Plant Parenthood: Easy to Care for Houseplants

It’s National Indoor Plant Week! If you know me at all, you’ll know that I love plants. I couldn’t pass up an excuse opportunity to make a trip to one of my favorite local greenhouses and celebrate by buying plants.

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There’s a theory that millennials love houseplants because we’re not having children and need something to nurture (LOL). While I’d love to talk about my deep-seated and unmet needs on the internet, I’m not sure that it’s that serious. I primarily like houseplants because they’re pretty and fun to grow and take care of. 

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I started collecting (?) plants during my senior year of college. My aunt gave me something she called “hens and chicks” which I later learned were succulents. From there, I started accumulating plants at an alarming rate, which was only accelerated when I learned about the Michigan Cactus and Succulent Society and attended their annual show at the University of Michigan. Basically, the rest is history. 

For a while, I primarily just loved the way that plants looked but did a terrible job of taking care of them. Then I met Wajid, an actual plant scientist (!) and he taught me how to properly care for my plants and showed me how therapeutic and enjoyable it can be. Since then, taking care of my plants has become a point of pride and my plants are nearly as spoiled as my cat.

If you’re considering dipping your toes into the plant parenthood, and in honor of this special week, I decided to put together a list of my favorite easy-to-care-for houseplants.

Monstera

My monstera plant was the first plant that I got that wasn’t a succulent or cactus. I saw one on Instagram (lol) and started calling around to local greenhouses to see if they had any in stock. Luckily for me, Van Atta’s did, and I made my first trip there to pick it up. It was much, much larger than I was anticipating. 

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How to care: From what I can tell, Monstera plants are happy pretty anywhere with indirect sunlight, but will do best if they have If they don’t get enough light, they’ll start reaching toward the sun. 

Snake plant

If you have a black thumb, a snake plant is your best friend. I think I have three or four different snake plants (aka sansevieria) scattered around my apartment because they add a touch of greenery to any room and are almost impossible to kill. We also have snake plants at the office that get literally no natural light and have maybe been watered a handful of times in the year and a half since we bought them and they’re still alive and kicking. Bonus: NASA research has shown that these bad boys purify and clean indoor areas.

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How to care:  Snake plants will survive almost anything and are known for their adaptability. They can withstand full sun and handle low light—though they do best in indirect sunlight. When it comes to watering them, easy does it. They really don’t require much water, and prefer to completely dry out before watering again. Depending on the amount of light they’re getting and the humidity in your house, they really only need to be watered every 2-6 weeks. 

Toxic to pets? Yes.

Pothos

To me, there’s nothing as aesthetically pleasing as a trailing plant. I have three different pothos plants: two marble queens and a golden pothos. Like the two earlier plants that I mentioned, pothos are pretty easy to care for. In fact, they’re often referred to as “the devil’s ivy” because they can survive without light and are nearly impossible to kill (not to be confused with the devil’s lettuce. I have no experience in growing that). 

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Photo courtesy of @crazyplantguy

How to care: It’s true that pothos can survive in low light, but they grow faster in medium to bright indirect light. They don’t do well in direct sunlight because the sun burns the foliage and results in brown burnt spots (I learned this the hard way, RIP plant friend). They like their soil to be kept on the drier side, so water enough to keep the soil slightly damp, but let the top 50% of the soil dry out before watering again.

Toxic to pets? Yes.

Succulents

Ahh, succulents. My gateway drug. In the time since I became a hobby horticulturist (lol, I’m joking) succulents have become as popular among millennials as avocado toast or craft beer. A lot of people purport that succulents are super easy to care for, but I don’t like to make generalizations like that. A lot of it is going to depend on a) what kind of succulent you have b) the state the plant was in when you got it and c) the environment that you keep it in. 

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How to care: Succulents need to drain well. If you purchase one from a greenhouse, they’re going to be potted properly and in the right soil. If you get one from Meijer, probably not so much. Whatever pot you keep them in, it absolutely needs a drainage hole. If you overwater them, they will rot and die. With that said, they liked to be soaked and then completely dry out before being watered again. They also need A LOT of sunlight. If your succulents start to look weird and “leggy” it’s because they’re not getting enough sun. They do best in bright, indirect sunlight. I tend to keep mine on my windowsills, but they also do well on my bookshelf (with grow lights).

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Toxic to pets? Depends on the kind. 

Cacti

There are thousands of different varieties of cacti—and they’re all beautiful. I have a number of different cacti in my home (and my office!) and just bought one more yesterday because why not? While I love all plants, I will always have a special place in my heart for cacti and succulents. My personal favorite cactus is my euphorbia (which is actually technically a succulent, but looks like a cactus) for sentimental reasons.

How to care: When it comes to how to care for cacti (and succulents), there are three main factors that affect their rate of survival: light, water and temperature. Too dim or too bright light, too little or too much water, or too cool or too hot temperatures (and often a combination of all three) will make your succulents and cacti unhappy and start behaving strangely. Depending on the type of succulent or cactus, symptoms of mistreatment vary dramatically.

Much like its cousin, the succulent, cacti need soil that is well aerated and fast draining. For me, what that translates to is only watering once in a while, so they end up being pretty low maintenance. (Which is a huge bonus if you’re forgetful or lazy like me). They also like a lot of sunlight (I mean, duh, they come from the desert). Pro tip: don’t mist! Cacti like to be soaked, just like succulents.

TL;DR

It’s National Indoor Plant Week! Go buy some plants and circle back here if you need tips on how to care for them.

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