I love the look and feel plants bring to a space. My 600-square-foot apartment really didn’t feel like a home until I bought a few plants from Home Depot that the internet promised were “impossible to kill.” Well, shocker, the internet lied. While most of my growing plant collection seems to be doing well enough, several may or may not be dead (I stubbornly keep watering them just in case). Apparently I’m not alone because 67-percent of millennials have killed at least one plant. Whoops. Determined to banish my plant-murdering ways, I caught up with Darryl Cheng, the man behind @houseplantjournal and author of The New Plant Parent, at a workshop at Article to get some tips on keeping my plant babies alive.
1. Light is the most important factor
You want to give your plant the widest possible view of the sky—the bigger the window, the better. According to Cheng, if your plant isn't in front of a source of natural light, you’re slowly killing it. Even if it can survive for a while, it’s never going to flourish, no matter how low-light the card says it is. “It’s not about who has a green thumb or a black thumb,” said Cheng. “It’s about who has bigger windows.”
2. Watering schedules are not one-size fits all
Don’t blindly follow the instructions that come with the plant. Cheng compared watering schedules to filling up a car’s gas tank. It’s impossible to say how often you need to fill up the tank of two identical VW Golfs without knowing how often you drive and what distance. The frequency of watering depends on the sunlight, humidity, pot size and temperature. Cheng suggests checking your plants everyday to see which one needs water rather than sticking to a regimented watering schedule.
3. Mist if you want to but don't expect it to do anything
I have a habit of misting particularly sad looking plants as a quick fix when I don’t have time (i.e. am too lazy) to grab the watering can. Apparently it’s futile. Mist away if it makes your heart happy but know that it really isn’t all that effective. “It’s like trying to heat a room with a match,” said Cheng. Misting can even be harmful to certain species like African violets and begonias that don’t like water on their leaves.
4. Follow the rule of fourths when watering
The frequency of watering will depend on if the particular plant prefers evenly moist, partially dry or completely dry soil. Once you notice a plant needs to be watered, Cheng recommends putting about a fourth the amount of water as dirt in the pot. So if your pot has about four quarts of dirt in it, generally speaking you should add about one quart of water.
5. You don’t need a drainage hole
I’ve heard so many conflicting theories on plant drainage that I've never known what to believe. Drainage holes. Rocks. Sand. Cheng says none of them are really all that necessary. Just don’t water excessively—you don’t want standing water.