You can’t open a magazine these days without seeing lots of plants added to any interior design. Plants are beautiful decoration items. They also help you distress because they make you feel like you are on a tropical holidays and looking after them is quite meditative. But here’s the catch: you need to keep them alive. Preferably healthy too.
When I move to a new place and my aim is to get that resort felling when you walk into the house. That is basically ‘fancy’ for getting lot of plants. Like an indoor jungle.
I have lots of years of experience growing plants indoors and outdoors so when people ask me for advice from my green thumbs I always start with what will be hard to kill and what else do I need to keep in mind when buying plants, beside the obvious aesthetic factor.
SHORTCUT! – If you want that insta-worthy this instant, pick one easy plant from THE LIST and go big. That means getting a plant that’s 2/3 or even 3/4 of the height of your ceiling. You can always use a stool or a console to elevate it.
It’s hard to believe that the only plant I managed to keep alive in Singapore for 8 years was a rubber plant. It survived many moves where it looked nearly destroyed by the movers and yet came back. Let’s be real, I didn’t always have minding plants as my priority in life. Once you start minding children it’s quite easy to extend those newly discover caring skills to plants. In fact plants are a lot more grateful and less demanding so caring for them will provide much more fulfilment than your kids.
If you really are not a plant person just ensure you don’t end up spending a lot of money and then killing them all. If you want to give it a try let me give you a couple of pointers.
Study the surroundings
Plants in essence need three things: Sun, water and fresh air. So after you have decided where they will look better in your house or garden, ask your self: How much of those 3 things will your plants get?
If your balcony or garden gets a lot of rain and sun, do not choose indoor plants. Go for those you see in parks and gardens around where you live. If your plant area, doesn’t much direct sunlight you have little chance to success. Living in the tropics, indoor plants can be used for outdoors, but if you don’t have balconies or a garden you need to water them more yourself.
The plants on this LIST can adapt and live in both scenarios, that’s why they are easy to maintain (read hard to kill).
- Buy second hand plants. They are not delicate babies and they are seasoned (that means survivors). Big old plants and very expensive from the nurseries and they might have grown in artificial conditions. Ask the seller how old they are, if they have been under sun rain etc. With the amount of people that move in and out of Singapore this was always easy. Facebook groups and second hand apps have been a great source of pre-loved plants for me for years. Even for rare ones.
- Get plants that come in self watering pots for when you go on holiday, or make sure you have a space where they can get rain while you are away. Alternatively, you can get a friend to water your plants when you are away or even pay a few bucks to your teenage neighbour to do so. Watch out for the sun. Some plants will burn in a matter of days if they have never been exposed to direct sun so better to keep them away from dirt sun while you are away. If you buy plants that are going to be in full exposure to the sun make sure you make a gradual approximation to that high level light. This is the moment when keeping plants starts to sound like having a picky pet…
- Dark corners with no light inside of the house can also have plants, they just need plants that can survive there. The plants that grow at the bottom of the rain forest will like these places as long as they are moist. Look for tropical plants like photos, ZZ plants and ferns. The moment they start growing too leggy it means they do not have enough light.
- Spray your plants of they are indoors and do not get much rain. More if you live in a. cold country with heating system and the air gets very dry indoors. It will help them stay clean from dust and keep moist. Some people told me not to water plants like monstera, but to spray them. I love doing this because it gives a fresh breeze to the house but also because it gives me a break from what I’m doing and time to observe your plants. It’s very meditative and useful. The only way to be a successful gardener is to observe and learn the signs of your plant being healthy or in need.
- Buy local plant varieties that will thrive on the weather. I always wanted to grow tulips and lavender in Singapore but instead I went for wild orchids that require ZERO effort and are guaranteed to stay alive for long. Then in Ireland my orchids all die and my lavender, tulips and particularly roses are the envy of the neighbours. If you live in a dry country buy plants that grow in public outdoor spaces. If they thrive on neglect imagine if you mind them a little
- Watch out for plants grown in artificial environment. IKEA for example sources plants in local nurseries, but to make them look so nice for long in those IKEA basements, they grow with artificial light and fertilizers. That makes the plants very attractive for buyers, with bright green leaves that are nearly fluorescent, lush and big….but they are not ready for the real world. They might not make a week into their new home, but I they survive… they will be yours forever.
HEre’s the list of ive easy-to-look-after plants to decorate your house
We want a resort like feeling and to ensure they stay alive without putting much effort, right? Here you have them, these are the ones I learn need little care and check all the boxes of beauty and adaptability.
1- Fiddle leaf fig – Ficus Lyrata
It must be trendy plant of the moment. There’s millions of photos of these babies on the internet. Open any magazine and you will see them. Their leaves are thick and leathery. They curl up in a really beautiful shape, like a giant lettuce. That makes them very decorative.
The truth is that there are entire two story tall trees of this plant in Singapore. They do well in the weather. In interiors in a cold country… NOT SO MUCH! Fiddle figs are very picky plants. They come in two varieties big leaves or small leaves. They hate cold draft. They require lots of indirect light but too little or too much will kill them, making them lose all leaves. They are sensitive to thrips and mealybugs.
Fiddle Figs are originally from Western and Central Africa. If you get one from a nursery to be placed indoors it will be a good idea make sure they get fresh air and enough light. They don’t really take direct sun but ‘don’t put baby in a dark corner’.
- Rotate the pot so it doesn’t grow sideways. Shake the trunk to imitate the wind and strengthen it.
- Water them once a week and check them out to make sure they are healthy, green and firm.
- If the weather gets a bit dry, also spray them once a week.
- They grow very slow so don’t expect new leaves very often. When they sprout they tend to sprout a few leaves at the same time of they are happy.
- They taker very long to settle in a new place and may take months to give a sign of happiness, a new leaf.
- Clean the dust on the leaves with a wet cloths every once in a while.
- You can also shine them with 2 drops of coconut oil on a cloth. It’s like magic
A nice planter and a fiddle fig will make your house look a bit more like an interior decor magazine! I love the basket plantes and also the mid-century elevated ones. Ok this is just an easy plant to look after if you live in the tropics, but it’s so popular I had to add it on top of the list.
2- Swiss cheese plant – Monstera Delisiosa
Monstera leaves are super tropical and very popular these days. From cushions to bikinis to rompers. You will find these tropical prints on everything these days. Definitely another trendy plant. And what a plant! A dramatically big and vigorous plant that requires little to be happy and gives you that jungle feeling immediately.
I get this one in every house these purely for sentimental reasons. My parents always had a few of these at home, and they are really monstrous! They must be at least as old as me because I always remember them around and at least one of them is still alive. Keep in mind that they spread, they take a lot of space because the leaves grow in all directions. Even in the dry Mediterranean weather.
Monstera Deliciosa is originally from South America. The leaves are shaped like that to survive torrential rain and strong winds in the rainforest. Without those wholes, called fenestration them they would break.
- Monster leaves means that you definitely need to elevate it so it doesn’t take over the floor space. I love they way the one on the first photo is just sitting on a stool.
- If it starts growing aerial roots guide them in the pot. You probably need a bigger pot if this goes out of control. It happens mostly in older plants. If you cut them it will not kill the plant. They grow one soon per leaf from the same knot and if you put that room in water it sprouts another leaf faster.
- In the tropics you can keep them outdoors but they are very good indoor winter plants too.
- Do not give them too many hours of direct sunlight. Put them near a window but not facing south and better if they are sheltered by a wall. These plants are from the bottom of the rain forest. The corners will become dry and brown when they get sun burnt.
- Water once a week. The more light they get the greener and bigger the leaves will be, and the more holes they will have although the wholes are a sign of an old plant and double fenestration is rare.
3- Snake plants – Sansevieria
Also called Mother in law’s tongue. (no idea where the name comes from) These very flashy plants require hardly any attention. They grow without much light so they can go to decorate those dark corners. They also don’t need much water. A bit every two weeks does the job. It’s easy to kill them by over watering. I have one at my parents place that I bought in Ikea many many years ago. it doesn’t grow much but It’s still standing. And I have one in Ireland that is a baby of one my grandmother had what feels like millions of years ago. When watering make sure you do not pour in the center of the leaves cluster. For this one is better to water the sides of the pot or even from the bottom. It will survive almost anywhere but it will need good light to thrive. Surviving is not the same as thriving, growing and sprouting new leaves. Sansevierias are also known as snake plants, they also prefer clay pots ro plastic pots to be happy.
4- Rubber plant – Ficus Elastica
My Ficus was the ONLY plant I have managed to keep alive 11 years in Singapore. My old friend was a survivor that made it through long periods of neglect and it went to a friend of mine when I left.
The movers severely damaged it in the last relocation, but it made it it through. Out of the 3 original stems only one survived and it sprouted more branches sideways. I never reported it, or filled up the soil ,or fertilised it. Call it survival of the fittest! These things will pretty much overcome a nuclear holocaust together with cockroaches.
That’s a pretty photo isn’t it? Well, I can assure you this lovely plant has not been grown in that space. it has been grown outdoors and placed there for the shoot. They trick us all the time with these things in magazines that’s why you need to learn a few plant basics. The red colour on the top of the plant, on the new growth, means it gets direct sunlight. That’s how plants get a tan, they get reddish.
To get a rubber plant to look like that they need 12h a day of direct light. That’s how they looked in the park next to my house in Singapore, where they grow by the lake. I have never seen them looking like that anywhere else. The leaves don’t get the pink/red color on the back and red on the tips of the growth if you keep them indoors. Also they don’t grow so tight, they grow more sparse. This I know from first hand experience.
I would bet this is a segment from a massive plant outdoors placed in a pot for the photo. And I would bet that It will lose that look very soon after living in this bedroom.
This is what a Ficus Elastica might end up looking if it doesn’t get enough light. Smaller leaves, more separate, lighter shade of green and sides of the leaves cascading down. My old friend has segments like this. When a rubber plant doesn’t get enough light it reaches for it and starts growing sideways. This plant owner tried to avoid that with guiding stakes but it still wasn’t very successful. I can guess that under that window we don’t see in the photo there’s a radiator. And that’s why the plant lost all the leaves at the bottom. Rubber plants can take a lot more than fiddle figs, but in general keep all plants away from direct sources of heat like radiators.
5- Palms, and all the members of the family
Resort feeling? Check. Easy to keep? Check. Widely available? Check. Hundreds of options? Check. I hope you don’t need more reassurance. Get a palm for your house now and the tropical holiday feeling will be instant. Parlour Palms are everywhere and very easy to keep.
These are my favorite palms. They can be very architectural and dramatic. As a mentioned before, when if doubt, go big.
There’s a few other plants I want to mention to encourage your green finders
There’s lots of types of dracaenas that are hard to kill and will be very decorative, but if you feel adventurous I would recommend an Alocasia Macrorzhiza. The elephant ears. This plant is a fast grower. it tolerates cold, dry, hot and thrives on tropical weather. The ones in Singapore can be as tall as 4 meters and have leaves 1 meter wide in public spaces, but they grow very happy in pots indoors too. The bigger the pot the bigger the plant will get and the more babies it will have. That’s another sentimental plant for me. My parents’ one is older than me. It has bloomed very often and the main plant eventually died of old age not before filling the pot with dozens of babies. I have propagated this plan, took babies to other countries and gave them as gifts and I plant to grow one for 40 years like they did.
How do I know if my plant is doing OK?
Here’s a few diagnosis tips for beginners. Plant diseases can make your plants look bad and ruin your resort like collection so it’s worth to watch out for them.
Sun related: Plants have a natural reaction to protect themselves from excessive sunlight. They do this by keeping leaves close together, vertically to reduce the surface of exposure. When leaves are too far apart in the stem, they are small and they lose the inward curve shape it means they need more light. When they become dry and brown on the tips, that means they are burnt from too much sun. Some also get burn spots from the sun that turn out like dry patches.
Water and related: When the leaves become black front the bottom it means they are rotting. When they become sad, like hanging down or thin and brittle it means they need more water. Yellowing is a common sign of over watering. Some plants are very sensitive to root rot or to leaf rot of they get water accumulated on the surface of the pot so watering them by submersing the pot in a sink full or water works best. This is very recomendable, even for succulents. Contrary to popular belief succulents are not that easy to grow because they are easy to kill with over watering.
Common pests: Watch out for these little buggers or they can destroy your oasis. The first two, aphids and cottony scales, spread easily and you will need to isolate infected plants and treat them. Neem oil repels most pests naturally and spraying with soapy water prevents more bugs from attaching themselves to the plan because it makes the surface watery.
Snails and slugs are much easier to spot and control if you don’t have a garden. They sell little balls you sprinkle on the pots and they dissolve slugs and snails them like acid. It’s disgusting but necessary if they grow a liking for your tropical leaves. Sorry animal lovers… I love muy plants too much, Lately I have tried sticky coper tape to put around the outer edge of the pot to prevent slugs from getting in, but the little rascal can climb inside a plant from the drain holes at the bottom of the plant and climb their way to the very top like you wouldn’t believe it.
Why doing all of this? Is it really worth it?
The level of noise and overall sensorial over stimulation in Singapore started to annoy me soon before I moved to Ireland. It’s crowded, there’s traffic noise everywhere, and it can get very stressing, because you don’t give your eyes and ears a goo enough break. Living in the tropics doesn’t mean living like you are on holidays all the time, but learning how to make your little oasis and being able to recreate that great green lush feeling Singapore has wherever you end up is something that will always remind you of the good parts of life int he tropics. Having that little piece of heaven, of peace and quiet in my house, with greenery, is essential for me to stay sane.
With all of these tips I hope you are ready to create that space for yourself and invest in your wellness with plants. Maybe I will get inspired and write a post about plant caring level 2, to cover slightly more delicate plants, or another one for my outdoor plants. Let me know if there’s anything in particular about plants you would like to know!
Until then, ciao!