Houseplants Grow Trendy
As people of all ages are spending less and less time outdoors, more of us are bringing plants inside the home to experience the peace and beauty of nature year round.
Photo courtesy of The Growing Place
If you’re old enough to remember potted plants held aloft with macramé hangers, it may surprise you to learn that the 1970s trend is back and bigger than ever. Houseplants like spider plants, parlor palms and philodendron are making a comeback, as well as exotic tropical plants rarely before seen in local greenhouses. We can thank millennials — who account for almost one-third of houseplant sales in the U.S. — for the newfound fascination with indoor gardens.
Suburban garden center experts point to Pinterest and Instagram as the harbingers of houseplants in interior decorating. Horticulturist Dan Kosta at Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale sees two big trends: “architectural looking plants like fiddle leaf fig and sansevieria and those that are grown as air-filtering plants like aglaonema,” commonly known as Chinese evergreen. Sansevieria goes by the odd names of snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue — certainly easier to remember.Kosta credits the emphasis on health and well-being among the millennials and younger generations for the popularity of houseplants, both for their ability to filter indoor air pollutants and for the experience of “having plants, nurturing them, watching them grow, and dividing them” to share with others. “They give their plants names and say, ‘We’re going to have this plant for 10 years.’ They treat them more like a pet.” Speaking of which, if you have cats or dogs inside your home, you’ll want to find out if the houseplant you have your eye on may be toxic to animals.
At The Growing Place in Naperville, Pat Peraziana, manager of the annuals department, points to the NASA Clean Air Study as evidence that houseplants improve indoor air quality. The study, published way back in 1989, looked at the air purifying effects of houseplants and their potting soil in closed environments for possible use in space stations. The research showed that an array of popular houseplants, such as dracaena, peace lily and ficus, reduced dangerous air contaminants, including benzene and formaldehyde, while soaking up carbon dioxide and boosting oxygen levels. The NASA study took the galactic view: “If man is to move into closed environments, on Earth or in space, he must take along nature’s life support system.” But we digress. Peraziana advises, “You’ll need a few plants (in every room) to make a difference.”
If you’re a novice with indoor plants, she recommends the “tried and true varieties, including crotons, pothos, fiddle leaf figs, and mother-in-law’s tongue. You can’t kill that one.” Peraziana cautions that the trendiest plants may not be the easiest in terms of upkeep. “Ferns are very finicky.” Her all-time favorite in the easy-to-grow category is the ZZ plant. But she can’t have houseplants herself: “I have a cat that wants to live in them.”
At Heinz Brothers Greenhouse Garden Center in St. Charles, manager Christa Bormann sees “terrariums growing in popularity.” The mini-garden in a glass container dates back to Victorian times. “You can use any glass container that’s closed or open like a fishbowl. They make great tabletop arrangements,” she says. Terrariums need “high to medium light within a couple of feet of a window.” Among the plants Bormann recommends for terrariums are the polka dot plant (“cute with extra color”), pilea or Chinese money plant (“different leaf shapes and colors”), peperomia (“different leaf textures”), and even the Venus flytrap. A variation on the tiny garden theme is the fairy garden, which incorporates miniature plants with elements such as figurines and teensy dwellings.
Care and feeding
Even the best gardeners confess that their green thumbs work better outdoors. As it turns out, indoor plants often do better with a little neglect, more light and less frequent watering, depending on the plant’s needs for sun and water.
According to Jason Young, greenhouse manager at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, “Really, care should follow how the plant looks. If it’s tropical looking with really large leaves, it needs consistent moisture in the soil. Succulents, which are found in the desert, can go months without any water.”
Overwatering seems to be the scourge of most houseplants, which exhibit the same symptoms, such as yellowing leaves, whether they are getting too much or too little water. “If it looks thirsty and the soil is moist, you have been overwatering. Roots rotting from too much water make the plant look like drought stress,” says Young. “
You can never water on a schedule. If you get a sunny day, it might dry out by the end of the day,” explains Kosta. “The best thing is to check the soil every few days with the best moisture meter ever — the index finger. Just press down to the first or second knuckle.”
If the soil is completely dry, it’s time to water. If not, hold off. “Drainage is very important with indoor plants,” advises Lisa Callahan of the retail staff at Blumen Gardens in Sycamore. “A lot of indoor pots don’t have drainage.” She suggests transplanting houseplants into a container with a drainage hole or dropping the plant in its original plastic container into a larger container with room on the bottom for drainage; then cover the top with moss. Most garden centers, including Blumen Gardens, will be happy to re-pot your plants that have outgrown their original containers or that need better drainage. They also offer care sheets for different types of houseplants.
A major cause of failure in houseplants is too little or too much light. At Wannemaker’s Home and Garden in Downers Grove, gardening manager Barbara Collins thinks that interior design magazines that feature houseplants are partly to blame. “They show a plant in a corner because it looks good, but it doesn’t grow there unless you have decent light.” Fiddle leaf figs are the perfect example. “They are in every photo shoot,” says Collins, but they “need a south-facing window and they are not that easy to grow.”
If all else fails, Collins suggests buying an artificial potted plant for indoors. “The artificials right now are stunning.” In fact, the artificial orchids that she put on display for a garden show were so realistic that the staff accidentally watered them.
Although many garden sources advise against fertilizing plants in the winter months, Collins disagrees. “I’m a big believer in fertilizing plants year round.” She uses less fertilizer in the winter, but she notes that indoor plants are still growing and need food.
If the care and feeding of a houseplant seems daunting, start small. “A lot of people are looking for more of an easy care plant until they build their confidence,” observes Callahan. “Anything can work in your house with the right care.”
Upcoming Indoor Gardening Events
Cantigny Park, Wheaton
Greenhouse Tour: March 5, 11 a.m. – noon
Greenhouse Open House: May 5, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Learn from the experts as you tour the greenhouse and see the spectacular plants that will be gracing the gardens and building interiors.
Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe
In the Tropics — The Orchid Show: Through March 24, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Illinois Orchid Society Spring Show and Sale: March 9 & 10
Bask in the beauty of more than 10,000 orchids on display and shop for orchids to take home.
Chicago Flower and Garden Show, Navy Pier, Chicago
Flowertales — The Story Grows On: March 20 – 24, Wed – Sat, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sun 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Get inspiration from fabulous floral and garden displays, workshops and a marketplace of vendors.
Heinz Brothers Garden Center, St. Charles
Succulents and Terrarium Workshops: March 9 & 10, multiple times
Fairy Garden 101: March 30, 11 a.m. – noon and 1 – 2 p.m.
Miniature/Fairy Garden Class: March 31, noon to 1 p.m.
Fairy Garden Festival: April 6 & 7, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Learn how to go small with your indoor garden, whether you want to grow a container of succulents
or create a terrarium or miniature garden scene.
Wannemaker’s Home and Garden, Downers Grove
Spring Home and Garden Show: March 9 & 10, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Learn from 10 seminars led by garden experts each day, shop at vendor booths, view special pond and plant displays, and watch cooking demonstrations.