I’m a Garden Editor, and Here’s What I Always Do Before Buying a Houseplant
Without my checklist, you might end up putting your new plant in the composter.
So, you’re wandering through your local Trader Joe’s or local nursery, and you think to yourself, Hey, I should get a houseplant. You grab the one that looks best (a prayer plant maybe, or something more unusual) bring it home, pick a shelf where it will look best, and then you watch it die.
Because you didn’t follow my handy list of things you have to do before you buy a houseplant, of course. After all, plants are living things, and like any living thing that you bring home—cat, dog, goldfish, tarantula—they come with particular needs.
Let’s keep your next plant with the living, shall we? The plant will be happy, and you will be happy. Without further delay, here are the top things I always do before I buy a houseplant. I recommend you do these things, too, before you purchase your next piece of greenery.
1. Ask yourself: Do you really want a houseplant?
Sure, they look great on Instagram and in articles about indoor plants, but plants do require some level of care. Will you check it on the regular to see if it needs water? Give it plant food if need be? Repot it if it gets too big? If the answer to these questions is no, then you don’t want a houseplant, you want this instead.
2. Decide where will you keep the plant.
This is an important one. Some plants, like the jade plant, love a sunny windowsill. Others, like a spider plant, can thrive in part shade. In other words, look up a list of what plants will survive in low light before you go shopping, or ask an employee at your local nursery.
3. Familiarize yourself with the signs of an unhealthy plant.
Is the plant you intend to buy browning, droopy, sparse, or yellowing? Does it have mold growing on the top of the soil? Any of these signs of distress mean you should pick out a different plant.
4. Check for fungus gnats.
Fungus gnats are tiny little black flies that love potting mix and will colonize it by laying eggs that become more annoying fungus gnats. If the plant has little flies running around the soil, or flies surrounding it like Pig-Pen in a Charlie Brown cartoon, run.
5. Go for more buds than blooms.
A lot of buds mean the flowers are coming. A lot of flowers in the store mean the main event has already begun. Save the fireworks for home so you can enjoy the plant’s full bloom cycle.
6. Do your homework.
Do a quick Google search of what your plant will need to stay healthy before you commit. If you like low maintenance, get a snake plant. Plants like the Alocasia amazonica, on the other hand, are native to Southeast Asia and love high humidity, which means misting or a humidifier.
Now go, intrepid plant hunter, and buy yourself that new green friend with confidence and enjoy.