Good news for those who have trouble growing houseplants: The problem could lie in where you put the plants rather than in your having a black thumb. As with their hardier cousins, houseplant care has mostly to do with light, temperature and humidity, so it’s important to pay attention to a plant’s needs when you bring it home.

Light

Light is the most limiting factor in successfully growing indoor plants. While all plants need light to manufacture food, the amount needed varies from one plant to another and it’s necessary to check a plant’s needs when placing it.

  • Most houseplants thrive in moderate to bright, indirect light.
  • Flowering plants and those with colored leaves usually need higher light levels than plants with green leaves, and a select group of plants will tolerate very low light levels.
  • Plants show signs of stress when light levels are too low or too high.
  • Weak, spindly growth indicates insufficient light; variegated foliage will lose all or part of its markings.
  • Signs of too much light include bleached or wilting leaves on plants like schefflera, philodendron, fern and peperomia.
  • Quick foliage drop, most dramatic on figs (Ficus species), can result from a sudden move from bright light to low.
  • Even when you find what seems to be the ideal spot for your plants, it might be necessary to relocate them as the seasons and light levels change. Plants that thrive in the direct sun of a south or west window in winter might sunburn if left in the same spot in late spring or summer as light intensifies. In this case, move plants farther from the glass or filter light with a sheer curtain.

Humidity

Most houseplants originate in tropical or semitropical regions where the air is moist. Many of these plants can adapt to the drier air in our homes, but do better when humidity is increased, especially during winter when most homes are heated. With insufficient humidity, leaves turn dull and papery or their tips may turn brown.

Ways to increase houseplant humidity:

  • Position­­­ plants in the kitchen or bathroom, where humidity is higher.
  • Put a humidifier in the room where most of your plants are located.
  • Group plants to restrict air flow and retain moisture longer.
  • Place plants on a shallow waterproof tray of pebbles partially covered with water. The pebbles provide lots of extra surface area for evaporation, but don’t let the plants sit in the water, or roots could rot.
  • Misting plants is not an effective means of raising the humidity level; the water evaporates too quickly to benefit plants.

Temperature

Houseplants are so named because they need the same conditions we do to survive. Most like daytime temperatures ranging from 65-75 degrees F, and nights about 10 degrees cooler.

However, your home contains a number of different microclimates. Be aware of cold or hot spots. On cold winter nights, temperatures on a windowsill could be considerably lower than elsewhere in the room. Tender plants can succumb to these conditions unless you protect them. Keep foliage from touching windows and provide protection with a heavy curtain or a piece of cardboard between the glass and plants when temperatures threaten.

Few plants tolerate cold drafts or hot air blowing on them. Keep them clear of wood stoves, exterior doors and heating ducts – and position them where you’ll receive optimum enjoyment of them!