The Ultimate Guide to Indoor Gardening

Indoor plants have been proven to reduce stress, improve concentration and boost your mood. It’s no wonder that the sale of seeds, flowers and potted plants has increased since 2016 and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. If you’re new to the houseplant game, have no fear! We sat down with Creative Director of Sprout Home Chicago Stephen Hill and he shared some starter tips for creating an enviable at-home oasis.

Shared Hill, “ For me, plants provide the same feeling as opening your windows for the very first time in the spring. What other elements in your home can grow and adapt? Incorporating living things into our homes and personal spaces is absolutely irreplicable. They provide fresh air, and a chance to pause our day, slow down our minds and focus on their needs and habits.”

Take a look at your natural light

Living in a city, many of us may have limited access to natural light in our living spaces. Identify where you have natural light coming into your home and when the light is shining through. This simple observation can give you a baseline of the types of plants that can thrive in your space. Shared Hill, “Having that initial idea of natural light in mind is key to selecting plants for any situation.”

Keep in mind:

  • North-facing windows receive plenty of natural light, but the sun’s rays are never felt. This is bright, indirect light.

  • Unobstructed eastern and western windows feel the sun’s rays for half of the day (morning and afternoon, respectively).

  • Southern windows typically get the most of the sun’s rays and are often considered the sunniest.

Identify your plant goals

“Having a goal in mind is a great way to get started,” shared Hill. “Do you want to fill a blank near a window with a single, large plant? Alternatively, would you like to line a windowsill or two with small potted plants? Or, would you like to amass an indoor jungle?”

Obviously, goals can change, but when initially looking at your local nursery, it’s helpful to have an understanding of how you envision plants brightening up in your space. This will help direct you to which plants you can choose.

Hill recommends sharing your goal with experts in your area and allowing them to guide in creating your vision. When you first step into a nursery, you may be drawn to specific plants, but conversations with consultants will help you create your perfect plant space based on your home environment.

Choose the right plants for your space

If you’re not big on working with consultants, Hill broke down the basics of which leaves thrive in which light. Keep in mind, all plants are very light specific. Pro tip: understanding where plants are found in nature can give you a hint as to what environment they will thrive in.

  • Direct-sunlight plants:

    • The thick, fleshy leaves of succulents (the Jade plant) are built to store water and withstand the strong sun rays. Therefore, western or southern exposure is ideal. Keep in mind, the Crassula genus often includes succulents that can succeed with “cool” or less-intense sun. In some cases, an eastern window can be ideal.

  • Low-light tolerant plants:

    • A Fern’s delicate leaves would crisp in the direct path of the sun. A northern or eastern-facing window is ideal for a fern to thrive.

    • ZZ Plants, Snakeplants and Cast Iron plants will perform well enough in situations with very minimal natural light but a brief period of sun rays would be beneficial.

Give your plant sufficient water

According to Hill, “Water very plant-specific, but in general -- water thoroughly in any case, whether that be once a week or once a month. No plant likes an insufficient watering!”

He shared his expert tip: always allow these plants to dry thoroughly between waterings.

A good rule of thumb is to feel down into the soil and allow the top ¼ - ⅓ of the soil to ensure the plant is totally dry before watering again. In very minimal light levels, this may be every 4-6 weeks, while in brighter situations it can certainly be closer to every 10-14 days. Touching the soil and understanding your plants' expectations is essential for any plant in any space.

Use the right soil

Fresh soil provides much nutritious for your plants, but as it inherently is in the process of decomposition, you will need to include a fertilizer to supplement. Many of these are water soluble and can be diluted from their concentrated form into the water to feed your plants. Typically, you'll do this during the plants most active growing season, so pay attention to which do more growth during the warm, long days of summer, and those that prefer to put on more growth during the cooler winter months.

For many tropical plants, a nutritious, lightweight potting soil is just fine. You can always make it more or less dense with some additives to really customize it for your plants.

Many drought-loving plants, such as Cacti, need a much less hearty mixture. For these plants, you can often use soil mixes labeled "Succulent* mix" (*all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti). These mixes often absorb water but release it readily so that they do not stay wet for too long around the roots, which need that dry-time almost immediately after watering.

Some common components of these soil mixes include crushed pumice, coir and peat. Some plants require entirely different ingredients around their roots such as carnivorous plants, Gesneriads (which includes the familiar African Violet) and orchids. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself on your plant to ensure you’re providing the right environment for it to thrive.

Clean your plants

“Make it a habit to wipe away any dust that accumulates on your plants' leaves,” said Hill. “Like any other surface in our homes, dust can accumulate, and this will stop up the leaves from doing their job -- taking in sunlight and breathing.”

Keep in mind, it’s impossible to make a blanket statement about plant care. Each person’s home is a uniquely different space. Hill encourages new plant parents to read up and be curious!

Shared Hill, “Always ask questions, get excited, and don’t be afraid to try. We all learn by doing. It would be a lie to say I’ve never killed a plant, but it would be remiss to not learn something from this! A gentle hand and keen eye are probably some of the tops traits to have when caring for a garden along with a healthy dose of patience.”

You can learn more about Sprout Home by visiting www.sprouthome.com, picking up a copy of Sprout Home’s book Rooted In Design, dropping by the store (745 N. Damen Ave.), or sending an email to chinfo@sprouthome.com.