Written by Ingrid Hoff, in collaboration with Mohsen Molavi
The new year is like a breath of fresh air, a clean slate to start something new and a whole new year filled with potential spread out in front of us. Inevitably the idea of health percolates into my thoughts but this year more than others I think we all could benefit from looking to find more joy in the little things that surround us in our daily lives. But you can multitask this by adding more plants to your life. Adding indoor tropicals is both literally and figuratively adding a breath of fresh air into your home.
Plants, especially indoor tropicals, literally make the air better, they filter out volatile organic compounds and carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) from the air. They stabilize the level of carbon dioxide and release moisture into air, acting as a natural humidifier. By purifying the air, they reduce allergies, asthma, and eye irritation. Studies done by NASA have shown that plants are capable of removing 90% of the toxins in the air in as little as 24 hours. They also improve your mood by looking beautiful, lush and verdant. And that is not just my opinion, studies have shown that adding as few as two to three plants is enough to make a positive impact on your health and well-being. We humans are not meant to live in sterile nature devoid spaces, we need connection with living things and nature. But have you looked outside lately; I don’t know about you but I don’t always want to venture into the “great outdoors.” Tropical plants let us bring nature inside, to improve our health and spaces.
But I’ve witnessed too many beginners just jump in and purchase a plant that they think looks amazing with no regard for what that plant needs to thrive. Before you jump into greenscaping your home there are a few things you need to consider and be aware of in order to set yourself up for success.
The first is choose your plants based on the conditions you have in your home. I’ve seen more than one person fall in love with a brightly coloured croton (a bold red/yellow/orange striped leaf plant) then place it in their dark sunlight-devoid space and wonder where all the colours went. Plants are well adapted to the spaces they have spent millennia growing in and if you take a plant (like a sun-adapted croton) and place it in a space it has no business being in (like a dark and shady North facing basement), nothing good will come of it. If you choose your plants well then you will find you do in fact have a green thumb. It’s less about the thumb and more about the brain, choose well and find success. Luckily there is such a variety of plants out there you are bound to find something that brings you joy and will thrive in your space.
The other stumbling block in growing tropical plants is watering, people either over or under water their plants. I recommend that you always use a container with drainage holes (and matching saucer) or use the pot-in-pot system (where your plant is planted in a plastic pot with drainage holes that can be removed to water but nestles inside a decorative pot without drainage holes). Any tropical plant you grow will suffer if they are left in soggy non-draining soil. Plant roots need air and will drown if waterlogged. So, always water then let your soil drain to remove excess water. I prefer to move my plants (if they are small enough) to the sink to water then I leave them to drain naturally before putting them back in place. Also, obviously if you forget to water the plant will suffer as well, somewhere in the middle is preferable. Something I never thought I would get but now can’t live without is a moisture meter. Especially since I love to use decorative rock mulches on the top of my soil. The meter just takes the guess work out of the whole stick-your-finger-in-the-soil-and guess-how-moist-it-is game. I have a digital one that gives me a hard and fast number as to how much moisture is in my soil (perhaps it’s the scientists in me but I love to have the data). However, if you know that you are not going to be the most attentive waterer then you should also keep this in mind when choosing a plant as some are more forgiving than others.
And on that note here is my top 10 (it was very hard to keep it to just 10) list of indoor tropical plants that I feel are extraordinary and should find a place in everyone’s space:
1. Snake plant (sansevaria) are visually stunning and easy to care for. The minimalist architectural leaves are often variegated and rise up from the soil looking very much like snakes. Does great in both low and higher light conditions and it a great go-to for a beginner.
2. Philodendron are a group of plants that thrive in medium indirect light but will tolerate lower light conditions. Oh, and did I mention they feature beautiful bold leaves? There are many different cultivars to choose from by my favourite include the striped leaves of ‘Birken’ the lobed leaves of ‘Hope’ and the sleek silver colour of ‘Silver Sword.’ Just make sure they don’t dry out too much, they like a little bit of humidity.
3. Air plants (tillandsia) are just fun. They are called air plants because they don’t need soil, just a regular misting and/or a weekly soak. You can put them almost anywhere that is brightly lit but out of direct sun. You can have a lot of fun with them as they can be displayed in glass containers, decorative vases, driftwood branches, sea shells, or even just on a beautiful plate.
4. Ferns are perfect for a low light situation. Just make sure to keep them moist and they will brighten up any shady spot. Some of my particular favourites are Boston ferns, bird’s nest fern, staghorn fern, button ferns, and rabbit’s foot fern.
5. Calathea and maranta (prayer plants) are what to look for if you want colour and drama but don’t have a lot of light. They boast bright pink to dark velvety leaves and many are festooned with stunning geometric patterns that needs to be seen to be believed.
6. Swiss cheese plant looks exactly like what you’d expect, leaves that are full of decorative cut-outs. This dark green coloured vine (monstera adansonii) is perfect for a shady corner, put it in a macrame hanger or a wall sconce and allow it to cascade. Make sure to clip it back to keep it looking neat and compact.
7. Peperomia is a big grouping of plants with succulent like leaves in a variety of sizes and colourations, but I love the ones with crinkled leaves. Often called ripple peperomia they come in small heart shaped, silvery-pewter, and even burgundy colours. Place them in bright indirect light and enjoy.
8. Fancy-leaf Begonia, speaking of stunning colours if you have low light conditions look for a Rex or painted-leaf begonia. The colour combinations are nothing short of miraculous, with pinks, silver, burgundy, and velvety deep green… and that’s all on one leaf.
9. String of Pearls are perfect if you are looking for something a bit different. This succulent hanging plant is a mass of delicate looking bright green baubles (or pearls if you will). Place it in a warm, dry space with bright indirect light where it can cascade and enjoy how easy it is to care for.
10. ZZ plant, if you are looking for an adaptable plant that can withstand a bit of ahem... abuse… but still look architectural and attractive then this is the plant for you. Look for the black cultivar ‘Raven’ for something a bit different.
Let’s start 2022 off with a breath of fresh air and some extra beauty. Check out some of my favourites or find you own, just keep in mind to choose based on where you will grow them and don’t forget to water. Health and joy will soon follow.