How to Spruce Up Your Living Space With Plants

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No matter what part of the United States you live in, you’re probably experiencing something resembling winter. Short, dreary days can take their toll on the spirit, while the lush, refreshing arrival of spring seems so far away.

But fret not, for there are house plants, and caring for them is not as hard a task to master as you might think. We, along with Scott Endres, co-owner of Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis, are here to lend a helping hand so you, too, can develop a green thumb.

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The Reasons Why

Sure, people have been known to buy fake plants, but please don’t be one of them. Real plants clean the air, produce oxygen, and contribute to the overall well-being of the home ecosystem. The benefits received from in-house botanicals are the same as those you’d receive gardening outside.

Warm, healthy fuzzies aside, aesthetically, “plants add that organic edge to even the most modern, clean spaces,” Endres says. “You need that little bit of the real, living world around us to make the house a home.”

Finding “The One”

Endres’ motto is: “The right plant for the right place.” Before purchasing, consider your space. How much light do you have? Do you have north- or south-facing windows? How much energy are you willing to invest in the care of your plants? Talk to a horticulturist at your local gardening center—and don’t be afraid to tell him or her that you’re a novice! (Plant people are friendly people.)

There are plenty of resilient plant varieties that can withstand your learning curve. Mother-in-Law’s Tongues (also known as Snake Plants or Sansevieria), Spider Plants, and Philodendrons are just a few solid starters. Succulents—a group that includes Aloe and Agave plants—are also great for first-time plant owners because they don’t require as much moisture (though they do require brighter light).

How to Pot

The plants you purchase likely come in a plastic pot; pop that off and transfer the plant into a sturdy (and, ideally, stylish) pot that is an inch or so greater than the diameter of the plant. While you’re measuring, take note that aesthetically, the plant should be one-and-a-half to two times the height of the container. (If you have a 12-inch-high pot, your plant should be 18 inches tall.)

Above all, use a high-quality potting soil. Do not recruit dirt from your backyard. Potting soil is designed for container plants and contains the right amount of organic matter and helps provide plants with proper drainage.

Don’t forget to use a saucer somewhere between the drain holes of your pot and the floor. If this is simply too unsightly for your taste, you’ll have to double-pot, with the saucer in between the inner (drain holed) pot and the outer (decorative) pot.

Show ‘Em Off

Put your plant on a pedestal. Hang it from the ceiling. Or, be trendy, and try a container garden, which involves potting several types of plants in the same container. Terrariums (small gardens inside transparent containers) are great for Moss and Ferns, while Airiums (a fancy term to describe a jar or globe that houses an air plant) work well for the Tillandsia genus. Both are fun ways to display your plants without taking up too much space.

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Water, Water Everywhere

If you hear nothing else, hear this: don’t over-water your plants! “Benign neglect is the best thing you can do for them,” says Endres. “The plants that have the most trouble are the ones whose owners coddled them too much.”

Your plants don’t need you or your watering can as often as you think. Once every seven to ten days is as often as you should check your plants. To see if your plant is thirsty, insert a finger into the surface of the plant. The first inch of soil should be completely dry before you give it a drink. Water until the water comes out the bottom of the container. (This is why you need those aforementioned drainage holes and saucer.) At this point, the plant is saturated and you should not water again until the plant is dry.

The time you water is also important. Doing so in the morning prevents fungal issues because it gives the leaves time to dry off during the day. Speaking of which, foliage does not need to be watered. In the case of terrariums and airiums, humidity is contained in the globe or jar, so mist, rather than water, these plants. If you keep them in the bathroom where you shower, even better. Ferns may also be misted.

Always fill up your watering can when you are done watering, and let it sit until the next watering. Why? Because this gives the city water’s levels of chlorine and fluoride to filter out. Plants exposed to these additives will turn “crispy” or brown around the edges of the leaves. “It’s nothing to be scared of, it’s just something to be aware of,” says Endres.

If you have a jet-setting lifestyle, ask a garden center horticulturist for guidance on plant varieties in your region that can go longer than a week without watering. Otherwise, recruit a neighbor to come by weekly.

Stay Fertile

“Just like humans, we tend to not do very well if our nutrition isn’t adequate,” says Endres. All plants need fertilizer, but it doesn’t have to be the nightmarish chemical kind. Nature’s Source Plant Food is a pathogen-free brand that contains oilseed extract. You simply add a little bit to the water every three to four waterings. Just like watering, however, you don’t want to over-do it; too much fertilizer can result in toxicity issues. In the winter, give your plants a break from fertilizer altogether. “Light levels are lower, even in the brightest parts of the country, so they’re not going to be growing as actively. As a result, they don’t need as much nutrition,” Endres explains.

To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn

Plants, even indoors, will stretch towards the light. Turn them a quarter of a turn at least once a week to prevent lopsided plants and promote fuller growth overall.

Plants, Meet Pets

You already know how your pet reacts to novelty. If your cat or dog is the type that investigates everything with its mouth or with its paws, take precaution by placing plants out of reach (hanging baskets and pedestals are perfect for such placement). If your fur baby still manages to sink its teeth into your plant, evolution will likely keep the situation from turning tragic. In other words: most pets will throw up plants faster than they can consume a toxic amount. If you’re an anxious pet-owner, go ahead and Google a list of plants that might harm your pet and avoid those varieties. Otherwise, take your chances. The odds are on your side.