Last week, after braving the barren shelves of grocery stores and concluding an unsuccessful quest for toilet paper, I burst through my apartment door a distraught and frazzled mess. As I washed my hands, I listened to a news podcast that reported two new demands for New Yorkers: don’t leave your home, and prepare for the worst. Just as the alarm bells in my head reached a deafening roar, I looked to my window. The plant perched on the sill overlooking my abandoned block had sprouted new leaves. I felt my worry transform into marvel and gratitude.
“It’s nice having something that you can rely on and see consistent growth from, especially when you get laid off from a job, or a family member passes, or when you’re navigating an uncertain world,” Maryah Greene reassured me. Half curator, half botanist, Greene is a self proclaimed “plant doctor” and the founder of Greene Piece, a one woman firm that offers a number of plant-based services to customers, including indoor plant styling, diagnostic assessment, and unique care plans for your greenery and space. I reached out to Maryah a couple of weeks ago for help resuscitating a plant that I accidentally drowned. By the time we actually spoke, my concern had shifted well beyond the malaise of a singular plant. Though we are collectively at war with COVID-19, each of us will face an individual, and additional battle in confinement: mental health. And while they may not have made any official quarantine checklists, houseplants are one of the most affordable and effective ways to improve indoor wellbeing.
“Simply put, plants are great quarantine buddies! You can put love, care and attention into these little green creatures and watch them flourish and grow,” says Christopher Griffin, better known on Instagram as The Plant Kween. Griffin said that learning to put love, care and attention towards his plants prepared him to put love, care and attention toward himself. “We need to practice this level of care for ourselves and for each other more than ever,” says Griffin.
While older generations have dismissed “the Millennial plant revolution” as a social media fueled obsession, Eliza Blank, the founder of the plant store The Sill, knows it goes well beyond trendy aesthetics. “Plants are an embodiment of health that we can look at and be inspired by.” Fellow plantfluencer Nick Cutsumpas (aka Farmer Nick) chimes in: “The plant movement is here to stay, and with that there is a balancing act between immediate aesthetic gratification and the personal fulfillment of nurturing another living being,” says Cutsumpas.
Gabby Santiago, a plant care specialist at the similarly fashionable plant store Rooted, emphasizes that there are physical benefits to having houseplants, like lower stress levels, and reduced blood pressure. Those of you thinking “I can’t even find tampons, how am I supposed to find a plant?” can rest assured: anyone in New York with a working computer and expendable income could feasibly have a new plant friend on their doorstep in a matter of days. Though Rooted is out on a temporary hiatus and storefronts are closed, The Sill, The Plantshed,Bloomscape and more are still fully functional online.
“It’s kind of like having a pet that you don’t need to worry about too much,” Santiago assured me. But as a seasoned pet owner that spent my college years killing off various succulents, I know that plant care is not necessarily instinctual. I used to believe there were two kinds of people in the world: those who have green thumbs and those who don’t. While plant parenthood may come more naturally to some, the truth is that anyone willing to put in the research and effort can keep plants alive. So whether you’re starting or continuing your plant journey in self-isolation, here are a few tips to keep you and your “plant fam” satisfied in the coming weeks.
Where to Start
The Snake Plant (aka Sansevieria)
The Snake Plant is extremely resilient, adaptable and easy to care for. It thrives in bright indirect light, but can also survive in low light. Water this plant every two weeks in the warmer months and every three to four weeks during the colder months.
The Pothos Plant
The Pothos Plant thrives in indirect light, but can also survive in low light. Water this plant once a week during warmer months and every two weeks during colder months. If provided with the right care, this plant will grow very quickly.
The Monstera Deliciosa
The Monster Deliciosa is slightly more challenging to care for than the Snake or Pothos, but still relatively easy. They require indirect light, enjoy high humidity and well-drained soil, and appreciate a spritz of water on their aerial roots. Water once a week during warmer months and every two weeks during colder months.
Tips for New Plant Parents
There’s no need to go from zero to indoor jungle. Before you break the bank trying to imitate a Pinterest photo, see what you can manage. “Start with ones that cost between 9 and 12 dollars, because it’s a plant, it’s going to grow,” says Greene. Remember that more plants doesn’t always mean more satisfaction. “It’s important to know that effective plant relationships is about quality of care, not the quantity of plants,” says Cutsumpas.
Don’t be a helicopter mom
Overwatering is the number one way people kill their houseplants. “You have to practice restraint! A good rule of thumb is never water a wet plant,” says Blank. It’s understandable to be enthusiastic in caring for your new plant friend, but don’t disrupt its process out of boredom. “Let your plants do their thing. Give them a few positive words of affirmation…and don’t overthink it,” says Cutsumpas.
Know Your Limits
Before you even look for houseplants, assess your space. “What is the average temperature and humidity level? What direction are your windows facing and how much sunlight comes in?” Griffin asks. You can buy the prettiest plant, but it doesn’t mean you can keep it alive. Make sure you can provide your plant the optimal environment before you take the plunge. “You can’t beat yourself up when you can’t keep a plant from Madagascar alive in your Brooklyn apartment,” says Greene.
Don’t expect instant gratification
Everyone likes to see pay off, but plant growth is one of the few things in the city that we can’t rush order. “It’s a reciprocal, long-term relationship. There is no Instagram plant experience. You’re going to have to be patient!” says Greene. Though you do purchase houseplants, remember there’s no satisfaction guaranteed with mother nature.
When in doubt, reach out
Knowledgeable humans will always rank among the most helpful resources. “Besides reconnecting people to nature, one of [Rooted’s] biggest goals is to make plant care knowledge accessible and free. You don’t need to be a customer. You don’t need to have bought the plant from us. Text us anytime,” says Santiago.
Tips for More Experienced Plant Parents
Repot if possible
If you’re looking for ways to help pass the time, consider helping your plants move this spring. “It’s an ideal time to repot your plants. Give them some fresh soil and room to grow,” says Santiago. Embrace the great opportunity to get your hands dirty while still inside. “Your green gurl may go through a period of stress as she gets used to her new home. Be patient and keep a close eye on her for the first week or so,” says Griffin.
Spice things up
“People who want to take on something fun and new should start a herb garden! Hopefully by the time we’re out of quarantine, [your herbs] will be ready for a barbecue,” says Santiago. Considering we won’t be able to go to restaurants anytime soon, why not try and level up your cooking with some home grown flavors? “Knowing how to grow my own food has been such a gift,” says Cutsumpas.
Prune and propagate
If you love your plants, why not have more? “It may become increasingly difficult to buy plants if certain shops remain closed and quarantines continue, so learning how to divide, root, and multiply…is a valuable skill,” says Cutsumpas. If you have extra time on your hands, expand your plant’s beauty routine. “It’s similar to hair: shedding is fine, but browning at the tips are kind of like split ends. You’ll want to prune them off, so they don’t spread,” says Greene.
Indulge in the ritual
Plant care is, after all, a form of self-care. While many people rave about the meditative benefits of the routine, it’s important that it doesn’t feel like a chore. Do something new to keep your process exciting and enjoyable: even if that means actually raving. “I play music, dance and sip mimosas when I water my plant fam!” says Griffin.