10 Experts Reveal Their Favorite Plant Tricks, Tips, and Products They Swear By

updated Apr 12, 2021
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Apartment Therapy house tours have featured a number of plant professionals, like plant influencers, parents to 100+ plants, and plant shop owners. All these pros have been graciously sharing some of their secrets to keeping houseplants happy, from a simple task you can do every day for healthy plants, to the biggest reasons why your houseplants are dying, to even the unhelpful plant products or habits you should get rid of. Below, they share the plant products, tricks, tips they DO recommend to those interested in keeping their plants healthy and their homes beautiful.

1. This pot material is one of the best for your houseplants.

Asia Babbington, who offers interior design and plant incorporating services through her business Salvaged Sanctuary, LLC (and let Apartment Therapy tour her mural-filled Chicago rental), thinks that terra cotta is the most affordable and the best type of pot material for just about every plant. “The material allows water to soak and release — helping to keep your soil from remaining too damp for plants that are more happy with the dryness,” she explains. But using terra cotta doesn’t mean you have to stick with pots that all look the same. “You can also make your terra cotta more you by taking a paintbrush or paint pen to them — get a little crafty,” she says.

2. “Shop” your neighborhood’s streets.

Rachana Pathak, who lives in a Brooklyn apartment with over 300 plants, says one of her favorite “hacks” is simply looking out for street finds in her neighborhood. “People discard perfectly usable things all the time. I’ve found vintage terra cotta pots, plant stands, ceramics, and more. It’s the best way to recycle. I propagate a lot and it’s always nicer when I give a friend a plant in a recycled pot.”

Credit: Claudia Salazar

3. Choose the right soil.

Gabriel and Victor, who take care of plants in their Buenos Aires home and at Planta, their plant and housewares shop,  explain that one of the first things to remember is to plant your new plant baby into the substrate/soil that it requires. “This way we strengthen their roots and avoid pests and diseases,” they explain. And when it comes to strengthening your plants, don’t necessarily go straight to fertilizers you buy. “Instead, try some homemade recipes like banana-peel tea, which can be effective and have no side effects.”

4. Love maximalism? Still aim for a cohesive aesthetic.

Cyril Sontillano‘s Monterey apartment is bursting with fresh green plants, but though his style is certainly maximalist, he works at making sure his home’s aesthetic feels cohesive. “As someone who loves maximalism and just loves to collect plants, I still see to it that they have a cohesive theme, which makes them aesthetic and beautiful. Finding a cohesive factor, be it the color or theme of your pots, the way you arrange your plants, etc. makes them less bulky looking and more pleasant to the eyes,” explains Cyril. How does he achieve a cohesive look without breaking the bank? “You can get cute planters in bargain stores and you can always get creative and buy a can of spray paint to match your planters with your aesthetics. Do you already have pots that don’t have drainage? Invest in a drill and drill holes in them or use them as cache pots and hide the nursery pots inside.”

5. Dust your plants.

Sophia Kaplan and Lauren Camilleri are business partners at Sydney-based indoor plant and pot delivery service Leaf Supply, and Lauren says you should be making sure to dust your plants, just as you regularly dust the non-living things in your home. “Just like our furniture, our plants collect dust, and to ensure it doesn’t inhibit their ability to photosynthesize it’s important to keep foliage clean,” explains Lauren. “A soft hairbrush has been a serious game changer keeping my lush foliage dust free with minimal effort. Opt for a long thin brush made of goat’s hair.” 

6. Consider Plantstraws for when you’re out of town.

Sophia Kaplan‘s Australian home is stunning, and she has a product recommendation for those struggling to keep up with watering schedules. “Thoughtfully designed by Elin Fyhr in Sweden, Plantstraws, are used for self-watering houseplants when you’re on holiday or a little too busy. I love how beautiful and useful they are.”

7. Try mixing your own soil.

Alessia Resta, also known as the Apartment Botanist, lives in a 750-square-foot NYC rental apartment with over 175 plants, and she encourages folks to try mixing their own soil. “I was nervous about whipping up my own mix, but my plants have been so much better for it ever since I started. A simple combination is a great place to start. Creating your own soil mix is also great to do as an alternative to provide aeration to your plants. (A much safer way than stabbing your soil with a stick!) A common and easy mix is:

8. Water your BIG indoor plants with the ‘bucket method’

Marita McCausland, owner of interiors and indoor plant store Into the Wild (and whose Australian home is full of gorgeous plants) has a great tip for how to water BIG indoor plants. “So many people want really big plants inside (like eight feet tall+) but aren’t sure how to water them. They still need a big drench to make sure the root system is soaked all the way through and to keep the plant healthy. The method below applies best to your big tropical plants like palms, fiddles, and rubber plants.” And best of all: “You don’t have to lug your plants outside to water them this way!”

  1. Leave in the plastic grower’s pot and don’t pot the plant directly into the ceramic pot if you don’t have to. This will ensure you can still lift the plant to water it. Once potted they are almost impossible to lift.
  2. Buy one or two of those huge rubber buckets from your hardware store; this will become your best friend when it comes to watering your big plants.
  3. Place the bucket next to your indoor plant and transfer the plant (in its plastic grower’s pot) into the bucket. Pour a really big watering can of tepid water over the topsoil so it fills up the bucket and then leave your plant to sit for a few hours or overnight to ensure the moisture gets to the root ball in the center of the soil. This is where the heaviest part of the root system is generally.
  4. Then, drain off the water and pop the plant back into the decorative pot, allowing the plant to dry out again. Repeat approximately every two to three weeks in spring and summer and monthly in winter or when soil is dry.
  5. That’s it! I know it sounds simple but people are often afraid to soak their plants thinking they are overwatering. The thing I always like to remind people of is that overwatering only applies to frequency and not the amount we give our plants at one time. (Watering your plants every day for a month would be overwatering.)
Credit: Darcie

9. Isolate your plants before finding the perfect spot.

Darcie Young Tashey, who’s a plant parent to over 100+ plants in her Chicago home, admits that while plants are fun to own, there can be a not-so-glamorous element to them: pests. “No matter how careful you are, and if you have multiple plants, you are going to end up with a type of gnat, aphid, mite, or other plant pest at some point,” she explains.

Credit: Darcie

Her advice for pest control: “After you bring a new plant home, and before you squeeze it in that perfect spot you had in mind, isolate it from the rest of your plant squad for two to three weeks minimum. There are some pests that spread by contact with other plants (ugh, SCALE!), some that fly around and live in the soil of every plant and love to fly in your face (fungus gnats, you know who you are and we hate you), and all of them SUCK. So try to practice self-control and keep a plant isolated for a few weeks and monitor it for any pests. Regularly inspect the leaves and stems for anything that looks abnormal, and investigate around any brown spots for the cause of that spot. (are bugs eating the life out of your plant, or is it just a dry spot?).

If you see any signs of pests, check back with the plant shop you bought it from for how to treat the issue. I find that a paper towel with some 70% isopropyl alcohol works well for wiping visible bugs off of leaves, and treating with diluted neem oil works for treating most pest issues (be sure to carefully read and follow instructions for neem oil before using).

*These responses were edited for length and clarity.

Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said “Repeat approximately every two to three MONTHS in spring and summer and monthly in winter or when soil is dry.” It’s actually “Repeat approximately every two to three WEEKS in spring and summer and monthly in winter or when soil is dry.” We’ve updated it to be more accurate.