Welcome to the World of Houseplants
Simple rules for keeping your houseplants growing and thriving.
Since we’re all spending more time indoors, we’ve heard that many people are turning to their beloved houseplants for the hit of nature they may typically be more accustomed to from their gardens or local parks and forests. It’s one of my favorite topics to talk about personally; the true joy I experience when tending to and caring for the wide variety of plants I grow in my home.
To know me, is to know my love of houseplants. I grew up in the country with a large backyard, a plentiful garden of fruits and vegetables, and an admitted natural ‘green thumb’ from a very young age. I would be lying if I said I recognized at the time how valuable my plethora of exposure to plants & shrubs & flowers would be later in my life (it wasn’t cool to weed the garden on the weekend when you were a teenager), but I digress, and here I find myself today, a self-professed, 100-houseplants-in-my-one-bedroom-apartment-kinda-gal.
My favorite plant is a pothos. The main reason? Instant gratification. Trust me on this - any Canadian Tire/Home Depot/Rona-type store will have inexpensive, yet already full and lush-looking pothos plants, and I promise you within weeks you’ll have trails climbing down the side of the pot and on their way to instagram-worthiness. And, they are also very forgiving in that they don’t need a strict watering or fertilizing schedule and they can thrive in different light conditions.
I want to share my personal top 3 rules for houseplants and how to create an oasis of plant-filled-goodness in your homes and work spaces. After all, plants are good for you; studies show people are 15% more productive in workplaces with greenery.
RULE #1: Don’t pay top dollar for anything Mother Nature would give you for free
$200 for a fiddle leaf fig from a trendy plant boutique? I’m not buying it (literally). I got my fiddle for $17.95 at Home Depot and she’s thriving! After a slow-growth winter, she’s sprouted 6 bright, shiny new leaves in the last month and is enjoying all of this extra sunshine. This is a personal hard rule for me: don’t buy expensive plants. There are a number of reasons: you’re going to be really disappointed if something goes awry and your plant doesn’t survive (spoiler alert: this will happen to the best of us plant moms and dads - that’s the nature of nature), you’re more inclined to fuss over every yellow leaf or wilted flower, which causes YOU stress (the exact opposite intention of owning houseplants), and lastly, it’s just unnecessary. My favorite place for new houseplants? Ikea. Second to that, any home goods store I mentioned earlier, any neighborhood bodega, almost any grocery store. And the most fun? Propagating your own little plant babies and sharing with friends!
RULE #2: It’s ok to have two of the same plant. Or three. Or four.
Imagine you were going shopping for new clothes. Your favorite color is blue, but you come home with a new red shirt. Why? Because you thought it was silly to purchase another blue shirt, even though that’s what you really wanted? When it comes to houseplants, I don’t subscribe to this logic. It’s ok to like what you like! You don’t need to feel pressured to try growing new plants, or to ‘mix it up’. True story: my current snake plant count is 9. Why? Because I really like snake plants! I like the differences in height, and texture of the leaves, and the different variegations. I like that these are plants I can grow reliably, and that bring me joy. Which brings me to rule #3, the most important rule of all:
RULE #3: Choose houseplants for the conditions you have, not the conditions you wish you had
Light & water. The cardinal rule of houseplant-parenting is an appropriate amount of both. One of the biggest mistakes we as plant-keepers make is opting for greenery that simply doesn’t stand a fighting chance in the conditions we create for it. An easy example? Tropicals. Many tropical plants require 8-10 hours of direct sunlight per day, as this is the climate they are native to and acclimated for. You show me a household in Vancouver, for example, with 8-10 hours of direct sunlight per day between November-March and I’ll show you a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It’s easy to get discouraged and feel as if you’re not meant to plant-parent, but take heart.
Making a few (critical) adjustments to light & water can be the difference between ‘thriving’ or ‘barely surviving’ for your plant babies. Let’s start with light. Low light does not mean ‘no light’ or ‘put this in a dark corner and forget about it’. It means an area with no direct sunlight or minimal direct daylight. These are conditions typically found in north or north east facing homes. Most low light plants still require brightness; this means an area that is still within 8-10 feet of a window. Google is your friend here. Search widely and often for the best tips and tricks for keeping your plants happy.
The other side of light is plants that require bright light or direct sunlight, which is typically found in homes with south or south west facing light. Last summer, I grew a pineapple. Yes, a pineapple. And from May to September, that pineapple was living its best life. And come October, that pineapple was droopy and sad, and we said our goodbyes shortly afterwards. The pineapple originates from southern Brazil and is now economically significant to Hawaii. You may be sensing a trend here; Vancouver & Hawaii aren’t similar in climate or light conditions. I had to be realistic about what I could offer my plants, which is north east facing light, with 3-4 hours of early morning direct sunlight (on a clear day). When a plant says it requires full sun or direct light, take this literally. Save yourself the heartache - choose plants that make sense for the conditions you have.
When it comes to water, it’s slightly simpler. The #1 plant killer? Over watering. Or, over-loving, as I like to say. Again, go with google. You’ll find many tips that say, “stick your finger one inch into the soil and if it’s moist, wait, and if it’s dry, water”. Or, “let soil dry completely between waterings”. This is sound advice. Most indoor plants don’t require being watered more than once a week, and some may be happy with less (the snake plants we talked about earlier, as well as the zz plant are two common examples, that also both do well in low light conditions). The correlation? Low light plants almost always require less water.
Plants that require more water? Larger ones. Make this super simple for yourself. Children require less volume of food than adults because their physical bodies are smaller. You wouldn’t water a succulent the same way you would a palm tree. Don’t over complicate this; being a plant owner is supposed to be fun and rewarding, not stressful and science-y. There are literally dozens of houseplants that won’t turn into a full-time job, though they will provide you with full-time happiness if you let them.
The final rule of watering? Adjust seasonally. Your plants require less water as they start to receive less light. When fall and winter begin their approach later this year, think of watering your plants like it’s that scene from “Friends” when Ross is trying to move the couch up a staircase in an apartment building: “PIVOT! PIVOT!” (For me personally, I go down to watering my small-medium plants every 2 weeks, and I keep my big guys on a once a week schedule).
Houseplant ownership is rewarding and gratifying. Couple that with the numerous health benefits of keeping your home green and you’ve got a recipe for happiness and feelings of fulfilment. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the plant world: “I don’t know whether nice people tend to grow roses, or growing roses makes people nice.” - Roland A Browne
I don’t know whether nice people tend to grow roses, or growing roses makes people nice.