How to care for houseplants? Wouldn’t it be great if they took care of themselves? Some almost do, but most require some kind of love. Caring for a houseplant can be confusing and challenging (but oh, so rewarding), so let’s tackle a few subjects. First up: Lighting.

Light Requirements For Your Plants

For you cave-dwellers, here are 7 Low-Light Houseplants and their needs.

For more information on light: LIght Requirements for Plants: Explained!

Now for the basics of light required for your houseplant, this handy chart.

Watering Requirements For Your Plants


  • Throw the “how many times a week” thinking out the door. Learn to read your plant (see below) rather than relying on a rigid schedule. Once a week is safe for most plants but not for all.

  • Large-potted plants take more time to dry out between waterings. Smaller-potted plants are quicker to dry.

  • Plants in bright light dry out more quickly than plants in low light.

  • The season will affect your schedule—less in the winter, more in the summer.


There are two main categories of plants:

Tropicals that need regular watering and succulents and cacti that need infrequent watering. Let’s explore. (For the difference between succulents and cacti, read here. )


Below are common descriptions for watering tropicals: Interpreted!

Moist but not soggy” – Many ferns have this instruction. What does it mean? It means to keep an eye on your fern. As soon as you notice the soil becoming dry, give it a bit of water. The sogginess comes from giving it too much water or having a pot with no drainage.

Allow the surface to become dry to the touch- This standard description is seen for Alocasia, Pothos, Peperomias, some Philodendron, and palms. Stick your finger into the soil. The soil should feel dry to the first knuckle.

Allow soil to be mostly dry between watering Chinese Evergreen, some Philodendron, Hoya, Lipstick plant, all have this description. These plants prefer 50-60% of their soil to dry out between waterings. Use your finger or a chopstick (or some equivalent) to test the wetness of the soil.

Allow soil to become dry “blank” inches down -More complicated and larger plants—ex: Ficus—are specific for how dry the soil should be at what depth. Use a ruler or your finger.


Succulents – prefer to dry completely between waterings but don’t want to stay dry for long. Once your plant is fully dry, give it a good thorough watering and then repeat.

Cacti – During the growing season (spring-fall), cacti require more water. If located in bright, direct light, water when completely dry. If the cacti are in less light, reduce the frequency of watering. During the winter, allow the soil to sit completely dry for a longer time. Larger cacti will need even less water.

Fertilizing Your Houseplants

Actively growing – Fertilize only when houseplants are actively growing: spring-fall. Feeding when dormant can burn their foliage or possibly kill them.

Low-strength fertilizer – Use a low-strength fertilizer like Espoma Indoor Organic Houseplant Food 2-2-2. Applying too much fertilizer too frequently can burn plants and reduce the root’s ability to uptake nutrients. Using the consistent, low-strength fertilizer allows for better control of what plants are receiving and works if you have plants with differing needs.

Read the product’s instructions – There are tons of houseplant fertilizer brands, and they all have different strengths. Read the fine print.

Repotting Your Houseplants

Soil mixes: For succulents and cacti, use Black Gold Succulent Mix. For tropicals, use Black Gold All-Purpose mix or Fafard All-Purpose mix. (Yes, we carry all three).

Rule of thumb: When repotting, the goal is 50% roots, 50% soil. Repot in spring through summer.

A standard error: Moving plants up to a much larger pot than they’re ready for. If you have 80% soil and 20% roots, the root to soil proportion is wrong, and the soil becomes soggy (there are no roots to take up the water), and the plant suffers or dies.

Know your plants before repotting. Some plants prefer to be rootbound before repotting. Fiscus and Scheffleras are an example. Being rootbound minimizes the shock when transplanted.

If you have questions, ask in the comments section below and we’ll answer you. Getting started is the first step to enjoying a home filled with houseplants.

Written by Cinthia Milner, Landscape Consultant, and blog writer.

B. B. Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.