When to feed houseplants

The best time to feed houseplants is in the spring

When it comes to feeding houseplants, moderation is key. As your plants grow quickly in the spring, they'll need more nutrients. But even with their increased appetite, you don't want to overfeed them—they can still be damaged or even die when overfed. Fertilizer is like a multivitamin for plants—it doesn't replace water and sunlight but is essential for healthy growth.

Use fertilizer at half the recommended rate when fertilizing in the spring, then go up slightly as the season progresses. After peak summer growth, you can reduce its use again by half. Don’t feed your plant if it's dormant (i.e., not actively growing). Make sure to follow instructions on the packaging of your specific fertilizer product regarding when and how much to apply so that you don’t accidentally suffocate or burn your plant.

During the winter months, plants undergo less growth and therefore require fewer nutrients.

In the winter months, plants undergo less growth and therefore require fewer nutrients to thrive. During this period of dormancy, you can reduce the amount of water, light, and attention your plant needs. Although you may need to give extra TLC during the spring and summer months (when your plants are putting forth the most effort), they still need consistent care all year round.

When selecting a fertilizer, look for one labeled as complete, balanced or all-purpose.

When you're selecting a fertilizer, look for one that is labeled as complete, balanced or all-purpose. This lets you know that it contains all three macronutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium—that your plants need to grow strong. A fertilizer also should contain micronutrients, which are important for healthy plant growth but used in smaller amounts than macronutrients.

Read the label on the fertilizer package to determine how much of each nutrient the formula contains. Depending on the plant type, some nutrients will be more important than others. For example, nitrogen promotes leaf growth while phosphorus encourages blooming and fruit development in plants such as tomatoes and peppers. Follow the instructions to add just enough fertilizer so that your plants can use it without damaging their roots or harming wildlife and pets.

Plant food is key to help your houseplants thrive

Many houseplants can survive and thrive without supplemental fertilizer, but if you want your plants to grow or remain healthy for several years, regular feeding is key. Think of fertilizer as vitamins for your plants. Just as humans need certain vitamins and minerals to become and stay strong, so too do plants need specific nutrients in order to reach their maximum potential.

Just as many amateur chefs are intimidated by the idea of cooking with unfamiliar ingredients (“I don't know what that is! What does it do? I can't cook without instructions!”), some people are hesitant about using fertilizers on their plants because they're not sure how often to use them, how much to give each plant, or which type of fertilizer is most appropriate. The good news is that fertilizing is not as mysterious or intimidating a process as it may appear—and in fact, it's quite similar to cooking a meal.