12 Indoor Gardening Mistakes You’ll Wish You Knew Sooner

If you’re testing out your green thumb with some indoor plants, there are some tricks of the gardening trade you’ll want to know ASAP.

Indoor Gardening 101

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Black woman holding a baby while she is watering plants indoors.

Maybe you moved some of your outdoor plants inside for the winter. Perhaps you’ve decided to grow some indoor herbs for cooking. Or, you’re trying your hand at being a plant parent for the first time. No matter what kind of indoor gardener category you fall into, know that each plant has different needs. Here are some common gardening mistakes and how to avoid them, so your indoor garden will be a success.

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Using the Wrong Container

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Three clay pots in order left to right. biggest, medium, smallest

Never choose a container on looks alone. A container needs to be the right size for your plant. If your container is too small, your plant will be unable to grow properly and could die. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a container, according to Pistils Nursery. First, if your plant has roots visibly growing out of the bottom of the pot, top edges of the pot or busting through the pot, it needs a bigger container. Second, a big pot for a small plant isn’t always better since plants actually prefer a snugger fit. Finally, make sure your container has proper drainage holes, which will help simplify your care regimen.

Related: 6 Pro Tips for Successful Container Gardening

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You Water Too Often

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Overhead shot of a white woman watering plants

It is possible to water a plant too much. When you over water, you can cause the roots of the plant to rot, which can lead to death. The Sill, a company that ships indoor plants all over the United States, offers this rule of thumb: Most common houseplants prefer frequent waterings, but there are special exceptions. “Think of your plants’ natural environment: is it rainy and tropical or hot and dry? These simple questions will help you gauge how much water your plant needs,” the company says.

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You Don’t Water Enough

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Wilted plant (left-hand side of image) on white background

On the flipside, plants need water, and if they don’t get enough they won’t be around too long. While desert-natives such as succulents prefer to stay dry and only want a little water every few weeks or months, ferns may need a good watering once or twice a week. Make sure you know the water needs of each plant and then follow a watering schedule to meet their needs. 

Related: The Best Watering Cans for Indoor and Outdoor Gardening

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Watch For Pests

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Green Leaves with holes/bite marks in them

One thing to keep an eye out for is mites and other pests that attack your plants. “The best way to control insects and related pests on houseplants is through prevention, as it is almost always easier to prevent a pest infestation than to eliminate one,” according to the Clemson Cooperative Extension. To prevent pests, Clemson suggests checking for signs of infestation before bringing any plant inside, isolating new plants from plants already in your home for six weeks and washing smooth-leaved plants every two to three weeks to discourage infestations.

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Here Comes the Sun

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Plants in circular multicolor pots on a mantle with sun shining onto them

Be sure to know your plants’ light needs. While some may need plenty of direct sunlight, others prefer indirect light so they don’t get scorched. If your plant lacks sunlight, it may turn a pale green to yellow to white, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Plants without enough sunlight may also drop their leaves, fail to produce flowering buds, and stems may become “leggy,” a term to describe stems that are no longer thin and appear to be reaching toward the source of light.

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You Forget to Prune

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Close up of a gloved hand holding a pruning tool next to a plant

It may seem counterproductive, but pruning is essential to healthy plant growth. The practice of cutting your plant back is not only good for houseplants, but indoor herbs as well. If you see any dying or dead leaves or branches on your plant, go ahead and cut it back a bit, which will not only help your plant grow but can also help prevent unwanted pests.

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Avoid Window Drafts

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Window open blowing a curtain

Even if your plant loves to bask in the sunlight, beware of cold, drafty windows. Drafts from a poorly insulated window can damage a heat-loving plant in no time. In addition, avoid placing tropical plants near a door that is used often in the cold winter months, as they can give the plants an unwanted blast of cold air each time the door is opened.

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Poisonous Plants and Pets

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Cat licking plants

If you have pets, you’ll want to steer clear of certain indoor plants which may be toxic if ingested. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers a compilation of the most frequently encountered plants that can cause negative effects on a pet’s gastrointestinal tract. If you believe that your animal is ill or may have ingested a poisonous substance, call your veterinarian immediately.

Related: 20 Common Household Items That May Be Harming Your Pet

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Location, Location, Location

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Plants on a radiator and windowsill

Many gardeners may be tempted to keep all their plants together, which isn’t always the ideal setup. Since each plant has unique needs, make sure you are conscious of where you place each individual plant in your home. Take into consideration sunlight and watering needs. In addition, if you have young children or pets, you may need to keep your plants in a spot where they can be left alone to grow and thrive.

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You Mix and Match

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Variety of plants in small containers

While variety may be the spice of life for humans, that’s not always true for plants and herbs. Think of it this way: You have a large pot and want to grow three different herbs so you go with three favorites—basil, thyme and mint. Except mint is invasive and ends up taking over the entire pot. Bottom line: Know your plants so you won’t end up with a container hog.

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Ignoring Soil Quality

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Overhead of man putting soil into plants

Your plant gets nutrients from both sun and soil, so if the soil in your container is lacking nutrients, your plant will have a hard time thriving. The Sill recommends changing your plant’s potting mix every year or two if your plant hasn’t overgrown its current container. Changing out the potting mix will help your indoor plant grow and keep it in tip-top shape.

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Taking on Too Many Plants at Once

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Woman in hijab standing in front of many plants indoors

For beginner gardeners, it’s easy to go a little overboard when buying plants for your home, however, it’s best to start slow. Taking on too much at once when it comes to plant care can be overwhelming and may end up in frustration. To start out, pick two or three plants. Once you feel comfortable caring for those, gradually add to your collection.

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