How to choose a houseplant
Conversations with Dynasty Plant Shop
If you’re anything like the rest of us, you probably don’t think about how to choose a houseplant. You just… choose.
You pick a plant because it’s beautiful, or interesting, or the right size, or it has pretty flowers, or variegated leaves, or it really needs a good watering and you can’t bear to leave it at Home Depot where you just happened to see it in the garden centre when you were actually there shopping for finishing nails (we know you know what we mean).
But sometimes, after choosing a houseplant (or having one choose you), you get it home, and place it in a nice corner of your living room, and it fails to thrive. It doesn’t grow, or its leaves get spotty or yellow (or wither, or fall off). Or, your new plant gets ill, or pests attack it.
Sometimes, your new houseplant even (gasp) — dies. Which of course is the worst fate for a plant you felt you carefully cared for.
What if, instead of buying a plant based on what we want, we chose our next new plant based on what it needed to live its best life?
We decided it was time to break down this question of ‘how to choose a houseplant’, and we went to an expert to find answers.
We’re super grateful to Michael Leach of Toronto’s Dynasty Plant Shop for his time and expertise answering our questions about choosing houseplants, and for sharing his wisdom with gardenstead’s host, Dan Fox. Let’s dig in.
Choosing a houseplant
New number one rule of buying houseplants — think of the plant first! Where it will live will directly influence how well it will do in your care. Michael advised us to keep four important considerations in mind.
Which direction do your windows face?
This will determine how much light your houseplant will have available to it. In the northern hemisphere, a southern exposure will provide the most bright, direct light. West-facing windows give the next highest amount of light. East-facing and north-facing windows provide the least amount of light exposure for plants.
But don’t despair if you don’t have “good” light exposure. Share the information you have with the plant expert you speak to when you’re choosing your plant. There are all kinds of house plants with all kinds of differing light needs (for example, snake plants, pothos, African violet and ZZ plants all do just fine in low light conditions, if that’s your concern).
Are your windows obstructed?
That is, is there anything that blocks light from coming in the windows where your new plant will live? Such as a neighbouring house or building, or large tree?
Do you have window coverings?
Drapery and/or blinds, that is? If you do, can your window coverings be closed or opened to filter light, or let more light in? Some house plants require filtered bright light, for example, so sheer drapery might be a good choice for a window covering.
Do you have forced air heat or air conditioning?
Will blowing air be an issue for your plant’s foliage? Heating and air conditioning remove humidity from the air and can have a drying effect on plants.
But the physical movement of air can also negatively influence plant growth — as the leaves of your plant are blown about, they’ll become stressed as they try to defend themselves against the ‘wind’ caused by blowing air. For example, some plants will direct more of their energy toward developing thicker roots and leaves to survive the force of air moving their leaves.
Bring photos of the space in which your new houseplant will live to a plant shop to help staff guide their recommendations.
How to care for a large houseplant: the Bird of paradise plant
Michael takes us through a brief tutorial of how to care for a Bird of paradise plant (in this case, the Stelitzia nicolai, or giant white bird of paradise).
Considered by many to be the queen of the indoor plant world, in its natural environment this striking plant can reach heights of more than six metres (20 feet+). Michael and Dan discuss:
- why leaves split on the Bird of paradise plant (don’t worry, it’s perfectly natural)
- when and how often you should prune your plant
- why misting is important
- how cleaning the leaves is good for the plant, and a great way to do a regular health check (also a good time to have conversations with your plant)
- how to tell when it’s time to repot — time to do what Michael calls ‘a little soil investigation’
- what you should use to fertilize your Bird of paradise plant
- how to check for standing water in your plant’s pot and why consistently wet roots are a concern, and can lead to the much-dreaded root rot
How to repot a large houseplant
Wondering how you go about repotting a large houseplant? Have no fear, Michael is here to show us. In the video below, he shares the process of repotting a Ficus audrey with Dan as his repotting assistant.
The Ficus audrey, or Ficus benghalensis, is recognized as the national tree of India, and is also commonly known as the banyan tree. In its native environment, it can grow into an enormous tree that covers a large area — up to several acres.
Here’s what Michael and Dan will take you through in the video:
- how to choose the pot size when repotting
- why you don’t want to go too big with your pot choice (hint: it’s connected to root rot)
- what kind of soil to use for tropical houseplants
- how to remove plants from plastic pots, and tips for how to get them out if they’re really stuck
- what the telltale signs of a root bound plant are
- whether you should remove old loose soil from the plant’s roots — or not
- placing the plant and adding soil
- why you should moisten the soil after you place your plant
- should you reuse the soil from the old pot
Whether you decide on a plant that’s easy to grow to one that requires a lot of attention, we hope you feel a bit more well-armed with information for the next time you find yourself in a garden centre, awestruck by gorgeous indoor plants, all calling your name. Happy houseplant shopping.