The Idea of House Plants
I'm really into house plants. Or at least, I'm going to be soon. I haven't actually bought any plants yet. I love the look of indoor plants, I'm excited for the challenge of making sure they don't die, and maybe if they survive through the winter, having some green inside will make my least favorite season feel less dreary and cold.
This past weekend I visited Niche, a plant shop on Tremont Street in Boston's South End. It was a magical place. I also realized I knew nothing about where to begin with house plants.
My history with house plants is not exactly a shining example of how to care for succulents. I've had exactly one succulent in my life. Her name was Lucy and the infrequent watering needs ended up meaning that I just never remembered to water her at all. She stayed alive for several years thanks to the goodwill of various roommates, but eventually she turned brown and died.
Back at Niche, everything looked gorgeous but I wasn't sure what could stay alive in my apartment. I wasn't even sure how many hours of sunlight the apartment gets each day, or whether it's direct or indirect.
Called in the Expert
My friend Sarah is an urban gardening guru. We caught up on her patio over smoothies and she gave me her beginner's guide to house plants. I explained that we were working with the goal of plants I won't kill, and the parameters of generally indirect sunlight for most of the day. I also wanted plants that will live all year.
Succulents, cacti, and snake plants are great choices for such situations. She walked me through my options, and gave me her tips on how to fix some common issues with caring for succulents and cacti.
Snake plants are the easiest. They don't really need much light and can grow in pretty much any indoor conditions. Unfortunately, I also don't love the way they look.
Succulents and cacti are also low maintenance and thrive in direct sunlight but are hardy enough to survive in indirect sunlight. Notably, they are sensitive to watering needs- it's important to neither overwater nor underwater these plants. A sign of underwatering is wrinkly leaves.
A good way to proactively help manage water levels is to use well draining soil created specifically for this plant group, and line the bottom of the pot with rocks so that the plants can build a reservoir of excess water that is available for the plant to tap into without leaving the roots just soaking in standing water.
Another potential issue with succulents is that they can become problematically tall, which is called "getting leggy". The fix for this is to tear off the bottom leaves before they die and put them in their own dish to dry out for five to seven days. Then you can set them on succulent soil and leave them for about a month. They'll turn into new plants!
Meanwhile, cut the original plant at the stem above the spot where you pulled off the bottom leaves. The plant will grow back from there.
Finally, take the top piece that you cut off the leggy plant and shorten the stem just a bit. Let it sit for a week with the cut leaves in the dish. This will give the stems time to scab over so they won't rot in the soil. After a week, you can replant the top piece as well.
She suggested air plants for the bathroom since they thrive in the humidity and just need some additional spritzes of water. Ferns and and other types of trellis plants work too. These are very low maintenance ways to add a pop of color and life to your bathroom.
Now that I have some more information, I feel ready to go back to Niche and buy a couple starter plants. I even cleared off a small table in the living room to be the plant table. I plan to buy an aloe plant and another succulent to start, and maybe an air plant for the bathroom.