Houseplant Tips from a Recovering Plant Killer

If you’re new here, welcome! My name is Stacy, and I’m a (recovering) plant killer. Since quarantine began, I’ve become plant obsessed. Plant care makes me happy and give me something positive to focus my energy towards positively. In It’s truly my most prioritized form of self care, well next to my skin care routine! Plants purify the air and putting your hands to soil has a wealth of health benefits as well. I’ve already covered which plants I feel are the healthiest for you and why.

However today I wanted to answer some of your top burning questions as you’ve watched my plant parent journey over the last year. In general, over time I found these to be the most critical to my success in transitioning from a serial plant killer to a recovering plant killer. I’ve accumulated (and kept alive) about 50 through quarantine!

Top Tips for a Recovering Plant Killer:

  1. Do your research! Google their type and find out what they need. Plant care info is so plentiful on the web! Don’t be afraid to contact your local garden center or plant shop. They are more than willing to help and answer any questions or issues that may arise. No, I’m not talking about big box stores!
  2. Write it down! Take notes of their water and sun needs so you don’t forget. I’ve got these handy wooden stakes I use.
  3. Give them a name! Naming your plants builds a relationship and you’re less likely to forget them. I personally sing, dance, and talk to them when I Water on Wednesdays and Spray (mist) on Sundays. It’s a form of self care for me!
  4. Not too much water! Water half as much as you think. Roots rot very easily!

I made this video here about how we research and name our plants. The tags, shelves, and other tools I love can be found here.

Recovering Plant Killer roadtrippictured: some of my older plants on a car ride to Botanilogica where they gave me their advice on how to bring them back to good health. The cactus is doing well, but Dolores, my big snake plant is still on the struggle bus right now.

IN SHORT: STOP LOVING YOUR PLANTS TO DEATH

🛑 stop over watering
🛑 stop too much or too little lighting
🛑 stop moving them around
🛑 stop trying experimental treatments (like mayonnaise?!)
🛑 stop repotting them before you understand their needs

✅ start researching their needs BEFORE you buy them
✅ get giddy and proud AF when they’re happy and healthy, you did that!

🛑 stop feeling bad if they die on your watch, you did NOT do that! No one knows what caused it, cause it’s a PLANT not a human, it can’t talk. We don’t know what trauma it had before it arrived to you. No guilt allowed!

recovering plant killer

FAQs for a RECOVERING PLANT KILLER

What are good plants for low sun?

My favorites for low sunlight are ZZ Plants, snake, monstera, philodendron, and ferns (the later likes moisture more than the others so they live in my more humid bathroom). Also Pothos works in a wide range of conditions and tolerates false light, too.

What is a good watering schedule?

I’m a big fan of alliterations, therefore I chose: Watering Wednesday and Spray Sunday. Plants don’t need nearly as much water as you may think. This was my number 1 plant killing mistake!

Be sure to read up on your plant and understand what the soil is supposed to look like before and after a watering session. Some plants also have different watering needs in different seasons. I do a separate Spray Sunday for my more tropical plants especially during the drier winter months. Just like our skin has different winter needs, our plants do too. The best way to tell if your plant needs water? Get your hands into the dirt!

How do I know what light or water or care they need?

Plan ahead. It’s really as simple as that. Before I go to a plant store or garden center I research a plant I’m interested in or hope to find. Afterall, many are seasonal so I like to go regularly to see what. I can find. Occasionally I’ll go and be excited by something new – but before I leave with a plant, I look it up. This lesson was learned the hard way with a “fire stick” cactus plant that literally almost blinded Matt and I because I didn’t research how toxic it was. Seriously!

Once I know if a plant likes bright light, bright indirect, or tolerates low light then I can think about where I want to put it. To determine what areas of my house had what kind of light, I started using the compass app on my phone.

the sill's light guideI found this guide from The Sill incredibly helpful
pictured: 1 Pilea & Philodendron, 2 Rubber Tree or plant, 3 Monstera & ZZ, 4: Sansevierias (snake plant)

Then I put this on their “care card” name tag, so that if I’m ever watering and can’t remember if a plant prefers to dry out before I re-water it or if the soil likes to stay slightly wet or if it’s a “drink from the bottom” kind of plant (prone to bugs with wet upper soil) then I can refer to it right on the spot.

What plants are ideal?

Take a look at my top 10 Healthiest Houseplant recommendations if you’re worried about pets. I wrote that list based on a lot of research, but have since come to live with plants for along time and learn more about them. We have both a cat and a dog, neither are interested in my plants. The cat likes to “hide” among them, but never touches them. I started by elevating some of the toxic ones I wanted to own, and slowly integrated them more into the house while keeping an eye out. So, my recommendations – specifically for recovering plant killers are a little different than they once were.

top tips from a recovering plant killer houseplant by needs

I did an incredible amount of research (more than I did with any of my pregnancies might I add) on which plants may be best for you. See if there are some that speak to you and what you are looking to add to your space. And which plants are best for air purification! Yes succulents purify air too!

What is the best pot for my plants?

When reading up on your new plant baby, find out what type of growth it will have. Determine what your goals for it are too. That will help you determine a good size to start with. This is something I recommend you ask your plant shop or plant friend guru to help with. Plant type and size matter. Roots need space to grow but not too much space. And repotting is ideally done in the “growth season” of spring or summer.

When I know if the soil likes to be well drained or retain moisture I know what kind of pot to put it in (clay vs plastic). In general, plants that like their soil to dry out first are also plants that want the sun and prefer clay or ceramic pots, because they’ll pull moisture away. Plants that are getting less light will evaporate water slower.

Do you recommend two plants to one pot?

No I do not recommend two plants per pot. Unless it’s the same type of plant (like a little cactus garden or the Sanderson Sisters here) with the same sun and watering needs. Just be sure to give each plant an adequate amount of space from the other so they have enough root room to grow and expand. I recommend a larger pot for them to grow in.

recovering plant killer sanderson sisters cactus trio

How do you keep pets away from plants?

First and foremost, please again, do your research on what plants are the most non-toxic for your pets. Even with the best intentions to keep them away from the plants, sometimes our friends have other curious plans. We have moved most of the plants that will harm the dog or the cat to higher shelves or even hanging to put them out of reach. The cat isn’t interested in any “area” of the house the dog has claimed, and the dog isn’t interested in the plants at all. So, we’ve built some areas that work for us. But I highly recommend sticking to non-toxic plants for a while (we did this for over a year) before learning habits, what the pets are or aren’t interested in, etc.

pet safety for a recovering plant killer

How do you keep leaves glossy and shiny? What do you use?

While it may be a coveted look to have your plants looking glam and glazed, it’s actually highly NOT recommended to use plant shine products at all. However you do want the leave clean and clear of dust to properly absorb sunlight. To give them a little boost you can try one of the following:

  1. Simply take a damp soft cloth (we have a microfiber mit) and wipe the leaves top and bottom very gently. Use this time to give your plant a little pep talk or just a moment of gratitude.
  2. If your plant is a little bit extra and hard to wipe, take it to the shower! Room temperature is best. Don’t leave them in there for too long and use a room temperature water. Make sure you have proper drainage so that no water pools in the bottom of the plant, which can cause damage.
  3. Soap and water works double wonders as it will clean your plant leaves, but also prevent plant bugs from coming and making their home there. Some people swear by neem oil, but I haven’t needed or wanted to try it yet.

new growth shiny from recovering plant killer

Dolly, my climbing mini monstera, sits in a North/North-East facing window and is loving life. She’s shiny with tons of new growth sprouting, even in the winter!

How to keep orchids alive?

I’m not an orchid expert, in fact I avoid flowered plants in general because they’re so difficult! But I have a few tips after doing a bit of research. Keep them in bright and indirect light. So while it may look stunning in your interior bathroom or home office, it may not be getting all the light it loves and craves. Trim the blooms that have had their time in the spotlight. Don’t over water, once a week is best. Consistent temperature is it’s favorite, therefore a drafty entryway may cause it to shed too early. And repot it every so often. Like with all plants, sometimes a fresh base can do wonders. Especially a high quality soil.

Is there a good time of year to get plants?

There are a lot of plants more sensitive to the weather than others. For example, I had a big fig tree shipped to me during the winter and Jolene was quite upset for a few weeks after. I suggest Spring as an ideal time to get started, but a lot of the hardy plants I’ve noted will appreciate your love year-round!

Note: I recommend not putting plants near doors during very hot or cold weather, as the fluctuations in temp can be hard for them to handle.

What are my favorite plants?

Let’s do a tour!

recovering plant killer houseplants

Most of my plants live in the living room, where sky lights and 2 walls of windows offer fantastic bright indirect for winter. I’m hoping that in Spring and Summer I’ll get more light in other areas of the house, but for now it’s convenient to water them all in (mostly) one area.

 

Jolene

My fiddle leaf fig. The most temperamental of plants, was really upset with me for having her shipped in the cold. She arrived in late October and throughout November was dropping leaves. I finally got her stable and am hoping to see growth in the Spring. Really proud of keeping her alive! I also really love Christy, the lipstick plant hanging, and Mrs. Jonas the Audrey plant that I’m super impressed is so happy and healthy. Randy, the cactus is Finn’s.

The Wall of Windows

I’m loving these newly installed window hooks! We can move them in and out in warmer weather and currently they’re a great way to display hanging plants beyond just the kitchen bay window (that’s pretty packed). It gives the cat a safe place to be a jungle gal, too.  Shown, from back to front: Carmen the Monstera, Sanderson Sister cactus trio, Mr. Bean the Happy Bean Plant (our kiddo’s) on the far window. Then on the closest window from far to close on the table: Kate the ZZ, Rick the Pickle Plant, and Shuri the Alocasia Polly African Mask. Lastly, the 3 hanging on the window, from far to closest: Ruth the Tradescantia (Wandering Jew), our new unnamed plant, and Phil the Heart Lead Philodendron.

Gayle

She is our 2nd Money Tree. I killed our first, Oprah, with too much water and not enough light. Then I almost killed Gayle with too much light. I’m listing her as a favorite because she currently has FOUR big offshoots (like the two shown here) growing back after I sunburnt so many of her original leaves.

The Zachs?

I just cal these guys, “Between Two Ferns.” And honestly it makes me giggle every time. Ferns can tolerate low light but they like moisture and humidity – so they’re a fantastic hanging plant for my bathroom! I have both a Staghorn and Peacock Fern. If I can keep them alive for a month a button fern is next on my wishlist!

Irene

My oldest plant is Christmas Cactus about 15 years old. It was my first plant, a gift from my boss who loved to propagate. I her in the office before Cole was born as a tiny little plant and at night I’d say, “Goodnight, Irene.” This Christmas when she didn’t bloom I decided to inspect her roots. Turns out they were bound in Styrofoam – hence why she stopped growing and blooming! It was quite an ordeal to try to remove the styrofoam without damaging her root system, so I feel quite proud to say she (so far) survived the ordeal!

 

I hope this gives you a boost to head out and pick your first, or several, plants for your space. It’s been so wonderful for me to have something to focus and research throughout this past year. It’s truly given me some fun introspective and support for my empath heart. I’m happy to answer any questions you have below!

 

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