Last week in Houseplant Hacks I talked about questions you should ask yourself before ever buying a houseplant. If you determined that you’ve got space, time, and a suitable environment in which to raise a plant, then the next logical step is to go out and buy one! It’s easy to drop a lot of cash on houseplants (trust me, I know!), so today I want to outline five ways you can spend your money wisely when picking out your new plant.
1. Get cuttings from a friend
The easiest way to save money on a new houseplant is to get cuttings from a friend. Not only will the cuttings be free, but you will have control over the size of your starter plant, the pot you put it in, and the soil you use. More than half of my houseplant collection is made up of full-grown plants that I started at one time from cuttings I received from other people.
So how do you go about getting cuttings? Simply eye up houseplants at other people’s houses and see if they have a plant you might be interested in. Not all plants can be propagated through cuttings, but many common varieties can. For example, last week we talked about the golden pothos and to get cuttings from it you only need to cut off part of a vine (be sure to get a few good nodes, the segments along the vine where leaves are attached). Then remove some of the leaves, place the vines in water for a few weeks, and wait for new roots to grow from the nodes. After good roots form, you can safely pot the vines into soil. With other plants, you can start the cuttings immediately in soil, like with African Violet leaves. Simply snap off a healthy leaf from a parent plant and after a few months in good soil, it will produce babies.
There are other ways to propagate plants besides taking stem or leaf cuttings. Some examples include adventitious roots (i.e. some plants produce plantlets that you can remove and pot elsewhere, like the spider plant) or plant division (i.e. some plants produce multiple crowns within their pot and can be divided, like the snake plant). Whichever way you propagate a houseplant, you will ultimately end up saving a bunch of money. It only takes a little more patience as you wait for it to grow to full size.
2. Buy a smaller-sized plant
The second most useful way to save money when buying houseplants is to purchase a smaller-sized plant to start with. For example, I visited a greenhouse about a year ago to buy a wandering jew plant. They had a few size options and the prices reflected the differences dramatically. It was much more expensive to buy the large attractive size, but only a few dollars to buy the small starter plant. I went with the starter plant and was pleased to discover that wandering jews grow VERY fast. Soon my starter plant was as big as the expensive full-size plant. Don’t pay for the extra size. Just have a little patience while you let your plant grow.
3. Buy a plant that is not currently in bloom
This tip does not always apply, but occasionally you will find circumstances where greenhouses or flower shops will actually charge more for a plant that is in bloom. If there is a difference in price, then look for the non-blooming plants and just wait for them to bloom in your home. The patience will pay off. Furthermore, often when you purchase blooming plants you have really no idea how long they have been blooming. What a disappointment to bring your new plant home and discover that it is done blooming just a short time later.
4. Buy seeds or bulbs and start the plant at home
This method is a little more difficult, but it can produce some money savings in the end. Flower shops usually make you pay for the time they spend raising a plant and getting it to bloom (see the above two points). Starting plants from scratch is another way to do that work yourself and save money. Some plants can be grown from seeds and you will quickly discover that seeds cost much less than a full grown plant. Also consider bulbs, like amaryllis, that you can start indoors and then perhaps plant outside in the summer if you want. You’ll enjoy not only cheap upfront cost, but an opportunity to watch your plant grow from start to finish (this can also be a great teaching tool!).
5. Consider where you buy the plant
My final point is debatable and I’ll explain why in a moment. One can argue that it costs much less to buy certain houseplants from a major chain store like Walmart than it does to buy the same kind of plant from a specialty greenhouse. For example, I can buy an African Violet from Walmart for $2, while my local flower shop charges $6.50. While the savings are obvious (and I’ve used this method many times to save money), it’s important to note a few potential downsides with this practice.
Just because a store might sell a plant for less than half the price doesn’t mean you are getting the same quality. I’ve heard horror stories of people buying cheap plants from chain stores and then in turn that cheap plant introduces a terrible insect infestation into their home and kills their entire plant collection. Furthermore, as long as we’re talking about African Violets, I can mention that my local flower shop’s violets are much bigger, in better shape, and are actually labeled with their true specialty hybrid variety. Walmart only sells what we call NOIDS, no-named plain violets that lack certain special qualities like spotted leaves or double blooms.
In any case, I’ve bought African Violets (and other plants) from both locations. You just have to decide what it is you want and you have to carefully inspect any plant you buy from any vendor. Saving money is great, but be careful not to sacrifice quality.
Spotlight on the Holiday Cactus
While we’re on the topic of buying houseplants, I want to spotlight a particular plant today that you will currently find on sale in many stores this time of year: the holiday cactus. These Schlumbergera hybrids come in several varieties and are most often referred to as the Thanksgiving Cactus or the Christmas Cactus. It’s interesting to note that most ‘Christmas Cacti’ for sale are in fact Thanksgiving Cacti. I have both a Christmas Cactus and a Thanksgiving Cactus and I’m happy to report that one is in bud and the other is in full bloom!
The good news is, no matter which variety you have (or which variety you think you have), these plants are very easy to care for and are hugely rewarding when they burst into bloom this time of year. But before you go out and buy one, be sure to read their care requirements below:
- Light: Bright light in late spring through fall; moderate light in winter to early spring.
- Temperature: Normal home temperatures are ideal during most of the year, but it is important to allow temperatures to get a little cooler in fall and winter to encourage forming buds.
- Water: In winter, let it dry slightly between waterings, drying even more in fall to encourage buds; from spring through fall, keep soil lightly moist.
- Fertilizer: It is fine to feed house plant fertilizer from bloom time to following autumn every other week (I don’t fertilize mine and they continue to bloom).
- Soil: Ideally it should be well-draining cactus soil (sandy) and slightly acidic, but any good potting soil will do.
- Repotting: Younger plants should be repotted annually, while older plants can be repotted every 2 or 3 years.
- Propagation: Take cuttings. Twist stems off at the nodes (2 to 3 ‘pads’ should be fine) and pot into potting soil. Keep in indirect light until new growth appears.
- Toxicity: Considered non-toxic.
- Miscellaneous: Holiday Cacti must be subjected to cool nights (low 50’s) or long nights (12+ hours) for 6-8 weeks to initiate buds. This is not as hard as it sounds—just keep plants in a room where you do not leave the lights on all evening and night. During the blooming period, don’t move plants around too much because stress can cause buds and flowers to drop prematurely. Also, it is beneficial to prune after the blooming period ends to encourage branching.
After buying a few houseplants, you’ll need to find suitable locations in your home where they will thrive and where they won’t cause clutter. Next week I’ll discuss methods to organize your space when it comes to your houseplant collection.
Have you found any creative ways to save money on houseplants? Do you have a holiday cactus that is in bloom?
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