Plant Parenting 101
New to the world of indoor plants? Want a new hobby but don’t know where to start? Doubt your green thumb or plant fostering abilities? This is the article for you!
Everyone starts somewhere. Here’s everything we think you need to know in order to start growing a happy, healthy indoor jungle.
What Is Plant Parenting?
Coined by millennials and embraced by zoomers, boomers, millennials, and zillennials alike, ‘plant parenting’ is a colloquial phrase referring to anyone who cares for their plants as much as they would care for a pet or family member. In truth, we don’t think you need to go so far as naming your plants in order to be a plant parent (unless you want to). It’s really just a new way of saying someone has a green thumb or a passion for plant care.
Why Are Indoor Plants So Great?
So, why all the hubbub? What could be so great about a hobby that it earned its own nickname? Well, there’s some science behind why caring for plants can become such an addicting passion for plant enthusiasts.
- Caring for plants and gardening have been linked to positive mental health in many scientific studies. From working with beneficial microbes in soil to the reward of a growing plant, this hobby can help give someone an extra boost of peace and cheer when they need it most.
- Your air quality can improve. There have been studies done by NASA tracking how certain indoor plants will absorb certain toxins from the air around them, preventing us from breathing them in. With a large enough collection, you really can breathe a better sigh of relief!
- Many economic studies have shown that younger generations are waiting longer to have children and are having fewer children than older generations. There are many elements involved with why, including generational changes in finances and priorities. Many people have found a rewarding balance caring for plants and pets when they aren’t ready to start a family yet, or if a family isn’t the right life choice for them.
- Biophilia refers to a sense of love and appreciation for living things. Surrounding yourself with living things such as plants can bring these positive feelings without you ever having to do a thing. We’re natural creatures and being closer to nature can bring a smile to our faces.
Where Does A New Plant Parent Start?
If you’ve been given a plant for Christmas, then learning everything you can about that plant, or asking our team for advice, is a great starting point. You’re off to the races! If you’re just starting out and you don’t have any plants yet, doing a little research ahead of time will help immensely in the long run.
Evaluate your space – As any good plant stylist can tell you, a space needs to be filled with plants that will thrive in that environment. Take stock of where you want to put your new plants.
- What is the light like? Is the room dry or humid? Is the sunlight coming in harsh or soft?
- We recommend finding a place that has bright, indirect light since almost all indoor plants will enjoy that level of light. Direct light can burn leaves, and too low light (too low to read in) means they can’t do enough photosynthesis to produce energy. If you don’t have enough light you can add plant grow lights to supplement.
- Can your pets reach the plants? Get pet-safe plants if the answer is yes.
- Pick out some easy plants to start. What makes a good beginner plant? One that is forgiving to changes in care and will respond to positive care in a noticeable way. This way you can learn to watch your plants to determine what they need. As your confidence grows, you can branch out and choose plants that you enjoy the look of as well, even if they’re more sensitive.
- Start with the right soil. Some pre-mixed potting soils don’t allow for enough drainage, but cacti soils don’t have enough to them to retain water and nutrients. This is why many plant parents will mix their own soil – 1 part potting mix to 1 part orchid bark works well for most houseplants that originate from tropical areas. As you learn and research potting soil mixes you can play with materials and ratios for different plants. This 1:1 mix is a great starting point.
- Invest in good tools. You need pots with good drainage, saucers, a small trowel, (a) watering can(s), and a sharp pair of pruning shears. Extra tools that are great to have on hand but aren’t needed at first include a water meter, pebbles for pebble trays to put under plants that like humidity, a clear bin or large bowl for underwatering (letting a plant absorb water from their drainage holes up into the soil), or a small humidifier.
- Indoor plants will need either fresh soil or fertilizers in order to replenish vitamins and minerals. A granular slow-release fertilizer means you can add a little bit at the beginning of the growing season (the time of year when plants are actively growing and not dormant), and it will seep into the soil over time. Choose a balanced, organic formula whenever possible; our team can help point out a few of our favorites for beginner plant parents. Research how much fertilizer different plants need since not all plants need or want any.
What Should You Look For When Caring For Plants?
Once your plants are settled into the space you picked for them, and they have fresh well-draining soil, some water, and some good light, the next step is to keep your eye on them for changes.
Some changes will be very slow and subtle, like with snake plants or other slow growers. Others still will grow right before your eyes (these are the plants often described as growing “like a weed”). This is the routine part where you check on how dry or soggy their soil is, so you know when to water them.
You’re also checking in to see how they’re telling you how they’re doing. Plants will react to problems in visible ways, so if you notice changes in their foliage you can start to address why.
- Water your plants according to what they like. Snake plants like to stay completely dry for a week or two before you water them. Rubber tree plants cannot handle going from totally dry to totally moist, it shocks their system and they prefer even moisture all the time. This is where your research comes into play the most.
- Get comfortable with pressing your finger in as far as it will go into the soil of any plant, so you can feel how soggy or dry the soil is.
- Watch for root health. Soggy soil creates a risk for ‘root rot,’ where roots will literally rot away and turn black when they sit in more standing water than they can take in. Severe root rot will kill a plant, so this is why drainage is a big deal.
- If you can pick up your plant and look underneath, you should be able to see a few tiny roots. Not seeing any roots might mean your plant isn’t “well-rooted” and you can ask one of our team members what you can do to encourage root growth.
- Seeing too many roots at the bottom means your plant may be “rootbound” and it needs a new pot that is a few inches wider.
- If your plant is too big to look underneath or pick up, you can feel the soil to determine how crowded the roots are.
Leaves Will Tell You Everything
Plants really do tell us how they’re doing, and it’s almost always in their foliage. By watching for certain tell-tale signs, you can learn what adjustments your plants need in order to thrive. Here are a few common examples of what to look for in foliage.
- Yellow leaves could be a sign of overwatering, underwatering, or a lack of nutrients. If you see more than one leaf looking yellow, check to see if there is not enough water, too much water, or if the soil is old and needs a refresh. Prune the leaves and adjust your care. One yellow leaf at a time might just mean that was an old leaf, and the plant is choosing to spend its resources elsewhere.
- Leaves with a brown tip can also mean either overwatering or underwatering. These often come from a plant that likes to stay the same level of hydrated all the time, so too much and or too little will cause the same brown tip to happen. Check the soil and adjust accordingly.
- Crispy leaves that break at touch are a sign of severe underwatering. Check both the roots and the soil, water slowly, and trim the dried leaves. Also check that the humidity is high enough for that plant and that there are no cold drafts.
- Leaves that are drooping mean your plant is most likely thirsty. Plants pull water up through their roots & stem to their leaves, and this creates structure or “turgidity” in the cells. Not enough water means that structure begins to sag. Some plants, like the peace lily, will rebound magnificently once they’re watered, so many people will actually wait until they see a droop before watering.
- Crinkles on succulent leaves mean the same thing as drooping foliage. Succulents don’t do well with too much water, so again, some people wait to water until they see a few wrinkles in the plump succulent foliage.
- Stems that don’t have very many leaves are considered “leggy,” – this lack of leaves may come from a lack of light. If the stems or vines are reaching towards the closest light source, the plant is literally trying to reach the light before it makes more leaves. Add a grow light and trim the leggy stems so your plant will flush out better. (You can often propagate those parts and plant them back into the same pot for a nice, full look!)
- Plants that stopped growing new foliage and new stems may mean they are lacking the nutrients they need to grow. Repotting them with fresh soil can help replenish them. You can also check their roots to see if they are growing healthy roots – a plant that stopped growing and has no roots is a stressed plant that needs extra TLC.
- Leaves with brown or black spots, or any strange colorations in the middle of the leaf, could indicate issues with the roots. Fungal or bacterial infections will sometimes appear as tiny spots on the leaves, and it’s worth asking a plant expert what kind of fungicide is right for the situation.
- Plants that start dropping their foliage, aka “defoliating,” are saying they’re stressed out by something – so much so they’d rather go dormant. Did something change in their routine or environment recently? Some plants don’t do well with change and they need to be introduced to new things slowly. The iconic Fiddle Leaf Fig is infamous for this behavior.
- Pests are often visible on leaves first. Keep an eye out for anything white or green, tiny and suspicious, as they could be mites, thripes, mealybugs, or other common parasitic insects. Bringing home a new plant from a large plant store should always involve a short quarantine period so you can watch the leaves for pests for a few days.
- New leaves mean a happy plant! These are the most fun leaves to watch for since plants will only spend energy on new growth when they are thriving. Another sign of a happy plant is when calathea leaves or maranta leaves move throughout the day. That’s where they get the name ‘Prayer Plant’ – they move to create airflow and to optimize light exposure. Flowers are another great sign of a happy plant.
Long story short, your plant will tell you what’s going on with some observation. Creating a habit of checking the leaves for changes and feeling the soil once a week is a great way to develop your green thumb. You can always give a call or a DM if you have any questions, we love talking about plants!
What’s the Deal with All Those Expensive Plants?
If everything we’ve described sounds like more fun than you’ve had all year, plant parenting might be a good fit for you. Be careful not to develop a tendency towards ‘plant hoarding’ though. The short-term boost that people feel when they get a new plant is beginning to earn a place on the list of most addictive hobbies, like a plant version of a runner’s high. It’s always best to be honest with yourself and only bring home plants that fit with your lifestyle and your home space. With that said, if plant collecting is right for you then go for it!
But why are some plants so much more expensive than others? It directly depends on the scarcity of resources. Some plants are very easy to propagate and are very easy to find – these are more common and less expensive. Others have been bred or genetically modified to sport certain features, or they are rare in nature and very difficult to propagate. This means the plant is harder to recreate so they are more scarce and more expensive.
The best example of this is the difference between a Philodendron Heartleaf and a Philodendron Pink Princess. The former plant trails beautifully, grows quickly, and is very easy to propagate from cuttings. The second has a rare genetic mutation where parts of the leaf don’t produce any chlorophyll, creating uniquely pink areas of “variegation” (or variations in leaf color on one leaf). They grow at a moderate rate, and since the mutation is an organic one, the plant will sometimes revert back and lose its pink coloring on new leaves – nurseries like ours have to nurture the cuttings to retain their pinkness as they grow. Other rare plants grow so slowly that they come at a premium price once they have reached a significant size.
Once you start collecting plants and watching changes in foliage, adding plants that have unique and beautiful characteristics on their foliage gets really exciting!
We hope this helps give you a great head start in your plant parenting adventures. Please comment below and let us know how your green thumb is growing!