Lessons From My Houseplants

I often think about how much I learn from my houseplants. I learn how to take care of them and keep them alive, yes, but I also learn patience, the importance of routine and reliability, amongst other things. Tending to plants is a great exercise in mindfulness. Each time I water my houseplants I check to see if they could use fertilizer, pruning, more adequate drainage, etc. Is there something that is hindering their growth? Without the natural elements, houseplants rely on humans to keep them alive. I’ve learned a lot from growing plants over the past few years, and here are some takeaways I thought I’d share with you today.

Everything has its season.

Over the course of Scissors & Sage’s three years, I’ve tended to slow down or take a break from writing in summer months. Sometimes I feel guilty about this, that I’m neglecting the blog, or that the break will turn into something more permanent. I don’t want it to be a project I’ve forgotten about. I’ve learned, though, that everything has its season. No plant grows consistently through all four seasons. Its growth depends on other variables like temperature, sunlight, and watering patterns. We’re instructed to ease up on fertilizing plants during winter months–they don’t need as many nutrients as they do when they’re producing flowers or growing more quickly in summer. We’re meant to ebb and flow, to move at different paces throughout the changing seasons. It’s okay.

We each need a different set of optimal growing conditions to thrive.

Some plants like a lot of sun. Others would have burned leaves if placed in that much direct light. Some like high humidity, while others prefer a desert-like environment. Like plants, we all need different things in order to thrive. I’d prefer bright light and dry air, personally. Maybe somewhere near water. I feel my best when I have routine sleep, breakfast every morning, and time to unwind each night. I can survive without these things, sure, but I’m bound to get a metaphorical yellow leaf here or there if it keeps up for too long.

Change and growth happen every day.

…Even if we can’t see it. It’s really incredible to watch plants grow each and every day. I enjoy watching my plants turn toward the sun, perk up after being watered, and sprout new leaves and flowers. There are few things more satisfying than watching something grow that you’ve tended to. Even if you can’t see each change happening each day, you can notice the differences from week-to-week or month-to-month, and know that those little things add up to become something great.

Never underestimate the importance of vitamin D.

Need I say more?

How do you ebb and flow throughout the year? What optimal growing conditions do you need in order to thrive? How do you see change and growth happening every day/week/month/year?

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Houseplants 101

A customer recently came into terrain looking to purchase a few houseplants. She appeared sort of lost–a feeling I know everyone feels at times when shopping–so I approached her to ask if she needed any help. She said, “Do you ever read Apartment Therapy?” to which I replied “Yes, all the time!” She continued, “The rooms on that site are all so beautifully decorated, and I’ve noticed that every picture I’m drawn to has plants in it. I want to try and do that.” I jumped with joy as I showed her around the shade house, pointing out different kinds of plants to determine her interests. I mean, plants combined with interior decorating ideas?! Swoon.

That customer inspired me to write this post. I helped her understand the different kinds of indoor plants (trees vs. ferns vs. succulents, etc.), while also figuring out what kind of care she was willing to give her new plants. Below are some things to think about if you’re new to houseplants or want to learn more.

Questions to Consider

  1. How much time do you have to care for your plants?
  2. Do you travel often?
  3. Do you have pets? (If yes, click here.)
  4. What amount of light does your home get?

How to Create “That Apartment Therapy Look”

1. When browsing for new houseplants, it’s important to find plants of varying sizes. 4-inch pots are great, but don’t forget to look for plants that are 8-12 inches in diameter. Larger plants–that can sit on the floor, rather than a table or a bookshelf–add serious personality to a room. While these plants might be more expensive, they are a sure-fire way to achieve the Apartment Therapy look.

2. Acquiring plants of varying sizes will naturally lead to this next point: Place plants at differing heights in the room. For example, have plants on the floor, a coffee table, on top of a bookshelf, hanging down from the ceiling, or on a windowsill. This will make a difference in the room’s overall “feel.”

3. Don’t overlook the pot! Pot purchases should receive just as much attention as plants themselves. They do make a statement, after all. Find a pot that complements the plant, either in color or texture or both. Terra cotta is certainly a great option not only for its natural, organic look, but also because the porous ceramic allows the plant to breathe. If that’s not what you’re interested in, browse your local nursery, hardware store, or IKEA. They all have great options for pots in various sizes.

4. Speaking of texture, here’s my last tip: Choose plants that have contrasting textures, shapes, and colors. This can come in the form of different colored flowers (if your houseplant blooms) or varying leaf sizes or colors (hellooo, tropical plants!). Even if you want only green houseplants, there is an entire spectrum of leaf colors, ranging from neon to forest green. Choosing these different colors, shapes, and textures will add visual interest.

The Details: Lighting

Plants that do well in low light: dracaena, ferns, heartleaf philodendron, lucky bamboo, ponytail palm, pothos, prayer plant, orchids, sansevieria (mother-in-law’s tongue), spider plant, zamioculcas zamiifolia (zz plant)

Plants that do well in medium light: African violet, begonia, ferns, hoya, ivy, mother-in-law’s tongue, orchids, ponytail palm, pothos, split leaf philodendron, succulents, umbrella plant, watermelon peperomia, zz plant

Plants that do well in bright light: aloe, angel vine, citrus, ficus, mother-in-law’s tongue, norfolk pine, oxalis, ponytail palm, rubber tree, succulents, yucca

The Details: Plant Care

If you travel often, look for plants that only need to be watered 2-4 times a month. These might include aloe, ficus, jade, pothos, succulents, and zz plant.

Plants that need higher humidity: ferns, orchids, norfolk pine, citrus, and ficus. Any plant that is native to a tropical environment will require higher levels of humidity. Place a tray filled with water and pebbles beneath the pot, or use a spray bottle to mist the leaves each time you water to help the plant thrive.

Regarding watering, I find it easiest to choose a day of the week and stick to it. I water my houseplants on Saturdays so that I have time to enjoy it and know that each plant is receiving care. Obvious exceptions to this would be succulents, zz plant, and fiddle leaf fig (which usually need to be watered less frequently), and angel vine (which needs watering every other day).

Have I convinced you to go out a find yourself some new houseplants? Or to rearrange the ones you already have? Anne and I have about 15 houseplants, and I am always on the lookout to acquire more. We have plants in every room, including the bathroom. Next up, I want to add a plant to our shower. I just need to decide if it will sit in a suctioning shower caddy or hang down from the ceiling…  Decisions, decisions. Plants bring such life into a room, and sometimes even purify the air! (Read NASA’s Guide to Air-Filtering Houseplants)

Do you have any tips or tricks to caring for your houseplants? Any other suggestions for getting “that Apartment Therapy look”? I will leave you now with one of my favorite poems. I like bringing these “wild things” into our home.

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me 
and I wake in the night at the least sound 
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, 
I go and lie down where the wood drake 
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought 
of grief. I come into the presence of still water. 
And I feel above me the day-blind stars 
waiting with their light. For a time 

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

(Our houseplants, in the order that they appear: angel vine, zz plant, fiddle leaf fig, various succulents, mini orchid, ficus breeze, orchid, meyer lemon tree, jade)