shelf with knickknacks and plants
May 2, 2019

Urban Greenery: How (and Why) To Care for Indoor Plants

Spring fever is all around us, and it seems like everyone is just buzzing to start planting. If you’re short on outdoor space (no, your front steps don’t count), there are plenty of plants that live happily indoors. Although your city apartment might not have a rooftop garden, there’s still a lot of opportunity to capture a bit of nature and bring it indoors. What’s the benefit? Homes and apartments with plants in them are healthier and happier.

Not only do plants provide an aesthetic with their forms and colors, they clean the air. Houseplants have been shown in several NASA studies to detoxify the air of various chemical toxins that are common in cities and indoor spaces. Benzene, toluene, and others can wreak havoc on the body, as can free radicals from car exhaust. Plants easily absorb these toxins and break them down into harmless components.

They also help to remove stuffiness from the air by generating oxygen and releasing it into your home. This is especially helpful in the winter, when you’re not about to open the windows anytime soon. In addition to all these perks, plants bring happiness and companionship. A plant can be a low-maintenance pet or companion that doesn’t make a mess, and doesn’t mind being left alone. (That said, if you do have pets, check these feline-friendly picks to ensure their safety.)

Let’s get planting!

1. Observing your space

clean room
Indoor greenery helps keep the air clean (the rest of the clutter is up to you).

One of the most important factors to plants is how much light they get. Knowing how much light your space gets is crucial to determining the kind of plant that you can sustain there.

To determine the light level (high, medium, or low), do this one simple test: Put your hand near the area where you want to place your plant. If that area gets direct, high light, then your hand should create a distinct shadow with clear edges. If the area is medium light, the shadow will be more faint, and the lines blurred. If the area is low light, then no shadow will be seen.

If there is direct sunlight, take note of how long it’s beaming through your window. If your room is only filled with sunshine for an hour per day, it cannot be considered a high light area; it needs to get more than four to six hours of direct sunlight. Medium light areas will have some sunlight, or bright, filtered (meaning blocked by outdoor tree leaves or partly-opened blinds) sunlight. Low light is everything else.

plant on the ground
Determine your light levels by the sharpness of the shadows.

Here’s a cheat sheet of plants that fare well in given conditions:

Bright light:
Bird of paradise
Fiddle leaf fig
Assorted cacti 
Assorted succulents
Kitchen herbs

Medium light: 
Assorted ferns
Assorted peperomia
Most houseplants, in general 

Low light: 
Snake plants
ZZ plants

2. Watering

potted plant on mantle
Take a page from Goldilocks when watering: not too much, not too little, just right.

The more light your plant gets, the more water it will want! Transpiration is the process by which water flows through plants, and is dependent on the amount of heat and light that the plant gets.

Plants will generally want water once a week, or when the soil dries out. Plants in low light will want water even less—about once every two weeks or less. When in doubt, remember that overwatering is worse than underwatering. Overwatering will cause rotting of the roots, which is irreversible, but drying out—to a certain extent—is recoverable.

Some plants will want more water than others, regardless of these conditions. For example, cacti and succulents will want water once a month in medium-light areas, but once a week in bright direct sunlight. Keep in mind that your plant also likes the same temperatures that you do. Do not place it by a drafty window, AC unit, or radiator/heat source.

How do you know if you’re not at the right level?

Plants will show signs of overwatering by making their leaves bright yellow or by losing coloration. If a plant starts to drop leaves due to this, skip a watering until you see signs of dryness in the soil, and no more dropped leaves from the plant.

Plants will shrivel, or leaves will curl or brown at the edges. Browning at the edges may also be due to low humidity. Increase the water amount given, and consider increasing humidity by placing a humidifier nearby, or a tray of pebbles and water nearby. 

3. Fertilizing

group of plants
Plants of all shapes, sizes, and statures can thrive indoors.

Plants need key nutrients to grow and be healthy. Fertilizers are like multivitamins—they can help provide extra nutrition. Any fertilizer will do, once a month or every few months. (Slow-growing plants like cacti need less.) Follow the instructions on your fertilizer of choice.

4. Pests

Sometimes, you may notice your plant is dying, and upon closer inspection, you discover that there are insects crawling all over it! These pests can be easily dealt with by wiping the leaves off with an alcohol solution (for waxy leaved plants) and spraying with a horticultural oil once a week for three weeks (all plants).

sill doorway
The Sill practices what it preaches at its storefront in New York.

Ready to grow your plant knowledge? Check out more info from the experts at The Sill.