just sense when their plants need water, but still will press the soil with their fingers to see if it is dry below the surface. Regardless, you need to be aware of what that schedule looks like, so start with a reminder in your calendar or a post it note in your office.
Your watering routine should be adjusted when it’s hot in the summer, and during the cold winter months. Most plant guides advise watering less in the winter, but with forced-air heating, your house (and plants) may actually get really dry in the wintertime, so you may have to water more like it’s summer. Monitor your plants, and water more or less depending on the temperature and humidity, and how they seem to be responding to the care. Another trick is to purchase a moisture meter, which will let you know when your plant is dry and in need of water.