There’s all sorts of misinformation floating around out there about houseplants. It’s difficult for someone just starting out to sort out the truth from all the myths. These are ten of the most common houseplant myths that I hear and read, and the truth behind them.
Plants are high-maintenance
Worried that you’ll spend hours every day watering your plants, trimming them, repotting, and managing pests? The truth is, most houseplants prefer to be slightly neglected. Yes, there are some that need a little more specific conditions and a little more detailed care, but if you choose the right plants, you shouldn’t need more than five minutes once a week to give them a little drink and keep enjoying your healthy, beautiful greenery.
I’ll definitely kill them
Okay, so you’ve killed every houseplant you’ve tried to keep alive before? You’ve got zero “green thumb” or whatever plant magic some people seem to have? Trust me, it’s not true. Anyone can keep a houseplant alive, no matter how much of a brown thumb you think you have.
The most important thing is to set yourself up for success by choosing the right plant. Pick one that’s well-suited to your home, and that’s easy to care for. From there, learn a few basic care tips and make sure your plant is somewhere that you can enjoy looking at it and notice if it looks unhappy, and keeping a houseplant not just alive but thriving is easy for anyone.
They need a ton of light
This is true for some plants, but definitely not all. In fact, there are a lot of houseplants that thrive in low-light conditions. And (in my opinion anyway) they are some of the most gorgeous houseplants you can get. So, if you live in an apartment that doesn’t get a ton of direct sunlight, or want to fill up a dark corner of your bedroom with some greenery, don’t despair – there are plenty of options that will work in low-light conditions.
They purify the air
I mean, plants don’t hurt the air in your apartment. And it’s possible that they have a minuscule effect on air quality if you have enough of them. But there’s absolutely zero scientific evidence that house plants absorb any significant amount of toxins in a typical household environment.
That NASA study that people like to cite when they talk about this myth? Well, the study did find that houseplants removed certain chemicals from a very small, enclosed space, when set up with a highly specialized activated carbon filter and fan to funnel air through the plants’ root systems. Other studies have also looked at plants in small, sealed containers pumped full of a way higher concentration of toxins than you’d ever find in your apartment (hopefully).
Houseplants have so many benefits. But, unless you’re building custom activated charcoal root filters on your houseplants, or living in a hermetically sealed environment that’s mostly filled with houseplants, there’s really no reason to think you’re getting any air purification benefits.
You need to mist your plants
To mist or not to mist is an age-old debate in the gardening world. A lot of people believe that misting your plants once a day is good (or even essential) for plants that prefer a humid environment. Others say it’s pointless. Overall, though, it’s doubtful that a light spray of water once a day is going to have too much effect on the overall humidity of your plants’ environment.
I try to remember to mist my pathos and vanilla orchid (both plants with aerial roots), but haven’t ever observed it making much difference.
If you want to keep a lot of tropical plants but live in a very dry environment, a humidifier is a better bet for keeping your plants happy.
Ultimately, a periodic misting isn’t going to hurt most plants, and it will help keep the leaves clean. So if you enjoy checking in on your plants and giving them a little spritz daily, go for it, but don’t get discouraged if that just seems like too much effort.
Using a pebble tray will increase humidity around your plant
There is a common idea that if you set your houseplant on top of a tray of pebbles with water in it, the water will slowly evaporate and create a sort of cone of humidity around the plant.
Like misting your plants, there’s no evidence that this makes any difference whatsoever. Any increase in humidity seems to extend barely a few centimeters above the tray before dissipating into the air.
So, like misting, it doesn’t hurt, but doesn’t really create any meaningful increase in humidity around your plant. If you like the way it looks, go for it, but consider investing in a humidifier if your plant is really suffering from dry air.
If your plant’s leaves turn yellow, it needs more water
Yellowing leaves can mean a lot of things. The only thing that you can really diagnose for certain is that your plant is in some sort of distress. Under-watering could be the culprit, but it’s just as likely that over-watering and root rot is making your plant unhappy. Yellowing leaves can also be due to pests and diseases.
Before your start ramping up your watering schedule, check the soil moisture levels with your finger to make sure that it’s drying out at least partially between waterings. Notice if the yellowing leaves feel crispy and dry (under-watering) or damp and rotting (over-watering or too much standing water in the pot).
You need to water your plants once a week
Seems easy enough, right? Set a timer for Sunday night, and make the rounds with a watering can. But what if you forget? What if you’re out of town for a few days? Are your houseplants doomed? Not at all, and in fact, routinely watering on a regular schedule can doom your houseplants way quicker.
Better advice would be to check your plants on a regular schedule. Poke your finger at least an inch into the soil. If it’s dry all the way down, your plant is ready for a drink. If there’s still some moisture there, you should hold off until it dries out at least partially.
Different plants prefer different moisture levels, but in general, most houseplants tolerate a few missed waterings without any problem. And I have killed way, way more houseplants by over-watering than under-watering.
You need to repot your plants every year
Just like the last point about watering on a set schedule, you don’t need to plan on repotting your plants on a set schedule every spring. Some fast-growing plants will need to be re-potted every year, but most will be fine with every two or three years. There’s no hard-and-fast advice here, though. You’ll typically notice when your houseplant needs repotted. If it’s sprouting tons of roots out of the bottom drainage holes, or has grown so large that it’s unbalanced and tipping over its pot, or you pull it out of the pot and find the roots wrapped around in a tight ball, then it’s time to get a bigger pot.
But repotting a houseplant into a larger container when it doesn’t need it is not only unnecessary, it can kill the plant. When there is way more soil volume in the pot than roots, the roots can’t absorb all of the water. That excess moisture sits there and leads to root rot. So, pay attention to your plants, and repot them when they need it, not because you think you’re supposed to.
People online know what they’re talking about
Is it slightly self-defeating that I’m writing this? Yeah, probably. But it’s 100% true that there is a ton of inaccurate information floating around on the web (I know, shocking). Some people know what they’re talking about. Others are just rehashing what they read on another blog, which was rehashed from another blog, which was misinterpreted from something someone at a garden store told someone once. You know how it goes.
I’ve seen videos of “expert homesteaders” misidentifying common plants. I’ve seen reputable garden sites propagating the myth of houseplants purifying your apartment air.
While I do my best to base what I write on personal experience and observation, I’m just as susceptible as anyone to misinformation. So as you’re trying to learn about plants, make sure you do your research, look for people who write from personal experience and observation, and take everything with a grain of salt.