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Texas Master Gardener - Texas A&M Agrilife Extension

Do you have a brown thumb when it comes to houseplants? Follow these three strategies to develop the skills needed for success.

1. Identify your home’s microclimates

2.Apply knowledge of plant’s requirements for optimum growth

3. Observe the plant’s health at least weekly


Microclimates are the weather conditions found in small, localized areas. They include sunlight levels, humidity, soil moisture, air movement, and temperature.

The rainforest understory is the natural habitat of many of our most popular houseplants. They thrive in indirect lighting, warmer temperatures, and higher humidity. Recreating that microclimate as much as possible increases your chance of a houseplant success story.


Inside sunlight-based microclimate examples:

● South windows receive full direct sun from mid-morning to late-afternoon

● East windows receive indirect/filtered light (shade from a mature tree) in the morning and indirect light in the afternoon as the sun moves

● North windows receive only indirect light year round

● West windows receive direct afternoon/evening light when the sun is hottest

Each of these areas supports different plants.


Plants require a minimum temperature of 55°F and most are happier with it a good bit warmer. During particularly cold spells, move houseplants away from cold windows and outside doors.

Air Movement

Plants do not like drafts (hot or cold). Keep away from heating or cooling vents. But plants do benefit from additional air circulation (a slow moving fan) in order to deter possible pest infestations or fungus growth, especially closely grouped plants.


Air conditioning and heat lowers the humidity level of houses. To raise the humidity level for your plant, group several plants together. Another option is to set your plants in a tray of water – be sure to raise them up out of the water with decorative rocks or some other means. They need humidity, not wet feet. The bathroom and kitchen generally have higher humidity levels, making them a good location for plants like ferns.

Water Levels

Is the soil too dry or too wet? Overwatering is the #1 mistake made – more plants are killed from overwatering than from being too dry. Only water when your plant needs it (visibly drooping) or the soil is dry to the touch – the “stick your finger in the dirt” method works best! Most plants need less frequent watering during their dormant stage (fall/winter) and more watering during their active growth time (spring/summer).


Knowledge is power. Know your plant – research its needs, care requirements, and native habitat. Choose plants to fit your house. It’s easier to choose the right plant than to change your home’s growing conditions.

Observe Your Plant

Most gardeners make a daily or weekly walk through their gardens looking for potential issues. Your houseplants are your indoor year-round garden – make a habit of observing each plant at least once a week. Does it look happy? Is it leaning towards the light? If so, quarter turn the plant each time you water it. Are the leaves an unnatural color? It might need a different location, either more or less light.

Keep your plants clean - trim away dead leaves and spent blossoms. Leaving debris creates a haven for pests. Check for pest infestations – webs or small white fuzzy spots on or under the leaves, along the stems, are just a couple of indicators that you have a pest problem. Research the common pest and disease symptoms so you can deal with issues early, before the problem spreads to all your plants. If you find an issue, isolate that plant until you it is clean and healthy again.

With an understanding of the microclimates in your home, knowledge about your plants, choosing the proper plants for your home, and regular observation, you too can boast of a green thumb. Pretty soon all your brown thumb friends will be asking you for advice!


University of Wisconsin – Madison, Division of Extension

“Houseplant Care”

Clemson Cooperative Extension, Home & Garden Information Center

“Common Houseplant Insects & Related Pests”

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