I have always wanted to be a plant person. I have tried to nurture two orchids, a succulent, and a bamboo plant (you know, the one you can get from Ikea). However, I can never keep any of the plants alive, whether it’s due to overwatering or forgetfulness to care for them. Even with my multiple fails, I do remember how much joy I got from watching my orchid bloom or seeing the bright lavender hue of my succulent on my desk as I worked throughout the day. And it turns out, my happiness wasn’t just a placebo effect.
Studies show that interacting with indoor plants may help ease stress, and a Texas A&M University study found that filling your space with plants can help fuel creativity. Not to mention, plants are natural air purifiers. Talk about an efficient multi-tasker. Becoming a plant parent might seem a little daunting, but I reached out to Christopher Griffin, (also known as the Plant Kween), and Megan George, founder of North Carolina-based plant and gift shop, The Zen Succulent, to get some guidance. We chatted about easy-to-care-for plant recommendations, self-care, and how you use plants (and planters) to help ease stress and spark joy.
Don’t Have a Green Thumb? That’s OK.
“I actually don’t believe in the green thumb myth,” Griffin said. However, there is one key thing that she recommends before you head to your local plant store or sign up for a subscription: curiosity. “Lead with curiosity and be willing to learn,” she said. She also said matching your plant to your lifestyle makes being a plant parent much simpler. “Find the right plant that fits you and match it to your lifestyle and your space,” Griffin told us an environmental assessment of your space and research are the key. Think about the average temperature, humidity level, and the sunlight in your home or office. Then she said to take your assessment a step further by Googling any “green girl” that catches your eye to ensure your space provides an optimal environment for your new kween to thrive. Pretty simple, right?
So What Plants Are Easy to Maintain?
The Snake Plant aka Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
“Here in North Carolina, we call [the snake plant] the mother-in-law’s tongue because it has such sharp tips,” George joked. Both of our plant gurus agree that the snake plant is one the easiest plants you can care for, mainly because, “You don’t have to water this queen a lot because she stores a lot of water in her roots and in her leaves,” Griffin said. Remember learning about this in science class? Griffin added that she only waters her snake plant every two to three weeks, depending on the season. “I typically water my plant every two weeks in the warmer months and every three weeks in colder months.” One other characteristic that makes the snake plant easy to care for is its ability to thrive in many different lighting environments. “I find that she’s best in bright indirect light, but she can survive in low light,” Griffin shared.
The Pothos Plant
Want a plant that tells—well, shows—you just what it needs? Say hello to the pothos plant. “The pothos plant signals when it needs to be cared for,” George said. “If you see a nice fluffy plant and its leaves are nice and perky, but one day you see the leaves are almost flat—that means the plant needs water. So it’s telling you hey, I was perky before and shining my brightest, but now I need a little something. Before that point, you don’t care for it. When it’s droopy, that’s when you do.” If you’re curious about how much lighting it will need, the Plant Kween recommends bright, indirect light.
The ZZ Plant
The Zamioculcas zamiifolia, better known as the ZZ plant, is native to Zanzibar, Kenya, and Eastern Africa. It is a great plant for newbies because it can function well in low light, and needs to be watered minimally. “The ZZ plant stores these little bulbs that are attached to its roots, and they store water in those bulbs, so you don’t have to water the plant as often,” said Griffin.
Plants can get creative too, and George suggests a plant with spots and polka dots like the Calathea to add inspiration to your space. “There are tons of varieties of Calathea plants, and you can recognize them by their underbelly, which is a lovely purple tone,” she said. “Anytime I see one, I definitely smile.” These beauties are also very easy to nurture because they are very forgiving. Just be sure to keep them out of direct sunlight and water them only when the soil below the surface is dry.
“Succulents are in the low-maintenance category,” George said. ” But for any of us that have killed one (myself included), where did we go wrong with caring for it? She has three simple rules for us. First, water your succulent sparingly. “You may only water a succulent in a two-inch pot two tablespoons, once a week,” emphasizing “only when the soil is dry.” Next, make sure your succulent has the right lighting. “Succulents grow in Africa and California, and what those places have in common is they are usually dry with lots of sunlight,” George shared. So placing them on a window seal or even in direct fluorescent light is ideal. The last rule is to make sure they’re in a space with a lot of circulation to prevent them from molding over time.
“I measure the moisture of the soil by putting my fingers two-inches into the soil,” Griffin said. “Because some folks tap the top of the soil, and they say, oh, it’s dry, but you have to make sure the soil at root is dry as well.”
Now that I have my plant, what about a pot?
There are many options out there, but finding decorative pots with drainage holes is essential. “Most of the pots I have are terracotta pots, for two reasons,” Griffin said. “One, they’re cheap if you’re on a budget, and two, they have drainage holes. I have learned what kind of nurturer I am, and I tend to over-nurture sometimes, which means overwatering. The terracotta pots are great for me because they’re porous, and they allow the soil to breathe.” If you’re a busy bee, Griffin said less porous, ceramic pots can help keep the soil moist longer, but she wants us to know it’s all about what works best for us.
One of my favorite places to shop for at planters is Jungalow. You can also find cute planters and support local artisans at online shops like Bloomist, or you can shop locally at your neighborhood plant shops and retailers. George suggests upcycling or thrifting as well. “Your local thrift store might have a variety of containers that you can use as planters. I also love to think about different things to upcycle I use regularly, like a coffee container. Drilling a hole at the bottom or just leaving it as is, and adding rocks can be the perfect container to think about.”
What about ordering plants online?
Supporting your local plant shop is always a good idea, but you can also support small businesses online. Grounded is a Black-owned plant shop that offers a 3 x 3 monthly subscription, where you receive one plant a month for three months pre-potted for you in a terra cotta planter. Their subscription sells out quickly, so subscribe to their mailing list to stay updated on their next drop. The Sill and Horti offer customizable plant subscriptions. The Sill has four different offerings that range from beginner to plant-friendly starting at $35 a month. Horti offers three different subscriptions including options for beginners, those with pets, and a wild card option picked by the plant experts at Horti for $25 a month. The Zen Succulent also offers single plant offerings that ship nationwide.
You might kill a plant or two, but take it in stride.
“I have about 160 plants in my apartment. I have killed tons of plants, [but] I live and I learn and do better the next time,” Griffin said. So if you’re feeling any anxiety about caring for a plant, think about it less as something to get right and more as an opportunity to learn. Griffin recommends taking the time to learn where the plant came from and about its natural habit. “I’ve found that the attention, love, and care that I’ve put into my plants because I’ve been so intentional with that time, my plants have provided me with an opportunity to practice self-care.”