How to be the best plant parent you can be
The Handbook / Culture / The beginner's guide to caring for houseplants

The beginner's guide to caring for houseplants

How to be the best plant parent you can be

Words— Kate Dingwall

When you scroll down Instagram, you’ve probably passed by your dream home. Perhaps your dream home is full of mid-century modern furniture, perhaps it is full of modern metal and plastic chairs with lots of clean lines. One thing most dream homes seem to have in common is a wide array of well-kept plants, like draping ivy, massive monsteras, and perfectly groomed cacti. That alone is enough to send you running to the nearest nursery


But as soon as you carry your new plant babies home, they often wilt, the flowers fade and just don’t seem to grow back. Maybe you try your best, watering diligently and fertilizing as needed, and they still seem to fade away.


If you’re one for erratic plant care or dismal light in your home, maybe you’re tired of the funeral march to the garbage as another plant bites the dust. Or perhaps you’ve got your first real apartment, and you’ve decided it’s time to start adding some greenery - great! We can help you with that too. Or maybe your plants just always seem to die, no matter how much TLC you put into them. Maybe you’re just not buying the right plants for your home?


So before you pick up that newest addition to your home, ask yourself a few questions



1. Where do you live?



Do you live in a basement apartment with a selection of pocket-sized windows? We’re going to break the news to you - the plants that will thrive in your home are limited. Do you have floor-to-ceiling windows? That’s great, we’re really jealous, but also keep in mind many plants don’t need that much sun exposure.


Take a look at the instructions on a plant before purchasing. If it says high or direct light, bright, sunny rooms (they will face the south or southwest) are perfect. Medium/in-direct light plants require a spot in a bright room, but perhaps farther away from the window. Low light plants will thrive in darker rooms - rooms that face the north or have a smaller window.


Next, consider where you live and how warm your home is year round. Tropical houseplants will falter if there is a significant temperature change, like proximity to a fireplace, air conditioning unit, cold glass in the winter, doors to the outside, or proximity to polar vortexes.



2. How much effort do you want to put in?



Are you going into this with a gung-ho attitude, thinking you will soon own a thriving mini-nursery? Great, get all the plants. Or perhaps you’re the one who tends to kill plants, but you’re going to do better this time! You swear! Let’s start with more approachable plants before we commit.


Look for the following plants, all which will be more forgiving to beginner plant parents


  • Dracaena - an easy-going plant with many different iterations, Dracaena can vary from yellow to green to rich tri-colour
  • Spider Plant - lovely, arching leaves look to make a statement even in a small pot (we’re looking at you, bachelor apartment owners!), and can be easily split to make many new plants when you level up on your plant skills. They’re not super picky about how much water or light you give them either.  
  • Golden Pothos Vine - a plant that grows aggressively quickly. Expect easy watering, and long, hanging vines.
  • Cacti/Succulents - did we have to state the obvious? These plants are basically built for neglect.



If you have low light in your home, the below plants will be right at home:


  • Peace Lily - Deep green leaves are complemented by floral leaves in shades of red or white.
  • ZZ Plant - they love dry environments, and their quirky green leaves will make your darkest room seem lush
  • Snake Plant - the plant that has populated your Instagram feed, snake plants love light and can go a long time between waterings (in case you forget)
  • Staghorn Ferns - these guys thrive in humid locations, like bathrooms


If you have pets - don’t jump on buying every plant you see. Ingesting plants can be hazardous to pets, so opt for one (or many) of the below.


  • Boston Fern
  • Rubber Plant
  • Baby’s Tears
  • Prayer Plant
  • Parlour Palm



How often are you watering?



It will take time to get used to the watering schedule of each plant. A quick Google search will point you towards how much to initially water your plant. If you’re not sure, start by watering once a week, then stick your finger into the dirt and if it feels dry, it’s time to water.


While the decorative planters are seriously #aesthetic, they can actually cause your plant to drown. Your plant shouldn’t sit in water - it should have a small drainage tray underneath it. If you’re not a pot person, sneak around this by placing the pot in a decorative basket


Be sure to water with room temperature water - ice-cold water that you like to drink will shock your plant. If your plant prefers humid temperatures, in the wintertime take a spray bottle and mist your plant with water.


If your home will veer temperatures quite a bit, opt for a clay pot. The terracotta clay is great at regulating temperatures and slowing down the temperature of cold and heat to the plant (plus, it’s relatively inexpensive).



Are your plants in a good home?



No not your home. Are your plants in the right size pots? Are they draining correctly? What about the soil?


When potting your plant, the pot your plant came in is probably the perfect size. As it grows, consider going up a size (which means one or two inches) but that only needs to be done every few years. Too big a pot and all the moist soil will rot the roots away. Too small a pot and the roots won’t get all the nutrients they need. If you’re still looking for the visuals of a pot and want to veer away from the traditional clay/black pot - try placing your pot in a basket.


If you’re going to buy new soil, houseplant soil is your best bet (unless you own out-of-the-ordinary plants like cacti, orchids, or others). The garden soil is too rich for your run-of-the-mill houseplant.




Do you really need to fertilize plants?



During the growing season, giving your plants fertilizer will help them thrive. A lot of this will come from understanding how your plants thrive, so as you get to know your plants' schedule, integrate the fertilizer from there.



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