Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. Plants and I are historically not friends.
When I was about 7 or 8 my mom said I could have my own little garden in our yard. I was thrilled! Pretty flowers that I got to pick all by myself and none of those ugly orange marigolds? I was SO in. I happily picked out the pinkest flowers I could find at the nursery and went home with my mom to start the magical growing process.
Then I realized that magic involved digging your fingers into dirt and possibly encountering a worm or two along the way. Suddenly having my own garden was not such a dream. I ended up just pointing to where everything should go as my mom did the actual planting. Then I completely forgot about “my” garden for the rest of the summer while my mom diligently watered it on a regular basis.
There was also the time (when I was a full-grown adult) that I bought what I thought was a succulent. It was really cute and came in the most adorable rose gold pot. I committed to keeping it alive by watering it regularly. That is until I forgot about the actual watering for weeks on end. I should have known something was up when despite being watered on the (less than) occasional basis it still looked perfect and healthy. So, I patted myself on the back for a job well done and continued to give it sporadic hydration.
I did this for about eight months before I realized it was actually a fake plant.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that I should not be trusted around plants. Fast forward a few years, throw in a big new apartment with a few empty corners, and just enough time elapsing since my previous plant disaster to make me think, I can totally take care of a living thing, and I was ready for another try.
I mean, I keep Oxford alive.
Of course, he can tell me when he needs to eat. Unfortunately, plants are not so fortunate. But still, maybe now I was finally ready. So, I enlisted the help of my mom, who is actually a Master Gardener in Minnesota, to make my lush vision a reality.
I wanted greenery, I did not want the upkeep of taking care of actual flowers, and I wanted it all to be as pretty yet simple as humanly possible. Pam knew exactly what to do. So, I thought if she could help me, maybe she could help other vegetationally challenged wannabe adults live out their own plant dreams.
Here are my questions with her answers (and my comments!):
What are the most important factors in choosing what kind of indoor plants to get for your apartment or house?
PAM: Location, location, location! Sunny, shady and also size of your place.
LAURA: The sunlight factor was probably the biggest challenge for us. Our living room is north-facing and does not get much direct sunlight after early morning. So, we looked for plants that needed low light and could be 6-10 feet from a window. I also made sure to place the plants on the side of the room that was closest to the south-facing windows in the back room. As long as the door to that room is open, the sunlight will stream into the living room and hit the plants.
What are the easiest types of plants to maintain indoors?
PAM: Peace Lily, Dieffenbachia, Snake Plant, Succulents/Cacti, Aloe, Jade Plant, Spider Plant, Pothos, Dracaena, Chinese Evergreen
LAURA: These names meant nothing to me until we actually went to the store and looked at them in person. So, jot down these names and then head to your local nursery to see what they look like IRL. For our living room we went with a striped dieffenbachia (because stripes are totally in) and a peace lily.
How often should you water indoor plants?
PAM: Water most plants once a week. But read the tag that comes with it. Do not overwater so the base under the plant is full.
LAURA: Over-watering a plant is typically the opposite of my problem, so I think I’ll be okay here. That is unless I just flat out forget to water them. We’re placing bets on the likelihood of that scenario.
Does the type of pot matter? Does it need drainage?
PAM: The type of pot should have a drainage hole in the bottom and is big enough that the roots are not crowded. I set my pots on a plate or a plant base.
LAURA: Also news to me! I have a couple big planters (one from West Elm) that do not have drainage holes in the bottom, because their goal in life is to just be stylish and pretty. Since that aligns with my décor philosophy, of course I am using them. So far it hasn’t been a problem (as long as you don’t overwater), but Pam says that if you are concerned you can line the bottom with small rocks and place the soil on top. This way there is space for the excess water to drain.
How do I know how much light it needs or how big it will get?
PAM: Read the tag that comes with the pot for instructions on height, width, light requirements, bloom times, etc. Take a trip to where you plan to buy the plants and look them up on the internet for more detailed instructions before you buy.
LAURA: We did our plant shopping at Lowe’s and probably spent about an hour and a half making our plant decisions. Those tags on the plants? So incredibly helpful! Someone in the plant biz was thinking! Each plant will basically tell you what it needs, where it should live, and how big it will get. We then googled certain ones if we needed any additional information. And as we all know, if it’s written on the internet then it has to be true.
What is the difference between “potting soil” and regular dirt and which do I need?
PAM: Top soil or garden soil is just that- dirt with nothing added. It is not recommended for pots as it has no nutritional value and is heavy and doesn’t drain well. Potting soil is “dirt-less” and is used for pots or containers. It is a mix of peat moss, pine bark, and other organic materials- very lightweight and promotes drainage. I use a mix with fertilizer in it such as Miracle Grow Potting Mix as it feeds the plant for up to 6 months.
LAURA: This was all news to me. I thought maybe we could save money by finding an empty field and just digging up some dirt to bring home. But then I started thinking about those worms again. Thank god for potting soil.
Do I need to do anything other than water indoor plants to keep them healthy?
PAM: If you use a mix with fertilizer you don’t have to fertilize until after 6 months or so. Then I use a basic indoor granular plant fertilizer that you dissolve in water every 2 weeks. Be sure to read the directions and not over fertilize. You can find this any place you purchase your plants.
LAURA: My husband contributed plant food to our relationship, along with a plant that has since moved on to that big garden in the sky. Contrary to popular belief, I did not kill that plant (named Cyrus). Cyrus just got too comfortable with the 14-foot ceilings we had in our last apartment and became a diva who would not accept normal ceiling height. Read: he was way too gigantic.
What are the odds Laura will keep her plants alive until your next visit?
PAM: Laura will be just fine- she has gardening genes and just doesn’t realize it!! Plus, she names her plants, so it is personal!
LAURA: This is entirely debatable. But, yes, I do name my plants. In this case, the two in our living room are Stuart and Patagonia. Basically, I am weird. But a fun weird. I hope.