Houseplant Care: 5-Minute Guide for a Brand New Houseplant Owner

I want anyone and everyone, including you, to feel like they can keep a houseplant alive.

Because I genuinely believe that anyone can.

And because I believe that caring for a houseplant can enrich your life and beautify your space.

However, houseplant care is sometimes presented as pretty darn complicated because it can indeed be pretty darn complicated when you delve into all the details.

Today, we are not delving into all the details.

Instead, I want to give some very EASY and QUICK guide posts to help ANYONE begin to find SUCCESS with a houseplant.

Even you. The one who has only ever lost houseplants. Yep. We’ve all been there.

I’ve lost more plants than I can even count, and now I can keep more than I care to count alive (while still losing a few). It is normal not to have a 100% success rate.

So, if you want to try again with a houseplant, this series is for you.

Table of Contents

#1 Avoid Commonly Sold Plants that are NOT Easy to Grow!

Look for a new plant at any store that sells houseplants – the local grocery store is just fine.

Here’s a list of 6 plants to avoid when choosing. Ultimately though, pick something that you like and really speaks to you!

If you aren’t excited about it, look somewhere else. You are much more likely to succeed with a plant you love.

Plants to avoid while choosing:

  • Avoid succulents (the cute colorful rosettes and desert plants) and cacti.
    • While these plants SOMETIMES make good houseplants, they are often difficult and not great for beginners.
    • It’s a myth that they are easy and low light
  • Avoid delicate and thin-leafed plants, like ferns
    • These plants need a lot of time and care and quickly go downhill without it. Not great for beginners.
  • Avoid plants with pinstriped leaves or heavily patterned leaves with striking colors. They will be very eye-catching.
    • These plants are often prayer plants or other tropicals that require more specialized care and are not great for beginners. They are high-maintenance.
  • Avoid flowers
    • Many flowers are sold as temporary gifts, not long-term houseplants. Orchids are good houseplants but have different care needs than most common houseplants.
    • If you want to try a Phalaenopsis orchid as a first houseplant, you can, but they need more specialized care. Read about it in the post linked here.
  • Clearance plants
    • Plants are often placed on the clearance rack because they are no longer in optimum health. This is not a good way to find success with houseplants unless you have experience rehabbing a plant or diagnosing issues and illnesses.
  • Expensive plants
    • Spend an amount you are comfortable with. It is very normal for us to lose plants as we are learning to care for them. Making mistakes is how we learn. Less expensive mistakes are a little easier to recover from.

Most of the other plants you can choose from are fine choices! Take a look around and see what you like.

Here are the beautiful plants that I recommend enjoying from afar, but not bringing home!

#2 Choose a Plant You Love that Looks Healthy!

iStock 1280087824
iStock 1280087824

Choose a plant that makes you happy and looks happy itself. Look for glossy, full leaves; even, rich green; new growth; and bouncy, “happy” movement.

You want the plant to seem perky, full of life, with clean leaves and little discoloration or strong smells.


  • Plants that look a bit dull or lifeless
  • Plants that have more than 1 or 2 leaves with brown or yellow spots on them
  • Plants that have leaves that appear dusty
  • New top growth that looks distorted and/or discolored
  • Plants with swamp-smelling potting mix
  • Plants that are super wilted/droopy
  • Mushy leaves or stems
  • Signs of pest insects: sticky sap on leaves, white fuzzy masses (mealybugs), small strange bumps in groups or individuals (possible scale), dust and/or webbing (spider mites), white or black rice-like flecks (thrips), brown spots with a yellow halo around them (fungal disease)
  • If the plant looks questionable, don’t get it




#3 Where to Put Your New Plant so It Gets Enough Light

Light is the most important aspect of houseplant care and often the reason why beginners struggle.

Through design shows and other misleading information sources, we are led to believe that a plant can be placed many places including dark corners and on the side tables or coffee tables in the middle of our living room.

Sadly, this is almost always not true if we want to see our plants live and grow long term.

The truth is that plants need to be pretty close to a window for them to get enough sunlight to stay healthy, grow, and thrive.

Almost every common plant that is sold can be placed successfully in your home using the following guidelines:

Choose a window that receives some direct sunlight shining through the window during the day.

This window should ideally not be blocked by a huge tree, building, overhang/porch, etcetera – which significantly decreases the amount of light.

If the window receives sunlight shining into your home only in the morning or afternoon, place the plant in front of the window WITHIN 2 feet of the window.

You can hang the plant, place it on a plant stand, on a side table, or however, you want to style it.

If it is a very small window, it must be very close to the window.

If it is a very large window, it can be 2 or 3 feet away. No further.

If you live in a place that stays hot year-round where the sun is more intense, you may be able to pull the plant a little farther away – particularly from a large window.

I’m not as well versed with these conditions because I live in cold, dark Michigan where everything really needs to be right near a window to survive.

Note how my plants are right next to my window and growing happily.

#4 How to Know When Your Plant Needs to be Watered

It is common for people to believe that they should water their plants once a week. This is a myth.

Plants, like us, have weeks of needing more water or less water depending on the heat, their activity level, etcetera.

If you or I run on a hot summer day versus sit on the couch on a cold winter day, our thirst level changes. This is true of our plants too.

To find success, have a routine where you check your plant to see if it needs to be watered.

This routine should be at least once per week, but it can be as frequently as every day if that feels good for you. You decide the routine that works with your life and preferences.

I check the majority of my plants once each week to see if they need to be watered.

I have a high-maintenance section that gets checked every couple of days.

And I have a low-maintenance section that is only checked every couple of weeks.

Here are ways to check your plant to see if it is thirsty:

Most plants you buy comes in a plastic nursery pot, either by itself or inserted in a decorative cover pot. The #1 suggestion assumes your plant is in a plastic nursery pot.

However, if that isn’t the case and your plant is in terracotta or ceramic, use the other ways listed below to determine if your plant needs water.

#1 Use the weight of the plastic nursery pot and the color of the potting mix

Pick up the plastic pot you purchased it in.

The plant is well-watered if the pot feels heavy and the potting mix is still a dark brown.

It is time to water if the pot feels pretty light and the potting mix is light brown.

When the plant is EXTREMELY dry, the potting mix will pull away from the sides of the pot as well.

#2 Use your finger to determine if the potting mix is dry

Stick your finger as deep into the pot as possible; it is time to water if it feels dry.

If the pot has drainage holes, you can also stick your fingers into the drainage holes.

If it is sopping wet where the drainage holes are, don’t water. If it is only a little moist at the drainage holes and dry on the top of the pot, you can water it!

#3 Use a moisture meter

Insert a moisture meter deep into the pot. It is time to water if the meter reads a 2 or 3.

If you would like to buy a moisture meter, here is a link to one available on Amazon.*

*This is linked through the affiliate program, which means I may make a small commission if you purchase using the link at no cost to you. Thank you for your support. Any commission directly supports this blog!

#4 Use a wooden chopstick or dowel

Insert a wooden chopstick or dowel into the side of the pot. If it comes out clean, the potting mix is dry and it is time to water.

If it comes out with moist dirt on it, it still has some moisture in the pot and can wait another day or two for water.

If it comes out with a lot of wet dirt on it, it is still well-watered and does not need to be watered for several days.

#5 Use visual cues from the plant as a last resort

If the plant is wilting or drooping and the top of the soil feels and looks dry, it is time to water.

This is a last resort because, by the time the plant is showing you it is thirsty, it is actually desperate for water.

We would ideally want to give it water BEFORE it was this thirsty. Occasional wilt will not harm most plants, though. Regularly wilting isn’t healthy, however.

Moisture Meter underwatering
Moisture Meter

#5 How to Water Your Plant When It’s Thirsty

How do you water your plant once you know it is time to water it? Do you give it a cup of water? A spritz? A drench? That’s what this section will answer.

Your plant wants to be watered thoroughly until its potting mix is completely saturated and drenched. Until the water runs out of the drainage holes and the pot feels much heavier than before.

I usually run water through the potting mix, out of the drainage holes, several times before considering the plant well watered.

I will pick up the plant and ensure the pot feels heavier before considering it watered.

Sometimes it takes several drenches to get it to feel heavier if I’ve let it go super dry. The potting mix can have difficulty rehydrating when super duper dry.

The easiest place to do this is in the sink. Or if the plant is large, drenching it in a tub works well too.

This is not always possible if you have a very large plant collection (as I do), but it is best practice.

Most of the plants we discuss here are from tropical areas where rain is frequent, and the plants aren’t used to drying out for long periods of time or having just tiny drinks of water.

So, we want to ensure that we give our tropical plants the nice big drinks of water they need and love.

Water plant until water runs through drainage holes
Water plant until water runs through drainage holes

Do you have questions? Feel free to reach out to me! I am happy to help.

Final Notes and Comments

Some of you may have noticed that I did not discuss several issues:

  • How to fertilize
  • How to repot
  • Other Potting mix options
  • Pest management
  • Etcetera

This was a deliberate choice. People can keep houseplants alive for long periods without repotting or fertilizing them.

I’m not saying you will see the optimal amount of growth and health for decades, but you can absolutely have a rewarding and wonderful experience for a long time without having to do anything fancy.

And that is the goal here. To have a rewarding experience with a houseplant without overcomplicating it initially.

I will follow up this post with a 5-minute guide for repotting, fertilizing, and more. But know, if all you do is water your plant and give it enough light for some time, that is plenty.

Want to find success with houseplants? Here’s what you need to do: Embrace failure.

The 4 Non-Negotiables Every Plant Needs to Thrive in Your Home

Houseplant Care: What is Bright Indirect Light?


  1. Julianne Ryan

    I think that you have done a wonderful job for new indoor plant growers.

    • Colleen

      Thank you so much!! I really hope it gives some people the confidence to try a plant (or 3). 🙂


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