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DIYs

Be the best plant mom with these easy how-to tips

Caring for plant babies is equal parts science and art. Allow us to explain...

Plants make people happy, plain and simple. As a matter of fact, new research shows that even just *looking* at a plant on your desk makes you less stressed. Leafy green things on a shelf or sill have always been good Instagram fodder, but given their calming effect, it’s no surprise that houseplants are huge right now. 

Never really considered yourself a plant person? Getting started couldn’t be easier. There’s a wide range of houseplants that vary in how much love they require, from those that thrive on nearneglect (hi, hoya plants) to others that need almost as much TLC as your cat (we still heart you, fiddle-leaf fig). 

So whether you’re just a budding (heh) green thumb or an established succulent whisperer, consider this your guide to plant mom perfection.
 

Start here!

Let's begin with a few basics...

PICK UP A CUTE PLANT. Search for your new leafy BFF at your plant shop or garden center, and don’t forget to also grab a pot that’s just a little bit bigger than your plant’s plastic nursery container.

READ THE LABEL. Does your new rooted cutie like a lot or a little sun? Does it need consistently moist soil…or does it love life on the drier side? Know before you grow (or just ask the plant shop employee).

BRING IT HOME. Set it in a sunny spot (or somewhere only slightly sunny, depending on its preferences). Give it some water. Drain off any excess.

CHECK THE SOIL. After a few days, test for dryness. If the soil is super moist, let it be. If the top 1 to 2 inches of dirt feels dry, add water.

REPOT YOUR PLANT. Approximately two weeks after your new plant moves in, replant your pal in its long-term home. You may need to add a bit of new potting soil to properly fill the pot.
 

Are you ready to be a plant parent?

Answer these questions to help you figure out what plant to grow, where to put it and when to water.

Q. ARE YOU A MORNING PERSON?

Yes: Water those plant kids as part of your a.m. routine, like while you sip your tea. Larger leafies, like the fast-growing snake plant, prefer a drink in the a.m. so the roots can dry out over the course of the day.

No: Then an evening misting may be more your speed. Cut to: “OK Google, remind me to water the plants at 8 p.m.” Xerographica air plants adore a good coating of moisture before nightfall.

Q. DO YOU HAVE A PRETTY STANDARD SCHEDULE?

Yes: A rubber tree or fern will fl ourish under your watch (and regular watering).

No: Try an aloe plant, which holds water in its leaves so you can, um, leave it be for a loooong time and it’ll still love you back.

Q. DO YOU HAVE AN EAST- OR SOUTH-FACING WINDOW? (HINT: USE YOUR PHONE'S COMPASS.)

Yes: Let it grow! Indoor tropicals like monstera and bird of paradise adore bright, direct light.

No: Not a problem! You’ll just need to look for plants that thrive on lower light, like a pothos variety or a red prayer plant.

Q. DO YOU HAVE PETS? LITTLE SIBS?

Yes: A hanging planter or a tall plant stand may be best to keep your precious plant away from paws of all shapes and sizes. Or try a bamboo palm or ponytail palm, both of which are nontoxic and therefore safe for pets and tiny humans alike.

No: There’s no real need for extra height. Plants always love a windowsill, or pop your pal on your desk or nightstand. A tiered plant stand is also a chic choice—especially with a trailing plant, like a philodendron brasil.
 

Plant commandments

Sure, entire books have been written on this very subject, but plant care really boils down to these three tenets…

THOU SHALT PICK THE RIGHT SOIL. The key is to recreate your plant’s natural habitat as closely as possible. If it’s a cactus or succulent, it probably likes a desert-reminiscent, sandy, gravelly soil more than, say, the moisture-holding potting soil that a tropical snake plant or monstera will luxuriate in. When you’re moving your plant to a bigger pot, be sure to buy the right kind of potting mix. (Hint: Ask the person working in the plant department for help if you need it.)

THOU SHALT RESIST OVERWATERING. Before you pour, be sure you’re always doing the finger check first— and know that plants may drink up more water in their growing season (spring and summer months) than in fall and winter, when they tend to go dormant.

THOU SHALT BEFRIEND FERTILIZERJust like too much water, too much fertilizer also can be an issue. We like Jobe’s Fertilizer Spikes ($2, lowes.com), which are fairly foolproof—simply stick them into the soil, and they’ll dissolve a bit with each watering. Use them only in the spring and summer, when plants can best utilize all those new nutrients.
 

Solve all your plant problems

Look out for these telltale signs that your plant isn’t as healthy as it could be.

If these leaves could talk...

PALE YELLOW LEAVES = Your plant is likely too hot or too cold. Move it!

BRIGHT YELLOW LEAVES = The soil is too wet, probably due to poor drainage or overwatering.

BLEACHED, DISCOLORED SPOTS ON LEAVES = It’s a sunburn. Move it to a spot with indirect light.

GREEN BUT DROOPING LEAVES = It’s thirsty!

The root of the issue...

ROOT ROT = If the bases of the plant’s leaves start to turn brown or black, it’s likely your pal has been dealing with poor drainage.

ROOT OVERGROWTH = When the roots start to grow up and out of the soil, it’s time for a bigger pot.

 

Your blooming bestie

Here’s how to pick your perfect plant pal.

IF YOU LOVE... Your nighttime skincare routine, daily workouts and shopping on Poshmark for indie designers

You're a: Pilea peperomioides


 Image: Uriel Mont from Pexels

Don’t call this UFO-shaped beauty high-maintenance, it just knows what it wants: consistent watering and just-right (not too bright, not too dim) light. As a plant parent of a pilea, your “plant care = self-care” skills will be well rewarded with cute li’l pilea babies or “pups” that you can share with friends.

IF YOU LOVE...Taco Tuesday, classic Levi’s, weekend board games with your family and always squeezing in just one more mile on your run

You're a: ZZ plant


Image: Nicolas Solerieu on Unsplash

Tried-and-true and dependable, the ZZ plant is made of tough stuff. It’s relatively unfussy, preferring low to partial light and barely any water, which means it’s pretty hands-off once you fi nd its happy place in your room. The long stems and shiny oval leaves are chic but not showy—and virtually indestructible.

IF YOU LOVE... The cringiest rom-coms, floaty floral maxis, tea dates with your closest pals and traveling whenever you can

You're a: Hoya heart plant


Image: Severin Candrian on Unsplash

You wear your heart on your sleeve and don’t love being rooted down, just like this pretty succulent. Its distinctive heart-shaped leaves belie its low-maintenance lifestyle—this plant can be watered basically once a month and still adore you. Just set it up in a super sunny spot and let it live its best life.
 

The right tools

Cute stuff makes work light, amiright?

Dog planter


$10, worldmarket.com

Moisture meter


$18, shopterrain.com

Boho faces hanging planter pot


$35, hausgem.com

Hand trowel set


$35, williams-sonoma.com

Watering can


$10, ikea.com

 

Hanging planter


$49, urbanoutfitters.com

 

Footed plant stand


$45, worldmarket.com

 

Wild at Home


$23, barnesandnoble.com

Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that a version of this story originally ran in our April/May 2021 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.

All GIFs via Giphy 

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by Jessica D'Argenio Waller | 4/22/2021
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