Grow Houseplants Organically

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You can grow houseplants organically, just as you’d grow outdoor container gardens, though it takes a few adaptations.
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“Practical Organic Gardening” by Mark Highland provides readers with a modern perspective to organic practices, methods, and products that any home gardener can enjoy.

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally(Cool Springs Press, 2017), by Mark Highland is a modern visual guide to growing organically. The book provides step-by-step photography and how-to projects so readers can take a hands-on look at updated popular gardening techniques. The following excerpt is from Chapter 10, “Organic Container Gardens.”

Don’t forget to take care of your houseplants! You can grow houseplants organically, just as you’d grow outdoor container gardens, though it takes a few adaptations, as described below.


Most houseplants will thrive in bright indoor light but take care when placing houseplants in full sun. Houseplants generally thrive in low-light conditions present inside the home, as most houseplants are species that occupy the forest understory in nature. This means they can thrive in lower light levels typical of indoor conditions.

Resist the urge to place houseplants outside in summertime as direct sun can cause sunburn on leaves. If you are intent on placing plants outside, you can slowly acclimate them to higher light conditions. Start them out in a shady area for a week or two so they can begin the acclimatization process. Gradually move them into more and more light over the course of a couple weeks. If leaves start to show signs of burn, move them back into shadier conditions. Burned leaves will look washed out and turn yellow or white before dying back.


Be aware of plant placement inside your home, as plants close to a source of radiant heat will dry out faster than plants farther from heat sources. If your home is consistently dry from winter heating, this will also dry out soils faster. Using the same knuckle test described for outdoor container gardens, check frequently to see if your plants need water. After a few months of doing this, you’ll know about how often to water each houseplant. Monitor your plants, and water as soon as soils dry out. If plants are in cooler conditions during fall and winter, they will use less water and therefore do not need as much water as they require during spring or summer.

Timing for watering can even vary in different locations in the house, due to the unique microclimates present in different rooms. Keeping tabs on your plants will help ensure they don’t sit dry for too long and are not overwatered. The number one cause of plant death is loving them too much and watering too frequently!


Periodically, houseplants need repotting. When plants stop growing, if leaves are yellowing, or if roots are circling at the bottom of the container, it’s time to repot.

Take the plant outside because repotting is messy. Pull the plant out of the pot and take a look at the roots. If they are spindly and the rootball falls apart a bit when you pulled it out of the pot, place it back in the pot, replacing any lost soil as necessary, then add a low-dose organic fertilizer (such as worm castings), and return it to its spot in your home. Sometimes plants simply need a fertilizer shot rather than repotting to start growing again. Worm castings are great to invigorate a houseplant. Also, they smell earthy like soil, which is much more pleasant than stronger and smellier fertilizers, such as fish emulsion.

If roots look healthy and have filled the inside of the pot, it’s time to repot in a container the next size up. This means choosing a pot that is only a few inches wider than the current one. Place enough organic soil in the bottom of the container to accommodate the rootball. To test the depth, place the rootball on the soil you put in the new pot. The top of the rootball should line up approximately 1/4- to 1/2-inch below the top of the new pot, which allows enough room for watering.

Then add a little soil at a time around the sides, making sure you keep the plant rootball centered so it doesn’t end up lopsided when you finish. Place a handful of soil inside the pot, next to the rootball, then spread it out around the roots’ outer edges. Repeat until the sides have been filled. Don’t place too much pressure on the soil, as compaction reduces the pore space for air and water. Just slight pressure around the edge helps secure the soil and plant in place. You can also use water to slightly compact the soil around the edges but that can get messy. If you don’t apply slight pressure to the soil as you add it around the edges, odds are that eventually you’ll see the edges are lower than the rootball. In such case, you’ll need to go back and add more soil. The soil around the edges and the plant’s rootball should be at the same height after watering.

Indoor containers should have saucers placed beneath them to catch excess water that drains from them. Ideally, you’ll add just enough water to saturate the container but not enough to overflow the saucer. Saucers under each indoor container will protect your home from spills and pot stains.

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Excerpted with permission fromPractical Organic Gardening, by Mark Highland. Published by Cool Springs Press, © 2017.

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.