My daughter went to college in New York, and has lived there ever since, in a variety of teeny tiny apartments. Affordable apartments in New York (wait, is that an oxymoron?) are not only small, but often times are in older buildings or homes converted into rentals; floor plans can be … strange. One of the things she learned along the way has been that despite using half her income on rent, she can dress up her place and make it look warm and welcoming with houseplants. Plant shops (also miniscule) are in every neighborhood, so many city dwellers are on the same page as she and her roommate.
Besides the beauty of houseplants, there’s also distinct health benefits.
- Improving your mood.
- Reducing fatigue and sharpen your attention.
- Lowering stress and anxiety.
- Improving office performance and focus.
- Boosting healing and pain tolerance; recover from illness faster.
- Minimizing the occurrence of headaches by improving air quality.
- Easing dry skin and respiratory ailments due to dry air.
- Working with plants can be therapeutic.
Wow! That’s a lot of benefits. So, how does one get started turning an apartment into a green oasis?
Start With Sunshine
First things first, learn the light in your home. Observe the light in each room and determine how it fits in these categories:
- Full sun: six or more hours of direct sun a day.
- Partial sun or partial shade: four to six hours of direct sun a day.
- Full shade: less than four hours of direct sun a day.
Once you know the light in your space, you can shop for plants. Seek out sun-loving plants, and those that prefer partial or full shade. Houseplants are usually tropicals and can take some heat, although not always direct sun. While most herbs prefer a sunny window relief from late afternoon sun in the form of shade is usually welcome.
No sun, no problem! In my office building, there are plants thriving in an interior hallway who receive light just from overhead fluorescents. If your apartment has small or few windows, choose plants that are happiest in low light areas such as:
- Sansevieria (aka snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue) – easy care *
- Bromeliad – likes humidity; adds color
- Golden Pothos (aka Devil’s Ivy) – removes toxins from the air *
- Heart-leaf Philodendron – good for hanging *
- Spider Plant – good for hanging; easy to propagate
- Chinese Evergreen – very hardy
- Aglaonema (arrowhead plant) – easy to grow; sap can irritate eyes *
- Zamioculcas zamiifolia (thankfully aka ZZ Plant) – houseplant of the year in 2016. My office hallway plant. Easy to grow. *
- Peace Lily – has a white bloom with a bit of indirect sunlight *
- Peacock Plant – showy plant; trickier to grow; likes high humidity.
* Toxic to kids and pets if consumed
Where to buy?
If you are fortunate enough to live near an IKEA, you can shop for live plants and containers there. The selections are not huge, but the plants are healthy and cheap. The Home Depot has houseplants, but there’s usually a better selection at Lowe’s. Check out your local garden center as well! All these will carry containers; most will also carry potting soil. Target also has some cute containers, and some of their newly redesigned store also carry live plants!
Make sure the containers you plan to use are compatible with the growth habits of your plants. Make sure they have adequate drainage as well. If you live on an upper level, be mindful of the weight of the materials you’re carrying to your garden space. Choose lightweight containers (look for self-watering planters if you travel or forget to water), potting mix in small bags and plant caddies to conveniently move planters when it’s time to rotate; a caddy will also help protect a carpeted floor.
Use a potting soil specifically designed for containers. Potting mix is light and fluffy, efficiently circulating air and water to keep roots healthy. It’s also fairly sterile, so you won’t have to worry about bringing diseases into your apartment.
All purpose potting soil will work for most houseplants, but use cactus potting soil for cacti and succulents which prefer a very quick draining soil. An added bonus of potting soil is that it will contain fertilizer. Make sure all planters have enough drainage provided by holes in the bottom. Add a single layer of rocks or chards from a terra cotta pot to the bottom of the planter to avoid blockage of drainage due to compacted soil.
No matter the plants you choose to get started gardening indoors, it’s imperative you follow a watering schedule based on each plant’s needs. Many people water their plants on the same schedule, which can lead to overwatering. Each plant has unique needs and water requirements.
Soil in terra cotta pots will dry out more quickly than plastic or fiberglass containers. A water meter is an excellent inexpensive investment to prevent over-watering. Or test the soil by poking your finger an inch or two below the surface. If it feels dry, you need to water.
If you are growing your plants on an indoor windowsill, you might need to provide some extra humidity, especially when the heat is on. Spritzing the plants with a fine mist can help, or you can place the plants near a tray of water.
Feed your plants on regularly according to their individual growing requirements. Adding a water-soluble fertilizer when you water is usually the easiest method. Also, note whether your potting mix has fertilizer already in it, as this typically will delay the need for you to feed your plants.
Essential tools and supplies for apartment gardening include gardening gloves, pruners, soil, water, containers for your plants and a watering can.
Pests and diseases have a way of finding plants no matter where you grow them, and there are no natural predators for insects indoors. Inspect your plants for problems whenever you water them or harvest. If you spot signs of pests or diseases, such as discoloring or holes in the leaves, move that plant away from the other plants until the problem is resolved.
Here’s to a healthy and beautiful home! See you at the garden center; I’ll be the one with dirt under my fingernails.
Resources: ApartmentList.com, The Home Depot, SustainableJunglr.com, Chatelaine.com, SwansonNursery.com, Healthline.com