6 Expert-Approved Tips That Are Guaranteed to Grow Your Green Thumb

Plant guru Hilton Carter and Costa Farms' Justin Hancock know their stuff

A variety of potted tropical houseplants on a white shelf.

Firn / Getty Images

You probably had the best intentions when you purchase that giant fiddle leaf fig. You imagined how wonderful it would look in that empty spot in your living room. Chances are, it did look good for a couple of weeks. You watered, fertilized and checked for pests, and it still died. What did you do wrong? Likely, it wasn't the best plant for your space. I've made the same mistake countless times. However, once I understood all the components that can make a plant thrive, I have had fewer plant failures. 

The good news is, it's not as hard as it seems. Plant pros Justin Hancock, head of brand marketing at Costa Farms, and author and plant guru Hilton Carter, say that being a successful plant parent is easy if you know and follow these basic six guidelines.

  • 01 of 06

    Start With the Light

    A modern, stylish and bright living room with houseplants.

    Oscar Wong / Getty Images

    Most people pick a plant based on its looks. Although a pretty plant draws the eye, there is no point in getting that plant if you do not have the right type of light to support it.

    "The thing that you should think about first is the spot in your home that you want to place the plant," says Carter. "Based on that light, go get a plant that can thrive in that light." 

    Typically, a south-facing window will give you the most light, and a northern-facing window gives you the least amount of light. However, the quality of that light changes throughout the seasons. In the winter, my office gets plenty of sunlight because of three large south-facing windows. However, in the summer, the sun's angle is higher, and I do not get as much light in the room due to the overhangs outside the windows. A plant that needs 6 to 8 hours of indirect sunlight would not do well in my office in the summer. 

    When you understand the quality and quantity of light your part of your home receives throughout the year, you can pick the right plant to thrive in that space. "If you can't provide it with the light it needs," warns Carter, "you're just going to find that plant suffering in your home." If you are unsure how to determine the type of light you have, consider purchasing a light meter or using a light meter app on your phone to take readings throughout the day. Once you know how much light you have to work with, it’s time to move on to the research phase. 

  • 02 of 06

    Do Your Research

    woman doing plant research on a laptop

    Westend61 / Getty Images

    Most plant tags list a ton of information such as light, water and feeding recommendations for the plant. "Unfortunately, plant tags give us a minimal amount of real estate to talk about plant care," explains Hancock, "and so you all you usually see like the minimums on there."

    Plants listed as "low light" mean they can survive in low light conditions, but they will thrive in medium or bright light conditions. It's beneficial to do more research on what precisely the species needs to thrive. 

    "Anyone can instantly have a green thumb," says Carter, "if they decided to do just a small legwork upfront to figure out what can for thrive in their home or what will work best for their situation." Do the research, and you won't be disappointed. That doesn’t mean just reading books or doing a Google search. "The beginning of my journey was started with the unknown," explains Carter, "I found myself in plant shops and talking to people who worked there about plants and what was happening." Experienced plant people are a treasure trove of information and they are more than glad to share it. 

  • 03 of 06

    Pick the Right Size Plant

     A collection of house plants in front of a white wall.

    Kseniia Soloveva / Getty Images

    Plants grow. That cute little 6-inch Monstera Deliciosa can be between 6 and 10 feet tall when fully grown. Just like you would probably never adopt a St. Benard or Great Dane if you lived in an 800-square-foot apartment, you probably shouldn't get a plant that will take up most of your real estate. 

    "It used to be that big plants were a big investment," says Carter. "And I think now, especially thanks to Instagram, it's easy to feel confident starting with a big plant." Large plants have grown in popularity, and if you have space, go for it. However, remember that moving large plants can be cumbersome and repotting it may take assistance. Consider the plant's full mature growth size and your home before you bring in a large plant. 

  • 04 of 06

    Don’t Repot Immediately

    person repotting cacti

    Anton Petrus / Getty Images

    Plants give you visual cues when they are under stress. Common signs include wilting, leaf or flower drop, stretching, brown leaf tips and yellowing leaves. The difficulty is, there isn't a one-size-fits-all indicator that will tell you directly what these issues mean. However, if your plant shows any of these signs, you can be assured that it's stressed. 

    One of the best ways to reduce plant stress is not to repot as soon as you get it home. "My recommendation is always to wait a couple of weeks," says Hancock. "That way, the plant has a chance to get settled here in your environment." Repotting can stress out a plant, and it needs time to acclimate to your home. "Adding those two types of stress onto each other at the same time is less beneficial," says Hancock. "Waiting a little bit is always better."

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Watering Correctly

    A woman watering a potted plant.

    Ryan J Lane / Getty Images

    Overwatering and underwatering plants are two of the top mistakes new plant parents make that can kill plants. How do you know how much water a plant needs? "One of the analogies that we like to give is that that sort of perfect moisture level should be like a well-wrung sponge," explains Hancock, "where you can detect some moisture, but it's not soppy or saturated by any means." 

    Most plants only need water once a week, but that depends on the amount of light it gets, the type of planter it's in and if the plant likes to dry out between waterings. "The easiest thing is to put your finger in the soil and give it a good feel," says Hancock, "If it feels wet, that's too much." 

    Another option is to use a soil moisture meter. The tools are inexpensive and will provide you with more accurate information.

  • 06 of 06

    Keep It Stress-Free

    A collection of houseplants on a bench and floor.

    dropStock / Getty Images

    Studies show that people who spend time growing plants have less stress in their lives. They add color and texture to space and can bring you tons of enjoyment. "They're supposed to take your stress away, not stress you out," says Carter. If you decide to become a plant parent, put in the leg work, and your plants will reward you.