9 Houseplant Myths You Shouldn’t Believe, According to a Pro

Houseplants have seen a major resurgence in popularity over the last few years. With more people wanting to bring some green into their homes, houseplant care has become a hot topic. But when you’re new to the world of houseplants, it can be easy to fall for some common plant myths. As houseplant professionals, we’re here to debunk those myths and help you become a confident plant parent!

Myth #1: All Houseplants Need a Lot of Sunlight

It’s true that most houseplants need some amount of sunlight to thrive. However, the idea that all houseplants need to be placed in direct sun is false. There are plenty of low-light houseplants that actually prefer shadier spots in your home. Examples include:

  • ZZ plant
  • Pothos
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Snake plant
  • Philodendron

These plants do well in bright indirect light, meaning they don’t need to be placed right next to a sunny window. Dappled sunlight or a few feet away from a window suits them just fine. Direct hot sunlight can actually scorch their leaves. Remember, many houseplants originate from the shady forest floor, not open sunny fields.

Myth #2: Small Pots Are Better for Houseplants

You may have heard that keeping houseplants in small pots helps restrict their growth. While smaller pots do limit root development, this myth mostly causes harm. Restricting a houseplant to a pot that’s too tiny for its root system increases the chances of root rot and stunted growth.

Most houseplants will thrive when repotted into a slightly larger pot that allows some room for new root growth. Go up just 1-2 inches at a time. A good rule of thumb is to repot whenever roots are visibly circling the bottom or emerging from the drainage holes. Proper watering is key to controlling excessive growth, not overly small pots.

Myth #3: Houseplants Should Be Watered on a Set Schedule

Houseplant watering needs can’t be boiled down to a generic schedule or calendar. How often a plant needs water depends on many factors:

  • Light exposure
  • Pot size
  • Potting mix (soil density)
  • Plant variety
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Growth stage

The best way to determine when your plants need water is to check the soil moisture 1-2 inches below the surface. Stick your finger in the top few inches of soil; if it’s dry, it’s time to water. The exceptions would be succulents and cacti, which prefer fully drying out between waterings. Getting to know your plants’ individual needs takes some practice, but it’s better than following a rigid watering schedule.

Myth #4: Drainage Holes Are Necessary for All Potted Plants

Proper drainage is important for most houseplants, but not 100% necessary in all cases. Some plants like orchids, bromeliads, and air plants often grow in trees in nature, without access to drainage holes. These epiphytes are adapted to having wet roots for longer periods.

For these plants, focus on using an airier potting mix and watering judiciously. You can also place pebbles or gravel in the bottom of the pot to mimic natural conditions and promote drainage. A lack of holes limits options but isn’t inherently a detriment for certain plants. Just take care not to overwater.

Myth #5: Browning Tips Always Means Underwatering

Brown crispy leaf tips are one of the most common houseplant problems, but the causes are diverse. While underwatering can lead to browning tips, it’s not the only culprit. Others include:

  • Hot dry air (low humidity)
  • Drafts from vents or open windows
  • Sunburn from intense light
  • Salt buildup from tap water
  • Pest damage

Take time to observe your plant closely and rule out any other environmental issues before increasing watering. Browning caused by low humidity or irregular watering requires a different fix than an underlying pest infestation. Make sure your diagnosis is accurate before attempting to treat the issue.

Myth #6: Houseplant Pests Mean You’re a Bad Plant Parent

Even experienced houseplant growers battle pesky bugs at some point. Houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and fungus gnats are very common and don’t necessarily mean you’re failing as a plant parent.

Like any living thing, houseplants are susceptible to pathogens in their environment. Their confined indoor space increases vulnerability. Don’t blame yourself if an infestation develops; just take action to treat the problem before it spreads. Analyze your plant care regimen to see if any tweaks could help boost plant health.

Myth #7: Moldy Soil Means Your Plant Is Dying

It’s certainly alarming to notice white fuzzy mold growing on the surface of your houseplant soil. But mold on soil itself is rarely detrimental to established plants. In fact, some mold in potting mix is normal, especially in humid environments.

The mold feeding on dead organic matter in the soil does not directly harm living plant tissues. Try letting the soil dry out a bit more between waterings to discourage mold growth. You can also scrape off the top layer of soil if the mold bothers you. Just keep an eye on the plant’s health, as very damp soil can increase root rot risk.

Myth #8: Houseplants Need Plant Food or Fertilizer

Healthy houseplants growing in suitable potting mix typically get all the nutrients they need without supplemental feeding. Potting soils contain nutrients like compost, bark fines, perlite, etc. to sustain plant growth. Fertilizing is not essential for many common houseplants.

Over-fertilization can actually cause houseplant issues like leaf tip burn, excessive leggy growth, or root damage. Hold off on fertilizing at first as you learn your plant’s needs. Spotty leaf growth or unusual paleness can indicate time to add plant food. But resist the urge to feed frequently “just in case”- more is rarely better with fertilizer.

Myth #9: Plants Should Be in Decorative Pots Without Drainage

Those patterned ceramic planters might look pretty, but using them without drainage holes is risky. All houseplants need a way to drain excess moisture from their soil after watering. Stagnant water leads to soggy soil, oxygen deprivation, and fast root rot.

Never place any potted plant directly into a decorative container without holes. Instead, keep the plant in a sturdy nursery pot with drainage holes. Then put the nursery pot inside the decorative container. Lift it out periodically to dump excess water from the saucer. This provides drainage while maintaining your desired look.

In Conclusion

Many widely circulated houseplant myths can be traced back to outdated or incomplete information. Now that you know what practices to avoid, you can feel more confident in your plant care. Stay observant, get to know your plants’ needs, and don’t be afraid to break the “rules” that just don’t work in your space. Focus on making adjustments tailored to each plant, and both you and your houseplants will thrive!


What are some common houseplant myths?

Some common houseplant myths include the idea that all houseplants need high light, small pots are best, plants should be watered on a strict schedule, drainage holes are essential, and fertilizer is mandatory.

Why shouldn’t houseplants be kept in small pots?

Keeping houseplants in very small pots often does more harm than good. Restricting root growth can lead to stunted plants and increase the risks of issues like root rot. Most houseplants benefit from repotting into a slightly larger container as they grow.

How can you determine when a houseplant needs water?

The best way to know when to water houseplants is to check the soil moisture a few inches below the surface. Stick your finger into the soil and if the top few inches are dry, it’s time to water. Get to know your plants’ individual needs.

What causes brown crispy leaf tips besides underwatering?

Brown leaf tips can have various causes besides underwatering, including low humidity, hot air, sunburn from intense light, salt buildup from water, pest damage, and drafts from vents or open windows. Identify the exact cause before trying to treat the issue.

Should you fertilize houseplants on a regular schedule?

Fertilizing houseplants on a regimented schedule can easily lead to over-fertilization. Many common houseplants grow just fine without fertilizer at all when planted in suitable potting mix. Only add plant food if there are deficiency signs like sparse growth or pale leaves.

Can houseplants survive in a pot without drainage holes?

Some plants like orchids and bromeliads can tolerate a lack of drainage holes, but it does increase the risk of issues like root rot if overwatered. For most houseplants, drainage is recommended. Use decorative pots with nursery pots or add gravel to improve drainage.

How can you discourage mold growth on houseplant soil?

To discourage mold growth on the surface of houseplant soil, allow the soil to dry out a bit more between waterings. Scrape off any visible mold. Keep an eye on plants for signs of rot, but otherwise mold limited to the soil is generally not harmful.

Here are some additional tips on houseplant myths to avoid:

  • Myth: Mist houseplants daily for humidity.

Truth: Misting does little to increase actual humidity. Use a humidifier instead or place plants on pebble trays.

  • Myth: Remove dead leaves immediately or they will rot.

Truth: It’s generally fine to leave some yellowed leaves attached to absorb remaining nutrients. Just cut off those that look truly dead.

  • Myth: Direct hot sun through windows is the same intensity as outdoor direct sun.

Truth: Direct indoor light is often less intense than outdoor due to the windowsill barrier and UVB filtering. Acclimate plants slowly to increased light levels.

  • Myth: Let soil dry out completely between waterings.

Truth: Most houseplants should not be allowed to completely dry out, with exceptions like cacti and succulents. Aim to water most species once the top few inches become just dry to the touch.

  • Myth: Distilled or purified water is best for houseplants.

Truth: Most tap water is fine for houseplants. Letting it sit out overnight before using can dissipate any chlorine. Only use distilled for very sensitive plants like orchids.

  • Myth: Bigger plants mean you’re an expert grower.

Truth: Plant size is not always an indicator of plant health. Focus on practicing proper care and identifying the ideal conditions for your specific plants. Slow steady growth is better than hasty enlarging.

  • Myth: South facing windows are best for houseplants.

Truth: The optimal window exposure depends on the plant. South light is usually too intense for low or indirect light plants. East or west windows are better suited for those. Pay attention to each plant’s reactions, not the direction.

  • Myth: Houseplants need plant food every time you water them.

Truth: This absolutely leads to over-fertilization. At most, only feed a diluted liquid fertilizer once every 2-4 weeks during active growing seasons for most common houseplants. Many don’t need any at all.

  • Myth: Talking or playing music for your plants helps them grow.

Truth: While this idea is widely spread, there is no scientific evidence that talking, music, or any other auditory stimulation affects plant growth or health in any way. Plants lack abilities to hear or emotionally respond to sound.

Here are 6 additional common houseplant myths to avoid:

Myth: Houseplants should be kept away from drafts at all times.

Truth: Light drafts from fans or vents help strengthen houseplant stems and foliage. Just protect sensitive plants from harsh direct air blow.

Myth: Tap water left out overnight is unsafe for houseplants due to breeding mosquitoes.

Truth: Mosquito eggs need at least 5-7 days to hatch, so overnight water poses no risk. And mosquitoes don’t seek out indoors.

Myth: Plants need plant food sticks pushed into the soil for nutrients.

Truth: These sticks often leach too much fertilizer at once. Better to use controlled liquid feeding when needed.

Myth: Mirrors or reflective surfaces near plants causes issues from light bouncing.

Truth: Light bouncing off mirrors does not focus or intensify enough to harm houseplants. This is just an unproven myth.

Myth: Houseplants need partial shade outdoors when moved out for summer.

Truth: After proper acclimation, most houseplants benefit from direct outdoor sun which is less harsh than indoor light.

Myth: Plants respond well if you talk nicely to them but will suffer if you yell.

Truth: Plants have no capacity to hear, comprehend, or respond emotionally to human speech or other sounds.


When caring for houseplants, it’s important not to blindly follow myths without first analyzing their validity. Many amateur plant parents repeat misguided practices like overwatering, over-fertilizing, and incorrect lighting. Avoid falling for these common misconceptions by studying your plants’ needs, adjusting care accordingly, and not being afraid to buck traditional advice when necessary. With attentive observation and plants’ best interests in mind, you can become a confident houseplant pro.

You will overcome those persistent houseplant myths, sustain thriving happy plants, and find great joy in growing gorgeous indoor greenery. We hope these myth-busting tips equip you with knowledge to develop your own robust green thumb. Let your beautiful houseplants show off just how talented a plant parent you are!