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Can I just say up front how much I adore plant people? Regular visits to plant shops have become a staple in my self-care routine—a traipse around the ficuses, succulents and ferns can alleviate even my most severe bouts of existentialism. That said, plant people tend to be wise to an arguably magical level, so in addition to relieving my personal stressors on my plant shop runs, I always ask for their wisdom regarding house care plant tips, too. I make the most of these visits, and I’m more than happy to pass on what I’ve learned.
My plants improve my life—they’ve legitimately helped lower my blood pressure!—so of course I want to make their lives as pleasant as possible. With this in mind, I take any chance I can get to ask knowledgeable, plant-loving individuals about the best ways to care of them. Treat your plants the way you want to be treated, people! Of course, the answer is always some combination of light, water, and soil, but at the same time, it’s so much more than that. Before I head out to buy yet another arilia, a pothos, and 500 snake plants, I figured I’d impart their wisdom to you.
Light, Water & Balance
Erin Marino, Director of Brand Marketing at The Sill and proud plant mom, stresses the importance of understanding how much light your space can offer before making any leafy purchases. “Light is food for plants!” she says. “Make sure you understand how much natural sunlight your plant needs, and how much light your space can provide before making your selections. This will set you up for success!”
While most houseplants need little beyond light and water, too much of a good thing can be a very real risk. “Healthy plants rarely say no to a drink of water,” Marino says, noting that the most common mistake for beginners tends to be overwatering. “Watering on exactly the same day every week may do more harm than good,” she says. Actually checking and watering when the soil is dry is always preferable to just adding water periodically. “Remember, you can always add water, but it’s much more difficult to subtract it,” warns Marino. Joyce Mast, resident “Plant Mom” at BloomScape agrees: “Generally, plants do not need as much water as most people think.”
Put Down The Mister, Mr.!
Love your little succulent family? That cute mister that looks like a vintage perfume pump you bought at Urban was a great find…that is, so long as you don’t overuse it. “Succulents are characterized as such because they’ve developed characteristics over time that make them drought-tolerant,” Marino says. “They definitely don’t want, or need, any extra humidity or moisture.” Mast says that when you do water a succulent, make sure to pour water under the leaves and into the soil rather than into the center or crown of the plant to avoid rot.
So, what are those misters even good for? Marino recommends saving them for plants “that appreciate some extra humidity and moisture, like air plants and some varieties of ferns,” and not watering succulents until they show signs of thirst, like curling or wrinkling. Felix Navarro, owner of The Juicy Leaf in Los Angeles, says misters are also good for keeping plants free from dust. “Dust can lead to pests and clogging of the pores on your plants’ leaves,” Navarro explains. “Keeping your plants free of dust goes a long way in regards to plant health.”
Control Your Drainage
DIY’d a cute plant pot? Marino experiments a lot with planters that don’t have traditional drainage, so she’s got a boatload of tips. “Many of my planters are reused ceramic candles that don’t have any holes,” she says. If you’re a mindful waterer, Martino notes that it’s fully possible to create your own drainage system by adding a layer of rocks at the bottom of your pot before adding soil.
However, if you do use containers without drainage holes for your plants, Martino recommends watching out for mineral buildup over time. While in general, tap water can be perfectly safe for houseplants, there are certainly a few exceptions. “Similar to drinking salt water, your plants can start to show possible signs of dehydration if that buildup gets crazy,” says Martino. If you’re particularly concerned about the contents of your tap water, you can try leaving your tap water out in a watering can or container for a day or so, to help excess salt evaporate.
Don’t Make Any Sudden Movements
Believe me, I am definitely guilty of moving around a plant or two to suit an Instagram photo’s aesthetic, but rearranging your plant babies on a regular basis is not the move. “Something I see a lot is people changing the care or the environment of their plants very suddenly,” Navarro says. “Another example would be people who go on vacation and turn off all their lights, close their curtains, and deprive their plants of water for the duration of their absence.” Some people also overcompensate by moving plants outdoors to get more light, without acclimating them to the drastic change at all. Both scenarios can be a shock to the plant, which may result in lost leaves, drooping branches or in the worst-case scenario, death. “I would say that in general, you should try to avoid changing too many variables at once,” says Navarro.
Snag A Low-Maintenance Fave
There are a few varieties of plants the pros recommended for beginners. Navarro called any variety of sansevieria (aka Snake Plant) a great starter plant. “They’re incredibly versatile when it comes to lighting, and can happily live in bright, partial, or low-light environments,” he says. “I like to say they thrive on neglect, as they can go extended periods of time without water,” he adds. Sansevierias can also handle being overwatered, so it’s almost impossible to upset them too dramatically.
Mast’s pick? The Money Tree! “Many people believe that Money Trees signal good luck and good fortune to come, and it’s a popular plant in feng shui as it’s believed to create positive energy in a space,” she says. Along with being ~lucky~, Money Trees are extremely easy to care for, needing indirect light and infrequent watering.
Navarro and Marino both recommend plants from the pothos family for beginners. “We lovingly call it the cubicle plant because it can tolerate a wide range of conditions,” Marino says. “It’s a quick-growing trailing plant, thrives in medium indirect light, and you’re looking at watering it about once a week in the growing season and less in fall and winter.” Navarro adds that pothos are a great alternative for people looking for large-scale plants, which can be expensive. “It can cost upwards of $250 for something that’s just six feet tall,” he says, “If you get a pothos for around $40, you can hang it from your ceiling and its vines can can take up as much space as you want them to.”
The biggest thing to remember about plants is they’re usually much harder to kill than you’d expect. “The one thing I’ve realized over the course of many years working with plants is that they require less attention than most people think,” Navarro points out. “People tend to worry if a plant gets a yellow leaf or a brown spot, but you need to realize that they’re living beings that go through cycles just like us,” he says, adding, “They’re not going to be perfect all the time.” Ugh—see what I mean? Plant people really do know everything.