the care and keeping of houseplants

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Helllooooo and happy Monday!! I am so excited to bring you a verrrrry important guest today - my mama! My mom is a total green thumb and has taught me everything I know about houseplants. She so graciously agreed to write up this post - let's call it "houseplants 101" and it has everything you need to know to get started with some plant babies!

HOUSEPLANTS 101

"My interest and love of house plants started when I was a teenager. My mom definitely had a green thumb and passed along her love for all things living to me. When I was in about the 8th grade, I asked her if I could have a few houseplants for my bedroom. I had two sets of windows, one facing north and one facing west. She had a lot of plants but let me “start” a couple spider plants. You have all seen spider plants; they are sometimes all green but usually are green and white striped and when healthy put off these “babies” which are little plants all on their own that you just snip off and either let root a little bit in a jar of water or you can just plant them directly after cutting. Anyway, that was my first plant and one I still highly recommend starting with!

I learned most of what I know about plants from my mom and also the Hyponex Handbook of Houseplants (mine is copyright 1975). According to that font of information, there are four things you need to get right for each kind of plant:

  1. Temperature - you are NEVER going to get a tropical plant to grow well in a New York apartment in the winter that you keep at 65 degrees. This kind of goes hand and hand with humidity below. You probably also would not get Cacti to do well in a steamy bathroom sill.
  2. Humidity - most people know what this is but humidity is basically how much water is in the air. In places where there is forced air heat in the winter, you should mist your plants daily or run a humidifier near them for a part of every day. Incidentally, most of what’s good for houseplants is also good for people! Don’t get too freaked out about this. Even if you do nothing about humidity, your plants will do fine, they just won’t be as awesome as they could be. If you do want to mist them, just use a dollar store spray bottle, fill with tap water and give about 3 or 4 sprays to each plant so that all sides get a little squirt.
  3. Watering – It is my opinion that more plants are killed by overwatering than under. Most plants say “evenly moist” which I have learned means putting about a cup or two of water on them about once a week. Obviously if you have something in a very small pot, you would only need ¼ to ½ a cup. I also many, many times water thoroughly but every other week or so. When you are first starting out, you might want to use a batter bowl to water with. You know the thing that you make pancake batter with that pours? It has measurements on the side so you can see how much you are really using. If the plant has good drainage, you are wanting some water to come all the way through and fill the tray but not overflow it.
  4. Light – Full sun is what it says: is the plant sitting where the sun is striking it directly? This is mostly cacti and succulents. Also, Valerie says I should tell you that full sun is always a south facing window without a shade tree outside blocking the light. Some sun is full sun for part of the day or dappled full sun. Maybe a southeast, east, or southwest facing window. This light is good for most flowering plants and variegated plants (plants that are green and white or dark green/light green). Almost all houseplants will do well in this type of light. Semi-shady/shady – this would be in front of a north facing window. It never gets direct sunlight but gets a good amount of what is called “bright light” so think sitting under an awning. You are never in the full sun but you can still get a tan or even burnt because of the reflective light. The shady part would be a north window with a tree so that you really aren’t even getting “bright light.” Most foliage plants that are dark green do well in this type of light. Also, “bright light” can mean a few feet from a south facing window. So again, use the awning analogy above. Dark corners – This is the last type of light listed in the Hyponex book and is only good for plants called Aspidistra (“Cast Iron” plant); Snake plant and Pothos.

If you want to get started, I would try the following plants which in my experience are very hardy and easy to keep alive:

  • Peace Lily – good for semi-shady areas (almost anywhere in your house except direct sun). It likes to be watered to even a moist level but if you forget and let it dry out a bit, it will not die. It will just go totally drooping on you but after one good watering will perk right back up.
  • Snake plant – virtually impossible to kill. It does well in dark corners, looks awesome and does not need much water. In fact the only way I have ever known to kill one is to overwater it!
  • Pothos – this is the plant that you see in restaurants and offices that most people call philodendron. It has green and white leaves and looks great whether it is a tiny plant on your desk or a giant hanging basket. It can take a fair amount of abuse (either over or under watering) and likes just about any kind of light. It does well in restaurants and offices because it can use light bulb and fluorescent light well.
  • Spider plant – this plant also looks great, gives you new plants For Free (!) and does well almost anywhere just like Pothos. If it doesn’t make you feel like you are at your grandma’s house too much, I highly recommend trying one!

So there you have it! My mom is my houseplant idol and I am always calling her with questions. Whenever I post a photo on Instagram that includes houseplants and get the question, "how do you keep so many plants alive?" The answer is always "my mom!"

Thanks, mom, for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us! Xo!