How To Become A Houseplant Queen, Even If You Think You Can’t Keep Plants Alive

Here at TFD, we’re obsessed with finding new ways to live better with what you already have — and often, that manifests in upgrading your living situation, regardless of what that may be! And one way to inject more life and breathe a little more (literal) oxygen into your space? Keep some houseplants!

It seems daunting, but as we’ve personally learned, keeping plants and helping them thrive is often much easier than you’d think. It’s a way to give yourself a boost of confidence — “yes, I can take care of this living thing!” — and bonus, it’s an amazing way to upgrade your home decor.

In order to help you start and keep the habit of maintaining houseplants, we spoke with Lindsay Wallstrum, the founder of interior plant design firm Leaf and Lolo. Here’s everything she has to say!

TFD: I’ve never been able to keep a plant alive. What the hell am I doing wrong?

Lindsay: First of all, don’t get down on yourself. I don’t believe there is a person out there who has had indoor plants who hasn’t killed one, myself included. The good news is, we can change that by understanding a few key things. One of the most common ways people kill plants is over-watering. Over-watering can lead to drooping leaves and/or root rot and, eventually, death. Make sure your plant is getting enough sun, but not too much. Bright, indirect light is ideal for most indoor plants. If they get too much sun, it can burn their leaves. Take time to get to know your plant. You’ll begin to notice small signs of distress and can course-correct early on.

I don’t know where to start — what’s the best houseplant for a plant virgin?

I’d say a Sansevieria AKA Snake Plant. They are very easy-going plants that will survive in lower light conditions. (Note: survive is different than thrive! More light will make for a happier snake plant.) Additionally, Snake Plants have been known to absorb excess amounts of carbon monoxide, which makes them great plants to have indoors.

Do I need to buy a specific type of soil?

I prefer cactus soil because it has great drainage, which keeps roots and stems from sitting in excess moisture. This is especially great soil for people who might have a heavy hand when watering.

What types of plants are best for small spaces?

Yucca and Snake plants are great for small spaces due to their compact and vertical nature. Pothos are also great, as they don’t take up much space, but often grow long enough to trail their leaves down a shelf or along your wall. They are a space-saver but deliver quite an impact.

I feel like my houseplants are getting moldy and gross — what makes this happen, and how to I keep them “clean”?

Mold or unsightly soil is typically caused by excess water. When plants don’t drain properly, the water sits in the soil, and when combined with extra humidity, this can lead to “mold” like growth.

Here are my top tips to keep your plants clean:

  1. Do the “finger test” before watering. Place your finger 2-3 inches deep into the soil. If any soil sticks to your finger, wait a couple of days and test again. If your finger comes up dry, it’s time to water.

  2. Make sure you are properly aerating your soil from time to time. This helps oxygen travel to the roots, keeping them healthy. To aerate, simply use a small device like a toothpick, and gently poke down into the soil, trying to avoid the roots.

  3. Wipe down your leaves. Take a damp towel or paper towel and wipe down the leaves. Be sure to use a different towel for each plant, just in case one might have pests. You don’t want to transfer them to one of their fronds!

How do I keep my plant (like a pothos) from getting too long and unruly?

I personally love long, trailing plants. If you find one is beginning to take over your space, this is the perfect opportunity to propagate! All you need to do to propagate a pothos is to locate the root node and make a cut just below. Place in water and watch the roots grow.

What types of plants are best for people with cats/dogs?

Before you bring a plant into your space, always do your research to see if they are harmful to your kids or pets. The following plants are my favorite that are known to be non-toxic to pets: Calathea Rattlesnake, Spider Plants, Bamboo Palm.

What kind of houseplants should I definitely stay away from if I’m lazy or forgetful?

I would stay away from plants in the Alocasia family, as well as the Mimosa Pudica AKA Sensitive Plant.

What types of plants are best for people who travel a lot?

Ric Rac Cactus, Yucca, and Snake Plants are best for people who travel a lot. These plants require less frequent watering and thrive in bright indirect light.

Lindsay Wallstrum is the founder of Leaf and Lolo, an interior plant design firm. As an Interior Plant Designer, Lindsay incorporates the wellness benefits of plants along with their beauty to create an inviting green space for her clients. When she’s not getting her hands dirty, you can find her with her husband and two dogs in Petaluma, California or traveling the world in search of her next wish list plant. 

Image via Unsplash

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