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3 Things To Know If You Want To Keep Your Plants Alive

These tips on water, light, and soil will help you care for almost any houseplant.

Hello. Please join me in a moment of silence for all of the houseplants we've collectively killed this year.

Steph Guez / BuzzFeed

Thank you. Now, let's get down to business: If you don't exactly have a green thumb but want to up your plant game in 2019, you've come to the right place! There are a few key tricks you can learn to ensure you're staying on top of your plants' needs, instead of just playing a guessing game. And trust me, memorizing these basics is way better than than lying awake at night wondering if your leafy friends are thirsty or cold or lonely.

Here are three cardinal rules that will help you care for almost any plant in your life:

1. Look for signs of over- and under-watering.

I'll be the first to admit that figuring out how much you should water your plants can be daunting ("WHY ARE YOU TURNING YELLOW???" —me screaming at my new succulent), but it doesn't have to be this way. Your plants will straight-up tell you whether or not you're giving them enough hydration: You just have to look out for the signs.

It's over-watered if:

• The leaves' tips are turning brown

• The stem's base is soft and mushy

• Yellow leaves are falling off throughout

It's under-watered if:

• The leaves are starting to curl

• The leaves' edges are brown and crispy

• The lower leaves are doing the worst

So, what now? If your plant is under-watered — you guessed it — give it some water, and do so a bit more frequently than you were before. Don't worry about sticking to a set schedule though — it's better to be flexible and stick with this general rule of (green) thumb: Only water your plant when the top two inches of soil feel dry. Also, use warm water instead of cold, as the soil absorbs it more easily.

If your plant is over-watered, you should gently remove it from the soil, cut off any rotten roots, and, after letting it dry out for an hour or two, repot it in a pot with better drainage. Go for one with a drainage hole and tray (terra cotta is ideal), or, if it doesn't have a hole, add some lava rocks to the bottom, which will soak up any excess water.

2. Make sure they're receiving enough sunlight.

Choose what plants you adopt based on how much light your home gets. You can always adjust how much you water them, but if they aren't getting enough light — the key to their survival — it'll be near-impossible to keep them alive. Plants are usually categorized into three different types of light (bright, medium, and low) when you buy them, so here's a breakdown to help you figure out which type/s your home receives:

Bright light: There is no barrier (e.g. curtains, trees, or a building) that creates shade between your plant and the sun; go for aloe, succulents, or palm trees.

Medium light: The sunlight gets filtered (e.g. through sheer curtains) as it reaches your plant; go for a monstera (aka Swiss cheese plant) or ferns.

Low light: No direct sunlight reaches your plant (e.g. it's a few feet away from a sunny window or in a room with artificial light); go for any of these plants!

3. Use the right kind of potting soil.

For the most part, your plants should be living in regular potting soil that's light, fluffy, and made up of peat moss, pine bark, and perlite or vermiculite. It's a good idea to repot your plants after you take them home, as the container and soil they came in might not be suited for their growth. Just handle their roots carefully and consider adding some weak sugar water to the new soil, which can help prevent transplant shock (plants experience moving stress too!).

A couple of exceptions here: Orchids need great drainage, and regular potting soil is too heavy and holds too much water for them, so give them a specific orchid mix. For cacti and succulents, which also like to stay dry, you can use regular potting soil, but add some sand to it (about 50%) to ensure it drains quickly. Or, make things even easier for yourself and buy some cacti and succulent mix that's already formulated for ideal drainage.

There you have it! Keep these tips in mind and you'll be on your way to creating your own indoor jungle.

As we head into the new year, we're talking about all the ways to make your life and the world around you a little bit better. Read more Do Better 2019 content here.