I have big dreams of one day being the fairy-like dweller of an enchanted tree house, deep in some mighty forest.
But for now…
I’m a houseplant enthusiast.
A few years ago I went to Thailand where I traveled around, did some animal rescue work and lived, for a time, with buddhist monks. During my time at the mountain monastery, I came to find that practicing Buddhism wasn’t for me, but nature absolutely was. It was my solace. My peace. I found it was where I came alive.
A year later I was settling back down in America and had rejoined the rat-race, full steam ahead. I was bartending, freelancing, going, going, going. And then I burnt out. I needed a break. But how was I to get back to nature when I was broke in the city?
So, I quit my job and began working at a plant nursery. I spent my days shoveling duck crap, lugging heavy ceramic pots around, and learning about plant babies. I was always in the sun. I was nurturing farm animals and flowers and herbs and I had never been happier at a job in my life. So I decided to bring my work home with me. And now I live in a makeshift little ‘jungle treehouse’ of my own making. And as a once not-so great plant mama, I am here with a few tips for those beginners with big jungle dreams and a not-yet-developed green thumb. Let’s dive in.
Light and space
Before you head to the nursery, you need to first assess your lighting situation. Of course, you can’t just put any plant anywhere! Like people or animals, they all have different needs. So what kind of lighting do you have going on in there? Do you have a living room with south facing windows with lots of light? Maybe your bedroom or kitchen has super low light, but you need a few little-somethings-green to set the vibe. Have an idea of what kind of lighting you’re working with and how much space you have for new friends.
When you get to the nursery, don’t panic! All of the plants should be organized for you. Bedding, or outdoor plants and herbs, are likely to be outside. Shade dwellers will be in the shade. Succulents and cacti will be together in the sun, and houseplants should all be inside.
Most houseplants won’t do well in full sun. But if you have a sunny, south facing window you’re dying to fill, head over to the cacti and succulent space. Those little buggers thrive in the hot, hot heat! Try a Thai Crown of Thorns! An amazing cactus with a little twist and bright pop of color.
For bright, indirect light (light where sun rays won’t really hit the leaves) try pothos! (That’s the fun, dangly plant people always hang from their ceilings.) Japanese money trees are a great option for a bigger space and air plants are perfect for a smaller space or wall hangings.
If you’re an apartment-dweller like me, you might come to find that it’s not so easy to find brightly lit spaces where a plant can actually fit. But don’t fret! You still have plenty of options for low lighting. ZZ plants and Sansevieria are two of the most low maintenance plants you can get. They require very little light and not much watering either. If you would like something that wants a little more attention, try ferns! From staghorns to maidenhair and crocodile, there are so many amazing variations. And they require a bit of babying and fussing over so you can get your plant parent practicing in.
Soil and Potting
When you get a new plant, you’ll need to get some soil for it as well. Whether you get houseplants, herbs or bedding, your new loves will want something nutrient dense. My favorite soil is Happy Frog. Your local nursery will likely sell it and you can use it across the board, unless you get a cactus, succulent or orchid. Cacti and succulents require a sandier soil made just for them and orchids like wood chips to cling to!
Now, just like a child gets too big for their pants, your plant will get to big for its pot! Repotting can seem a little scary, but this step by step guide should simplify it for you a bit. You might want to give it a pretty new pot right when you get home, or maybe you prefer to wait until it’s ready to move. You’ll know the time has come if you can see the root system through the drainage hole in the pot, if the roots start pushing the plant up out of the soul or if your plant feels too top heavy.
This is the part that tends to trip people up the most. Some of us forget to feed our friends when we get busy and some of us (eh-hem, me) are way too overbearing as plant parents, love them too hard, and water them too much. As a general rule of thumb, water a plant when the top of the soil starts to seem dry and dusty. The soil around shade dwelling plants will stay wetter longer than that of plants in full sun. You’ll know it’s thirsty if the leaves are wilting and you will know its over watered if it looks pale or the edges of the leaves are browning. So just keep an eye on them and they should be happy in your home.
That covers the basics, my friends. Now go jungle-fy your place.