There’s never been a better time to turn your apartment into an oasis. Instead of yearning for nature in a time when staying indoors is the rage, bring nature to you. Plant parenthood is a low lift way to infuse your home with life and beautify your space. Just look up #houseplant on Instagram, and the idea will sell itself.
Tending to an inhome garden is stress relieving, uplifting, and rewarding! But, it can feel daunting to get started. Before buying the first plant, questions begin to whirl. “How will I keep these alive?” “What plant should I buy?” “Do I need the brown pot or a white one?” Thankfully, there are plenty of experienced fathers out there who are highly willing to answer our questions about plant kin, and happy to share their advice with you.
Hilton Carter, Darryl Cheng (founder of House Plant Journal), Donovan Ho, Cyril Cybernated, Raffaele Di Lallo, Richard Pham, Jan Robin, Lefteris Anestis, and Domonick Gravine took some time to walk us through newborn plant parenthood. Read on, and plant away
(This interview has been edited for length)
What should you know about our homes and ourselves before buying plants?
Hilton Carter: When it comes to you, think of plants like a pet. If you bring home a dog, know you’ll have to walk it three/four times a day regardless of if its raining, snowing, hot, etc. But, if you bring a cat home, you know you don’t have to do much more than feed them and clean out their litter box. At the end of the day, are you a dog or cat type of plant person?
Darryl Cheng: Compared to a tropical forest, the inside of your home is very dark except right at the window. The only hope your plants have at growing is right in front of the window. The overall shape of the plant will change - don't expect it to stay looking the same forever. Perfectionists will have a tougher time accepting this fact.
Cyril Cybernated: Assess the home. Does it get a lot of light? Does it have enough circulation? Do
If your home does not get enough light, there are grow lights you can supplement it with and there are plants that thrive in low light. Having children and pets would be a determining factor on which plants you would want to get to ensure they are nontoxic to both human and fur babies.
Raffaele Di Lallo: Be honest with yourself. Are you home a lot, or are you gone from your home for long periods of time? Are you forgetful? Some plants can survive quite a bit of neglect, and some will absolutely wither away if you're not vigilant. Example: ferns need constant attention to moisture, whereas succulents and cactus like to dry out in between watering.
Richard Pham: There are two things you need to access before taking on the wonderful joy and journey of bringing a plant in your home.
The first is lighting. The second is your personality and lifestyle! What directions do your windows face? How bright do things get? Any obstructions blocking your windows? How does the light move throughout the day?
Sunlight is what a plant needs in order to photosynthesize, so you want to make sure the plant is properly ‘fed.’ Different plants have different lighting needs so get a plant that fits your natural lighting. That way your plants will do more than survive,
Are you someone who is more on the low maintenance side, always on the go or do you love giving attention? Do you have kids or pets? These are things to consider as well.
Lefteris Anestis: Know where your windows are facing, how much and what kind of light each room gets. A south-facing window is great for cacti and succulents which love direct sunlight but not optimal for most of the other houseplants. Similarly, a room with very little light can be good for plants such as dracaenas and pothos, but other houseplants will not thrive in low-light situations. Be aware of the levels of humidity in our places, especially if we want to buy tropical plants that love a humid environment in order to thrive.
Domonick Gravine: Before purchasing any plants, it’s always important to make sure you are prepared. If you’re very busy, low maintenance plants are always the best choice. Cacti thrive in south/south west facing window and need little attention. Most Orchids on the other hand prefer less intense light and more attention. Your conditions and the amount of attention you can devote to your plants determine which varieties will work best for you.
Are all pots created equal? What should we know about our plants when choosing their pots?
HC: Picking the right pot for your plant is a large part of the care and styling process. You have to pick out a pot that will keep the soil at the moisture level it needs to be. So if you’re going to place
DC: Having a drainage hole will make watering evenly and thoroughly easier. If the pot doesn't have drainage holes, you can use a plastic nursery pot to hold the plant and use the fancy pot as a decorative outer pot.
Donovan Ho: Maybe "equal" is not the right word but there's a lot to consider when picking out a perfect pot. Is there a drainage hole? Is it big enough to allow the plant to grow but not too big too overwhelm the roots? Keep the plant needs in mind when selecting a pot.
CC: There are several type of pots that you can use. The most common are terra cotta pots which are very porous, dry out easily, inexpensive and widely available. These are good for plants that like to dry in between watering such as cacti, succulents and sansevierias. Ceramic or porcelain pots which are also widely available and retain moisture more because of their glaze and finishing. Plants that enjoy moisture will do better
RDL: All pots are definitely not created equal! Choice of pots is really personal taste, however there are some very functional aspects that are important to mention. If your plants are top heavy, you will want to choose a heavier pot, whether it is a terra cotta pot or a glazed ceramic pot, so that your plant has a more stable footing.
Another very important thing to know about pots is the size of the pot. If your plant is root-bound and full of roots, you only want to repot your plant into the next higher size. Don't go too many sizes bigger than where you are already. Doing so can cause your soil to take too long to dry out and this will cause issues for your plant. This is a very common issue with new plant parents!
RP: Not all pots are created equal! Some are more porous, some retain more moisture, some don’t even have a drainage hole! The pot you choose will not only aid in your plant’s root health, but also help you manage your plants better! Generally, my pot of choice is a classic terra cotta pot with a drainage hole. It’s porous - so it helps wick away moisture from the soil allowing things to dry out evenly and smoothly at a nice rate. The drainage hole also helps assure that water isn’t trapped at the bottom of the pot, which can lead to root rot if a plant’s roots are left sopping wet for too long. More moisture loving plants, like ferns, enjoy a plastic pot versus terra cotta since they like things to dry out at a slower pace. Whatever pot you choose just make sure it has drainage somewhere. It really does help in the long run!
Jan Robin: From a functional perspective, all pots are created equal, from an aesthetic perspective, however, choosing the right pot for a plant is an art of its own. The pot can help to complement or entirely destroy a plant's visual appeal.
LA: From a functional point of view, I use terracotta pots for plants that like their soil to dry out between watering (cacti & succulents) and I use pots with better water retention for those who like to be on the moist side, ferns for example. I also believe that the pots are a very important contributing factor to the final aesthetic outcome. I like to choose a pot that matches the color of the leaves of the plant, creates a nice contrast and interesting shapes.
DG: There are a variety pots suited for specific plants. It’s important to choose a pot that’s 1-2 inches larger than the current one. Make sure it has drainage holes! It’s a common mistake to plant something in a fancy pot and it eventually dies because there are no drainage holes on the bottom of the pot. If you cant live without it drill a few drainage holes in the bottom. Plastic pots hold more moisture and for longer periods of time. Porous pots, like terra-cotta, dry quicker and more evenly. Porous pots are usually the way to go and environmentally friendly. I grow carnivorous plants and they like a lot of moisture so plastic is the better choice for me.
Top 3 plant suggestions for first time owners?
HC: Golden photos, snake plant, and ZZ plant.
DH: 1. Monstera Deliciosa - you probably recognize these famous leaves! Besides looking amazing, they're also pretty hearty plants that can thrive in most home conditions. 2. Philodendron Cordatum - these vining plants are super low maintenance and look great as a hanging plant. 3. Fiddle-leaf fig - there's a reason they're a staple when it comes to interior design. While they can be finicky, once you master these guys you can conquer any houseplant!
CC: I always recommend starting with easier plants and slowly build your expertise up. Start with snake plants or sansevierias - they were recently reclassified as dracaenas. They have the reputation of being "hard to kill" plants for a reason. Another easy plant to begin with is the peace lilly or spathiphyllum, this plant droops when in need of water which is a good indicator for newbies.
RDL: Pothos is a vining plant that is very easy to grow, tolerates a wide range in light, grows quickly, and is very easy to root from cuttings.
Sansevierias are very tough plants that can tolerate low light and a lot of neglect. Of course, they will do better if you give them bright light and pay some attention to them!
Spider plants are wonderful plants for the beginner due to their ease of growth and propagation. They literally will form loads of small plants, complete with roots that you can cut off and plant up immediately to make a new plant. Then you can share with friends or increase your own collection!
JR: Aloe vera, devil's ivy, and chlorophytum. They are easy to maintain, as they won't hold a grudge against you if you happen to water them too little or too much.
Any tips on mixing and matching plants to build an in home garden?
HC: It’s best to pick plants that need the same sort of care. This will help you stay on schedule when it comes to watering them and understanding what light to place them in.
DC: I would avoid buying more plants than you have windows!
DH: An in-home "jungle" looks best with variety! Plants come in all sorts of shapes, colors, sizes and even textures. Bringing together a variety of different plants will help create layers and add dimensions to your own personal jungle.
CC: It really depends on aesthetics; terra cotta looks great with green. The white pots also highlight foliage and patterns. It depends on your style, find out what you like by browsing for some inspiration photos, Instagram and Pinterest are filled with these inspirational photos and from there you slowly gather what combination you like.
RDL: Plants that will flower easily in the home include African Violets and Peace lilies. Sansevieria offers a beautiful architectural statement with their upright, stiff leaves. Vining plants such as pothos, hoyas and many philodendron can be suspended as hanging baskets from the ceiling, trailing off of a shelf, or even climbing up a moss post. There are a number of houseplants that will make amazing and tall floor specimens including various ficus, dieffenbachia (dumb cane), monstera deliciosa, and many others. The variety of shapes, sizes and colors in the foliage of all these plants is quite stunning and offers beautiful contrast.
RP: I’m a huge advocate of mixing and matching plants! Not only does it create a lush environment but it also creates a microclimate for your plants! Pair plants together depending on how similar their care and needs are. For instance, group your humidity loving plants like ferns and calatheas together so they can help each other out in boosting humidity levels.
LA: Only very tall plants look good placed on the floor. Find interesting plant stands. Use your bookcases, coffee tables and shelves to create different levels. Groups of 3 or 5 usually look good together and trailing plants always help bring a ‘jungle’ vibe.
DG: I like to choose my larger specimens first and then fill in with smaller types. Grouping different sizes and shapes together is visually appealing and adds an interesting look to the space. Contrasting colors make things pop! Don’t be afraid to mix and match pots too. You can stick with neutrals and add splashes of color, or just collect really unique pots.. trust me, it’s a thing! Diversify!
What supplies should we keep at home to ensure strong and healthy plants?
HC: Always have a fresh bag of soil, a large and small watering can, a pair of sharp shears and gardening gloves. Having a few extra pots handy never hurts. You never know when a curious cat might knock over a plant and break the pot and you’ll need a new one to place it in.
DH: Humidity is key! A good humidifier goes a long way and there are plenty of options out there that would look great in your home. And if your plants are not getting enough sunlight, look into getting a grow light.
CC: I always keep preventive plant products on hand. I use a systemic pesticide to prevent issues. Spray products work best once the infestation already began. Basic necessities such as watering cans, pruning scissors, wires, strings and poles always have to be on hand.
RDL: I would recommend always having a variety of different sized pots handy, as well as various soil mixes, and fertilizers. Have at least two kinds of soil mixes: an all-purpose soil mix as well as one for cactus/succulents if you are interested in those plants. I also like to mix in some perlite into soil mixes in order to lighten them up and improve water drainage, which is very important. It is important to regularly fertilize throughout the growing season for best results.
RP: Every plant parent should be equipped with a watering can to ensure an even and gentle distribution of water, a mister to help boost humidity just in case, and a pair of pruning shears cause every plant needs a haircut once in awhile and if you want to give a shot at propagating your plants to give to friends!
JR: Although I am a chemist by profession, I am not a big fan of artificial fertilizers. I wouldn't recommend having those. I tend to feed my plants with ground up, dried eggshells and occasionally I soak them in tea made from nettle. It's handy to keep a spritz bottle at hand for misting, a cloth for dusting, and some beer with which I lightly polish the plants' leaves, keeping them from collecting dust and giving them a shiny appeal. The beer doesn't harm the plants, as it is mainly comprised of water.
LA: A watering can, plant food for the growing season, pruning scissors, gloves and a mist sprayer are the essentials.
Any particular brands of pots/supplies that you’d suggest?
HC: I’d be lying if I didn’t say I love planters from CB2. But, I also like purchasing pots from local ceramic artists. They make it so you can be a bit more unique with your collection.
DC: Haws is the long-standing premium watering can brand. The long-handled snips are typically sold for Bonsai growers. Lechuza makes great pots with internal reservoirs for water.
DH: LBE Design offers high-quality planters that should be a staple in any home! Their planters are designed to perfectly fit nursery pots, so you can simply insert your plants along with their plastic store-pots for easy implant. If you're looking for unique planters, I recommend Angus & Celeste! They offer a wide range of pots in different designs that would add personality to your plant collection.
RP: I’m a bit of a grandma so Pennington terra cotta pots are my go-to - it’s been around for decades! You can find them in many stores as it’s pretty much the standard in terra cotta pots. Happy Frog is my potting soil mix of choice. For cool accessories, pots, goods, and plants, my favorite local business here in Brooklyn is Little Shop of Soil.
LA: Take the extra step and support their local creators and buy beautiful handmade ceramic pots from them.