general houseplant care


I love plants and gardening, but I have the “blackest” thumb there ever was! I cannot even keep my Christmas poinsettia alive. I have tried numerous tips to monitor waterng, sun, dryness, and so much more. I have tried the self- watering bulbs and fertilizer sticks. I live in South Dakota and want to grow indoor plants and a few herbs. Can you give me some new tips and ideas? I do not want to resort to fake plants!


Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners.

When caring for plants one needs to know what requirements are specific to the plant you are caring for. The care for one plant may be very different than for another. Some like to totally dry out between watering and others like to stay moist. Some have different requirements in the summer than they have in the winter. Succulents and cacti have very different needs than a poinsettia, tropical plant or Orchid. The key to each plant is to mimic the conditions the plants would experience in its native location. For example, if a plant is an understory plant and is normally below a canopy of trees, it will not want indirect sunlight. Without knowing which plants, it is difficult to give you specific advice for your situation. Herbs have a variety of needs as well depending on what you are growing.

You mention Poinsettias. Poinsettia require at least 6 hours of indirect sun every day. They are sensitive to drafts and require watering when the soil feels dry. When testing for moisture stick your finger an inch into the soil to see if you feel moisture. If you do, wait to water. Poinsettia are sensitive to over watering. Make sure you have good drainage and there is not a pool of water collecting under the plant. If you keep it in the festive wrapping this can happen.

Below I am including a link to our gardening guide on house plant care. It goes into depth about all the factors that need to be considered when caring for house plants. As mentioned, it is good to identify your plants, so you can give each one the amount of light, water and nutrition it needs.

If you need help with identifying a plant, you can send in a photo that shows the leaves and plant structure. If it flowers, the flowers help with identification.

A resource available to you is the South Dakota Master Gardeners. They may have a branch in your town that can help.


Beginner’s Guide to Growing Houseplants: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide