5 Common Houseplant Care Myths Debunked (And What To Do Instead!)

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I, like every millennial who follows The Sill on Instagram, have spent a good chunk of my (very minimal) disposable income on houseplants. When my plant obsession first began, no hardware store, greenhouse, or sad floral section of any grocery store was safe. I stocked up on house plants like I was prepping for some greenery apocalypse.

What I wasn’t so keen on hoarding was the knowledge to take care of these plants. I thought, “They’re plants; they only need water and some light, right?” It was only when my plants turned crispy and eventually died off entirely did I begin reading up on houseplant care. Shortly after my first yellowing leaf, I scoured every online blog I could find to pinpoint the exact reasons my plants were unhappy or what I could do to be a better plant mom. 

But even after educating myself on proper houseplant care, I still could not diagnose why some of my plants were unhealthy. I was beginning to think that perhaps some of the advice I was gathering from blogs and forums was untrue. With trial and error, I was able to better diagnose my common houseplant problems and debunk some houseplant myths. 

“Some Plants Can Survive in Zero Light”

Let’s start off with perhaps the most frustrating piece of advice I see too often: that some plants can survive with zero light. While it’s true that some house plants, such as a snake plant or ZZ plant, fare better than most house plants in low-light conditions, I challenge you to find any plant that has fully thrived in a zero-light environment. If you want a healthy plant that continually and quickly produces new growth, you’re going to need a reliable source of light.

But fear not, apartment-dwellers and row home owners! Another common myth I hear is that no plant can survive on growth lamps alone. Indoor agriculture has proven that plants can find food from artificial light sources. Even if your home gets a sufficient amount of light, you may want to invest in a few affordable growth lamps to speed up the lush factor.

“Misting Plants Increases Humidity!”

You know, for a long time, I believed this myth because misting my plants seemed to keep my houseplants happy by immediately increasing their environmental humidity. But now, I have a few dead ferns on my ledger (I miss you everyday, maidenhair), and no one to blame but whoever keeps spreading this house plant myth.

Humidity is definitely a controllable variable in your home, but that recycled Mrs. Meyers cleaning bottle filled with water (good for you!) is no replacement for a humidifier that can constantly push out moist air. Misting your plants is a very temporary solution to humidity control, so you’re better off purchasing a humidifier (or living in Philadelphia in August. Hoo boy). However, I’ll never tell you to stop misting your plants. Misting can help keep leaves clean and free of dust so they can better receive that precious sunshine.

“You Should Always Keep a Watering Schedule!”

My most recent apartments have been located at the top floor of a sub-divided Victorian home in Philadelphia. To say that my plants are subject to the weather shifts is an understatement. When it’s hot, it’s very hot. When it’s cold, it’s arctic. Central air? Don’t make my landlord laugh.

In theory, a watering schedule could be beneficial in homes where the climate is controlled, but that’s not the case for most of us. House plants get thirsty just like we do when it’s hot, and don’t do well in wet conditions if the air is on the colder side. In my experience, there is no better water gauge than sticking your finger into the soil to see if your green babies need a drink. It’s better to understand your plants’ watering needs in relation to their environment (think light, humidity, and temperature), rather than going off a schedule. Plants don’t keep calendars.

“Succulents are Impossible to Kill!”

Ask 80% of the succulents I’ve ever owned: they’re actually pretty easy to kill. If you’re heavy with the watering can, don’t have a space with just enough direct light, or even look at your succulents the wrong way, they’re going to die.

Sorry - that’s a bit dramatic. But so are succulents. They need the most amount of sunlight out of all houseplants, and the least frequent waterings (I say “frequent” because succulents need a good amount of water, when you actually water them). Oh, and they’ll need the driest air you can get. Succulents are desert-dwellers in their natural home, which is a hard climate to imitate indoors, so don’t be heartbroken when you inevitably kill some.

Luckily, succulents are fairly easy to propagate. With patience, sunshine, a little root hormone, you can hypothetically get unlimited chances to keep a healthy succulent.

“You Can Water Your Plants with Ice!”

The reasoning behind this myth is that the ice will slowly release water over a period of time as it melts. You’ll often see the “Water Me with Ice!” tag on your grocery-store orchid, but you can go ahead and recycle that piece of paper in hopes that it actually serves a valuable purpose someday. I have a theory that the “Water Me with Ice” campaign was launched by the suits at Orchids-R-Us as a way to kill your plants and make you purchase another to replace it. (Puts on tin foil hat).

Most houseplants are tropical or desert-dwelling. If the shock of the ice to the root area isn’t enough to kill your plants, the cold water will be. In no tropical environment is the rain that frigid. Instead, refer to my advice above and be proactive in your plant’s watering needs.

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Although there are plenty more houseplant myths to debunk, it’s more important to understand your specific environment and every individual plant’s needs when applying this knowledge to your own urban jungle. It can be fairly tragic to see a houseplant in distress, but with careful experimentation and observation, you’ll be able to care for your houseplants more effectively.

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