HOUSEPLANTS ARE HAVING their day in the sun on Pacific Northwest windowsills. Ingrid Nokes is the houseplant buyer for the West Seattle Nursery, a position she’s held for nearly 22 years. Every week, a veritable jungle of mostly tropical plants, along with a goodly collection of cacti and succulents, shows up at the nursery only to quickly be purchased by an adoring public.
Nokes describes growth (sorrowful pun) in houseplant sales in recent years as exponential. “I think people with little to no yard space and restricted living quarters still want to stay in touch with the Earth in some way,” she says.
“But a plant is a living thing. You need to tune into its needs and wants,” Nokes continues. Even experienced gardeners often forget this fact when we bring a plant indoors. And many in the burgeoning houseplant market are new to growing, and influenced by what they’ve seen online. But Instagram is not real life. Lately, Nokes has become a sort of horticultural doula, supporting new plant parents in the care and feeding of their botanical young.
Anyone can plop down good money for a prize fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) in a gorgeous pot to instantly animate an interior space, but Nokes advises newbies to start small. “Pick out a collection of small plants that will fit on the kitchen windowsill, where you can watch and learn what it takes to keep them happy.” (Note: You’re going to need to water them.)
Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) and bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) are all good choices (read: tough as a doornail) for budding indoor gardeners. “And any type of Dracaena,” Nokes adds. “When someone is looking to purchase a new houseplant, I always start by asking them how much light they have and what level of interaction (read: maintenance) they’re willing to invest.”
Just like in the outdoor garden, indoor plants have seasons of growth followed by slower periods in which they need to rest and recharge. Plant growth is responsive to light levels and temperature. While houseplants are in active growth during the lengthening days of spring and summer, you’ll need to keep up with watering and feeding. But as days shorten in fall and cloud cover robs what little light is in the sky, plant growth slows and might even enter dormancy. Adapt to these conditions by backing off on watering, and suspend feeding until new growth resumes in spring. The surest way to kill an indoor plant is to disregard this simple rhythm.
Once you have a little growing experience, you can move on to whatever plant darling catches your fancy. A few years ago, Pilea peperomioides, or the Chinese money plant, was the “It” plant. From giant agaves to tiny living stones (Lithops) and orchids, the indoor plant kingdom has plenty to hold our interest. Nokes is often asked about variegated Monstera, an illusive botanical unicorn that sells for big bucks online. As for orchids, Nokes recommends starting with a moth orchid (Phalaenopsis). “It’s easy to get to rebloom and very rewarding,” she says.