a beginners guide to growing pretty green things

January 16, 2018

Plants breathe life into your home. If you look around your house and things are looking a little stale and... well, beige, a few nice house plants will do the trick! If you've never cared for house plants (or maybe you killed a few and are now scarred for life), it can be a little intimidating.

 

So I'm about to drop some plant knowledge right quick, broken down step by step: 1) buy 2) plant and 3) maintain. At the end I'll share some specific care information that I have accumulated over the years, through trial and error with my own house plants.

 

But first...

MY  CREDENTIALS:

  • 8 indoor plans alive and thriving in my home -- they've survived for numerous years, through multiple moves and even a couple dimly lit apartments.

  • I grew 100 individually potted succulents in the year leading up to my wedding - then gave them out as my wedding favors!

  • Green thumbs run in my family. My Nana (my mom's mom) is an expert gardener (I swear she can grow anything!!!) and back in the day, HER dad (my great-grandpa) was Supervisor of Maintenance for the Recreation & Parks Department in San Francisco. He oversaw all city parks, including the 1,017 acre Golden Gate Park. 

    • ​Oh and remember those above mentioned succulent wedding favors? 95% of our guests killed them off, but my Nana's are still alive and thriving (exhibit A above... this is one of MANY pots it's multiplied into).

 

Okay so lets get started, here are a of couple things you need to know. Keep these tips in your back pocket - they will help guide you when caring for your leafy green friends:

 

BUY:

  • First things first. You need to decide what pretty plant to bring into your home. So before you go all Pinterest crazy and buy the most chic, exotic, (expensive) and difficult to maintain plant - do your research and figure out what plant will grow best with the space and lighting you have. Also be sure to check and make sure the variety you choose are not harmful to your pets or children... I do have a couple that are harmful if ingested, but Ella (our Malti-poo) doesn't get into our plants and I've made sure they are ALWAYS out of Ava's reach.  

    • Here are three great starter house-plants that are pretty AND pretty easy to keep alive. Click on each photo for the plant name.

  • Note that Amazon sells plants!! I've bought two Fiddle Leaf Fig trees online since you can't always find them at Home Depot or Costco (although they do pop up in both of those locations seasonally). They arrive all packaged up (with lots of environmentally un-friendly styrofoam peanuts) and so far they've done really well for me!

  • There's a time and a place for plastic or silk plants. It does not come in the form of 80's style ivy or cheap and bright flowers in gel-water.

    • Some good fake plants worth incorporating in your home decor: 

      • Succulents (the real ones look like plastic anyway, and there are some VERY convincing fake ones on the market. Michael's has a ton right now - one of which is pictured below!)

      • Orchids - easier to keep alive than the real ones and they usually look pretty realistic.

      • Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree - One of my favorite house plants but difficult to keep alive. I have a tip to keep these buggers thriving (keep reading). BUT if you've already killed your fair share and are OVER IT... go buy a nice fake one. Michael's has these right now too!

 

PLANT:

  • When it's time to plant - make sure to buy a large enough pot. The pot size can restrict how large the plant will grow (think about it -- the roots only have as much room as you give them!)

  • Drop an odd-shaped pebble in the hole at the bottom of your pot. This hole lets any excess water out (which is good), but the pebble will prevent your dirt from escaping when you water. 

  • Protect your floors and buy clear plastic planter saucers. They are cheap and will protect your floors by catching any excess water that leaks out of the bottom. Replace these every 6-12 months (they can occasionally crack when they get too worn).

 

MAINTAIN:

  • Plants DON'T like to be moved around. They like consistency (in watering and in location/lighting).

  • Pick one day each week to water and stick to it. I like to water on Sundays because I'm usually doing things around the house anyways and it's easy for me to remember.

  • If leaves turn dry and brown, your plant wants MORE water.

  • If leaves turn yellow and a little mushy at the stem (example below), your plant wants LESS water.

  • If your plant starts looking sad or leaves start dying off - all is not lost! Most house plants are pretty resilient, so just get back on track with watering, or make some tweaks based on my watering guidelines above, and your plant should be looking good in no time!

  • Prune your plants every month or so. Snip off any brown leaves, or brown tips. If tips are pointed, trim the leaf down to a point again.

*Fun fact - my Great Grandpa wrote The Sunset Pruning Handbook, copyright 1952, 1972 (picture below). You guys, I wasn't kidding about green thumbs running in my family! That's a picture of his labeled succulent collection on the far right... I believe labeling runs in my family also.

 

  • Dust your plants too! They get dusty and that dust clogs their little plant pores (not a botanist so this is in layman's terms) but they basically can't absorb as much sun when they are covered in dust SO put a little coconut oil on a soft cloth and wipe them down every so often (pruned plant above has also been dusted... see the difference??)

  • Plants are living organisms SO this might sound crazy, but give your plants a little love and talk to them every once in a while (wait... stay with me on this one).. When I was first growing my Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree in Ava's room (before there was a baby or even any furniture in there), I would talk to it while I was watering since that room got so little foot traffic. Can't hurt... might help, so why not?

SOME SPECIFICS:

 

These are tips and watering amounts that have worked for me. I can't guarantee this is a recipe for pristine plant growth in your own home, but it's a starting point. You can tweak and modify based on what works for you!

  • Fiddle Leaf Fig Trees - By a window. 1 cup of water once a week (for a medium to large tree, like the one pictured above - a little less for a smaller tree). Soil should dry out between waterings.

    • These leaves have A LOT of surface area so be sure to wipe them down

    • They will start 'leaning' towards the sun, so rotate them every once in a while. This goes for other leaning plants too!

  • Orchids - Indirect light. 2-3 ice cubes in the soil once a week.

  • Bromeliads - Indoor or outdoor (mine is on the patio). Water in the middle, until each little interior leaf is filled up with water. When the middle stem sprouts up, you can pull off the baby-bromeliads (also called pups) and plant them in their own pot. 

  • Succulents - Buy fake ones. Kidding. Sort of. This is the one plant that has occasionally given me trouble when grown indoors, which is funny because they are notoriously easy to keep alive. So full disclosure, I may not be the BEST person to take succulent advice from BUT what I do know is that contrary to popular belief, they LOVE water. They just don't like sitting in a puddle of soppy soil. I have some outdoor ones that do really well and I swear, every time it rains they grow an inch or two! 

I hope these little tidbits of advice give you a little bit of confidence when marching into your local garden center. And if you take away ANYTHING from this post - let it be this:

  1. Stack the deck and buy easy plants.

  2. Water once a week on the same day.

  3. Listen (and occasionally talk), to your plant. If the leaves are drooping, that's your plant's way of saying, 'HEY HUMAN, GET OFF YOUR PHONE AND PICK UP THAT WATERING CAN!' (Another post on how to avoid the particularly disrespectful plant variations to follow).

 

Happy growing!

 

 

 

 

 

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© 2018 by Lauren Gardner Blog