how to care for indoor plants

How to Stop Killing Your Indoor Plants

Plantshed can turn your thumb green in no time.

By: Hannah Baxter
Photography: Alec Kugler

Who would have thought that the hottest home accessory for 2018 would be the houseplant? Just take a glance at your Instagram feed, and we guarantee you’ll spot no less than half a dozen rubber trees, air plants, and of course the ubiquitous fiddle leaf fig. Plants elevate any room they’re in, and for city-dwellers especially, having a touch of nature in your apartment is good for the soul. But if you haven’t been blessed with a green thumb, caring for your favorite varieties so that they last longer than your IG story can be a bit tricky.

Thankfully, our friends at Plantshed have *generations* of experience, having been involved in the botanical and floral community in New York since the 1950s. They answered your most burning questions about plant care so that you can finally transform your home into the urban jungle of your dreams. OK, maybe you won’t be quite that level, but you’ll at least keep that succulent on your desk alive until next year. Check out what Casey Godlove, creative director of Plantshed, had to say about keeping plants healthy and happy, and follow his best tips below.

 

What’s the biggest mistake you can make with plant care?

“I would say overwatering. Or you’re not picking the right plant for your light. You have to pay attention to where your sun’s coming in in the morning and evening. [Bright light in the morning] is east-facing. Northern exposure is usually ambiently bright all day.”

What’s the ideal direction for your windows to be facing?

“Depends on what kind of plant you like. If you like the fiddle fig and those high-light plants, you want a southern exposure or a good western exposure. If you’re into the more sculptural things, like the snake plants, the zz plants, they can do low light, so they’re good for eastern or northern.”

What’s the first step you should take when you bring home a new plant?

“Leave them alone for a little bit, [and] make sure they’re out of their packaging. They like air circulation—that helps the soil dry out quicker—so they’re not just sitting in a damp environment. Pay attention to yellowing leaves, [if] they’re dropping any leaves, and not freaking out too much. Let the shock of the new environment happen, and then adjust your care to that.”

 

How can you tell if you’ve overwatered the plant?

“Sometimes overwatering looks a lot like under-watering, so the plant will appear wilted because the roots have rotted, [but if] the plant isn’t getting any water, it is wilted. You can’t really come back from [overwatering]. A lot of times, the leaves will start to yellow from the bottom up, or they’ll develop brown spots in the middle of the leaves and start dropping them.”

What’s a good rule for determining when your plant needs to be watered?

“You can do it by weight, so if it’s in a plastic container, it should feel light before you water it again. You also want to stick your finger two inches down [into the soil]. If it’s cool or damp, it doesn’t need water. And you don’t want them to sit in water either—[you need] good drainage. If they don’t have drainage, measure how much water you give them. So little succulents or orchids, you can do one or two shot glasses of water every ten days. You kind of have to learn your plants. It’s going to change by apartment, by season, the temperature of the apartment. It’s always easier to recover from underwatering, so if you’re not sure, don’t water it.”

For pots that don’t have drainage—because a lot of really beautiful ceramics don’t—should you keep it in that plastic container?

“Personally, I like to, and then I put moss around everything so it looks like it’s planted. Usually, that’s a good trick.”

 

How can you tell if a plant is getting too much light?

“You’ll see a lot of browning on the tips, and they’ll have a very burned look. Sometimes they’ll get even kind of wrinkly.”

What are the easiest plants for beginners?

“Snake plants—super easy—and the zz plants are really hard to kill. And if you travel a lot, they only need water every two to three weeks and can go up to six weeks without watering.”

What about plant fertilizers? How should you approach those?

“Most indoor plants need something high in nitrogen—that’s what produces the really healthy green leaves—so just a normal houseplant fertilizer. Usually, you want to fertilize in spring and summer only, because they go dormant through fall and winter. Reduce your watering in the fall and winter as well. I usually err on the side of less fertilizer.”

 

How can you combat the A/C or heater effect on your plants?

“I think that’s a part of picking the right plant for your apartment or home, and knowing that you’re going to have to move things away in the winter. If you do it gradually, it doesn’t stress plants out as much. But you’re probably going to lose some leaves and [have] some sun damage. It’s part of living in New York.”

What tools and accessories do you think everyone should have to care for your plants properly?

“I like having a good cloth handy to wipe all the dust off the leaves, because you want your plants to look really good. Other than that, I water with a measuring cup or whatever I grab first. Maybe a good mister for air plants and to keep some humidity in the air.”

How do you propagate a plant?

“Succulents are easy, just take the leaf—you can pull it off the plant, or if one falls off, let it scab over for 24 hours—and place it over the dirt, and it’ll do it itself. You’ll see a whole little rosette grow at the end of the leaf and little roots shoot out.”

 

What is the hardest plant to care for?

“A lot of people tend to struggle with the fiddle leaf fig, because we don’t get enough light in New York in most apartments. So they tend to drop all their leaves, and once they start, it’s really hard to get them to stop. They just shed everything. People also struggle with succulents because they think they’re easy and then overwater them.”

What should you do to safely move your plants?

“Wrap them in craft paper so the leaves are protected, [since] usually people are pretty tired of moving and slamming things around by the end. Just know if you’re moving in the winter, don’t leave them outside for long periods of time. And even in the summer, if they’re on the street for more than an hour, they can get sunburned just like we do. Protect them from the elements because they’re used to being in a super-controlled environment.”

Any final plant advice for aspiring green thumbs?

“Start small, take the risk. Don’t invest in anything huge right off the bat because you’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t do well, and just build your collection around that. It’s always nice to have, even if you don’t have great light and can only do snake plants. There are a ton of different varieties, so you can build a collection. Different plant shapes, different pottery, and you can still get that same jungle effect.”

 

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