Yes. You Can Grow Indoor Plants
by Kathleen Reynolds
Flower buds and tender sprouts tell us spring is here. You’ve got the itch to grow something green, but your backyard is dinky, or it’s shrouded in shade. Wait…won’t indoor plants bring your home alive?
Yes—unless you have a purple thumb, kill every plant you’ve ever brought home or put them on a shelf and forgot about them until they wilted and disintegrated (true story).
Marketplace Magazine consulted several indoor plant specialists, and you might be surprised by the secrets to success they divulged.
“Most failing plants I see are the victims of ‘over loving,’” says Alyssa Piombo, owner of Riza Plants in Napa. “By that, I mean overwatering and not enough light. The roots drown or rot. Air flow is important so the plants can breathe.”
Plants need light to grow through photosynthesis and most indoor plants are native to tropical climates.
According to the UC Master Gardeners of Napa, “In their natural habitat, they typically live under a canopy of taller vegetation, receiving plenty of indirect bright light but no full sun. In our homes, however, walls and roofs diminish the amount of light and create dark corners with little bright light.”
Alyssa has seen a huge interest around indoor plants in the past year. “Being in our homes during the COVID crisis has provided the perfect opportunity for people to beautify their space by making it green and lush. It’s also been a good time to take up home gardening as a hobby. Plants are at an all-time high.”
David Shubin, a nursery professional at Van Winden’s Garden Center in Napa, agrees. “Absolutely, there’s been increased interest. I’m constantly impressed with how fast the plants in our greenhouse are sold and have to be replenished.”
“There’s a broad difference in tastes for indoor plants,” he says. “People have different likes. Some just want a plant that’s pretty. Others want healthy air in their homes. Still others want an art piece.”
What kind of plant does he consider an “art piece?”
“There’s a huge interest in a plant called variegated monstera. It is difficult to find. We can order it, but we can’t always guarantee that our suppliers will have it.”
The variegated monstera have creamy white spots on their dark green leaves and can grow quite large. The plants are pricey, too. Full grown plants can run around $2,000; cuttings for propagation are about $400. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they require a particular amount of light and temperature every day and are finicky about correct watering.
Alyssa says the trendiest plant in her store right now is the fiddle leaf fig tree. “It’s extremely popular but people should understand that they’re also extremely temperamental about their light and water,” she says. “In magazines they photograph the fiddle leaf in dark corners of rooms. Realistically, they will not do well in those conditions.”
“When buyers come in, they see my beautiful 10’ tall fiddle leaf fig that I’ve had for four years. I call it Notorious F.I.G. It gets good watering and the best light. Some people just don’t like high maintenance.”
Both experts agree that the purchaser must learn about their individual plants and the time to find out is before buying.
“If your plant is going to succeed,” says David, “you have to ask a lot of questions in the greenhouse or at the checkout stand. We also ask a lot of questions about the buyer’s lifestyle to find a good match.”
The professional gardeners laugh when asked if they’ve ever killed a plant.
“It’s all about experience; I’ve killed so many in my life,” says Alyssa. “But it’s not a failure if you learn something from it.”
David admits some of his plants have died. He suggests experimenting with your indoor plants to see where and what they like best. “A lot of it is trial and error,” he explains. “If a plant isn’t thriving, try different conditions of light and watering.”
What if you already have a plant that no longer seems robust? In spring, consider new soil and fertilizer.
“I want to emphasize that right now is a good time for repotting existing plants,” Alyssa says. “Most plants should be repotted every 12 to 18 months during the growing season. The plant roots get restricted in too-small pots and they need soil replenishing. Every plant has different soil requirements.”
Riza Plants has a soil bar with different soils so that the correct soils can be hand mixed for the best results. Van Winden’s stocks several different types of soil for every plant need. Both offer repotting services.
Fertilizer should also be added during the growing season, roughly spring through early fall.
“People forget that the plant is a living thing,” says David. “Living things need to eat. Be careful if using a chemical fertilizer. It’s easy to burn your plant. We suggest organic products. For instance, you can use fish emulsion all you want, and it won’t hurt. Both types of fertilizers have their place, but I usually recommend organic.”
Okay, you say, I understand plants need the right light and watering schedule, feeding and repotting. Are there plants that are easier to grow than others?
Experts Robert and Alyssa say it’s the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). It has waxy, smooth leaves and is a good air purifier.
“The ZZ plant is drought tolerant and forgiving,” says Alyssa. “It’s also fine in low light.”
Other beginner plants include Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum); String of Turtles (Peperomia prostrata), calathea varieties, such as the Snake Plant; and many succulents.
The most important thing to know is that different plants have different needs—but there’s a plant for everybody. Yes, even you.