Know Where You Are Going to Put Your Plants
Step 1 of growing indoor plants has nothing to do with picking out a plant. Rather, it is crucial that you decide where you will place your plant before deciding which plant to put in that space. While it can be tempting to choose your plant first, your plant may receive non-optimal levels of light, airflow, and humidity once you place it in your home or office. In Step 1, we will explore each of these factors so you know what conditions your indoor space can provide for a plant. With that knowledge, you can narrow your shopping list down to plants that have a good chance of thriving in your space.
Data collected by the University of Minnesota Extension Office explains that there are 3 types of light:
1. Bright Light 2. Medium Light 3. Low Light
Mind-blowing stuff, right? Although it sounds straightforward, it is very important to understand the differences between each type of light and how you can find them in your indoor spaces. I've explained each type of light below.
According to My City Plants, New York City’s top online plant shop, there are 3 factors that determine lighting for indoor plants:
1. How far the plant is from a window
2. Which direction the window is facing
3. Whether the window receives direct or partial lighting
Depending on your apartment, house, or office setup, you may be able to control all three of these factors, or none of them at all. Start by taking a look around your space and determine which of these you can control. For example, if you live in a small north-facing apartment surrounded by office buildings, you may have very limited control of the light in your space compared to a homeowner with windows on all sides of their house.
A quick and useful test from My City Plants can help you figure out which type of light you are dealing with in your space.
At noon, stand in the spot where you plan to put your indoor plant. Look down at your shadow if and if it is a:
Strong, well-defined shadow, you are dealing with bright light.
Weak shadow but you can still make out your silhouette, you are dealing with medium light.
Faint shadow with little to no definition, you are dealing with low light.
Now that you understand the different types of light, look around your home, apartment, or office and determine which types of light are available to you. A common mistake for new houseplant owners is purchasing plants that require full, direct sunlight when none of that light is available in their space. Taking inventory of your light options will make shopping for plants easier, and will ensure that the plants you purchase can thrive once you bring them home.
Before looking into which plants to purchase, continue reading to learn about how the airflow and humidity in your space affects indoor plants.
Light isn’t the only consideration when determining where you will place your plants. Houseplants require airflow to regulate the leaf boundary layer. (Warning: a bit of science ahead).
A 2012 study published by the British Ecological Society explained that each leaf on a plant has a microclimate, which includes temperature and humidity at the leaf surface. This microclimate is created by a thin layer of still air called the boundary layer. If the boundary layer is too thick, CO2 has trouble getting through to the leaves, which means the plant has less “food” to convert to energy. The plant also doesn’t take up as much water because the leaves are not able to release vapor during photosynthesis.
So how do you regulate the boundary layer? You need to create airflow for your plant.
The Spruce suggests three ways to provide indoor plants the vital airflow they need to thrive:
Put your plant near an open window - the wind from the outdoors will give plants all the circulation they need.
Use a fan - don’t blow the fan directly onto plants, rather use the fan to circulate air throughout the room. This helps prevent dampness, condensation, as well as cold and hot spots
You can actually create airflow by putting your plant near a closed window - the slight fluctuations in temperature throughout the day will cause a slight breeze, which is better than nothing.
I recently found a nice corner in my apartment for a small cutting of a Monstera plant, and it grew quickly for a few months. One weekend I noticed something bright yellow near the plant's stem. When I looked closer, I realized there was a thin layer of mold growing in the soil. I had never seen anything like that before, so I did some research and discovered that mold can be a symptom of poor ventilation. I removed the mold and moved the plant just a few feet so the airflow from a ceiling vent hit it periodically, and the mold never came back.
If you determine that you will not be able to provide your plants with any airflow, I recommend selecting the heartiest varieties of plants in the next step. If you can provide airflow, even periodically, your plants should do quite well as long as they have the appropriate levels of light and humidity.
In addition to understanding light and airflow, you will want to consider the humidity in your space. If you live in a humid/tropical climate, your plant will likely appreciate all of the moisture in the air. Most of us don’t live in such humid environments year-round. According to Bloomscape, the ideal humidity for houseplants is 40-60%, which is higher than the humidity levels found in our homes, especially during winter months as we heat our homes which creates dry air conditions.
Fortunately, there are ways to artificially increase the humidity of your indoor space. Here are 5 strategies that you can try, ranked from least effort to most effort:
Put several plants in a group - this creates a pocket of humidity, especially if you are able to put a dish or jar of water near the plants.
Use a humidifier - if you have tropical plants that need significant humidity, a humidifier can save you the trouble of misting your plants, for a price.
Mist your plants - this temporarily raises the humidity of the plant, and will need to be a daily or almost-daily practice if you own any of the very popular tropical climate indoor plants (Bird of Paradise, Elephant Ear, Ficus, Orchid)
Make pebble trays - Fill a baking sheet with a layer of small rocks and add enough water so it rises halfway up the rocks. Set your potted plants on top of the rocks and continue to refill the tray as the water-level drops.
Give your plant a shower - this sounds insane, but you can actually give your plant a shower. It's especially good for tropical plants in the winter.
If you are willing to commit to any of these strategies for artificially increasing the humidity for your plants, feel free to expand your plant search in the next step to tropical plants that require more humidity than most indoor spaces provide.