3 dead simple things you need to know to keep your indoor plants alive

07 January 2018 - 00:00 By Darryl Cheng
Group plants for maximum impact.
Group plants for maximum impact.
Image: Supplied

On Instagram and love plants? Then follow Darryl Cheng of House Plant Journal. He shares beautiful photos and time-lapse videos of plants with his followers, as well as advice on how to care for them

According to Cheng, 99% of the house plant care advice we read focuses on what to do in response to a seemingly negative sign such as yellowed leaves or sketchy growth. For him, this  takes  the fun out of the hobby. “Instead of fussing over every yellowed leaf and browned tip, both of which are inevitable, I prefer to appreciate how the plant grows as opposed to how it looks right now.”

To this end, he shares his three most important tips for caring for house plants:


If you want to enjoy thriving house plants, you must start with the right light. Light determines how your plant will grow, how it will use water, and how it will adjust to its  life inside your home.

That said, there’s more to light than just sun or no sun. The majority of indoor tropical foliage plants need something called “bright indirect light”, where they are near a window, but not in the sun’s path. What this means is that you should let your plant see as much of the sky as possible, but shield it from direct sun if necessary.


Once you know your plant is getting the right amount of light, you need to figure out how moist it likes its soil to be. Some plants, such as ferns and other thin-leaved plants, need to be kept evenly moist. Others prefer to be re-watered when the soil has become partially dry. Most succulents and cacti enjoy completely dry soil most of the time. They still need to be thoroughly watered but that can be done after long periods of dryness, just like in the wild.


Roots absorb water from moisture in the soil. But after repeated cycles of going from moist to dry, soil tends to become compacted, which makes it difficult for the plant to “drink”.

Compacted soil makes it difficult for a plant to 'drink'

In nature, insects and worms help to maintain a good soil structure by crawling and digging around the plant’s roots. Indoors, you need to do their job by gently poking a few holes into the soil with a chopstick. This breaks up dry clumps of soil, allowing water to move freely and penetrate the soil. You may damage a few roots, so you need to aerate cautiously. Remember that roots regenerate faster than any other part of the plant, and that compacted soil does more damage to roots by strangling them.

Cheng is quick to point out that even if you satisfy the above three requirements, you need to remember that plants are living things, subject to the realities of life.

“My approach to house plant care is to understand what conditions I can realistically provide inside my home, choose plants accordingly, and let nature take its course.”

• Follow Darryl on Instagram @houseplantjournal, or visit his website patreon.com/houseplantjournal, where he gives personalised advice.