Myths about Potting and Placing Houseplants

There is no shortage of myths about houseplants in general. It’s easy to take basic facts about how plants live and grow and come to the wrong conclusions about what’s best for choosing, potting and placing houseplants. There are also many popular myths about houseplant care. Here, we wanted to focus on some of the most common myths about potting and placing houseplants in your home or office.

Biggest Myths about Potting and Placing Houseplants

  • Placing Houseplants Will Affect Your Indoor Air Quality: A misunderstood NASA study continues to perpetuate the myth that houseplants can improve indoor air quality. This study looked strictly at the effect of plants on closed environments like you might find on a space station. A different myth suggests the opposite: You should avoid putting houseplants in bedrooms because they will hurt your indoor air quality. The simple facts are that houseplants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the day, while releasing carbon dioxide overnight, but there is enough space and ventilation that these emissions do not appreciably change the overall air quality in your home or office space. Houseplants can affect mood and mental health that may improve breathing indirectly, but this has nothing to do with the indoor air quality.
  • Plants Grow Bigger in Bigger Pots: Most people who know their houseplants can tell you that this isn’t true, but it’s a self-perpetuating myth based on people’s intuitions. It’s easy to think that if you want a houseplant to get bigger, it needs room to grow. It’s also easy to think that because repotting puts stress on the plant, it’s better to start with a bigger pot. The facts are houseplants need comparatively little soil to sustain new growth. Instead, they need easily accessible potting soil and less competition. Bigger pots hold more soil which retain more water and can lead to root rot. It also provides more opportunity for mold, bugs, and other houseplant pests to get a foothold. Think of the stress of repotting a houseplant as a positive stressor that stimulates new growth. By knowing what type of houseplant you’re potting, it’s easy to choose the correct size pot and to know the signs for when it’s time to repot.
  • You Should Put Gravel in the Bottom of Pots: There are a lot of people who think that if you’re going to put a houseplant in a pot without drainage holes, it’s best to put small rocks or gravel at the bottom of the pot to help drainage and prevent root rot. The truth is a little more complicated. Excess water will sit at the bottom of the pot without hurting the plant, but it won’t be helping, either. You will still need to water enough to get the bottommost part of the root wet. It’s when the soil stays moist for a prolonged period of time near the top of the root that serious root rot can set in. Thus, by putting gravel in the bottom of the pot, you’re shortening the available growing medium and the potential distance between the bottom and top of the root system. By putting dirt through to the bottom of the pot, you won’t need to water as much to give the plant what it needs. An even better plan is to always use pots with drainage holes, except in special circumstances like when growing hydroponic plants.
  • Some Plants can Grow without Light. Full shade plants is not the same as plants that can grow with light. You may have an office or houseplant that has good environmental conditions, is a full-shade plant and is coping with indirect light from across the room. Sunlight likes to bounce around. Even small windows or plants near open doors that may catch sunlight from an adjacent at least have a chance. It doesn’t take much in other words, but if you have houseplants in a basement, media room, or bathroom with no windows at all, plants will not grow or stay alive indefinitely without the aid of special indoor grow lights. These types of lights may cost anywhere from $50-$250 or more.
  • All Houseplants do Best in South-Facing Windows. It’s so common for a houseplant that’s lingered along for several months or even years with a minimal amount of light to brighten up and sprout new growth in a south-facing window that it’s become something of a myth that all houseplants do best in south-facing windows. It’s one of the more versatile windows, and some of the most popular houseplants like lots of indirect and some direct sunlight that it reinforces the myth. However, this is far from universally true. Worse, if you take a cherished houseplant that’s experiencing mild symptoms of overwatering or less than ideal soil conditions but is ill-suited for direct sunlight, you might inadvertently kill the plant in an attempt to brighten up its leaves.

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