Yes, You Should Fertilize Your Houseplants—Here's How

Take your plant care to the next level.


Sarah Crowley

Houseplants add so much to your space—especially if you don't have access to a big yard or outdoor area. Not only do plants bring tons of color and life to a room, but stylish planters can offer a beautiful decor moment. But there's a caveat: Potted houseplants don't have a constant stream of nutrients coming in from the soil. Over time, the nutrients in the potting soil get depleted, and your plants can suffer. Fertilizing houseplants can keep them looking happy.

What Kind of Fertilizer Should You Use?

Not all fertilizers are created equal. In fact, it's common for people to use the wrong type or too much fertilizer and kill their houseplant. "The wrong kind or delivery method can be too much for the plant," says Patrick Hillman, plant enthusiast and owner of Buzz and Thrive Gardens. "I tell my customers to use a water-soluble fertilizer, specifically a rich fish emulsion fertilizer. Anything organic is going to feed longer than a chemical fertilizer."

How to Apply Fertilizer

It's easier than you think, but don't just tip fertilizer into your potted plants. Hillman recommends diluting the fertilizer in a ratio of ¼ to ½ teaspoon fertilizer per gallon of water. "I tell people to dilute it a little more than the package says to be on the safe side," he says.

Another great tip is to water your plant before you fertilize it. It keeps the fertilizer from burning the roots, and the moist soil helps the fertilizer absorb better. If you're thinking that a fish emulsion fertilizer is going to smell, you're right. But Hillman says that it goes away in a day or two. If there's a water runoff dish underneath your pot or planter, empty it to clear out excess fertilizer water.

When to Apply Fertilizer

Give your plants a feeding every two to three weeks from the end of March to the middle of September, and don't fertilize after that. "It's good to give the plants a little rest," says Hillman. "The days get shorter, and the plants won't be producing a lot of new growth so the plant won't take up as much water and nutrients."

New Growth, Now What?

Keep an eye on your plants and whether their roots are outgrowing their pots or planters. Springtime is a great season to take stock and see what might need to be replanted in slightly larger pots, Hillman explains. If they need to be repotted, add in a little compost too.

Plants You Should Not Fertilize Often

Succulents and cacti don't like too much of a nitrogen-based fertilizer, says Hillman. Limit it to once every six weeks to be on the safe side. Setting your plants up with a good quality soil and compost gives them a fighting chance, too.

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