Houseplants are wildly popular these days. And why shouldn’t they be? Even if you live in a tiny downtown studio surrounded by skyscrapers, you can still bring a little nature indoors with a few houseplants here and there.
But be forewarned: Your friends and family members will give you tons of unsolicited houseplant advice—and they won’t always be right. Unfortunately, misconceptions about houseplants are all too common.
To help you do what’s best for your plant babies, we investigated some of the most popular houseplant myths—and dug deep to figure out the truth about each one.
1. Houseplants purify the air indoors
Reality: You may have heard about scientific studies showing that houseplants remove toxins from the air. But it’s important to remember that these studies were conducted in controlled laboratory environments, not in an actual house or office.
Researchers at Drexel University found that you’d need approximately 5,000 plants in a tiny 500-square-foot apartment to really reap any of the often-touted air-purifying benefits of houseplants. It would feel like a jungle! (Where would you sleep?)
On top of that, not all plants are created equal when it comes to purifying the air, says Laura Smith, owner of All Star Cleaning Services.
The areca palm, also known as the butterfly palm, for example, is one of the best plants for cleaning the air, she says.
Pothos, aka devil’s ivy, is another good choice. And while aloe vera doesn’t clean the air, it can serve as a low-tech alarm system, turning brown if there are too many toxins in the room.
2. I don’t have enough sunlight to grow houseplants
Reality: Sure, many houseplants prefer some amount of light, whether indirect or direct. But don’t give up so easily.
Just as there are outdoor plants that prefer shade over sun, there are several types of houseplants that can thrive on little to no sunlight, including snake plants, philodendrons, pothos vines, and plantain lilies, says Susan Brandt, co-founder of Blooming Secrets, a gardening website and shop.
Watch: How Does Your Vegetable Garden Grow? Indoors
3. Houseplants need to be watered every day
Reality: Slow down there!
If you water your plants every single day, you’re going to cause some serious problems. In most cases, this is just too much water. Each plant is different, but generally speaking, the soil should be allowed to dry out completely between waterings.
One sign that you’re overwatering your houseplants is the arrival of fungus gnats, tiny little bugs that feast on the rotting roots of your plants. Chances are, you’ll need to create a watering schedule for your houseplants—and this may include watering them on different days and with varying frequencies. Drought-tolerant plants, like cacti and succulents, hardly need any water at all.
4. Houseplants need big pots to grow
Reality: If you think your plant is starting to outgrow its home, your first instinct might be to rush out and buy a larger pot. Not so fast.
You can actually harm and, in some cases, kill houseplants if you move them into a pot that’s too large. Why?
Because large pots hold lots of soil, which can retain too much moisture for the plant. This can cause dreaded root rot, which is bad news for your formerly healthy plants.
5. Houseplants, if ingested, could harm my dog or cat
Reality: Yes, there are some houseplants that are toxic to pets if ingested. But there are also hundreds of nontoxic varieties to choose from if you’re worried about your four-legged friend feasting on your plants. Some examples include the African violet, begonia, and Christmas cactus. Plus, many pets simply leave houseplants alone anyway, says Brandt.
6. You can’t grow vegetables indoors
Reality: While you might typically wait until spring and summer to plant your vegetable garden in the backyard, did you know you can grow yummy edible plants all year long, inside your home?
Potted herbs are a great addition to your windowsill. You can also regrow green onions, lettuce, and celery from scraps indoors in a cup with a little water!
7. Houseplants are expensive
Reality: You don’t have to dump your entire life savings into your houseplants. Sure, some houseplants are expensive—because they take years and years to grow. But others are incredibly affordable, starting at just a few dollars apiece. Even better? You can often get houseplants for free on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor.
Tell your friends and neighbors that you’re a houseplant lover and you’ll be amazed by how many of them respond by offering to give you starts or pups from their own beloved plants. And if a big, beautiful, expensive plant catches your eye at the garden store, ask if they have any younger versions of that same plant. Yes, it will be small to start, but it will also be more affordable. And with the right love and care, it will grow into the mature, adult version you first spotted.
8. I wasn’t born with a green thumb, so I’m doomed to kill houseplants
Reality: This is just plain false, not to mention a defeatist attitude! All gardeners make mistakes, and they spend a lot of time doing research and educating themselves on the best ways to care for their plants.
All Star Cleaning Services’ Smith, for example, says she used to accidentally kill every houseplant she touched. Eventually, though, she wrote specific care instructions for every plant in her home, then stuck the notes directly into each pot. She also grouped plants together based on their characteristics, such as how often they needed to be watered. It worked!
Now, Smith says she’s a houseplant pro.
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