Let the plant adventure begin. Despite the name of this publication, I am a gardening neophyte. My history with plants is not pretty —...
Let the plant adventure begin.
Despite the name of this publication, I am a gardening neophyte. My history with plants is not pretty — a couple of plants have survived my care, but only by the tips of their browning leaves.
So when an editor tasked me to find beginner houseplants, I was more concerned with finding ones that were — in a word — indestructible.
At City People’s Garden Store in Madison Park, customers often come in with the same basic premise: plants, pretty please, easy on the care.
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Therese Rivoire, front end manager at City People’s, said their first mistake is buying a plant based on its looks instead of thinking first about lighting and space. Oops.
She also steers people clear of pots that don’t have a hole for drainage. (That, I knew.) And don’t try to grow any but the toughest plants in a bathroom without a window.
She guided me through a selection of the store’s hardiest varieties, which tolerate low light and infrequent watering.
• Buy pots with a hole for drainage.
• Water when soil is dry to the touch. Low-light plants prefer to dry out more.
• Fertilize once a month from March to September.
• Only the hardiest plants, like the snake or the cast iron, can handle a bathroom without a window. Leave lights on for part of the day.
• Repot a plant when the water starts running straight through, which means there’s no good soil left to absorb water.
• For repotting, choose pots only an inch wider in diameter than the original pot.
• It’s best to repot in the spring.
Before you buy
• Look around your home and decide whether it gets good light. If you have western or southern exposure, you can buy plants with higher light requirements.
• Also decide how much space you have for plants and where they would go.
Plants generally can take more light than recommended, but not direct sunlight, according to Rachel Hanson, of City People’s Garden Store.
Here’s her light guide:
• Direct light: Several hours a day of direct sunlight on the plant.
• Bright light: The brightest light possible without direct sunlight.
• Low light: Bright enough to read by.
• Snake plant (Sansevieria)
• Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
• Dracaena varieties (including the popular lucky bamboo)
• Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema)
I didn’t like the look of the vertical, pointy-edged snake plant, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, though Rivoire pretty much pegged me as its ideal owner: “It’s for someone who does not know what they’re doing and is afraid.”
Instead, I picked the leafier, speckled cast iron plant ($16.99 for a 6-inch), named for its “cast-iron constitution.” The Dracaena varieties the store had were too big for my space, but I liked the look of the full Chinese evergreen ($14.99 for 6-inch) with its tiger-striped leaves.
I had less guidance at The Home Depot, where the plants are plentiful and cheap. A garden associate said most of their indoor plants were pretty easy to take care of.
Left to my own devices, I put back a beautiful umbrella tree once I saw the “not hardy” label. Many plants bore no description at all.
I chose an anthurium plant ($6.88) for its glossy leaves and red flower — and its instructions. It requires medium light, which removed it from the “super easy” category, but my windows have western exposure. I also picked a durable lucky bamboo ($9.97) but avoided ones with browning leaves — I’m already behind.
Indoor plants, as I’ve been told, don’t need much care besides house fertilizer once a month in summer and appropriate watering. Rachel Hanson, City People’s houseplant buyer, recommends watering when the soil is dry. But it depends on the plant.
“So many things in our lives are by formula,” she said. “But growing things, it’s not by formula. It takes a little intuition, I think, like how a mom can tell when a baby’s hungry.”
My plants might be crying right now. I just hope I hear them.
Check back with us in a few months for an updated brown-leaf count.
Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or firstname.lastname@example.org