Last week in my introduction to Houseplant Hacks, I talked briefly about the benefits of houseplants and the reasons we might choose to invite them into our homes. If you plan to buy a houseplant for the first time or if you are looking to add a new plant to your existing collection, then today’s post will provide you with some useful pointers to consider before going out and buying anything.
Every plant has unique attributes that you need to know about and understand ahead of time so you don’t end up with a dead plant a few weeks later, or worse—a dead pet. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as just picking out the plant that you think is the prettiest. I’ve identified four questions you should ask yourself before buying a plant, followed by a few resources to help you get your questions answered.
1. Do you have room?
This is the first mistake I made when I went out and bought a bunch of plants for our new home—I didn’t consider the space! We had plenty of room in general, but when it came to space in front of windows, I quickly realized that I had a problem. Plants need light and usually that means they need to sit as close to a window as possible.
In addition to considering the space you have in front of your windows, be sure to also consider the matter of clutter. Depending on the plant’s size, imagine adding it to a room in your house…is there a spot for it? Will it fit? Will it make the room look more cluttered? Will it be in the way? While a houseplant has its benefits, it can also quickly turn into something that just creates unsightly clutter. Perhaps you should settle for that little African violet instead of the large palm.
2. Do you have time?
Owning a houseplant takes time. You need to water it, repot it every once and a while, and possibly fertilize it. Neglecting the plant’s basic needs may cause it to die. So if you live an extremely busy and hectic life, then perhaps you should consider a low maintenance plant rather than, say, an orchid.
Another aspect of time you will want to consider is how often you go out of town. I’m not talking about a weekend here and there, rather long vacations or even whole seasons away. If you want to keep plants, then you’ll need to find someone who will take care of them while you are away. And if you are living in a home seasonally, then you’ll of course need to take the plants with you whenever you move.
3. Do you have children or pets?
Having children or pets in your home complicates the houseplant situation, but that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t have plants at all. However, it’s important to consider a few things first. Before you choose your plant, you need to find out whether it is poisonous to either children or pets (or both) because you will soon discover that curious children and animals might try to eat the plant when you are not looking.
Beyond making sure that the plant you buy is poison-free, you can also try to keep plants in rooms where the children or pets are not allowed or in areas they cannot reach. For example, we keep all our houseplants in rooms that our cat cannot access. We know he’d try to eat them if he could because whenever he escapes into these forbidden lands, the first things he goes for are the plants!
4. Do you have suitable conditions in your home?
Many outdoor plants do well indoors because our homes simulate the plants’ natural living conditions. For example, tropical plants tend to enjoy the same temperature and humidity levels as we do, so they live well in our houses. But not all plants are that adaptable, especially when it comes to certain characteristics. Before choosing a plant, consider the following:
- Climate: While it’s true that your houseplant will live inside your house, it’s important to understand how your climate affects the conditions within. For example, if you live in a northern climate, you may have short winter days with little and possibly low-quality sunlight.
- Light: Most plants need a lot of good sunlight, especially if you want to have a plant that blooms. Evaluate the sun exposure of your windows. South windows are best, but east and west are also good.
- Temperature: Some plants like it warmer than others, so your home temperatures might not be ideal depending on the plant. Additionally, some plants need cooler nights to initiate blooming.
- Humidity: Certain plants enjoy higher air moisture levels than others, while some plants love it dry. And consider that air conditioners and heaters tend to dry air.
A few useful resources
Most plants don’t come with very much information about how to care for them when you buy them, so you’ll need to find the answers to your questions elsewhere. Here are a few ideas:
- Ask Google. Google your question and you will undoubtedly find your answer. For example, if you Google “are anthuriums poisonous?” you will find soon enough that the answer is yes.
- Visit a forum. When I was trying to figure out the answers to all my questions early on I spent quite a bit of time on useful forums found on such websites as GardenWeb and the UBC Botanical Garden. These sorts of communities have experts that are willing to share their wealth of information with you.
- Read a book. There are a lot of great books on houseplants and their care. Check one out at the library and see if you can find a plant inside that is best suited for your home and lifestyle. I personally own and recommend The Houseplant Encyclopedia and The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual.
Spotlight on the Golden Pothos
Each week I will spotlight a specific houseplant at the end of the post and this week it is the Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum). I have four of these in my house and let me just say that if you are looking for an easy-going plant that will tolerate neglect, this is a great choice! Here is some quick information regarding the care of this popular houseplant:
- Light: Moderate light, but will tolerate low light (I keep some of mine fairly far from any windows and they do very well).
- Temperature: Normal house conditions are fine.
- Water: Water when dry. This plant prefers to be dry rather than overwatered.
- Fertilizer: You can fertilize pothos, but it is not necessary. I do not fertilize mine.
- Soil: Regular houseplant soil is fine.
- Repotting: Repot every few years when the plant appears to be growing out of the pot or the soil begins breaking down.
- Propagation: Very easy to propagate—simply take cuttings of any healthy stem, place them in water, and wait for roots to begin growing. After roots appear, plant the cuttings in soil.
- Toxicity: Poisonous (non-lethal) to pets. Sap causes burning sensation in the mouth and may lead to digestive problems.
- Pests: Uncommon.
- Miscellaneous: You can trim back a large plant’s vines to produce a fuller look. These plants work very well on high shelves where you can run the lengthy vines around and along the edges for decorative accents. Keeping them up high and out of reach also prevents your pets from accessing them (see toxicity warning above).
If you’ve determined that you’ve got suitable conditions for houseplants in your home, then you are ready to buy! Next Monday I’ll offer a few money-saving tips when it comes time to make your houseplant purchase.
Do you have any creative solutions to some of the problems one might have raising houseplants?