You’ve seen them everywhere.
Real ones. Fake ones. Big ones. Little ones. Smooth ones. Spiky ones. You might even be wondering… where’s yours?
Becoming a plant parent is currently a popular trend and for good reasons too! Plants are not only great at purifying the air, they’re also great for improving our mental wellbeing, and being a great listener for when we need to vent or think things out aloud. 🙂
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a plant family. I’m not as green-fingered as my dad (he’s the best plant dad ever!) but after some trial and error and killing plants in the process, I’ve come to realise that there’s much more to raising a plant family than simply buying plants and watering them. You need to get to know them, learn about them and their unique requirements, needs and habits.
There’s loads of plant parenting guides out there to give you a hand with starting so don’t be afraid to read and research! My favourite Youtube videos on houseplants are by Amanda from Planterina – she is amazing and her plant collection is envious to say the least. As a landscape designer, this woman knows her sansevierias from her stromanthes so check her out. Her vids can be quite long so make sure you have some time to sit and watch. I’m also enjoying posts by Laura from House Plant House (HPH) and Darryl from House Plant Journal who write really informative posts on all things plant-related.
My top tips for starting a plant family…
Like I mentioned briefly before, becoming a plant parent is more than just buying a plant you simply like the look of, or that is trending at the moment. If you want to get off with a smooth start and not end up killing a bunch of plants like I did, heed the advice below:
Do your research!
A very important first step – and one that I’d highly recommend spending a decent amount of time on before buying any plant – is to do your research!
I’m not talking about just researching the plants you like and where they’ll look beautifully positioned in your home. I’m talking about the real stuff – temperature, humidity, light and water conditions.
Once you know the answers to those things then you’re ready to sift through the types of plants that you can buy. Knowing the plant’s requirements will also save you a lot of tears and money.
Photo Credit: Samson Katt on Pexels.com
Temperature – check the temperature of our rooms as it can vary from room to room. Knowing what your average temp is will help you to determine which houseplants will do well in your home. Tropical plants usually need a minimum of 21’C/69’F but most houseplants require around 15’C/59’C or above
Humidity – like room temp, humidity can also vary from room to room and different countries have different humidity levels. In the UK, the winters are quite dry, summers a little more humid so a humidifier might be an option to help increase the humidity in your home
Lighting – does the room have full light (bright direct or indirect), low light (partially shady to shady) or no light? (no windows, artificially light only). Most houseplants will require some light and generally indirect light is best for them. South facing windows have the strongest direct light and north-facing windows offer low indirect light, west/east-facing windows offer a good amount of indirect light.
Water – depending on the type of plant, they’ll either want to be watered frequently (likes to stay on the wet side), regularly (likes slightly moist soil) or occasionally (prefers to dry out before watering). Figure out how ‘hands-on’ you’ll be then you can determine which watering style suits you best.
Know the general do’s and dont’s when buying or bringing home new plants
These do’s and don’ts are pretty basic but should be enough to get you started…
- check your plants in the shop – look at the roots for signs of the plant being root bound or having root rot
- check for any pests and diseases on the plant (especially the underside of leaves)
- check the soil wetness – usually they are watered but some stores neglect their plants, if the soil is wet/moist then don’t water when you get it home
- allow your plant to acclimatise once you’ve brought it home. It’s normal to lose a few leaves during the first three weeks
- leave plant in their plastic nursery pots and resist the urge to repot until a few weeks later. When you do repot, choose a pot that has adequate drainage holes or make drainage holes for the pot
- occasionally give your plant leaves a wipe with a moist cloth and a spritz of natural repellent spray (I make a simple mix of water, neem oil and washing-up liquid) which keeps the leaves clean, shiny and bug-free. Neem oil is a natural oil that acts as a plant bug repellent and leaf shine. (NOTE: not all plant leaves need to be cleaned so check if yours does require cleaning before doing so otherwise you can damage the plant.)
- water your plant immediately after buying your plant unless the soil is bone dry or you can tell it’s been neglected
- water your plant with cold, icy or hot water as this can cause shock to the plant and roots – room temperature water is best and ideally with filtered or distilled water, or rainwater
- move the plant around too much as it needs to acclimatise so pick a spot and leave it there for a few weeks to see if it likes it there
- repot unless absolutely necessary – if it’s heavily root bound or has signs of root rot then you can attempt to repot. Don’t do it simply because you hate the plastic pot it comes in
- fertilise after bringing your plant home as it’s most likely that your garden centre or store would’ve done this recently already so wait a week or two first
Have realistic expectations of your plants
Just like parenting children, being a plant parent is no different. Every plant is different and if it’s your first time caring for that particular type of plant, you might come across some surprises. When shopping for a plant, be prepared that the one you’ve had your eye on for a while might not be best suited for the home because of its requirements. Understand that you might have to move your plant around if it’s not happy in its current location.
Also, be ready to accept that you might kill a couple of plants before getting it right – it’s okay! I still do it too.
Don’t buy too many too soon
I am 100% guilty of doing this!
I just get so excited come payday, I just want to come home with a load of plants in my arms. If you’re new at being a plant parent or a complete beginner, it’s much better to focus on one type of plant before buying a few to care for at the same time. If you must buy more than one plant at a time, buy two of the same plant instead. This will hopefully satisfy your impulse buying and allow you to study the plant in different rooms to see how they behave.
Invest in some equipment
Plants are sold all year round but if you can help it, I’d suggest buying at the start of Spring for optimal time because this is when plants are in their growing stage. This means it’ll be a little easier to care for your plants and any damage done will be a little more forgiving.
I’d recommend any plant parent to invest in a hygrometer (digital is best) to monitor soil moisture levels. If you’re keen on making your own soil mix then purchasing natural materials like perlite, orchid bark, horticultural sand and coco coir might be on your shopping list too. A coco-coir pole or moss pole might also be on your list if you growing tall or climbing plants like monsteras, philodendrons and pothos varieties.
Another piece of equipment I highly recommend especially if you have tropical plants is a humidifier (they love 60-80% humidity), especially for winter months when the central heating is on or if you live in dry humidity areas where humidity can be as low as 30-40%. Simply misting the leaves by hand will only help whilst you’re doing it but as soon as you stop, the air will return back to its dry state.
My 5 easy care houseplants for new plant parents
1. Monstera Deliciosa (swiss cheese plant)
Swiss cheese plant or cheese plant, the Monstera is my ultimate favourite houseplant. It’s so easy-going and loves both indirect light and shady areas making it a great first choice for flat dwellers. Hailing from the hot and humid tropical forests of South America, monstera plants love high humidity and warmth (minimum 21’C) so if you can somewhat replicate these conditions, your plant will love you even more and you’ll see plenty of monstera babies. Don’t worry if you can’t, they’ll adapt and survive in all conditions but you might experience slower growth.
For those beautiful ‘holes’ called fenestrations, your swiss cheese plant will need more light so place it where there is bright, indirect light (west or eastern window or next to north-facing window). If you have a south-facing room, place it away from the window as direct sunlight will scorch the leaves. Only water your plant once the top soil (about 4-5 inches down the pot) has dried out – this plant doesn’t like stay moist or get waterlogged.
2. Sansevieria Trifasciata / Dracaena Trifasciata (snake plant)
Commonly known as the snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue. A new botanical name has been set for the plant which is, Dracaena Trifasciata so you might see this name being referred to more than sansevieria trifasciata but they are the same thing. Originating from the tropics of West Africa, these houseplants are way shorter and smaller than their native members which can grow metres high! The yellow edged variation will do better with a little more indirect light whilst the all green snake plant prefers a little more shade. These plants hate their leaves getting wet, by doing so can rot their leaves so water carefully or water from bottom up to avoid water getting onto the leaves. They love to be dry so make sure all the soil has completely dried out before watering.
3. Dracaena Marginata (dragon tree plant)
A spiky plant similar to palm but way less demanding, the dragon tree plant is super easy to look after. Pretty much drought tolerant, these dragon tree plants will totally forgive you if you forget to water them. They are also slow growers so it’ll take some time before you’ll see new shoots which can be recognised as they’re lighter in colour. Totally tolerant of any condition you give it – shade, partial sun or full sun (beware as full direct sun can scorch the leaves) and prefers high humidity but will settle with lower humidity. These plants can also tolerant a range of temperatures but do best in warmer conditions (18-21’C).
The only thing it can’t tolerate is overwatering as they like to be dry. Err on the side of underwatering with this plant because it only needs watering when the soil has completely dried out.
4. Epipremnum Aureum (golden pothos)
It’s been rumoured that these plants are totally un-killable (please don’t try it out!) and will adapt to survive in any condition you give it. The golden pothos, also known as devil’s ivy, does best in shady areas but can also do well in low, medium or bright light. These plants are naturally climbers so they like to make their way up walls, shelves, and vertical objects but they also make great hanging plants as you can train them to trail. Originally found in south-east Asia, the golden pothos likes humidity and will be happy with occasional watering. They are not fussy plants at all – in fact, the more hands-off you are with this plant, the more happier it’ll be.
Leave them to get a little root bound before repotting as they’re use to being a bit overcrowded and water when the surface soil (top 2 inches of soil) is dry.
5. Hedera Helix (trailing common ivy)
I had to include a trailing plant and what’s better than one very common in the UK?! The common English ivy, scientifically known as hedera helix is a simple plant that looks beautiful wherever you decide to place it. Ideally, they does do better outdoors but grown as a houseplant, they require minimal care. They do like to drink a fair bit of water and is my thirstiest houseplant out of all the others. It likes it soil moist so don’t allow it to dry out completely before watering.
These guys will tolerate most indoor temperatures but keep it on the cooler side. I keep mine close to the balcony door so it can get some fresh cool air every now and then. In June/July, I leave it outside on the balcony and bring it back indoors around end of September/beginning October. Just make sure you check regularly for pests and bugs if you take them outdoors.
Ivy plants do appreciate humidity so an occasional shower or a good misting will keep it happy, and not to mention keeps bugs and dirt free from the trailing leaves. I water my ivy when the soil is touch-dry but sometimes leave it until the top 2 inches of soil is dry to make it easier for myself. I also use tap water at room temperature to water my ivy plant and it’s growing well – if if you can harvest rainwater then your ivy will love it.