Commitment issues? Hone your green thumb instead

Written by Bea Taylor

Photography by Unsplash

Being an actual parent is a life-long deal. Commitment phobe? Try indoor plant parenting instead.

The thrill of buying a new plant for your home is often short-lived when, within weeks, it’s brown, dry and very obviously dead. As it turns out, there’s a little bit more to keeping an indoor plant alive than simply watering it every so often and hoping for the best. Of course, there are some delightful species that thrive with little to no care (looking at you, succulents) but, more often than not, becoming a plant parent comes with its fair share of responsibilities. 

Plants that can withstand living indoors generally hail from subtropical climates (i.e. they don’t mind being stuck in warm, sometimes air-less rooms). Ensuring your indoor plant is happy and healthy comes down to a few factors; sun exposure, watering, general maintenance and what pot it’s sitting in. 

Remember that science class in school when you were taught about photosynthesis? We don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty, but basically, in layman’s terms — plants need sunshine to survive. Generally speaking, plants with dark leaves photosynthesise better than those with light green or coloured leaves, meaning they need less light to survive and are very shade tolerant — the perfect indoor habitant candidates. 

The first step to a healthy indoor plant is making sure you actually buy a healthy indoor plant. Before you flash your paywave and gap it out of the store, be sure to check the plant thoroughly for pests, insects or signs of general distress or lack of care. A healthy plant has strong leaves and a firm stem. 

Indoor plants generally don’t need to be pruned but they will benefit from removing dead leaves, brown fronds and old flowers. Frequency of watering will depend on the species, a good way to check if your plant needs to be watered is to push a finger into the top layer of soil. If the soil is dry, it needs water — it’s as simple as that. The best pots for indoor plants are those with draining holes. Plants fail to thrive in pots that don’t drain well nor allow their roots to breathe. 

If you’re feeling ready to add some leafy green housemates to your home, here are some of the best to look out for (and how to keep them alive):

Fiddle leaf fig
This guy has long reigned as the king of indoor plants. In fact, most members of the ficus genus gang are often first to be picked out of the line-up. There’s a reason for this, obviously. The fiddle leaf fig is a relatively easy plant to look after and it’s big, so packs a visual punch — they can grow up to two to three metres or more in the right conditions. Keep your fiddle leaf fig in a large pot and make sure it gets filtered light and plenty of humidity — it prefers to be kept away from draughts. 

Bird of paradise
Another house plant favourite. These fellas are tropical sun lovers, so they need warmth and plenty of bright light (at least three to four hours a day) to thrive and flower. Don’t hold your breath or think you’re doing something wrong, if they don’t flower though, you’ll probably have to wait a few years for them to bloom. Give them regular water in summer, but less in the winter when their growth slows and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Try not to re-root these guys, bird of paradise are happy with their roots constricted and tend to throw a tantrum when they’re disturbed. 

Maidenhair fern
If you’re a beginner plant parent — skip this paragraph — this is not the plant for you. Maidenhair ferns are notoriously hard to keep alive. They’re actually best suited for the bathroom because they love a warm room with filtered light and regular moisture. 

Also known as the Swiss-cheese plant thanks to its large — and holey — sculptural leaves. Bright, filtered light and normal room temperatures will help this guy thrive. Clean the leaves regularly with a soft, damp cloth to stop dust from collecting on the surface (this will block sunlight and reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesise). 

Mother-in-law’s tongue
This tough, low-maintenance succulent is also called snake plant. It has a structural, upright form, which is why it makes a great addition to any interior. It’s slow-growing and prefers a sunny spot but it will happily tolerate lower light levels (see? Low-maintenance). Water moderately in the warmer months and reduce its water intake in winter. 

Olive tree
Thanks to the rise of Mediterranean style in interior design, the olive tree has snuck its way onto many top indoor plant lists. With delicate, soft green leaves and thin grey branches, it will bring an elegant statement and Tuscan touch to your home. Because they’re accustomed to growing outdoors, make sure you pop them in a sunny spot or take them outside occasionally for a good dose of UV rays. Obviously – being a tree – these have a limited life span as interior plants (only about 10 years, so you’re probably all good). 

If you err on the side of lazy, these are the plant babies for you. They barely need watering and they’re slow growers, so you won’t have to re-pot them for years. The only thing you will need to do is keep an eye out for mould. If they grow mould, or if they break, bruise or scar, you can shave the area with a knife to help it heal. Shave on a slant and allow it to drain and dry out. 

indoor plants
indoor plants
indoor plants

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