Can you keep these common houseplants alive?


By: Bambi Turner

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

If you steer clear of houseplants because of your brown thumb, you just might be missing out on some major benefits. Not every plant is destined to die in your windowsill. Check out these common houseplants and see if you have what it takes to keep them alive and thriving.

Which of these is a sign that you're over-watering your plant?

Over-watering is one of the biggest and most common ways that newbie gardeners kill plants. If your plant is losing leaves, has brown spots, or the leaves are turning yellow or brown, it's time to back off on watering for a few days and let the plant dry out.


Which of these gives plants necessary nutrients?

Fertilizer is like food for plants, providing extra vitamins and nutrients that plants need to thrive. Pick of any standard fertilizer and apply according to the instructions on the box, but back off in winter, when most plants tend to take a break from growing.


What should you do if your plants look droopy or shriveled up?

Plants that are droopy or shriveled are begging for a drink. Water them until the soil is moist, but not saturated and watch as they perk back up.


Why would you cut off a healthy piece of a plant?

If you clip off a small section of many plants -- known as a cutting -- you can use the clipped section to make a new plant. The cutting will eventually develop roots and grow over time.


Which of these plants is best for eating?

Both cacti and poison ivy pose plenty of problems for diners -- namely prickly spines and/or scary rashes. Herbs, on the other hand, are not only easy to grow, but also make a delicious addition to many dishes. Try planting dill, parsley or mint in your kitchen so you have fresh herbs on hand for cooking.


What does an herbicide do?

Herbicides are designed to kill plants, and should be kept far away from any specimen you're trying to keep alive. These chemical concoctions are best left to those gardening outside, where they can be used to kill off weeds and other pesky plants that interfere with desired plant growth.


How often do most house plants want to be watered?

While there are always exceptions, most house plants should be watered once a week. This not only helps to prevent over-watering, but also fits in well with today's busy lifestyle. Pick one day a week when you're usually not too busy and make that the day you spend a little one-on-one time with your house plants and a watering can.


Which of these should you place in the bottom of your pots?

Adding gravel to the bottom of a flower pot allows water to drain more readily, making it less likely that your plant will drown. It also makes it easier for the roots to get the oxygen they need, which may help your plant live longer.


What's the best way to determine when to water your plant?

While most house plants prefer to be watered around once a week, it's best to feel the soil to determine if it's time for water. Stick a finger about an inch into the soil, if the tip of your is dry, go ahead and water the plant. If the soil feels moist, give it another day or two then check again before watering.


Which of these is true when it comes to moving or relocating a plant?

Plants tend to get used to the conditions in an area, so they can go into shock if you move them around too much. Try not to surprise your plants with new homes too often.


Where should you put drainage holes in a flower pot?

Drainage holes go on the bottom of a pot to allow excess water to flow out. If your pot doesn't come with holes already in it, use a drill to add a few so the roots of your plant aren't completely saturated.


What does the "photo" in photosynthesis stand for?

Photosynthesis is how plants eat, using energy from the sun to make their own nourishment from carbon dioxide and water. In plain English this means plants need sunlight to survive, so avoid keeping your plant in complete darkness, and take struggling plants to a sunnier spot if you want to perk them up.


How to you keep a plant from growing at an angle towards the sun?

Many plants will grow towards the sun, which can make stems or trunks look bent or angled. Keep your trees and plants straight and proud by turning the pot once a week to ensure even sun exposure.


How do you know when you've watered a plant enough?

When it's time for watering, add water until it starts to flow out the bottom of the pot -- that's what those drainage holes are for! Once you see water coming out of the bottom, you know the soil is wet all the way through and you can stop adding water.


How long are annual plants meant to last?

Plants can be divided into two basic types; annuals complete their life cycle in one year and that's it -- it's time to buy new ones. Perennials come back year after year because they self-seed -- all you have to do is give them basic ingredients for life, like water, soil and fertilizer.


How can you make sure a plant is getting the right amount of humidity?

Most house plants hate dry air, so maintaining proper humidity levels can help the plant live longer and look healthier. One of the easiest ways to do this is to place a tray of water next to the plant to evaporate into the surrounding air. You can also keep the plant near the bathroom window, or use a humidifier on dry winter days.


What size pot should you use when re-potting a plant?

Plants grow, which means you'll need to move the plant to bigger and bigger pots over time. Using a pot that's too small will halt growth, and may cause the plant to slowly wither and die.


How do you force a stubborn plant to bloom?

Surprisingly, you can convince a stubborn plant to flower by placing it in a dark room at night, which mimics a natural environment -- if the plant lived outside, it would be expecting darkness at night, right? This often gets the plant back on track and brings about brilliant blooms.


Where do air plants get their nutrients?

Air plants get their name from the fact that they take all the moisture and nutrients they need from the air. They require no soil and can be planted almost anywhere, such as in a glass terrarium or in an old hollowed-out log.


What do pesticides do?

Even indoor plants can suffer infestations from unwanted critters. If you spot bugs or pests, visit a local nursery and pick up an appropriate pesticide to get rid of the bugs. Keeping leaves clean with a soft cloth can also keep insects at bay.


What should you do if a plant is root bound?

Plants that are root bound have outgrown their current home. You'll know a plant is root bound if you see roots popping out of the top of the soil or out of drainage holes. When this happens, transplant into a bigger pot, taking time to pull the roots out and away from the surface of the dirt as much as possible so they start to spread out again.


Which of these plants require the LEAST frequent watering?

Succulents are similar to cacti in that they store a lot of water in their fleshly leaves and stems, which mean they don't require watering all that often. Tropical plants are used to wetter conditions, and need more frequent watering to survive. The same is true for newly-established plants, which typically need more water than plants that have been around for a while as they work to establish their roots.


What should you do with a plant if you've over-watered it?

If you discover you've been over-watering a plant, it may still be possible to save it. Don't try to just add dry dirt on top or dry out the plant by keeping it out in the sun. Instead, start fresh with a new pot and soil that hasn't been completely saturated for best results.


What should you use to pot the average houseplant?

Most plants are happy settling down into a pot of soil, but not just any dirt will do. Don't use garden soil or from your backyard, because the plant won't get the nutrients it needs. Instead, pick up a bag of potting soil to give your plant the best possible start.


What does it mean to propagate a plant?

Once you've managed to keep a plant alive for a little while, you can take a clipping and it to make more plants. To properly propagate, clip a 4 to 6 inch section and stick the roots in some potting soil. Some will also grow roots if you stick the cut edge in water, no soil required.


When should a cactus be in the sun?

Cacti are big on solar energy -- that's why they are so common in hot, desert areas. Keep your cactus in the sun as much as possible, and give it plenty of water in the spring and summer. The plants tend to take a break in the fall and winter, so water only when the soil is completely dry during those two seasons.


Compared to spring and summer, should you water plants more or less in the winter?

Most house plants have a dormant period in the fall and winter where they will grow much more slowly or not at all. During this period, plan to water less often -- about half as frequently as you do during the spring and summer.


What does it mean to transplant a plant?

Remember, plants are living things, and they will keep growing over time. Just like growing kids new bigger clothes and shoes, plants need to be moved to larger pots. This process is called transplanting, and it's crucial if you want your plant to survive.


What is pruning?

Pruning is a great way to keep your plant looking its best. It involves pulling off dead leaves or flowers and trimming away branches that are too tall or unshapely.


Most plants hate direct sun and prefer filtered light. What does that mean?

Virtually every plant needs sunlight to thrive, but most plants hate bright sun, which can burn or damage leaves and flowers. Instead, use sheer curtains to filter the light before placing plants in the windowsill. You can also place plants where they will receive reflected light in other parts of the room.


Explore More Quizzes

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!