Indoor gardening is one of the least expensive hobbies you can have (until you get addicted to buying new plants, mwah ha ha). Since houseplants basically just need dirt, water and light, you only need a few simple plant tools and supplies to get started. And while some items are essential, others just make life a little easier. Therefore, I’ve broken this list into must-haves (the true indoor gardening essentials) and nice-to-haves.
Must-Have Plant Tools & Supplies
This is the stuff that you need to buy basically the same day as your first plants. In other words, you’ll need these things right away or soon after you take your plant babies home.
1. Watering Can
Normal humans recommend getting a small watering can that’s easy to maneuver around your house. Something cute like this retro pig watering can or this cheeky fellow.
But if you have truly entered The Plant Dimension, you are no mere human. No, my friend. You are now a fucking god who breathes life into these splendid little green sweeties, the lighthouse in your heart piercing through the gloom of the world, spreading RADIANCE and VITALITY to everything it touches.
Or you’re a plant hoarder. Take your pick. Either way, what you’ll really need is an absolute unit of a watering can. Just make sure to get one with a long spout so you can water the soil directly without wetting the leaves (wet leaves can lead to pests and disease).
Pro Tip: Learn everything you need to know about how to water your houseplants correctly before you become a plant murderer (over-watering is the number one killer of houseplants).
2. Pot Saucers or Drip Trays
When you water your plants, excess water drains out through the bottom of the pot (if there are no drainage holes in your pot, you need a new pot). You don’t want that water pouring out all over your floor. A pot saucer will catch that water and any soil that leaks out with it.
Cheap plastic pot saucers work fine (get a multi-pack if you have a lot of plants), but if you want something longer lasting, try these sturdier pot saucers. They’re much easier to move if needed.
3. Trowel or Hand Fork
Some people prefer hand forks and other, better people prefer trowels (j/k). Either way, they’re used to loosen, lift and turn soil in houseplants. This is done when fertilizing, aerating or repotting indoor plants.
If your plants are all fairly small, you can go for a cheaper trowel or hand fork that’s not super strong. But if you’re a true plant goddess (aka plant hoarder), get a nice Fiskars trowel or a heavy duty hand fork with a comfortable handle.
Pro Tip: If you’ve bought a little baby plant and your trowel/hand fork is too big to get into its pot, use a regular fork from your silverware drawer. Booyah.
Confession: I’ve been gardening for eleventy hundred years and I still don’t own a pair of pruners. So why is this on my list of must-have tools for indoor gardening? Because you need SOMETHING to trim dead leaves, snip stems and prune excess growth.
If you’re a lazy asshole like me, just use clean, sharp scissors. I use these kitchen shears because I already have them and I’m too much of a cheapskate to buy anything else when I already have something that works just fine.
But you’re smarter than me. So get yourself some strong, built-to-last pruners. Don’t buy the cheap, crappy ones because they just end up tearing up your plants, which leaves them open to bugs and diseases.
Whatever you use, be sure to keep it sharp and clean. Wiping the blades down with rubbing alcohol after each use prevents the spread of disease and keeps your plants healthy and happy.
You probably won’t need fertilizer as soon as you buy your first plants because they’ve typically been fertilized like crazy at the greenhouse where they were grown. But you’ll eventually need to do your own fertilizing as those nutrients are gobbled up by the plant or washed away through watering.
There are two main types of fertilizer – granular and liquid. Granular fertilizer comes in little pellets that you sprinkle on the surface of the soil. The nutrients are then slowly released into the soil whenever you water. Liquid fertilizer is more like a shot of 5-Hour Energy for your plants. It provides an immediate boost, but doesn’t last as long because it washes out more quickly.
So why would you buy the liquid type when granular fertilizer lasts up to twice as long? Because granular fertilizers are more likely to cause fertilizer burn as they build up over time. So if you use the granular type, make sure to do a thorough flushing of your soil by pouring lots of water into it every three or four months.
Within the liquid and granular categories, there are lots of sub-types of fertilizer. The exact type you need will depend on your plants. But most plants will be fine with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer. This is a good granular fertilizer and this is a good liquid fertilizer. Just follow the instructions on the bottle.
Pro Tip: Most plants prefer not to be fertilized during winter, as they go into a dormant period. When they start to show new growth in early spring, encourage it with fertilizer. You can then fertilize it again in summer/fall, depending on the plant. Read our full guide to fertilizing houseplants here.
6. Potting Mix
Potting soil or potting mix? Wait, there’s a difference? Oh yes, my friend. Potting soil contains actual dirt (among other things), while potting mix is dirt-free.
So which one is better? Potting MIX. It typically contains a mix of pine bark, peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. All that stuff is designed to maintain moisture levels while staying nice and fluffy so the plant’s roots have access to oxygen. Normal dirt is prone to getting compacted, which will trap moisture, block oxygen and ultimately cause root rot. Yuck.
Now which type of potting mix should you get? All-purpose potting mix is fine for most indoor plants. But if you have orchids, you’ll want an orchid mix. And if you have cacti or succulents, they have their own mix, too.
But wait, if a plant already comes with dirt, why do I need to buy more?
Because dirt will gradually wash away as you water your plant, so it will eventually need to be topped off. Also, your plant will eventually need to be repotted as it outgrows the pot it came in. To see if your plant needs to be repotted, tip it on its side and gently tap the base to loosen it and get it out of the pot. If the roots are all compact and jumbled up, it needs a bigger pot. Read our guide to repotting here.
Since most plants you buy come in basic grower’s pots (black or brown plastic pots), lots of people prefer to put them in something a little fancier.
Pro Tip: If the plant doesn’t need to be repotted, you can just get a decorative pot that’s a little bigger and plop the grower’s pot right into it. No repotting needed and you still get the look of a fancy pot.
Self-watering pots can be a great option for plants that aren’t too picky. They basically work like a pot within a pot. The plant goes into a smaller pot that has a couple of strings hanging out of the bottom. Then that pot sits on top of a deeper pot that you fill with water. The strings absorb the water and bring it up to the soil without allowing the soil to get too wet. Just refill once every few weeks.
Even if you’re cool with keeping your plants in the grower’s pots (or just lazy like me), you’ll still need new pots eventually when it’s time to repot them. When the plant becomes root bound, you’ll need to move it into a pot that’s one to two inches bigger than the grower’s pot. Don’t go any bigger because the plant will struggle to take up water and nutrients if there’s too much space in the pot.
Pro Tip: Many Lowe’s Home Improvement stores have a recycle cart in the garden center. People can bring in their old pots to put on the recycle cart, which is returned to the greenhouse once full. Sometimes people bring in some pretty nice pots and Lowe’s will let you take them for free!
Nice-to-Have Plant Tools & Supplies
These are plant tools and equipment that you won’t need right away. You may even be able to do without them forever (except the last one – you’ll probably need that at some point). But you’re not a true crazy plant person unless you have ALL the plant things.
8. Moisture Meter
What’s the most common killer of indoor plants? Over-watering. Most people see a little dry soil on the surface of the pot and think the plant needs watering. But the soil around the roots is still wet. When the roots sit in water for too long, the plant develops root rot. Sad face.
You can fight this silent killer by getting yourself a moisture meter. Just stick the pokey part a few inches into the soil and read the gauge. It works like a goldilocks scale. Too far into the red and the plant is too dry. Too far into the blue and the plant is too wet. Anywhere in the green zone is just right.
9. Spray Bottle/Mister
Many houseplants actually grow wild in tropical environments where high humidity is the norm. Take them out of that environment and put them in a dry indoor environment and they’ll literally shrivel up and die. It’s like going from a tropical vacation to a dark, soulless cube farm. Spend too much time there and you’ll shrivel up and die, too.
To keep your tropical houseplants happy, give them a good misting every now and then to increase the humidity. It’s also a great way to clean off dust that collects on the leaves and gradually diminishes the plant’s ability to perform photosynthesis.
You can use a regular plastic spray bottle if you can get one that sprays a fine enough mist. You don’t want big fat drops hanging out on your leaves as they’ll invite pests and disease. Or get a legit plant mister that delivers a super fine, gentle spray.
10. Neem Oil
If you have houseplants long enough, you’ll most likely encounter some kind of pests at some point. If you catch them early, you can easily eradicate them with Neem oil. It’s totally organic and won’t hurt your plants or kill any beneficial insects.
Some people even mix up a preventative by putting a few drops of Neem oil into water and then use that when misting their plants. Either way, you’ll want to have something like Neem oil on hand so you can tackle any pest problems quickly.
11. Plant Stand
As you slowly morph from someone with a houseplant or two into someone who has to take out a payday loan to cover rent because you’ve spent your entire paycheck on more plants (It’s not a problem, I swear! *eye twitch*), you’ll need a place to put all those plants.
When your windowsills and end tables are all full, get yourself a plant stand. An A-frame plant stand or other multi-shelf plant stand will give you plenty of space to continue growing your collection.
Bonus: If you rent, it’ll save you from installing shelves or hanging hooks, which means you’ll still get your deposit back (more plant money!).
12. Grow Lights
Whether or not you need grow lights depends on where you live. If you’re trying to grow succulents in Alaska, you’ll definitely need them. But they’re also helpful in most parts of the U.S. during the winter months when there’s less sunlight.
If you notice your plants looking sad or leggy during winter, they’d probably be happier if you supplement with some grow lights. But don’t worry, you don’t have to get some industrial sized rig that requires complex installation. There are lots of unobtrusive, plug-and-play grow lights available. Like this best selling lamp.
13. Pebbles or Gravel
Most pots have drainage holes at the bottom to prevent root rot. The problem is that when you water your houseplants, soil can wash out of these holes. Some people put a broken piece from another plant pot over the hole so that only water can escape. But you need a broken pot for that.
Another option is to put a layer of pebbles or gravel at the bottom of the pot to help contain the soil. Or you can put a coffee filter at the bottom of the pot. Just make sure it doesn’t trap too much water.
14. Humidity Tray
A great way to increase humidity during the dry winter months (or if you live in a desert climate) is to use a humidity tray. Put a layer of pebbles in the tray, pour some water into it, then set the plant on top of the pebbles. As the water evaporates from the pebbles, the humidity around the plant increases.
Pro Tip: You can use any kind of tray or similarly shaped object as a humidity tray – baking sheet, casserole dish, etc. Just spread some pebbles over it and add water.
If a humidity tray doesn’t work for you or you simply have far too many plants, get yourself a real humidifier. This one is pretty great (one of the top sellers on Amazon), but needs to be refilled every day. If you’re lazy like me, that’s gonna be a problem. This one has a larger capacity, so it lasts a bit longer. But then this one is both a humidifier and an essential oil diffuser. Decisions, decisions.
16. Your Amazing Brain
Caring for houseplants involves a lot of trial and error. But you can make it a bit easier on yourself by filling your brain with plant knowledge (you’ve come to the right place) and then applying that to your own situation.
Just remember that even the most experienced indoor gardeners lose a plant every now and then. So don’t beat yourself up if a few of your plants end up in that great garden in the sky. Figure out what went wrong and then use that experience to take care of all your future plant babies.