It was a spur of the moment decision made in the Walmart garden section. A pothos in a hanging pot, a fern, and a croton, on sale. Just a few little living things to distract me when my heart hurt from missing the sounds of my kids giggling (or bickering) under my roof. I was mid-divorce and still adjusting to the lonely expanses of time when my kids were with their dad. Buying plants was still a curious flex, though, since I’d killed every plant I’d ever owned up to that point.
That was two years ago. Yesterday, my daughter counted and informed me that I am now a proud plant parent of 34 houseplants. I may be slightly obsessed. I even name them. One of them, a White Anne, I named “Drama Queen” because he “faints” whenever he gets the tiniest bit dehydrated. Water him, and within 15 minutes he’s fluffed back up like nothing ever happened. So much drama.
Another, an alocasia, I named “Phoenix” because I found mealybugs on her, sprayed her with household cleaner to kill the mealybugs (I know there are better things to use. I panicked!), and tossed her out back by the fence. She died, of course. Except she didn’t! A few weeks after my frantic mealybug chemical bomb, I glanced over at the fence and noticed the alocasia had produced a new bright green shoot. She is now back in the sunroom with her brothers and sisters, happily arching toward the sunlight.
I’m not the only one obsessed with houseplants lately. In fact, houseplants might be the hottest decor item around. Take that, shiplap! There are entire Facebook groups devoted to plant care, as well as whole TikTok and Instagram accounts devoted exclusively to the love and keeping of houseplants.
Recent research has shown that houseplants don’t actually “filter” air or even increase oxygen in your home, contrary to popular myth. To that I say, yeah, and? Plants are beautiful. They bring nature inside. Research has shown that surrounding yourself with greenery can improve your mood. I can vouch for this. Few things delight me more than discovering a new shoot on one of my plant babies. That’s reason enough for me to bring the outside in.
Perhaps you’re tempted to buy some houseplants but have been traumatized by previous incidents wherein you inadvertently murdered every plant you bought. Perhaps you hope to be a new plant parent but have no idea where to start or which plants are most likely to survive your inexperience. Either way, we’ve got you, boo. I have just three pieces of advice for being a successful plant parent:
1. Join houseplant groups and follow houseplant lovers on social media.
I give all of the credit for the alive status of all of my plants to my Houseplant Hobbyist group on Facebook. It is the entire reason I knew what mealybugs were and knew to get that alocasia away from my other plants lest the mealybugs breed into a full-blown infestation. Otherwise I would have thought they were random white fuzzies and simply ignored them.
Houseplant Hobbyist is filled with long-time plant lovers who are literal experts at recognizing and troubleshooting every imaginable problem you could have with a houseplant. If you’re worried about a plant baby, you need only post a picture of it in your plant group along with a description of the problem, and before you know it, you’ve got 100 comments from experienced houseplant owners telling you exactly how to remedy the situation.
2. Start with hardy houseplants that don’t need as much attention.
Pothos are gorgeous vining plants that can produce loads of rich foliage, and they’re notoriously hard to kill. Snake plants are pretty resilient too. The white anne I bought can be finicky, as noted, but I have to admit, it’s helpful that he throws a tantrum when he’s starting to get thirsty. Very clever, that one.
If you’re going plant shopping, I recommend arriving at the plant nursery with a list in hand of two to three plant types you’d like to start with. It can get overwhelming to show up and be blasted by a thousand green things and absolutely no idea what any of them needs.
3. Put your houseplants in pots with drainage.
Pots that drain are a simple way to help you not accidentally murder your new plant babies. I learned from my plant group that when people talk about “overwatering,” they usually don’t mean, “the plant got too much water.” They are usually referencing root rot — something that happens when excess water has no place to drain and the roots end up sitting in a wet, stale environment, not getting enough oxygen, and eventually rotting.
You can find inexpensive pots with drainage at Walmart, Target, or the like, but I love hitting up Goodwill or other thrift shops and Facebook Marketplace, because buying secondhand is great for the environment. Another thing to note: plants with lots of foliage will eventually hide your pot, so if you’re low on cash, don’t worry about getting fancy pots with trendy designs. I have quite a few super basic red clay pots that have turned out to be my favorites because, since the pots darken when they get wet and lighten as they dry out, I can tell when a houseplant needs water.
To be honest, when it comes to my beloved houseplants, I still don’t actually know what the heck I’m doing. Having the internet at my fingertips has made all the difference in the world when it comes to keeping my green babies alive. And if a former plant-killer like me can manage a veritable jungle of greenery, you definitely can too.