Whether you got it as a gift, bought it on a whim, or have been pining after it on Instagram for months, you’re now the proud parent of your very first plant. But if you’ve never had much of a green thumb, the idea of keeping a plant alive can be daunting. Fear not — no matter what kind of plant you’re caring for, there are five simple steps you can take to ensure it thrives.
First things first, you need to decide where your new plant baby will live. All plants have light preferences and some are pickier than others. For example, pale plants need more light than green ones, but it should be indirect light to avoid sunburn. Other plants, like sansevieria and ZZ plants, can adapt to low light. Read up on the kind of light your plant loves, and let that dictate where you place it in your home.
One of the most common mistakes new plant parents make is watering their plant too much or too little. Some of us love to dote and water regularly, while others forget they own a plant at all. Read up on your plant’s watering needs, how it stores water, and how its watering needs change with the seasons.
Using a pot with drainage holes and a saucer underneath ensures the soil will drain and prevent root rot. You can also fill up the saucer with water and allow the soil to soak it up from there, or place your plant in the sink for a thorough watering and convenient place to drain.
And one pro tip: stick your finger two inches into the soil. If the dirt feels totally dry, your plant could use a sip.
Fertilizing your plant regularly is just as important to its health as watering — imagine always being offered a glass of water but never a real meal. This is especially important for indoor plants, which absorb all the nutrients in their container over time. You can purchase liquid fertilizer at most garden stores or online, or opt for an organic fertilizer, like worm castings. Check out our Plant Guide to find out how often to fertilize your leafy little friend.
It’s going to feel wrong to cut back your plant when you’ve spent all this time helping it grow but have faith — pruning your plants actually encourages healthy, bushier growth. Start by pruning off dead leaves and stems to so they don’t attract pests. Always use sharp garden shears to prevent crushing or tearing your stems, and try to prune no more than one quarter of the plant’s foliage at one time.
Not only does pruning your plant help it flourish, but you can propagate your cuttings into brand new plants to fill your own home or give to fellow plant lovers.
This is the hardest skill for a new plant parent to learn. Once you’ve met all of your plant’s needs, drop the shears and watering can and back away slowly. Overwatering can lead to your plant’s roots sitting in water, causing root rot, which can be deadly. Fertilizing or pruning too often can lead to shock, so be sure to stick to a schedule on these maintenance steps. If you can help your plant as needed and let nature do the rest, you should have a lush, healthy plant for years to come.