I’m proud to say that I’ve been a plant lady since 2011, and along the way I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks. Long before it was the hottest trend to own plants, I’ve craved the peace they provide to my home both visually and environmentally. They are a (relatively) cheap and abundant source of home decor and one that I’m so happy to invest in. Back when I started, the internet wasn’t a wealth of resources on plants, so I kind of winged it and didn’t stress about which plants were hard to keep alive, stylish, etc. For a long time, I didn’t even know the names of many of my plants (whoops!). I have since become a bit more knowledgeable and want to share!
1. Don’t be intimidated
Buy plants that you like, even if other people say they are “hard to keep alive.” I bought a fiddle leaf fig for $12 at Ikea in 2014, before I knew that they were supposedly difficult. It almost died a million times in the first year (it lost so many leaves that it was basically a planted twig) as I moved it to half a dozen locations in our apartment, but once I found the right place for it, it thrived. This year I had to hack off the top because it was hitting my living room ceiling (and you better believe that I dipped that 2-foot stem in rooting hormone, stuck it in water, and got it to start a brand new plant)! My point is: don’t listen to other people’s experiences with certain plants. If you love it, buy it and you’ll find a way to make it work (or you’ll learn a valuable lesson).
2. Do be wary of price
Don’t spend a million dollars on plants right off the bat. Similarly, don’t necessarily drop upwards of a hundred dollars on a “hot” or fully mature plant just because you can. Believe it or not, there is tremendous (maybe even greater?) satisfaction in growing your plants from small starts, asking a friend for a cutting, or finding good deals on Craiglist/Facebook yard sale pages. Take cuttings from anyone who will let you, and dip them in rooting hormone (I’ve had plenty of cuttings survive without it, but they root faster when I remember to use it). When you buy or acquire baby plants, you know that you raised them yourself, and that, like parenthood, has a lot of benefits.
3. Do pay attention to the light you have in your home and the light a plant needs
I live in a 1950s home with small windows and lots of mature trees, so I don’t get a ton of bright sunlight. Because of that, I’m low on real estate for plants that like full sun. Sometimes that bums me out, but it turns out that I love a lot of plants that like filtered light, so I’ve made the most of it. Find a nursery with a lot of options and do your own research!
4. Don’t put your plants on a watering schedule but do put them on a fertilizing schedule
When I first started adding to my plant collection, I religiously watered on Mondays. I’m lucky that I didn’t kill many of them outright, but now I know that many don’t need weekly watering. Nowadays, I go around my home with my watering can on Mondays, sticking my index finger into the dirt up to my second knuckle. If I find the soil completely dry, I water. If not, I make a mental note to go back on Thursday and check again (and I watch my plants – often they “tell” you when they need water by drooping or curling their leaves!). I also fertilize every month or two in the off-season and every other week during the growing season. The right fertilizer is key, so make sure you use different types for succulents vs. regular plants, etc. I will also say that while it’s by no means a deal breaker, I swear that my plants have thrived so much more since I began using rainwater from our barrel to water my plants.
5. Do know when to change soil or re-pot and know how to choose the right pot
I give my plants a soil change every two years if they haven’t been re-potted in that time. To change the soil, dump out your plant, knock soil off the roots and re-pot it in fresh, nutrient-rich soil. When I notice lots of yellowing leaves, browning tips, or roots protruding from the bottom, I remove my plant from its pot and inspect the roots. I knock the excess soil off, prune the roots a bit, and re-pot in a pot 2″ larger in diameter (never go up more than this or your plant will be shocked). Speaking of the right size pot, let’s talk planters. One of the biggest mistakes I made in the beginning, was potting my plants in planters without drainage holes. They might look pretty, but they aren’t functional at all. If you love the look of drainage-free pots (or baskets), simply pot your plant in a cheap nursery pot (that’s the flimsy plastic pot that your plant came in, and they are sold at most nurseries or hardware stores) and then place it inside the decorative one. Voila!
6. Do regularly inspect, clean, and prune your plants
Around once a month (I’d probably do it more often, but kids), I take a dry microfiber cloth and clean off the leaves of my plants. It’s amazing how much dust they accumulate, and that hinders them from absorbing sunlight. While I dust, I notice and remove things like dead or discolored leaves. I also keep an eye out for pests, like fungus gnats. Finally, I decide whether pruning is needed. I use a pair of sharp bonsai shears to snip off excess growth that I don’t want anymore, and then try to propagate a new plant from that excess.
And here’s something you won’t hear often…
Neglect your plants. That’s right, neglect. Don’t baby them. Plants, like children, thrive on independence and benign neglect. The less fussing you do, the more space they have to thrive. Plant lady pinkie swear.
Here are some good plants to start with
- Snake plant
- Pothos plant (check out some of the beautiful varieties, like silver pothos or lime pothos!)
- Spider plant
- Peace lily
- Jade plant
- Watermelon peperomia
- Rubber plant (again, check out some of the varieties available, like burgundy and variegated!)
Here are some area plant shops and Instagram accounts to follow
- Merrifield Garden Center (I drive out of my way to go to the Fair Oaks store; it’s truly my heaven)
- Little Leaf Shop
- Hilton Carter
- House Plant Club
- That One Plant Guy
- Succulent City
BONUS: are you an outdoor plant lady? Do you know how to handle ticks you might pick up in your yard?
I grew up in rural North Idaho, where there aren’t ticks. I only had a vague knowledge of how to check for and deal with them from our annual visits to my grandparents’ Maryland farm. When talk of ticks and Lyme disease peaked last summer, I armed myself with information. That’s when I happened upon this article. Using the information there, I put together a gallon Ziploc bag containing the following: a pad of sticky notes, a pen, a pair of tick tweezers, a tape dispenser, a few alcohol wipes, and band-aids, and a printed list of instructions about how to remove a tick (hint: it’s not standard to burn it out or coat it in petroleum jelly anymore – you want to get it out quickly and retain the head/body for testing). I actually made two identical kits: one for my home and one for my car. For me, this is primarily about peace of mind. I didn’t grow up around ticks, so I will panic if and when I find one on my family. Knowing that I have everything in one place to handle the situation calmly and quickly makes me feel better. Happy outdoorsing, friends!
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