You might not think a house plant is the secret to stability during a pandemic, but it could be just what you’re looking for.

English alumna Kori Audet bought her first plant about a year ago, and now she’s accumulated a total of 45 house plants with two more on the way.

From the thick, waxy leaves of her hoya carnosa compacta, also known as a Hindu rope plant, to more common stiff leaves of snake plants, her plants provide a source of constancy.

Rendon Nursery owner Laura Glasser said she’s seen a notable increase in gardening interest since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are using their extra time at home to either begin gardening or recultivate their already existing plants.

For many gardeners, especially the casual beginner, potted house plants are an easy way to start. Here’s a few guidelines.

Best for beginners

Some of the easiest plants to grow are vegetables, Glasser said. Especially tomatoes. As for flowers and shrubs, Glasser said perennials, plants that live for over two years and bloom each year, are best for beginners because they’re easy to keep alive. Like vegetables, they just take water. You’ll pay a bit more for them up front, but they’ll be worth it, she said.

Ivy, mother-in-law’s tongue (also known as snake plant), and mona lavender are three easy houseplants that also help clear the air of toxins, Glasser said. Most succulents, like aloe vera, are fun and easy because they store water and don’t take much care. They’re also spiky and cute.

“Everyone should have an ivy in the house,” she said.

Caitlyn Burge, communications and English junior, said she grew up gardening with her family and also worked at a nursery for about two years. She’s grown a little bit of everything, but she suggested that beginners start with some herbs. They’re easy to grow in the city, and you can harvest them as they grow. They’ll also spice up your meals.

You can grow a variety of herbs in a small space, but Burge’s top three beginner recommendations are chives, mint and oregano.

Baby names

Many people adopt a parental attitude to their plants and name them like children. They’re not “just plants.” When first buying your plant, consider naming it right away to develop a personal connection.

It’s easy to become attached to your potted plants, Burge said. She named her first orchid Bronte, after the English novelist and poet Charlotte Bronte.

Audet named her first plant, the hoya carnosa compacta, “Hoyota,” as a play off its biological name. She named her next four plants but stopped after that. Now, she collectively refers to her 45 plants as “her bois.”

“They’re just my babies,” she said.

Getting started

After naming your leafy youngster, you can go right ahead and plant it. Once potted, you can keep it in your bedroom, by the bathroom sink on a windowsill, or anywhere else depending on its sunlight needs.

But first, you’ll need some well-draining potting soil, Glasser said. Most local nurseries and chain home improvement stores will carry a good mix. Fertilizer will help plants get started in their new pots but isn’t necessary for the duration of their lives. However, fertilizer can be used as a type of plant “pick me up” a few months after they’re planted.

Clippers, scissors and shovels are helpful to have on hand while trimming or repotting plants.

Watering

“Watering is the question that everybody has, and my best advice is stick your finger in the dirt,” Glasser said.

Is your soil holding water? Don’t overwater it. If you find that your plant’s roots are dry, refresh it with a splash of water.

Audet said most of her plants are low-maintenance, and she only waters them once a week. It’ll take her about an hour and a half to carry each plant to the kitchen and individually water and trim them as needed. A few of her finicky plants might need some water more often, but she said she’s learned to not drown them.

Soil should be moderately moist, Glasser said. Not soggy-wet but not dry. Usually, you can tell that your plant is overwatered because its leaves will turn yellow.

Potting

There’s a couple ways to tell if your plant needs a new pot, Glasser said. If the plant has visibly grown enough that it looks too big, that’s usually a sure sign. If you turn the pot over and can see roots coming out of it, it’s time to get repotted.

While repotting, simply turn the pot upside down and gently shake the plant and soil loose. It’s important to break up the plant’s roots, though, so that it can continue to grow, Glasser said. It’s OK if the roots break off. Place it into the new pot and add fresh soil in addition to the old pot’s soil.

Some plant enthusiasts seek out colorful or pretty pots for their plants, but their actual construction is most important, Audet said. Pots need to have holes in the bottom to allow the plants to drain as necessary.

Bugs and pests

These days, most people don’t want to use chemical pesticides, Glasser said. They’re in luck, though, because they don’t need to. Ladybugs and praying mantises will take care of most common plant pests.

Many beginner gardeners tend to go gung-ho at the beginning, and then lose interest a few weeks later. It’s a hobby that anyone can enjoy, Glasser said, but one that requires a lot of care. Start small, and treat your plants with love.

“Consider them your kids, and take care of them,” she said. “They depend on us.”

More than a hobby

Many people get into gardening over their head and become overwhelmed, Glasser said.

Burge recommended visiting or calling local nurseries if possible within social distancing guidelines. That’s what they’re for, and based off her own experience working at a nursery, Burge said nursery owners love talking about plants.

Luckily for Audet, planting was never too hard. The leafy, green beauty that house plants provide was love at first sight. Be careful if you have an addictive personality, she cautioned. House plants might become your new weakness.

“I wish I had known how addicting it is,” Audet said. “Honestly, you buy one plant, and then you’re like, ‘Oh, that plant looks cool, too,’ and then somehow I ended up with 45. I’m not quite sure how I got here.”

Plant positivity

For people who have the time for it, gardening provides an outlet for physical health, mental well-being, relaxation and an overall sense of accomplishment, Glasser said.

Burge said that since social distancing and staying at home began, she’s been able to spend much more time with her indoor plants. Now, she has time to pay attention to little blessings, like her blooming orchids.

“It makes you feel fulfilled. It makes you feel good about yourself,” she said. “You’re actually caring for something, you know? Something depends on you, and you’re caring for it.”

That’s a rare but essential feeling during these times, Burge said. Even if you’re just caring for a plant, not another human or pet, it grants you a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.

“It’s the best feeling in the world, caring for something,” she said. “Even if it’s just a plant.”

@CecilLenzen

features-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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