9 Unusual Houseplant Hacks That Actually Work

Planter in hanging planter by window
credit: Stephen Paul

Houseplants are boss: they add natural decor to your home, supply new oxygen to the air you breathe, oh, and they also remove airborne toxins to help keep you healthy. We love this kind of over-achiever.

However, if you consider yourself somewhat of a brown thumb (no worries, we know some unkillable plants), it pays to take the time to learn a few plant care basics, like whether the plants you have chosen prefer sun or shade, or how much and how often to water. Once you've got down the basics, try adding in one (or more) or these nine genius plant hacks to help keep your greenery looking lush and lovely.

1. Put a sponge at the bottom of the pot.

Every plant requires water in order to thrive, and most need it fairly frequently. Outdoor plants can rely on Mother Nature to provide irrigation, but indoor plants have only you. If you tend to forget to water on a regular schedule, try a simple, inexpensive hack: a sponge. Sponges are made to soak up water, right? So, when you repot a plant, get an ordinary kitchen sponge. Set the sponge on the inside of the pot before you put in potting soil. It will absorb excess water and keep it right there in the bottom of the container, a little personal reservoir where thirsty roots can reach it.

2. Bury a water bottle in the soil.

For another easy houseplant watering hack, get your hands on a small plastic beverage bottle. Cut a small slit in the bottom of the bottle. Dig a hole in the soil of a large houseplant so that you can "plant" the bottle, standing upright. The top of the bottle should be at soil level. When you fill the bottle with water, it will seep slowly into the soil as the plant needs it.

3. Water with ice cubes.

Is there a hack for small plants that don't have room for a buried bottle? Of course, there is! Ice cubes. Scatter a few ice cubes over the soil surface, taking care to keep them away from the foliage. The ice melts slowly, allowing the soil to absorb water over time. This is especially useful for picky orchids that do best with very little water. One ice cube a week will do nicely for a small orchid.

4. Share your morning cup of coffee.

You can't start your day without that cup of coffee to get you going? Your houseplants can benefit from coffee as well. They don't crave that jolt of caffeine; it's the acid in the coffee that gives your ferns, gardenias, and other acid-loving houseplants a boost. Thin out leftover coffee with water and then use the mixture to irrigate houseplants. Tea drinkers can use brewed tea to the same effect.

5. Use paper coffee filters and grinds.

Speaking of coffee, another houseplant hack makes use of paper coffee filters. When you are repotting a plant, line the bottom of the container with one or two of those thin filters. It's a very low-cost way to keep the dirt and compost in the plant pot while allowing excess water to drip through.

And here's another tip: don't toss out those coffee grounds once the coffee is made in the morning. Instead, add them to an acid-loving plant's soil. The grounds will increase the acidity of the soil, as well as keeping ants at bay.

6. Irrigate with leftover water from boiled eggs or veggies.

Coffee isn't the only breakfast item that works wonders for your plants. If you eat boiled eggs, save the egg water too. Let it cool to room temperature and save it for a nutrient-rich drink for your houseplants. This hack isn't limited to eggs, either. Whenever you boil a vegetable, the water contains nutrients that can serve as homemade fertilizer for your houseplants.

7. Dust those leaves.

So, you don't dust your house as often as you should. But nobody will judge you for that ... as long as you dust your plants. Those green leaves are beautiful and ornamental, yet their real function is to serve the plant. All plants use their leaves for photosynthesis, taking in carbon dioxide and turning it into energy with the help of sunlight and water. If they are clogged with dust, they "breathe" much less efficiently and can suffer. So every week or so, wipe off the foliage gently with a moist paper towel. You can also give your plant's leaves a spray of water mist for extra credit.

8. Shine the leaves with mayonnaise.

You put lotion on your face to keep it looking its best. Plants can look better too if you apply "leaf lotion" every month or so. While there may be expensive leaf creams at the garden store that promise to make your household foliage shine, here's a tried-and-true hack that costs a lot less: regular mayonnaise. Rub a bit of mayonnaise on each leaf with your fingers or a paper towel. They will look lush and shiny for weeks.

9. Turn the containers regularly.

Think about the last time you were at the beach sunning. First, you lay on your back, then flipped to your stomach to get those warm rays on every part of your body. Your houseplant leaves would appreciate the same treatment. All of them need some sunlight to do their photosynthesis thing. If you turn the container from time to time, each side of every leaf has a chance to get some rays. This can be difficult to remember, so build in the habit by giving the pot a quarter turn every time you water.

While no one hack takes care of all your problems, each one can benefit your houseplants. Try them all and use the hacks that work best for you. Your houseplants will thank you.


Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.