Skip to main content

Tips on caring for tropical houseplants

Tropical houseplants can be a rewarding sight after coming in out of the snow this winter. A jungle of textures and colors can make home dÃ?©cor come alive. After years of working at the Plant Biology Conservatory at the University of Illinois and caring for tropical houseplants in my own home, I've compiled tips to help growers become more successful with these plants.


-- During the winter months, south and west facing windows capture the brightest light.

-- Fluorescent lights above plants will keep them actively growing and more likely to flower inside.

-- Muted colors or lack of flowering in plants indicate there is not sufficient light.


-- Plants should be watered to the point that water is running out the bottom of the pot. Shallow watering will cause poor root growth and weak stems.

-- Soil must be allowed to dry out between watering. Overwatering kills roots and therefore plants.

-- Do not allow tropical houseplants to accumulate water in trays while growing inside.

-- Increase humidity by using a water bottle to spritz plants, clustering plants together or using a humidifier.

-- Use distilled water rather than tap water. Tap water contains fluoride and causes leaf tip burn on many plants. Peace lily and spider plants are among the most vulnerable houseplants.


-- Fertilize most tropical plants two to three times during the growing season with diluted fertilizer. Diluted fertilizer means to use half the amount indicated on the fertilizer package. Orchids will benefit from more frequent fertilizer applications.

-- Fertilize tropical flowering plants when flower buds appear for better floral display.

-- Do not fertilize dry plants. Fertilizer treatment will burn the roots.

-- Unless plants are placed under lights during winter months, do not fertilize.


-- Most tropical plants will not withstand temperatures below 55 degrees. Higher temperatures are required for active growth.

-- Do not place near heating vents.


-- Regularly look – including under the leaves – for plant damage.

-- A water bottle with a soapy mixture will deter/kill most houseplant insects like aphids and spider mites.

-- Use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove and kill mealy bugs or scale.


-- Many tropical houseplants may require pinching to maintain tidy appearance. Pinching back to the node (leaf attaches to stem) will encourage branching and maintain a more tidy appearance. Pinch in the spring before active growth occurs.

-- Potting should be done early in the spring, before active growth occurs and when a fully formed root ball is present. Only pot up one size at a time (for example, from a 6-inch pot to an 8-inch pot). Some plants like succulents and ZZ plants like to be root bound.