Greener Thumb: Tips for Fertilizing Your Houseplants

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

I’ve only recently rid myself of my life-long black thumb, but I now have over seven happy plants that I’ve kept alive for a few years! Finding the right watering method for my plants and my lifestyle was a huge win. But something I’m still quite unsure about is fertilizing. How and how often should I fertilize my houseplants?

Below is advice on fertilizing plants from a few past house tour participants with notably green thumbs and green homes. They might not be “pros,” but their homes prove they’re doing something right in the plant arena.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Why you should fertilize

“Fertilization is important because your plant is often in a closed environment with no nutrient exchange, and as it grows, it’s going to need respective nutrients to continue to be healthy, or in some cases, to flower.”

Summer Rayne Oakes‘s friends say her plant-packed apartment looks “like a forest!”

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

Strike the right fertilizer balance

“Feeding/fertilizing houseplants is definitely necessary for a happy healthy plant. House plants can quickly deplete the nutrients in their soil. Unlike outdoor plants, house plants don’t have regular natural sources of nutrients, so fertilizing is a must! For us Chicagoans, it isn’t necessary to fertilize during winter because plants are dormant or aren’t growing much. But the rest of the year my plants love Jack’s Classic Houseplant Special 15-30-15. I see great growth when I feed my plants consistently. This product is great with keeping the nutrition levels constant and helps prevent nutrient stress from under or over feeding.”

Mel Holmes grew up with a mother who is a Master Gardner, and her Chicago loft is filled with great plants.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Different plants = different nutritional needs, so ask for advice

“I am still a newbie when it comes to fertilizing. I’ve mainly just stuck to general guidelines posted on plant blogs, plant guides, etc. But for sure it’s necessary! When you consider the resources a plant would have in the wild — the food and nutrients and chemicals it’d have at its disposal — and compare that with the same soil that it has in a pot, day in and day out, it’s obvious you’ll often need to take the lead in supplementing some of those requirements.

I look at this Monstera Adansonii vine I have and am like “How did it get to be over eight feet long?” There’s not that much mass in this pot!” It’s amazing — but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been possible without regular feeding, repotting, etc. But the nuances of it? No idea. I just follow directions on general plant foods, and ask at the nursery for any plant specific advice if I notice it’s struggling. I’m working on it!”

Jory’s San Francisco studio is filled with lots of happy plants (which you can see more of on his Instagram.)

(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

Or honestly, keep it simple and start here:

“I normally use Miracle Grow All Purpose, every six months or sometimes more.”

Erick Millan‘s Burbank home has a showstopping plant wall and lots of greenery sprinkled around.