WHEN TO BUY, WHEN NOT TO BUY, AND HOW TO STAY GREEN
It's likely many of us may be making orders for plants online, and while I never want to rain on a seller's parade, plant buying can be a slippery slope. I've observed lately especially that there are price points happening for online sales that I personally feel are a bit ridiculous, and also discouraging to the average plant buyer. And knowing that this may be how we're accessing our houseplants for some time, what I'd like people to understand by the end of this is precisely when you've reached the point of absurdity in terms of plant prices. Some plants I may spend more money on, but for others I think it's a flat out crime to pay more than $30. I'll spend some time discussing what exactly you are paying for in instances above $50, and when I feel it's frankly not worth it. I've selected several online stores that I think are solid that you can use as a good starting point to gauge what reasonable shopping looks like. Some are larger scale, some are smaller companies I think are operating in a fair range. These include Home Depot, Perrico Plant Company, and Pigment. I chose them not just for pricing, but also for ease of shopping. For example Perrico organizes their plants based on light and water needs - I thought that was fantastic. All ship within the United States. Below, I've chosen some favorites for you to consider that are reasonably easy plants, but also listed additional families to think about. The prices included are for plants that arrive in grower pots- the plastic pots used at nurseries. I strongly advise going this route and then repotting your own plants. It's not only financially smarter, but you have more control over your watering capabilities. I am a huge fan of terra-cotta because I can literally see when a plant needs water. Plus it matches everything, but to each their own. I wrapped the article with plants that I straight up disagree are easy to take care of, and advise you to proceed with caution should you go forward with a purchase of those varieties. All of my advice is also coming from a northern climate, with average humidity. So obviously if you live in a hotter zone with greater moisture, these rules should be adapted to your environmental needs. Before we begin though, here are some helpful tips about light and water that need to be covered before we talk buying.
LIGHT, WATER, & YOU
What nobody talks about with plants is that water is NOT your number one concern. Your first concern is always LIGHT. Why? Because the amount of water a plant will drink week to week directly correlates to how much light it's able to access and synthesize. Light fuels the plant's system, and water is a needed element to continue that process. So before we go any further, let me explain some phrases to you that you're going to see a LOT on plant stores, and break them down in layman's terms. First, you should know the strongest directions for a plant to receive light from are South and West. The gentler rays come from North and East-facing sides of the home. When a seller or website explains plant care, they often do so in terms of the light a plant will do best in. I've broken down where you should put a plant in a room based on light descriptions found on the sites I've used today for you to purchase from: 1) AMOUNTS OF LIGHT LOW LIGHT: Across the room from a window. MEDIUM LIGHT: Halfway across the room from a window. HIGH LIGHT: Right in the windowsill, especially in a South or West window. 2) INTENSITY OF LIGHT DIRECT LIGHT: Direct sun rays will touch the leaves- no sheer curtains in between, for example. INDIRECT LIGHT: A filter is softening a direct ray of sunlight- a sheer curtain, a bounce of light off of a wall. Got it? So now when you shop and hear someone say "This plant can tolerate low light but appreciates medium indirect light," what that means is that your plant won't DIE in a darker area of the room, but much prefers to get more light than that, without being directly in the windowsill, where he may burn. INGRID LIGHT TIP: No plant LIKES not having light. If you don't have a window in a room and want a plant anyways? My real talk tip is go get a fake one. Sorry, but it's just not going to do well. INGRID WATER TIP: In times of softer light like winter, check on your plant's soil with your finger to see if they're drinking how much they normally do. If one knuckle deep your soil isn't almost dry or dry to the touch, adjust your schedule. Again, water intake is always relative to light needs- less available light mean less needed water by your plant. And with that, let's take a look at some great starters here and where to find them.
THE BIRD OF PARADISE
A beautiful statement plant, this guy is going to get pretty big eventually. I have two, one that (dreams of mine) will produce orange flowers, and one that will produce white ones. I say dreams, because neither is known to make flowers when grown indoors. In northern climates though, you're going to want to keep them indoors until summertime, since they cannot tolerate the cold. I think they're awesome, and a great accent to the room. LIGHT & WATER NEEDS
LIGHT: Medium to High Direct Light. WATER: Big drink once a week, until water comes out of the bottom of your pot. If you're a beginning gardener, get pots with drainage holes at the bottom until you sort out water amounts with your garden.
INGRID TIP: You really don't need to be overspending on your BOP's - they're reasonably steady growers, and because of how large they can get, it's not the worst idea to start with one that's not already at your ceiling!
ZAMIOCULCAS ZAMIIFOLIA aka THE ZZ PLANT
The ZZ has grown to be one of my favorite plants. He is hardy, not fussy, and forgives the occasionally forgotten watering. I'm sure you've seen him in a lot of restaurants, stores, malls, you name it. Why? The ZZ plant is able to synthesize synthetic light to some degree. What that means is that he can take advantage of a situation that has less natural light, and pull from your light bulbs as well. This is pretty uncommon, but it makes the ZZ a super desirable plant. LIGHT & WATER NEEDS
LIGHT: Tolerates Low, Thrives in Medium Light. Doesn't like intense, direct light. WATER: The ZZ is an interesting drinker. He's not fussy, and a big drink every two weeks is fine, but here's a secret: I find mine thrive with a smaller drink once a week. If you're more comfortable doing a large drink every two weeks, he'll be fine. But during summer, check on him. Sellers often say two weeks, however during summer I increase watering due, again, to the fact that he's drinking more from stronger sunlight.
WHERE TO BUY • HOME DEPOT - Regular ($21) in 6 inch grower pot. Also have the black Raven variety ($24) in a 6 inch grower as well. • PERRICO PLANTS - Regular in 4 inch grower ($13) and Zenzi Dwarf variety in 4 inch grower ($16). • PIGMENT - Regular in 4 inch grower ($14) and 6 inch grower ($26). INGRID TIP: The ZZ is a slow grower, sending new shoots up almost exclusively in summer months. Buy a size close to what you'll want, or be ready to wait a bit.
THE SANSEVIERIA aka THE SNAKE PLANT aka MOTHER IN LAW'S TONGUE
Ah the snake plant. I used to think I was above snake plants, because I would see them literally everywhere. But what I didn't know is how many types of snake plants there are, it's sort of incredible. You can't really write them off because many are drastically different and unique. So what I've actually done in this particular section is make a notation of where you can find the more well known varieties which are less expensive, and places that I think carry some super cool ones that are a little more expensive, but not unjustifiably because they're more rare. I do want to make a note of caution though, that many sellers list these plants as "indestructible," implying you can leave them in the dark to essentially somehow make things work. No, you can't. They're living things, and they would like some light and water, thankyouverymuch. They're just very tough plants, but even tough guys need to eat and get some sunshine once in a while! LIGHT & WATER NEEDS LIGHT: Tolerates Low, Thrives in Medium Light. Doesn't like harsh, Direct Light.
WATER: Similar to the ZZ both in light synthesizing capabilities as well as water needs, the snake is not fussy. A big drink every two weeks is fine, but again, I go smaller once a week with possible adjustments in summer.
What I've also done here is break down the snake's purchase locations into two kinds- those for more standard snake plants, and those for specialty snakes, which can run you a a little bit higher. And to me, that's honestly fairly standard practice and I don't have an issue with it. But for the love of good things, yes, there are limits to how much you should pay for a standard snake. Some varieties you don't want to ever spend over $35/$40 (for bigger pot sizes) are the following:
Laurentii, Zeylanica, Black Gold, Futura Robusta, Cylindrica, Bantel Sensation, Hahnii. If you are, somebody's ripping you off, frankly.
WHERE TO BUY Please note Regular vs Alternative Varieties (more $) • HOME DEPOT - This entire page is totally fair, different sizes and prices for Regular Varieties. • PIGMENT - Great options for 4 inch and 6 inch Regular varieties ($10, $26 respectively). • PERRICO PLANTS - Great options for both 4 inch and 6 inch Regular ($8 - $22) but also Alternative Varieties: Starfish ($11), Moonshine ($22), Night Owl ($22) and other fun varieties. • ETSY: You will find just about any variety on here, but again, proceed with caution. Some sellers are fair, some are just out of touch with reality.
THE RUBBER TREE aka FICUS ELASTICA
The ficus family! This is an interesting plant group. The reason is, some are very sensitive and some are totally game with a number of conditions. I've listed here the Rubber Tree, or Ficus Elastica. The one pictured is variegated with white in his leaves, but he more commonly comes in darker varieties. Does this mean all ficus are good for newer gardeners? NO! In fact, towards the end of this post, I give specific time to a very famous ficus who is very unfriendly to many people. But the Rubber Tree? He's friends with just about everyone. LIGHT & WATER NEEDS LIGHT: Tolerates Medium, Thrives in High Indirect and Direct Light. WATER: Give your Rubber Tree a big drink once a week. WHERE TO BUY • HOME DEPOT -"Burgundy" Rubber Tree in 9 inch grower pot ($24), Variegated Ficus "Ruby" 9 inch grower pot (beautiful pink leaves, $24), Regular variety in 6 inch grower pot ($20). • ETSY: Again, you're going to find a lot of sizes on here. Be cautious that even for a larger plant (above 8 inch pot) you aren't paying more than around $35 max. And also be cautioned that some sellers will ask you for $20, but it's a 4 inch pot. That's not cool. So just be an aware buyer
I know you were waiting. Here we go- the succulent! Here's an important distinction to know - all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. A succulent is a plant that stores water in its fleshy leaves, that thrives on sunshine and a lower water schedule. Having said that, these plants have been really unfairly marketed as super easy, hard to kill, great for beginners, and for the life of me, it's just not true. Let's discuss, shall we? These plants were not made for northern climates. They just weren't. And yes, they don't need as much water as say your Rubber Tree, but they still need water! During summer months, I would water mine once a week even. I'm hearing sellers say "once a month" and... you're dreaming, ok? BUT having said that, they are lots of fun, and given enough light can have a pretty solid lifespan, even in the colder climates.
LIGHT & WATER NEEDS LIGHT: A trickster- the succulent loves to be right in your windowsill indoors- Direct, High light. HOWEVER, put him outside and he's going to need to be near some shade. Raw sunlight can burn their fleshy leaves. WATER: During winter, I'd say every two weeks. Check soil to be certain, but once a week can get dicey. In summer? I've moved up to once a week, particularly for my succulents that went outside onto my porch. Full drink, too, until water comes out the bottom.
WHERE TO BUY I'm gonna do this in a different way- below are the companies I think are solid, but because succulents consist of literally hundreds of varieties, I'm going to give you some $ guidelines instead of specific varieties:
• 2-3 inch pot should be under $5 • 4-6 inch pot should be under $10 • 6-8 inch pot should be under $25 • HOME DEPOT - Multiple sizes and packages available. Prices are in an acceptable range.
• PIGMENT - Great varieties and pricing found here as well.
I'm also going to take a second here and make a special note because I have seen some things. Do not buy a succulent that appears stretched out (or "leggy), because it means he's been denied proper light long enough for him to have to reroute his shape entirely, and reach for more light sources. And do not buy a non-fuzzy succulent that is without its succulent "chalk" or more specifically, their epicuticular wax. This is a white chalky substance on the leaves of most succulents that protects them from moisture loss.
Both of these signs are indicators that this succulent is not getting enough light, and is unhappy. You shouldn't buy unhealthy plants, and don't allow a salesperson who wants a sale to convince you those plants are fine. Above are two pictures I took of unhappy succulents - see the difference between the shapes of their bodies vs above the photos? See how they're almost shiny? That's not good. Don't be fooled.
A favorite plant family, Philodendrons span a massive amount of shapes and sizes. But what's nice about them is that there's literally a Philodendron for every aesthetic. My experience with them has been that some do better than others under normal home circumstances. These guys are a little bit more particular than say the ZZ plant, but in the right spot they do amazing. I'll detail why and how to keep them happy.
LIGHT & WATER NEEDS: LIGHT: Medium Indirect Light (so not right in the window sill, but not far from it. And please, no direct rays because he will burn). This is a cause of confusion for most Philodendron fails- when is enough light? My best advice with them is when all else fails, 3+ feet from a bright window. WATER: Nice full drink once a week. If they haven't fully dried at the top layer of soil, hold off another few days and allow them to do that. WHERE TO BUY: I'm going to also detail the kinds of Philodendrons that I think are great that these places sell as well: Trailing vs Bush Shape. • HOME DEPOT - Great Bush Shapes, such as this Xanadu ($20) in a 6 inch grower pot. • PERRICO PLANTS - Especially good for Trailing Varieties, like this 4 inch potted Brasil Philodendron ($8) or this Bush Shaped Philodendron Moonlight ($12). • ETSY, of course - but you know the drill. Here's a tip- if you're spending over $40 for a philodendron, that better be a BIG plant. We're talking above 8 inch pots. Otherwise, be smart and be sure you aren't purchasing a specialty variety.
MONSTERA DELICIOSA aka SPLIT LEAF PHILODENDRON
The Monstera has to be one of the most famous plants out there. Their name is also tricky because they're not actually a Philodendron. They're their own species of plant, entirely. But I listed both because you'll often see that name as well. I myself have had a really interesting relationship with these guys. Reason being is I didn't do enough research into the age and situation of the versions that are usually sold in stores. And I think this is an important note because while it's not always true, it's what happened with mine. When you see a smaller Monstera, and it has massive split leaves, you are actually buying a cutting off of a much larger plant. These plants do not just suddenly split humongous leaves. I'm telling you that, because what's going to happen is your plant will need to re-establish a new root system strong enough to sustain its frame, and then begin again with new leaves. Mine took two years to begin sprouting split leaves again! It was bananas. LIGHT & WATER NEEDS LIGHT: A special case! In order for leaves to split, there HAS to be enough light. So for best results, the Monstera thrives in Medium Light, or High Filtered Light - it cannot be direct. This plant doesn't like harsh, direct light, which will burn his leaves. WATER: Nice big drink once a week, unless you notice the water isn't being consumed that quickly with a soil check. WHERE TO BUY • HOME DEPOT - 9 Inch grower pot ($32). • PIGMENT - 6 inch grower pot ($22). • PERRICO PLANTS - 6 Inch grower pot ($22). SOME ADDITIONAL PLANT FAMILIES TO CONSIDER If we had forever, I could go on and on. But for sake of time and space, here are a couple additional families that have a lot of different varieties to choose from. You may also find these to be appealing purchases:
• POTHOS: A trailer that can synthesize synthetic light, these are therefore found in a lot of places, and come in just as many colors and varieties. a 4 inch grower pot should cost you $15 max, preferably under.
• PEPEROMIA: One a week waters, and very unfussy about its light needs - Low to High Indirect Light is great. $15 or under should do it for a 4 inch grower pot, unless you're buying a specialty variety like Owl Eye, or Watermelon. • DRACAENA - Fantastic in Lower to Medium Light conditions, there are a LOT of varieties of Dracaena. But a once a week drink, will be great, and while smaller varieties can be purchased for even $12, don't spend more than $50 on a large plant if you can.
DON'T BE FOOLED: THESE ARE NOT BEGINNER PLANTS
Lastly, but importantly, be advised about these guys. Many places will include these plants in their "Easy to Grow" or "Great for Beginners" sections. I want to tell you that these plants are finicky so that if you buy them and they turn brown or die on you, don't feel discouraged. Below are some beauties that you may want to be try out a plant or two prior to purchasing, and also why I feel that way. AIR PLANTS These plants are humidity cravers. They are Epiphytes, which means they have no root systems and therefore pull all of their water from the air. Picking up what I'm putting down? They're super pretty, but my experience has been in a northern, dry air climate like Boston, you better keep these in the bathroom, hope your bathroom has a soft light-filtering window, and in addition plan on soaking them at least once a week. Still want one? My advice is the fuzzier they are, the more capable they are of hanging onto what moisture is available, and therefore the better chance you have of maintaining a healthy plant.
ALOCASIA I'm a big fan of Alocasia, but the reason they're in this category is their soil needs. They appreciate moisture but aren't as die hard as the air plants. However, there is a balancing act you need to achieve with their soil's moisture level that may take a few practice plants to get right. Once a week waterings don't necessarily cut it- the soil needs to be not wet, but not dry - a nice in between level of moist that isn't necessarily for the novice. Beautiful plants, though - and something to work towards! Reasonable Price Points: $30 and under. CALATHEA Similar to Alocasias, the soil balance with Calathea can be tricky. I don't even have a photo here, because mine hated my water minerals so much they browned before I could take one. Compounding that, my experience with them has been that they are extremely sensitive to any kind of fertilizer, and their beautiful leaves can also brown on account of that very easily. Gorgeous leaves though and lots of great varieties, so a good goal to have as your thumb gets greener.
Reasonable Price Points: $25 and under. THE FIDDLE LEAF FIG
Or should we say the Fickle Leaf Fig? Is there any plant that has more instagram posts dedicated to it? Well don't be fooled! He is one finicky plant. Lots of sunshine is needed, a big drink of water once a week, and honest to god- he's got to like you. What do I mean by that? These plants have been known to throw leaves when moved across the room, have portions of their leaves brown because of water mineral balances (which is regional), and honest to god it's almost like they're a tall, ornery person. Not only that, their popularity caused prices for trees to spike. Don't feel supremely confident but want to give the Fiddle a try? Start small, many come in 1-2 foot sizes that can be a much less expensive place to start. Those big trees you see on Instagram? You're looking at about a $200 loss if they're unhappy. Reasonable Price Points: $20 (4 inch pot) - $200 (tree). And with that, I leave you to have a good spring! I hope you found this useful as we all try to navigate our extra time at home, and feel free to reach out with any questions. There's so many things that could've been included, and so many kinds of plants. But hopefully this was a good starting spot for many of you, and you can find some leads on locations and plants to purchase! Talk to you soon and happy gardening!