Buy a Houseplant (and Keep it Alive)

“People aren’t born with black thumbs or green thumbs; the difference is the person who says they have a green thumb is someone who has decided to put in the work. Everyone can have a green thumb.”

Hilton Carter


  1. Pay attention to what type of light you have in your space— where does it come from, what rooms have the most, how big are your windows. You will also want to know which direction your windows face (no judgment if you have to use your compass app for this step).
  2. Think about the type of person you Do you have the time and level of commitment/interest to dig in and fully understand what it takes to care for a particular plant? Be honest here.
  3. Jot down a few notes about your home—“I live in a NYC apartment with windows that face west but my windows face another building.” Or, “My house has big south-facing windows, but outside of those windows are big ”
  4. Go to the nursery with your notes and ask them what type of plant will do best given all the information you presented them Also note if you have pets—some plants are toxic to our fur friends.
  5. Before you leave, ask them how best to care for the plant (e.g., how often and how much to water it, how much light it needs) and actually listen. Better yet, write it
  6. When you get home, don’t immediately repot the plant. Put it in the place where it will live in your home and let it You may see a bit of leaf loss—some of the more mature leaves from the base will turn yellow or brown and fall off—but that’s normal, so don’t panic. Don’t repot it until you see the roots coming out of the drainage holes.
  7. Check to see if the plant needs Most only want to be watered when the top two inches are dry, so do a finger test—stick your index finger two inches into the dirt; if it’s dry, give it water.
  8. When watering, take it slow and be deliberate (don’t just dump your half-drunk water glass in as you pass by—whoops!). Use lukewarm water (cold water shocks the roots) and pour carefully, allowing the water to seep in until it comes trickling out of the drainage
  9. Let the water collect in the base tray for 15–20 minutes and then drain If it’s a big plant that you can’t move easily, blot the water out of the tray with a towel or use a turkey baster. Just be sure you don’t leave the water sitting there (it’ll cause root rot, and that’s no good).
  10. Wipe down the leaves every three weeks with a damp cloth (keeping the surface clean of dust and pests allows the plant tissue to better connect with the sun).



Hilton Carter is Apartment Therapy’s “The Plant Doctor” and author of Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants and Wild Interiors: Beautiful Plants in Beautiful Spaces. He has more than two hundred plants in his Baltimore apartment.



You can’t just say, “I have an empty corner that needs something green,” or pick up a plant because you saw it all over Instagram—I’m looking at you, fiddle leaf fig! You’ve got to have some self and space awareness. Some plants need filtered light only, while some need direct sun. You don’t want to mix this up. The acclimating step is important as the plant adapts to its new life with less light, less care, and less love than it was getting from the professionals at the nursery (no offense). And be super thoughtful about your watering. One of the biggest causes of plant death is helicopter parenting through overwatering. In general, yellow leaves are from overwatering; brown tips are from underwatering. When it gets colder out, be mindful of any drafts near your windows and pull the plants back if it feels too cold.



Give the plant a name. Silly? Maybe. But it’s a great way to get yourself onboard for the level of care it requires to be a plant owner. Throwing out a red mum that was neglected may seem OK, but throwing out Bob?! You monster! Talk to your plants (“What’s up, Bob, are you thirsty today?”) and spend time with them. When you’re having a baby, or getting a pet, you buy the parenting books, you take the classes, you do your research and prep work so these things can live the best life possible. It’s the same with plants— they’re living things not just decorations.