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Hone Your Craft

The Coolest, Hardiest Indoor Plants—and How to Keep Them Alive

Hone Your Craft 07/05/2019

 

The ceramicist Heather Stewart Harvey doesn’t just shape her own gorgeous pots and vases—she’s also deeply knowledgeable about the living things that go inside them (like, “she should probably have a TED Talk about plants by now” kind of knowledgeable). In addition to being a diehard outdoor gardener, Heather has a house in Maine full of indoor specimen—one of which has been in her family for around seventy years!—and all sorts of solid ideas for branching out from the basic varieties you know and love. Here’s that list, plus some simple, sensible tips for keeping them thriving. 

 

The Plants

OXALIS

“There are a lot of different styles that fall under the oxalis name. It’s generally kind of a shamrock plant, and I have a beautiful one in a burgundy and pink color that I’ve had for a really long time. They all take bright sun, and the leaves actually open and close with the light. It’s really gorgeous to watch. There are all these time-lapse videos where you can see how much they’re really moving.”

 

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TRILEAF PHILODENDRON

“This philodendron family encompasses hundreds and hundreds of plants, so when you just say philodendron, it doesn’t mean that much. But I have what’s called a trileaf philodendron, which was actually my grandmother’s. She died a few years ago, and she had had it since she was in her twenties, so it’s at least seventy years old. These plants are pretty easy to propagate, so since I got it, I’ve been making lots of cuttings and giving them to other family members to plant. It’s pretty amazing—it usually has one or two branching arms, and when one starts to die, it’ll kick out a new one. I’m kind of terrified I’m going to kill it now because it has so much history.”

 

XANADU PHILODENDRON

“I also have a big xanadu philodendron, and it’s not one of the kinds that gets viney or trailing—it’s a standing philodendron. It’s my biggest plant right now—I moved recently and had to leave some of my biggest ones behind, but this one made it all the way in the car with me. For a big plant, it’s easy to take care of.”

 

BURGUNDY RUBBER PLANT

“There are a lot of generic types of plants, like a rubber tree, that put me to sleep a little bit—but if you look, they often have more interesting varieties that are just as easy to take care of. The burgundy or black prince rubber plant and abidjan rubber plant are good examples. They have darker leaves that are really striking. A great statement plant, if you will.”

 

 

PILEA PEPEROMIOIDES

“I have a bunch of these, which are sometimes called pepperoni plants because of the shape of the leaves. The world just went wild for them, so they can be kind of hard to find these days. They’re a little bit of a hipster plant, so you might love or hate that. They’re a fun-looking one that’s super easy to take care of.”

Pilea Peperomioides 

PEPEROMIA

“Peperomia can get confused with pilea because the names sound similar, and they’re also sometimes called baby rubber plants, but they’re very different. They have a lot of interesting leaf patterns and variegation, which is something that’s become more popular recently.”

Peperomia 

VARIEGATED MONSTERA

“On a related note, people are getting really into these plants where only part of the plant photosynthesizes, so half of the leaf is white. Monsteras are obviously very popular, but these types are really spectacular. They’re bred this way for the look, but you do have to keep in mind that it means only half the plant is functioning as a food and energy source, so it will do best with lots of light.”

 

The Survival Guide

PEST CONTROL

“I’m really careful to look for pests before bringing something into my home—especially scale bugs, spider mites, and aphids if you’re on the West Coast. Those things can spread so quickly to your other plants and take everything out, so research images of what to look for and check under the leaves and in the soil very thoroughly. I never, ever buy plants at big stores like Home Depot because they’re so much more likely to have a pest.”

 

BASIC MAINTENANCE 

“For everything I mentioned above, they want bright, indirect light, and they want to dry out a little bit between waterings. I dust my plants—it’s not for everyone, but it’s relaxing for me, and you’d be surprised how much stuff comes off them. Unless I’m planting something more finicky like a cactus, I just use whatever potting soil is handy at my local store.”

 

 

WATER RIGHTS

“In terms of watering, I water everything in the sink and let it drain well. Some people recommend you water in the shower to get all the leaves. I’m sure that can work great, but if you don’t get everything really dry afterwards, you can get spots on you leaves, so I stay away from it. Another note is to adjust your watering based on the season—plants definitely need less in the winter when it’s not a big growing season. You can figure it out by feel. If you stick a finger in the soil and it seems dry, it’s time to water. Also: It is so much easier to come back from underwatering than overwatering. If a dry plant gets wilted, just give it a good drink, and it should perk up pretty quickly—but if something gets waterlogged, all you can do is wait it out and hope it survives.”

 

FIT ISSUES

“When it comes to potting sizes and when to repot, Google is your friend—just search ‘repotting XYZ’ and you’ll find lots of details about how to know when your particular plant has outgrown its pot. The general rule is to go up in pot size an inch or two. If you have a plant that’s outgrown the pot but you don’t want it to get any bigger, you can always take it out, trim the roots back, add about an inch of dirt, and repot it in the same vessel. There’s no substitute for drainage holes, even if you’re using rocks and things in the bottom—but, that said, I break these rules all the time because I’m a ceramicist who always has seconds lying around. Some plants just get the one they get. It usually works out.”

 

 

CALLING IT QUITS

“One of my greatest lessons as a plant mom has been knowing when to throw it in the compost. I had this fern that I could never remember to mist, and, honestly, it looked terrible. Finally, I just watched it turn into nice, useful dirt, and something else lives in its place that makes me happy whenever I see it. Murder all plants that aren't playing ball—a new, small houseplant who likes your light and watering schedule is out there somewhere!

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