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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Trendy Houseplants

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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Trendy Houseplants

January 22, 2019

Is there any home accessory trendier than a Monstera? Maybe a ZZ plant. Our collective obsession with houseplants has reached the point where many people would rather live without a sofa than indoor foliage.

Houseplant fever is great…until it’s not. Who among us has not killed a living, leafed thing? With the huge selection of affordable potted plants—from Aloe Vera at Ikea to Miniature Palm Trees at Home Depot—it’s more tempting than it’s ever been to experiment with exotic species.  But remember: the first rule of having a houseplant is that it would rather be living outdoors in its native environment. We’re asking a lot of out potted friends by forcing them indoors where humidity levels are low, sunlight is limited, and there’s no rain.

There’s so much to learn about houseplants. So much we need to know to keep them alive, and thriving. So many secrets they would tell us if they could talk. Here’s help, 10 things nobody tells you about houseplants:

N.B. Featured image from Houseplant Help: 5 Tips to Keep Finicky Begonia Rex Alive. Photograph by Leslie Santarina.

1. The easiest trendy houseplant to grow? It may be ZZ plant.

With thick, waxy leaves, a sturdy 4-inch ZZ Plant is \$\1\1 at The Sill.
Above: With thick, waxy leaves, a sturdy 4-inch ZZ Plant is $11 at The Sill.

ZZ plant is one of the easiest houseplants to grow because it “tolerates neglect, is drought-tolerant, and accepts low-light conditions without throwing a fit,” writes our contributor Kier Holmes. “Its waxy, smooth leaves reflect sunlight and brighten rooms.” By the way, “ZZ” earned its nickname honestly: it’s a lot easier than calling it Zamioculcas zamiifolia.

See more growing tips in ZZ Plant: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.

2. You don’t need a jungle to make a statement.

Above: Sometimes you don’t even need roots. Monstera leaves make magic on their own. See more in Monstera Deliciosa: Big Plant, Small Apartment. Photograph by Erin Boyle.

A single specimen plant—a magnificent Monstera, for instance, or a trailing vine—may be all you need. If you do go for the jungle effect, avoid making your home look like a 1970s-era time capsule by grouping plants into vignettes that tell a story. An arrangement of three to five houseplants on a side table will look sculptural. Vary heights and foliage texture for visual impact.

3. Some trendy houseplants will not survive in your home.

Succulents with bright green leaves are happier indoors than succulents with blue or gray foliag . Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: Succulents with bright green leaves are happier indoors than succulents with blue or gray foliag . Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

It’s no accident if your trendy houseplant died. Growing conditions may not be right in your home. Do you have enough sun? Or too much sun? Succulents, for instance, can be very finicky—especially the varieties with gray, blue, or purplish leaves. (See Everything You Need to Know About Succulents to find the best houseplants for your home.)

Some plants (hello, potted lemon tree) need more humidity than is typically in the air indoors. A fiddle leaf fig tree will turn brown for practically any reason—if it gets too much water, too little water, too much sun, too little sun, or if it doesn’t like the look of your houseguests. We could go on and on.

4. You should get a non-trendy houseplant. Right now.

Above: A climbing pothos plant in houseplant collector Jamie’s Song’s apartment in London. See more in Jamie’s Jungle: At Home with Houseplants in London. Photograph by @Jamie Song.

The reason you should add a non-trendy houseplant or two to your collection is so you will have something green after the trendy houseplants die. It won’t be so depressing because your mother-in-law’s tongue (also known as snake plant) and pothos will still be going strong.

5. Stop trying to convince yourself that you don’t live in a low-light apartment.

Tried and tested, here are nine of our favorite houseplants that can survive in low light: Best Houseplants: 9 Indoor Plants for Low Light. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: Tried and tested, here are nine of our favorite houseplants that can survive in low light: Best Houseplants: 9 Indoor Plants for Low Light. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

Just stop. You’re not fooling anyone (especially the houseplants). Unless there is nothing blocking the sun from hitting your houseplants—”no curtains, no shades, no trees, no tall buildings“—you do not have bright light.

If the light “moves” across your apartment in the course of the day, if your plants are placed several feet from a window, if you have any sort of curtain or shade or blind, or if your window looks out onto an airshaft, you probably have low-light conditions.  The good news? You can still have hardy houseplants. Shop this list: Best Houseplants: 9 Indoor Plants for Low Light.

6. You can raise humidity levels without buying a humidifier.

An angel vine (Muehlenbeckia) enjoys the mist and steam from a shower.  Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: An angel vine (Muehlenbeckia) enjoys the mist and steam from a shower.  Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

No need to spend money on a machine. To raise humidity levels in your air, put a saucer of water on the radiator. As it evaporates, you will be adding moisture to the atmosphere around it—and making all your indoor tropical plants much happier.

Another way to add humidity to the air is by misting your plants (make sure you only are misting houseplants that like to be misted!). See more in The Houseplant Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Finicky Ferns.

7. Some orchids are really, really easy to grow.

A Sharry Baby Oncidium Orchid. Photograph by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista.
Above: A Sharry Baby Oncidium Orchid. Photograph by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista.

Yes, Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) has earned its reputation for being easy to grow. But did you know that other orchids, including Lady’s Slipper and Oncidiums, can be happy companions to the rest of of your houseplants? Read more about it at Best Indoor Plants: 6 Flowering Orchids to Grow.

8. You can’t put all houseplants on the same watering schedule.

Blown by mouth of borosilicate lab glass, a watering bulb by Italy-based Ichendorf Milanowill keep a houseplant hydrated while you&#8\2\17;re out of town (or otherwise distracted). Photograph via The Line, where it&#8\2\17;s currently sold out. A Garden Watering Bulb is also available for \$\18.95 at Williams-Sonoma.
Above: Blown by mouth of borosilicate lab glass, a watering bulb by Italy-based Ichendorf Milano
will keep a houseplant hydrated while you’re out of town (or otherwise distracted). Photograph via The Line, where it’s currently sold out. A Garden Watering Bulb is also available for $18.95 at Williams-Sonoma.

It is too bad, because it’s more work for you to check each individual plant (stick your finger into the soil to see if the top inch is dry) before deciding whether to water it. But it’s much better for your houseplants—not everything needs to be watered as often as every week. On the other hand some thirsty plants, such as countertop herbs, may need water more often than once a week.

See Small Space DIY: Countertop Herb Garden for more tips.

9. Houseplants have peak seasons, just like outdoor garden plants.

&#8\2\20;Winter has been really cruel to these poor guys,&#8\2\2\1; writes @craigowilliams. See \10 Houseplant Lovers to Follow on Instagram.
Above: “Winter has been really cruel to these poor guys,” writes @craigowilliams. See 10 Houseplant Lovers to Follow on Instagram.

Many houseplants have a dormant season in winter, when temperatures are cool and there are fewer hours of light. Your indoor don’t exactly suffer from seasonal affective disorder, but they definitely slow down. When houseplants go dormant, you will notice they aren’t producing new foliage, aren’t getting bigger, and may be shedding old leaves. During dormancy, cut back on water (give them half as much), stop fertilizing houseplants, and protect them from sudden temperature changes (keep them away from drafts and heater vents that blast hot air).

10. Your trendy houseplant may be toxic to your pet.

Above: Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Center publishes a list of Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants. Not all parts of toxic houseplants will kill a pet: “According the to ASPCA, chemical compounds that are toxic to pets can be concentrated in different parts of the plant–sometimes the roots, sometimes leaves, flowers, or seeds,” writes Meredith.

The deadliest houseplant for dogs? Sago palms.

The deadliest houseplant for cats? Lilies.

Read more in Ask the Expert: Will a “Poisonous” Plant Really Kill Your Pet?

For more growing tips, see Houseplants 101: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated Garden Design 101 guides. Read on:

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