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Common Mistakes with Houseplant Care and Cultivation

You don’t need to be a professionally trained botanist to become a houseplant expert, but there are a handful of rules you should know about. This information can help you avoid common houseplant mistakes, but it also provides perspective. Even if you still end up making mistakes, knowing what went wrong can help you determine whether you simply need to try again or whether you need to make significant changes when choosing and caring for your new houseplants.

Houseplant Selection and Placement

You can’t just pick whatever plant looks good to you, find any spot in the house, and expect the plant to thrive by following the basic care instructions. You may get lucky with some plants, and you can always experiment with plants in less than ideal conditions. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to know the difference between plants that prefer full sun and those that prefer indirect light. Reasonable watering access is another thing we like to consider. For hard-to-reach plants with a thick base of stems, it’s nice to have a watering can with a long, narrow stem.

Over-Watering and Under-Watering

This is a big one. Even if you’ve owned houseplants for years, it’s easy to get fooled. If you’ve been watering a plant a lot or if you’ve ignored it for a couple weeks, it’s easy to think that the first signs of stress have something to do with your watering schedule. Sometimes, this is the case, but not always. If you’re not sure, it’s usually a good idea to err in favor of the plant’s natural tolerance. A thirsty variety of fern can dry out in less than a week. Drought-tolerant plants may not need water yet even if they’ve been neglected for weeks. More than just how often you water, you need to be mindful of how much you’re watering. Even if you do it every day, misting does not provide sufficient water for healthy root growth for most types of houseplants. For even better watering practices, it’s a great idea to buy a tool that can measure the moisture level underneath the soil’s surface.

Mistakes with Pots and Soil Selection

Pot and soil selections can be a real asset or a real hindrance for watering and moisture control. You want to match the pot and soil to the plant. Most drought-resistant plants do best in sand or sandier soil that does not retain water. Many of these plants can be seriously hurt if their roots get too wet. Soil aerators can also help make sure your plants are getting enough air, as well as enough water. Drainage pots are another way to control moisture level, increase air flow, and protect these types of plants. In contrast, clay soils are better at retaining water and are preferred for thirstier plants. Some soils and plants are also more sensitive to imbalances in pH level. All in all, there are just a few tips and tricks you need to know to make smart pot and soil choices for your houseplants.

Not Having a Plan for Success

Some houseplants may struggle, others may quickly reach a stable size, but there are also plenty of popular houseplants that will take off given the right conditions. Some houseplants will show incremental growth during the summer season, while staying dormant during the winter. Some plants won’t just expand on its current design but will also grow offshoots that can be trimmed and repotted—or otherwise propagated. This should be something that you can take pride in. Maybe it provides a daily source of modest joy in your life, but you should also be mindful of what you’re going to do if the plant continues to get bigger. Will the plant stay healthy once it reaches the maximum growth in its current pot? You may need to repot the plant in a container that allows room for growth, and this can mean finding a slightly different place or angle for the pot and plant. You should also look at whether the plant can be propagated: New growth in some plants can be trimmed in specific ways that allow it to flourish as its own plant. Don’t have the space for another houseplant? It’s time to reach out to friends and family who may appreciate a free houseplant.  

Assuming a Dead Houseplant is a Personal Failure

Yes, sometimes we make mistakes with houseplant care that end up cutting the plant’s life short. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes plants were just weak and ill-fated from the start. You’re not a bad person just because you want to live in a place with cats and houseplants at the same time. Moreover, we reject the idea that some people just aren’t born with a green thumb. We’ve marshalled houseplants to their early demise despite our best efforts. We’ve had resilient pests attack our plants when we least expect it. Don’t let one dead plant ruin a lifetime of enjoyment and home decoration.

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Are Houseplants Good for the Environment?

What are Eco-Friendly Houseplants?

It depends who you ask. For a long time, the conventional wisdom was that eco-friendly houseplants were good because they purified the air. Unfortunately, houseplants do not actually improve the air quality of indoor spaces. Depending on how you find and care for your houseplants, some of the materials may not be sustainable, either. Nevertheless, houseplants can improve our mood and mental health, and that can lead to more eco-friendly choices in other areas of our lives. Here is what you need to know about the best practices to make sure your houseplants are good for the environment.

Air Purification and Carbon Removal

The idea that houseplants are good for the environment is based largely on a NASA study from the late 1980s that looked at trying to use plants to scrub the air in a closed environment. Technically, it’s true that houseplants remove carbon and pollutants from the air, while releasing oxygen. Because many types of houseplants are high photosynthesis plants, they are more efficient at this process. However, most or all of the air in your home or office space is replaced much too quickly for houseplants to have any measurable impact on the indoor air quality.

Reducing Delivery Costs for Eco-Friendly Houseplants

There may be an environmental cost to houseplants if you’re ordering plants online that need special packaging and are being shipped from a remote location. Of course, making a separate trip to the local plant store has its own carbon footprint, especially if you’re making the trip every week for replacement plants. The best option for the environment is also the one that’s free. Talk to your friends, family, and neighbors who have enthusiasm for houseplants and can give you a plant they’ve propagated from their own collection.

Pots and Soils that are Good for the Environment

Along with the transportation and lifecycle costs of houseplant deliveries, most types of houseplant pots can’t be recycled. Even plastic pots are often deemed contaminated when not thoroughly cleaned and black plastic can get missed by the sorting machine. Unless you know the exact policies and infrastructure at your local recycling center, you can’t assume any used plant pots will get recycled. If you’re willing to take the extra step of dropping off the containers, you may be to find a plant container recycling program in your area. Otherwise, it’s best to reuse the pot or else throw it away.

For eco-friendly houseplant soils, the most important thing is to avoid peat moss. Peat is not the same as soil, and it’s not a sustainable resource. While it can certainly help your plants grow and stay healthy, it comes at an environmental cost. Plus, there are plenty of soil alternatives for peat, and you can find a suitable replacement for any type of houseplant.

Finding and Caring for Houseplants

When it comes to finding houseplants that are good for the environment, we recommend looking at all your options. When it makes sense to do so, we buy some of our houseplants online and some of them from local plant shops. We also love to trade houseplants with other people. We try to give every houseplant an environment in which they can thrive, but we also like to change up our space with new plants at least a few times a year. We’ve thrown out a few terra cotta pots in our time, but we’ve also learned to scrounge, cherish, and give away more of our houseplant pots over the years.

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How to Decorate a New Living Space with Houseplants

Packing and moving can be very stressful, but decorating a new living space with houseplants is one of the best parts about getting settled in a new place. Bringing a bit of nature into your home environment can provide all kinds of subtle benefits. That doesn’t mean you have a plan for every plant, windowsill, shelf, and side table. You probably don’t know where the rest of your home décor and knick-knacks are going yet, either. We can’t answer every question without knowing the peculiarities of your home and houseplant preferences, but we can help you brainstorm ideas and formulate a plan for how to decorate a living space with houseplants.

Evaluate Your Windows and Natural Light

This is an obvious one, but there’s likely more to it than you realize at first. The biggest factor is cardinal direction. West and south-facing windows are best for plants that like lots of direct sunlight. East-facing windows provide moderately direct sunlight in the morning hours. North-facing windows are best for plants that like indirect light. You will also want to evaluate any obstructions outside the residence. If you live in an area with higher density homes, are there adjacent homes or tall buildings that will block the light during key times of the day? Are there nearby trees or taller shrubs that will filter how much natural light enters the window? Finally, consider the depth of your windowsill and any window coverings you may have planned. Will this further reduce the plant’s exposure to direct sunlight? If you have a passion for houseplants and really like a new living space except for the lack of natural light, the solution may be indoor grow lights. Even a quick assessment should provide plenty of information to choose among low, indirect, and full-sun houseplants.

Pick Your Spots and Match with Home Décor

Unless you prefer to live in a botanical garden, houseplants will only be one part of decorating your home. Plants need to work well with, or least not clash with, the surrounding décor. Consider whether the space is best suited for a small, medium, or large houseplant. Plants with sprawling growth patterns may quickly obstruct the view of nearby knick-knacks. Other plants may need plenty of space to grow vertically. You want houseplants that adequately fill out their space without creating a cluttered look. The color scheme may also be a consideration when choosing decorative pots and flowering plants. You can find even more tips about picking houseplants to match your home décor with this guide from Architectural Digest.

Set a Budget and Know the Costs

Houseplants are not be terribly expensive, especially compared to most other types of home decorating. Still, there are the pots and other plant care costs. Plus, some types of houseplants can be a little pricey if they are rare, large, or hard to grow. In our experience, the best plan to decorate a new living space with houseplants may involve splurging in a few select spots, while finding creative, low-budget solutions for other areas. You might end up paying well over a hundred dollars for a large jade, a well-trained bonsai, or some other showstopper-type houseplant. But you can also ask around to friends, neighbors, and community forums. Many people with green thumbs like to propagate and giveaway houseplants with new growth. You can find small, cute pots for $5-$10 at discount stores. You might easily spend over a hundred dollars for a larger, ornately decorated pot.

Don’t Worry, Start Finding Houseplants and Be Happy

It’s a good idea to do some preliminary research, but houseplants are living things; and like all living things, they can be quite unpredictable. Don’t let the sheer number of options introduce an element of stress. There is no one right answer. After a while, you may find yourself wishing you had even more plants or else culling your collection to make room for other decorations, houseplants or otherwise. Thus, our final tip for decorating your living space with houseplants is to start looking, pick out some plants, and see what happens. More than likely, your new home environment will be the better for it.

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Best Tips for Choosing a Houseplant

For yourself or as a gift, there’s a lot that goes into choosing a houseplant. If nothing else, the sheer number of options for houseplants can be overwhelming. Before you can choose the best houseplant, you have to know what you’re looking for. Here are our best tips to narrow your search and make a decision with confidence.

1. Know Your Plant.

The first rule of choosing a houseplant is to know your plant. You should recognize that different plants may need very different things for sunlight, water, soil, humidity, and environment. When first starting out, you might assume that all plants need some light and some water in a pot of soil. In fact, there is tremendous variety. Some plants thrive on almost total neglect. Other plants may dry out to the point of death within a week. An air plant doesn’t need soil at all. Some plants can’t survive too much direct sunlight. If you have your heart set on a particular houseplant, there are creative solutions. But at the very least, know your houseplant.

2. Know Your Spot.

Some plants will thrive in one spot of your house, while struggling to make it all in another part of your home. The most obvious of these factors is the amount of sunlight the houseplant gets. West and south-facing windows get the most direct sunlight and are prized spots for houseplants—but can damage plants that prefer indirect light. East-facing windows provide morning light and a flexible spot for many different types of plants. North-facing windows are best for plants that like indirect light. That said, not every spot has to be next to a window. Peace lilies can adapt to very low light levels and is great for interior spaces. Some people use the dark corners of their basement to winter-over their outdoor houseplants with indoor grow lights.

3. Know Your Climate.

Even inside, climate matters to houseplants—especially if your home isn’t equipped with whole house humidifiers/dehumidifiers. More so than temperature, it’s the humidity level that needs to be taken into account when choosing a houseplant. Ferns require more frequent watering and/or high humidity environments, but even in desert climates, this plant can be easy to care for when placed in a terrarium. In contrast, some houseplants struggle with mold and fungus in high humidity climates. Proper anti-fungal preventative treatments can keep this problem under control. Don’t underestimate the potential impact of regional climate on indoor houseplants. Look to local sources for the best information, like this guide for houseplant care in southern Arizona.

4. Know Your Habits.

Some of it is scheduling; some of it is personality. Just like taking on a pet, it’s easy to let short-term excitement inflate your assessment of the care and maintenance needs for a houseplant. Even weekly or biweekly watering is easy to overlook amongst the hustle-and-bustle of the average week. At the same time, if you’re looking for an active hobby, weekly maintenance is going to make you feel impatient.

There’s another way in which it’s about knowing yourself. Many people take the death of a houseplant very personally. Others take an approach built more on trial-and-error. Be sure to do the research ahead of time if houseplants are mostly about caring for another living thing. If it’s more about having a fun way to decorate your home, then get more creative and whimsical about choosing houseplants.

5. Know Your Household.

Our final tip is to recognize and be prepared to accommodate other members of the household. This means you may need to look for houseplants that are resilient to pets without being toxic. It means you may need to avoid plants that are potential allergens to family members. It also means you might choose houseplants based on someone else’s fragrance or decorating preferences. How much you spend on houseplants must be considered in the context of the larger household budget.