You can blame Instagram, maybe, or millennials, or House Beautiful's own pages, but lately it seems like everybody has a living room full of lush, thriving houseplants. It's understandable to want in on the look: houseplants offer tons of health benefits (both physical and mental), and they can fill odd corners or tabletops in a way that just makes your home feel lived in.
But anyone who's struggled to keep even a spider plant alive knows that a green thumb, even of the humble indoor variety, doesn't come naturally to everyone. No worries! In a few simple steps, anyone can become a plant a person. Here's a course of action to get you rolling.
Start with succulents.
Succulents are great plants for beginners because they’re not expensive, not finicky, and they come in hundreds of sizes, colors and shapes that can be grown both indoors and out. “Succulents are the closest thing to plastic in the plant kingdom,” says Debra Lee Baldwin, author of Designing with Succulents. “Give them bright light, but not right up against a window or they can get burned by the sun.” Another common beginner mistake: overwatering. “They store water in their leaves, stems and roots, so let them go almost dry,” says Baldwin. “Most only need watered every 10 days to two weeks.”
Good beginner choices:
Jade plants, especially varieties such as ‘Sunset’ or ‘Hobbit
Haworthia, such as ‘Super White’ and ‘Baccata’
Dwarf aloes, such as ‘Christmas Carol’ or ‘Pink Blush’
Then step it up with low-skill options.
Once you’re feeling more confident, it’s time to consider adding other types of houseplants to the family. “The most important thing to remember is that any new plant needs to get used to its new light situation,” says Barbara Pleasant, author of The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. “Give it about two weeks to adjust, because you have no idea what stresses that plant has been through—whether it was outdoors, in a greenhouse, or just rode in the back of a truck from Florida for a week.”
Most plants will perk up and adjust to whatever light is available in the first few weeks, but read the plant tag or description to give it a good spot. For example, a plant that needs high light does best in an east- or south-facing window (or west window, in a pinch). Don’t put it right up against the window, as it won’t like drafts in winter or sunburn in summer. Also, make sure the pot has holes in the bottom because no plant likes wet feet! If it’s in an ugly pot, just drop it into a decorative one; you can go years without needing to repot a new houseplant.
Good beginner choices:
Rabbit’s foot fern, fast-grower with fuzzy rhizomes that resemble animal feet
African violet, cheery and cheap to replace if it fails
Rubber tree, an easy-to-grow large plant that will tolerate dim lighting
Avoid watering mistakes.
Most newbies tend to drown their houseplants, says Pleasant. But plants need water less frequently than you might think— often only every week to ten days, depending on the environment. Water until it runs out of the bottom of the pot (don’t forget a saucer for overflow!). Then feel the weight of the pot, says Pleasant. That gives you an idea of how it should feel when the soil is saturated. If you pick the pot up and it’s feather-light, it’s time to water. Another sign? The soil pulls away from the sides of the pot. For heavy pots, stick a chopstick in a few inches; if damp particles of soil cling, hold off on watering.
Finally, don’t water all your plants on a schedule—say, every Monday. Different plants have different needs at different times of year. Plants may need to be watered less frequently in a humid environment, such as in a bathroom. Or they may need more frequent drinks in dry indoor winter air. It may take some trial and error, but you’ll get this!
Feed your plants. Or not.
New plant parents often think they have to “do” something to their plants, so they wonder about feeding them with extra products. If you suspect for some reason that your plant needs a little boost, try a liquid fertilizer and follow label instructions. Use in the spring and summer, as most houseplants aren’t actively growing in winter, says Pleasant. Or you can refresh the soil every few years by topdressing it, or scraping off the top inch or two of soil and adding new potting soil.
Advance to plants you can eat.
No, you don’t need a huge yard or farm or fences to keep the deer away. Herbs such as sage, thyme, chives, and oregano are easy to grow in pot, whether on a patio or just a window sill. They’re also perennial, so they’ll come back year after year. You can also purchase herb kits with built-in lights or hydroponic (soil-less) kits for your kitchen counter.
Greens, such as arugula, baby lettuces, kale, and spinach, are also a cinch to raise. If you have no yard, or your home's soil isn’t the best quality (such as heavy clay or sand), greens also grow well in containers, because they don’t need a ton of room and have shallow roots. Other easy crops to try if you're a newbie include beans, peppers, and squashes of all types. One important note: Make sure all your garden veggies get at least six hours of full sun per day, or they won't produce well.
Don’t give up!
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, a plant doesn’t thrive. Maybe a big-time infestation of little white bugs (those are probably aphids!) appears, or the leaves get yellow or spindly, or a plant is dropping foliage all the time. Give yourself permission to toss it, says Pleasant. Yes, toss it! A weak, bug-infested plant is going to be a struggle to save, and sometimes, you just have to cut your losses. You don’t have to love all your plants (or keep them forever). Just move on to the next plant, and don't lose hope. There’s always something new to try, and eventually, you’ll find one that you love—and that loves you back!
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