Minimalism: a beginner’s guide to houseplants

August 23, 2019

I love flowers, plants, trees — anything that grows, despite my serious lack of a green thumb. My love of plants runs deep — one of my earliest memories of my papaw Charles (my son Charlie’s namesake) is puttering around with him in his garden, our hands stained from the iron-rich, terracotta-hued Carolina clay. I was two. Those memories, though fleeting, have left such an indelible impression on me, and tending my own garden — literally and metaphorically — takes me back to those moments with him. Where time stood still and a simpler rhythm of life was embraced. 

Though I’m no veteran gardener, I’ve come to find that plants are quite simple to tend and manage. All they really need is light, an occasional watering, and lots of patience. 

As I embrace my love of bringing the outdoors into our home, I’ll document the process here and share tips + tricks I learn along the way.

[1] Source your plants from a reputable nursery — This goes without saying, but you really do get what you pay for when you purchase houseplants. That isn’t to say quality houseplants should break the bank. However, sourcing your plants from a knowledgable and reputable nursery ensures that you start out with the best possible chances for a long, happy life with your plant babies. Although I have been known to rescue plants from the clearance bin at our local Lowe’s or Home Depot, my plants that thrive from day 1 with little to no issues have come from local, independently-owned nurseries.

[2] Name your plants — This might not be for everyone, but I’ve found it super helpful to give each of my plants a name as soon as I bring them home. I’ve found that I’m far more likely to remember to water them, prune them back, repot them, etc. if I have a vested interest in their care. So far, all of our houseplants are named after women I admire — Maya Angelou, Frida Kahlo, Zora Neale Hurston, Diane Arbus and Toni Morrison — to name a few. It gives me such joy to see them grow + thrive as I intentionally devote time to their care. 

[3] Choose your potting soil — This is probably the most important factor in the health + longevity of your plant. Choose a well-draining soil blend (I love THIS SOIL BLEND mixed with THIS PEAT MOSS) to retain and control moisture to avoid root rot, encourage healthy growth, and keep bugs at bay (read on for more on this). When choosing a pot for your plants, it’s especially helpful to choose a pot with a drainage hole on the bottom, but be sure to put a saucer underneath your pot (to avoid ruining your floors and/or furniture with excess water). 

[4] Water  When it comes to watering your plants, less is better. Tropical houseplants love moist (but not soggy!) soil and humidity that mimics their natural environment.  Because I have a wide variety of plants in lots of different sizes, I overwatered more than a few times before I found the perfect water quantity + schedule that works for my plants. It takes a little bit of trial and error, but a good rule of thumb is to water once a week (I set a reminder on my phone) or when the top inch or two of the soil is dry. I water my smaller plants in the kitchen sink until water runs out the bottom of the planter, and then leave them to drain for an hour or so. For my big plants (a six foot fiddle leaf fig and huge potted monstera), I water until water runs out the bottom of the planter and fills the saucer, then I dump the saucer (to avoid soggy soil and/or root rot).

[5] Light  Plants thrive in great light (photosynthesis, y’all!). While it depends on the plant, south-facing windows generally provide amazing all-day light that plants love. Place your plant 5-6′ away from a south-facing window, and let the sun do its magic. Read more about directional light for plants HERE.

[6] Clean your plants — I’ll admit: I skipped this step in my houseplant care routine for awhile. In fact, it wasn’t until my fiddle leaf fig became so dusty that it started attracting mealybugs (eww!) that I realized just how important this step really is. There are several ways to do this, depending on the size and type of plant. For small(er) size plants, you can spray them down in the kitchen sink with soap, or use a spray cleaner/shine mist (I use THIS). For large plants that collect dust easily but may be difficult to move around, I like to hose them down outside several times a year with water and THIS PLANT SOAP and then clean/shine the leaves every month or two with leaf shine spray. However you choose to clean your plants, make sure to work this step into your plant care routine — you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes!

[7] Natural Pest control — I wish I didn’t have to write about houseplant pest control, but alas. . . Hopefully you’ll never have to deal with annoying houseplant pests, but if you do, here’s what you need to know (in order of least to most aggressive solutions). Keep in mind, all of these options are safe for your plants, pets, and the kids/adults in your home. As the parent of a very active toddler, I’ve eliminated anything in our home that could be toxic to my son or our pets, so rest assured that these options are effective and safe. In fact, I used all of the steps below over the last few weeks to rid my large monstera plant of a fungus gnat infestation and et voilà. Problem solved, like a charm. 

SAFER SOAP: This soap is premixed and great for safely and effectively cleaning your plants and/or treat or prevent pests.

NEEM OIL: Neem oil is a natural pesticide AND fungicide, and it’s a great natural solution to pest control for indoor plants and outdoor gardens alike. Mix 1 tsp. per quart of water and spray plants liberally. The smell is quite pungent, so do this outdoors, if at all possible.

3% HYDROGEN PEROXIDE DRENCH: It may sound scary, but hydrogen peroxide is a wonderful, useful tool for gardening. Mix 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide to 4 parts water for an easy and effective soil drench to treat root rot or kill pest larvae in the soil of your potted plant.

DIATOMACEOUS EARTH: Diatomaceous earth is a natural form of silica made from aquatic organisms called diatoms. It has a powdered sugar-like consistency and can be used to safely — and effectively — kill household insects and pests. You can mix it in with your potting soil or apply a thin layer to the top of your houseplants to instantly kill pest larvae, adult bugs, and any other pests/bugs. Even though DE is completely safe, definitely wear a mask and gloves when handling as the powder is superfine and can irritate your throat/lungs if you inhale a big whiff on accident (#speakingfrompersonalexperience).

Well, I think that’s it for now, y’all. Like I said, I’m no gardening genius, but I love my houseplants and really love to experiment and then share ALL the things! Did I miss anything? If you have any houseplant tips or tricks, please share! I’d love to know what works for you!

Nota bene: This post contains affiliate links. This means that (rather than physically selling + shipping items to you directly) I have hand-selected some of my favorite products from my favorite shops + brands, and have curated them here for you. If you purchase items through these links, I may earn a small commission. This is at no cost to you and goes towards hosting, tech support, and other expenses associated with keeping this blog up and running. Thank you for supporting T h e   P r o v i n c i a l i s t and allowing me to continue creating beautiful content!

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