From tending to ferns to succulents to mini trees, many people—who delight to call themselves “plantitos” and “plantitas”—are recreating the natural world inside their homes. But plant parenting is a lifelong journey, and won’t always look as pretty. Hands will get dirty. Roots will be pulled. Leaves will wither, and tears may be shed.
“You need to have your heart into it; you need to know how to take care of your plants rather than just collecting them,” says Jennie Agcaoili, owner and founder of Plant Project PH.
A plantita for three years now, Jennie likens her relationship with her plants to a mother and child, always careful to strike the balance between nurture and discipline. Her plants (or children, I should say) are a mix of succulents, cacti, hibiscus, and variegated foliage—a source of pride and joy.
“It’s a good hobby because you will discover more [things] about yourself. Gardening will make you realize you’re actually capable of taking care of others.” <callout-alt-author>Jennie Agcaoili<callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author>
Gardening develops empathy and responsibility; having to actively care for another living being, even something as zero fuss as a plant, takes a few sacrifices. However, despite the amount of time and energy spent, there’s always a sense of fulfillment waiting at the end, especially when your plants start thriving in your space.
“That’s where the relationship comes in, and that’s what makes a legit plantita,” Jennie says.
STEP 1: Conquering the Basics
The first step to proper plant parenting is being mindful of your plants’ needs. Regardless of type, almost all indoor plants need three basic things to survive: sunlight, water, and space to grow.
Many people underestimate the importance of light for indoor plants. Not only because our eyes are naturally wired to perceive more light, but also because the terms that often surround indoor gardening can be misleading. For example, just because they say a plant can “live in low light conditions” doesn’t mean it’ll thrive in low light conditions. If you want your plant to grow, give it the best natural light your space can afford.
Tip: Some indoor plants, like cacti, require more light than others. Do your research beforehand to know what light intensity they need, and use a light meter to accurately gauge how much light a space can give. (The PictureThis app can help you with that! Get it from the Apple App Store / Google Play Store.)
Light and plant physiology play a huge part in how often you need to water your plants. Some plants enjoy damp soil, while others prefer it to be partially or completely dry before watering. The amount of light your plant receives also helps determine the amount of water it needs: naturally, plants that receive more sunlight will need more water.
Tip: Set a watering schedule, and stick to it! Overwatering can lead to root rot, especially when the amount of sunlight they receive isn’t as intense. For first time plant parents, snake plants and devil’s ivy are good plants to start with, as they can survive in low light and aren’t as needy with water.
Healthy soil makes for a healthy plant. One way to check if your soil is healthy is to make sure it isn’t dry and compact. Soil needs air and water to maintain productivity.
Plant fertilizers also help provide additional nutrients to your plants. But keep in mind, fertilizers can only do so much—they don’t actually cause a plant to grow—and should be given in moderation.
Tip: Use a chopstick or gardening fork to create air pockets in your soil; do this before watering your plants, to help evenly distribute water.
“When you buy plants, you’re supposed to know if [their nature] is appropriate to the environment you will bring them [in].” <callout-alt-author>Jennie Agcaoili<callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author>
STEP 2: Leveling It Up
Now that you’ve got the basics down, take your plant parenting skills up a notch. Here are a few tried-and-tested methods to help strengthen your plant-parent bond.
Have a conversation with them.
No, we haven't gone mad—studies show that sounds have a positive effect on plant growth, including the sound of your voice. Try talking to your plants while tending to them; it might not look like it, but they do enjoy listening to you.
Play some music.
At certain frequencies, music induces healthy movement in plant cells, stimulating growth. Some studies recommend playing classical or jazz music, although rock music doesn’t hurt, either.
It’s okay to remove dead or dying leaves and branches from your plants. Pruning creates room for new growth, and at the same time, helps maintain the natural shape of your plants.
Give them space.
Don’t hover over your plants! You’ve given them everything they need, and now it’s time for them to grow on their own, like the children they are.
You don’t need to be an expert right away. Start with easy plants, so that you won’t get disheartened. Eventually it’ll boost your self-confidence [as a plant parent]. <callout-alt-author>Jennie Agcaoili<callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author>