Learning how to keep plants alive is in many ways like learning to take care of our own bodies, explains plant enthusiast Christopher Griffin, a.k.a. The Plant Kween. “The same love, care, and attention that I put into my plants, I want to make sure that I’m putting that into my own body.”

On that note, the art of how to keep indoor plants alive is a loving, learning process. If a house plant dies, it doesn’t mean you failed, simply that you need to learn from the experience. You may need to try a different plant in a different season: learning how to keep plants alive in winter may be easier than summer, for example, because they need less water in cooler months. 

For anyone with a not-quite-yet-green thumb, here are expert tips for how to keep house plants alive and the best varieties for newbie indoor gardeners to choose.

7 Tips for Keeping Your Plants Alive

1. Choose the Right Plant for You

Do your research before you choose a plant for your home.
Do your research before you choose a plant for your home.

When learning how to keep your plants alive, start by matching your plants’ needs to your behavior and space. First, assess your home (The Plant Kween calls this “your micro-environment”). Sit and watch the sunlight in your house and determine which way your windows face. (South-facing windows get bright ambient light but little direct sunlight.) Measure the average temperature and humidity of your home with a hydrometer (available cheaply online).

At the nursery, see which plants catch your eye, and research what each needs in terms of light, water, and attention. Then, choose something that suits your lifestyle and micro-environment. If you’re unsure, nursery employees are wonderful sources of information! 

2. Re-pot Your Plant

Re-pot your plant to give it room to grow.
Re-pot your plant to give it room to grow.

“Don’t plant an oak tree in a styrofoam cup,” says permaculture gardener and Skillshare instructor ERay G. Meaning: Choose a pot that’s the right size for your plant. Nursery pots are typically small and crowded; you’ll want a pot that’s at least two inches larger, so your plant’s roots have room to spread out. 

The Plant Kween recommends terracotta pots, which are inexpensive. They’re also forgiving of overwatering because they have a drainage hole in the bottom. 

3. Keep Roots Out of the Water

Create drainage so water runs through the pot.
Create drainage so water runs through the pot.

Before potting your plant, place small rocks at the bottom of the pot so the roots don’t sit in water, which causes root rot. This is crucial if your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole. When learning how to keep air plants alive, remember that they need to dry off completely after being spritzed or dunked.

4. Try Different Conditions

Figure out how much water your plant needs to thrive.
Figure out how much water your plant needs to thrive.

When you get your plant home, don’t move it for a bit. Plants need to be left alone to get used to their location. That said, if it’s not thriving within a couple of weeks, you may need to try some different settings. Bright, ambient light is generally great for plants, but see what yours likes. Plants survive better with less water (versus too much), so test the soil before you water by sticking a finger two inches down and seeing if it’s damp. If it is, don’t water the plant yet!

5. Repot the Plant in Fresh Soil

Use a chopstick to aerate the soil.
Use a chopstick to aerate the soil.

If your plant doesn’t seem to be doing well, move it into a new pot with fresh soil. Make sure the soil is aerated by poking holes with a chopstick, which mimics the tunnels earthworms make. 

6. Check Regularly for Issues

Regularly check your plants to make sure they’re thriving.
Regularly check your plants to make sure they’re thriving.

“Plants will usually let you know when something is wrong; you just have to know what their symptoms are,” explains botanist and Skillshare instructor Chris Satch. So, regularly check your plants for pests, sunburn, and fungi, and take care of any issues immediately. Lastly, make sure the leaves are free of dust and debris, which can create a barrier to sunlight. 

7. Make a Schedule—and Make it Fun!

Write down your plant-care schedule on your calendar.
Write down your plant-care schedule on your calendar.

Keep your plant care consistent, and don’t rely on your memory to know when to water or fertilize. (Fertilizing can be done with a water-soluble solution or boiled, crushed eggshells.) Write your plant-care to-dos down, or keep a schedule in your phone’s calendar. This will help you manage how to keep plants alive while on vacation!

Most importantly, make it fun! Put on music, dress up, or phone a friend while you water and fertilize your plants. 

4 Easiest Plants to Keep Alive

1. Snake Plant

The Plant Kween shows off a hardy snake plant.
The Plant Kween shows off a hardy snake plant.

Snake plants are hardy—they’re desert plants accustomed to dry habitats, so you don’t need to water them often. They also thrive in both bright and low light (although too much direct sunlight will burn their leaves, and they won’t grow in a very dark room). 

2. ZZ Plant

The ZZ plant is low-maintenance.
The ZZ plant is low-maintenance.

ZZ plants are resilient and easy to care for. The rhizomes (or underground stems) in its roots store water, so you only need to water it every 10 days in the summer. Or, if you’re learning how to keep outdoor plants alive during winter, every three weeks. This gem is simple and beautiful!

3. Pathos

Pathos is easy and rewarding.
Pathos is easy and rewarding.

Pathos rewards its caregivers with rapid growth! Since it doesn’t mind low light, it’s often found in offices and stores. It’s easy to propagate, too: Just cut off a vine and root it in soil or water, then re-pot it. Voila—new plant! If you’re on a budget, start with one Pathos and grow new ones from there.

4. Agave 

Agave: a beautiful, easy house plant.
Agave: a beautiful, easy house plant.

Agave is a succulent and one of Chris Satch’s top recommendations. It comes from an arid desert environment, so it loves low water and high light. Simple and pleasing!

Can’t Keep a Plant Alive? Common Reasons Why Plants Die

The Plant Kween shows propagated cuttings from plants that suffered from root rot.
The Plant Kween shows propagated cuttings from plants that suffered from root rot.

1. Too Much Light and Too Little Water

Too much sun and not enough water can burn a plant’s leaves (they won’t absorb nutrients, so they’ll die). Move this plant away from the light source and water it more frequently.

2. Too Little Light and Too Much Water

On the flip side, a plant will stop growing with not enough light and too much water. If this is the case, move it towards a light source and make sure the soil is dry before watering.

3. Root Rot

Root rot from over-watering is a common problem with house plants. Dead roots won’t feed the plant, and the leaves will fall off. If this happens, take a cutting and propagate it to give your plant a second chance at life.

Keep Your House Plants Thriving!

Plants at Home: Uplift Your Spirit and Your Space.