Bringing home a new houseplant? Follow these steps to welcome the new arrival

Don Kinzler says these 16 steps can assure a new houseplant makes a happy transition to your home.

Most high-quality potting mix is packaged very dry and should be moistened before usage.
David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — What did one cactus say to the other cactus? You’re looking sharp today!

Whether you’re in the market for a new cactus, or another type of houseplant, it’s like bringing home a new puppy. The new plant might not have an accident on your living room floor, unless you forget to put a drainage saucer underneath, but new arrivals do require our attention to help them adjust to their new surroundings.

Here are the steps to assure a new houseplant makes a happy transition to your home.

  1. Plants should be well-wrapped for the journey home. Most houseplants are tropical natives, and unless the temperature is above 55 degrees outside, plants will be injured if carried across a frigid parking lot uncovered. Protect plants by wrapping in tissue or other paper and placing in a plastic bag in which you blow hot air to form a protective bubble, with the top fastened.
  2. Once home, isolate the plant from your others, if possible, for one to two weeks to observe. Be sure to provide its desired light level while in quarantine. Even the best-managed greenhouses can have occasional insect outbreaks, and most houseplants sold by area garden centers or floral shops are grown in warmer climates and shipped in. Hitchhiking insects are always possible.
  3. As an added precaution before quarantining the plant, you might wish to gently rinse the upper and lower surfaces of leaves with the kitchen faucet’s spray attachment, or treat with insecticidal soap.
    Mosquito Bits, when applied to the soil, can reduce fungus gnat problems.
    David Samson / The Forum
  4. Fungus gnats, the little black flies that flit around houseplants, lay eggs in the soil that hatch into more gnats. Products such as Mosquito Bits, sold at some garden centers and hardware stores, is labeled for fungus gnat control. When added to soil, the beneficial bacteria contained in the granules kills the gnat larvae, eventually breaking the gnat lifecycle.
  5. Most houseplants are sold in growing-type containers, such as plastic greenhouse pots, knowing that most people will transplant them after purchase into a container of their choice. Although it’s fine to leave them in these pots for a while, they might soon require repotting.
  6. To determine if a new plant needs immediate repotting, remove the plant by gently inverting the pot and tap on the bottom while supporting the plant itself. The pot should slide off. If not, run a knife around the pot’s inner perimeter and repeat. If the rootball is tightly crammed with roots and little free soil is visible, most plant types would benefit from repotting.
  7. Containers with drainage holes are more plant-friendly than pots without drainage.
  8. Select high-quality potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro Potting Mix or one suggested by your locally owned garden center.
  9. High-quality potting mixes are often very dry in the bag. The day before using, add water to the bag, stir well to distribute, and close the bag. The mix will become mellow and easier to use.
    Many new plants will need repotting into a larger container.
    David Samson / The Forum
  10. Skip the drainage pebbles in the pot’s bottom. Research has shown houseplant soil drains better without that layer of change.
  11. When situating the plant in the pot, strive for only a half-inch of space between the top of the soil and the rim of the pot, called the headspace. I’ve noticed a direct correlation between ailing plants and a too-deep headspace.
  12. Water immediately after potting to thoroughly wet and settle the mix.
  13. Give the plant its preferred light level, which is usually indicated on the plant tag.
  14. Most houseplants benefit from a watering cycle of thoroughly wetting the soil, followed by a period of drying before the next thorough watering.
  15. Many plants were grown in greenhouses with perfect light and high humidity. Plants can go through a period of adjustment while acclimating to home conditions.
  16. Houseplants will thrive if given intentional care, just as we would a new puppy.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at
What To Read Next
Get Local