Bringing the Outdoors In with Houseplants - by Nick Federoff

Posted by Jill Yanus on

Welcome to Houseplants 101 - Bringing the Outdoors In article - plants on table with sign in back


Though we can’t give credit to anyone that said “You know, I want to grow that plant in my house” we do know that the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese grew plants in containers more than 2,500 years ago. Today houseplants are a common decorating accessory for homes, offices, schools, hotels and more. Not only are they pleasing to the eye they have properties that are good for cleaning up indoor toxins released by carpet, paint, pet dander, cleaning solutions and a whole lot more! One 6” houseplant per 100 square feet becomes a 24 hour cleaning person slurping up all kinds of nasty stuff.

Here are our three favorite houseplants that are easy to grow, rebound quickly and have the fewest insect pests. These plants are your gateway to an indoor botanical wonderland. Oh, and we included one more as a bonus for its medicinal value perfect for a bright kitchen.

pothos plant in white pot on wood stand

Pothos species
Epipremnum pinnatum

Bright indirect light Fights indoor pollution: cleans the air and removes toxins

Spider plant in pot on red table with smaller spider plants growing off itSpider Plant
Chlorophytum comosum

Medium low to bright indirect light The plant that keeps on giving producing baby plants that can be propagated

ZZ plant in white pot against window with bright light and shadowZZ Plant
Zamioculcas species

Low to bright light Can handle some neglect and dry conditions

Aloe Vera very close up on plantBONUS: Aloe Vera
Aloe barbadensis species

Bright indirect light Used for centuries for its health, beauty, medicinal, and skin care properties


 Little plant on top of coins in dirt

How to Select a Houseplant

The best part about plants is that they grow. If your pocketbook only allows you to get a plant from the dollar mercantile then buy it! It’ll grow into one that’ll rival those that are $150 each. You just have to stay on top of repotting it once in a while. If they grow as large as the container it’s in, it will get root bound which will set the plant back.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned houseplant enthusiast, a houseplant should look symmetrical, have good balanced branch and leaf structure, plus is insect and disease free. Poke around the plant and really inspect it. If in doubt put it back until you see one that talks to you. And, don’t forget to get a saucer to have the plant sit on. A proper container has intentional holes drilled out of the bottom so water can drain out (they don’t like wet feet…I mean roots). The saucer is going to capture that water so not to destroy the table, floor or whatever you have the plant sitting on.

 Man sitting on floor with plants around him, shovel in hand, caring for potted indoor plant

How to Care for Houseplants


Potted succulent outside in saucer overwatered with water in saucer

One of the most asked questions I get asked on my radio show is “am I watering my plant too much?” and in my experience when that question is asked the answer is in the question “Yes, you’re watering your plants too much” I’ll always say. The interesting thing about watering is, plants respond nearly the same way when they’re over and under watered, from wilting to burned edges (almost like someone took a match to the edges). The kneejerk reaction is to drown the plant by cranking on the water. On the flipside you may notice an ark at the front door wanting to save the plant so you go to extremes and stop watering all together. Under watering will spiral the plant to the depths of no return.

So, why can’t the plants rebound? They might depending on the type of plant it is but every plant has something in common: root hairs! We know every plant has roots but under a microscope there are ity, bity, tiny roots called root hairs. These root hairs are designed to protect the root. When the root hairs are compromised by too much water, or not enough water, the root will stop growing or even die! If soil moisture gets balanced properly it can take upwards of 6-weeks for the root hairs to grow back giving the root the thumbs up to start venturing out again.

Garden gloved hand - blue giving thumbs up symbol

So is watering a science? Not if you have a sponge. What the??? Work with me here. Go find a sponge and soak it in good ol’ H2O then squeeze it out. What’s left is a moist sponge and that’s how moist your soil should be. Although it’s a bit tougher to grab a handful of soil from a potted plant another way to check soil moisture is by nabbing a small amount of soil to test its moisture. If you can squeeze the soil and water drops out it’s too moist. If you squeeze and the soil falls apart it’s most likely too dry. You want it to hold together with no droplets and when released it holds together but it can crack a bit. If you’re inclined to step up your game a moisture reader will set you back about $40 and can give you a decent reading.

Don’t water your plants like grandma did but instead teach grandma there’s a more convenient and easier way to control the amount of water a plant gets. Use a Chapin 29001: 1-gallon Stand 'N Spray No Bend Tank Sprayer. It’s designed to carry with a lower gravity, it only carries one gallon so it’s not too heavy and you can adjust the spray to delicately water the plant right on the soil surface without having to stoop, or wrench your back by bending, and you control the watering unlike using a faucet hose attachment or a watering can.

Light Requirements. 

Indoor plants with light shining on them, different pots and species

As you noticed in our above recommended plants list we list light requirements. Houseplants need light to live. Only silk or plastic plants can take complete darkness. “Technically” the larger the leaf the less light a plant could receive but be careful it doesn’t get too dark or the plant will wilt quickly which is its cry for help. The other thing is, placing a plant in front of a south facing window has disaster written all over it. It’s going to get too hot. Most houseplants like bright indirect light away from air conditioning and the heater. It’s not uncommon to move plants here, there and everywhere to make them happy. Once you find their happy place just leave them there!

red line to break up quote

Confession Time: I have never had an office with windows yet I have 5 plants happy as can be. How can that be? First, the right plants: pothos, philodendron, dieffenbachia, ZZ plant and a dracaena. All the plants are lit up with an LED grow light that I bought online for $30. The light has red/blue spectrum adjustments that allow me to keep them on for 12 hours a day creating the light they need to live. It took me 6-months to adjust to that amount of time so have patience.

red line to break up quote


What do you say we play Mother Nature without stepping on her toes? I’ve never met a houseplant that’s not been originally grown in a greenhouse. Regardless of the time of year when you walk into one you’re met with warmth and humidity. If that humidity was always in your home you’d have mold and need to paint every three months. Good thing for us we can manipulate the humidity a houseplant needs by isolating and misting plants unlike the sloppy job Mother Nature would do if she were indoors. A Chapin 10029: 48-ounce Hydroponic Fine Mist Handheld Pump Sprayer has micro-droplets that will gently settle on plant leaves allowing them to absorb the water. If you’re able to get under the leaf surface that’s even better as stomates, which act as a plant’s lungs, will absolutely love getting attention from the humidity created by the sprayer.

Feed Me. 

Like you and I plants need food and vitamins. Fertilizing is a plants food and vitamins. You have many choices from fertilizer sticks, granular, water soluble, to liquid. Me? I like water soluble and liquid fertilizers. They are easy to use and it’s hard to over feed with them. Simply incorporate the fertilizer once a month in your Stand 'N Spray No Bend Tank Sprayer when you normally water and they get fed. What could be easier than that?

Insect Pests and Disease. 

Let’s revisit that “like you and I plants need food and vitamins” comment in the last paragraph. We get sick when our immune system is on the down low. When a plant’s immune system is down insects and plant diseases know when it’s time to attack! If a plant was properly fed they’ll rarely, if ever, get insects and disease. That’s why it’s important to feed them. But, I guess that’s in a perfect world, right? When a plant gets attacked the first thing you have to do is remove it from the pack of other plants. A good place is outside under a patio away from healthy plants. I call my sick plant area a “plant hospital.” Here I can spray natural or organic insecticides or fungicides like: Neem oil, spinosad, Protection Plus, or bacillus thuringiensis (BT). Just keep in mind to use a separate sprayer just for those treatments: sprayers to water and fertilize with and insecticide sprayers for insecticides, etc.

Chapin 20000, 10029, 29001 sprayers next to potted plants with different labels - water, feed, weed, neem 

Once you get into a rhythm it’s really easy to take care of houseplants. They actually take little time to care for when you have the right tools to get the job done!


Nick Federoff TV|Radio Horticulturalist

chapin sprayers lineup

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