Plants 101: Everything You Need to Know (+ Tips from the Pros)

Jess Ann Kirby talks all things plant care with local pros from Green Lion Design.

Illustration by Shore Creative

There’s just something about plants. They bring life, quite literally, to your home, and when you can successfully keep them alive there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with it few other achievements can rival. One of our favorite things to do on the weekend is go plant shopping and add to our collection of 21 houseplants and counting (considering doing a follow up post about what we have, let me know if that’s of interest). Trust me when I say there was a learning curve and I’ve been responsible for the untimely death of more than a few, RIP.

While we have figured out, for the most part, how to keep our plants alive, I wanted to get some tips from the pros, so who better to ask than Kim and Chris, the duo behind Greenlion. Just take a look at their Instagram and you’ll see some of the jaw dropping florals they’ve done for weddings, but they also have a thriving gardening business and a personal collection of 95 houseplants and counting (#goals). They created the incredible wreath trio we had on our front door for the holidays. I asked them about everything from the best plants for small spaces to how one keeps everybody’s favorite, the fiddle leaf fig, alive.

What plants are the easiest to care for/keep alive?

Philodendrons….really fail proof variety is philodendron oxycardium
Snake Plant (also called Mother in Laws tongue)
Spider Plants (chlorophytum comosum)
Dragon Trees

What plants do you recommend for spaces without much natural light?

Philodendrons, Pothos, and snake plants

Do you need to re-pot store bought plants?

Sometimes. It is nice to let a plant settle into its new home before repotting. When you take any plant from one place to another there is a small amount of shock in readjusting to light and temperature. Research the specific plant type to see if they prefer cramped roots or lots of room for roots. Do they prefer well drained soil or more moisture rich soil? This will give you some direction on whether to repot right away or perhaps wait until the following spring.

Jess Ann Kirby created built-in bookshelves to divide the space in her dining room.

The elusive fiddle leaf fig, how do you care for them?

Lots of bright filtered light. What does that mean? Place it in a sunny east facing window. Think of it like this, if it where in a jungle it would get filtered rays of sun from the dense canopy. Full blasting afternoon sun is way too harsh (west or south exposure).

Rotate your  fiddle every few months as you notice it growing toward the light. This will help you keep a better shape and overall healthier plant.

Dust the deep leaves with a wet paper towel every few weeks. Dust blocks sunlight and can block pores, which can interfere with a plant’s ability to breathe. And they have big ass leaves!

Watering: Lukewarm or room temperature water works best since cold water can put plants into shock (Fiddle Leaf Figs natural home is a tropical jungle not your living room). We find better success across the board doing this.

They prefer nutrient rich soil to support their giant leaves. Remember to fertilize (see more under ‘additional tips’ below).

Favorite larger houseplants or trees

Bird of Paradise
Umbrella Tree
Ficus Tree
Avocado Tree

Best plants for small space


How do you keep air plants alive?

Dunk them in water for about one to two hours every 10 days or so. Some people also swear by misting and keeping them in glass terrariums so they have microclimates. Biggest problem is under or over watering. Every 10 days is a good rule of (green) thumb.

Jess Ann Kirby talks about best care practices for all types of house plants from fiddle leaf figs to succulents.

Any tips for propagating?

**Note from Jess we did a blog post on this here.

Use rooting hormone and make sure your knife or scissors are clean before you do any cuttings. Works great on succulents, even though they will root on their own, rooting hormone makes the process much faster for succulents.

Jess Ann Kirby shares where she goes locally in Rhode Island to buy the best house plants.
Favorite places to shop for plants

If you’re local: Farmers Daughter, Peckham’s Greenhouse, Seed to Stem, Logees, Verde Newport.

Note from Jess: Locally I also buy plants from Chaves and Island Garden Shop. Occasionally I buy plants online and I like The Sill and Amazon. Craig and my Mom both gave me succulents from Amazon for Christmas and they’re doing SO well.

What are the best pet safe plants?

Note from Jess: There is very mixed information on this topic and there are some plants that could make an animal sick that somewhere might be labeled “pet friendly.” Some animals are sensitive to some compounds in plants while other animals are not phased at all. It’s best to exercise caution and if your pets tend to go for your plants keep them out of reach, regardless of the type of plant.

Some additional helpful tips

Watering: Get yourself on a schedule , add it to your calendar to check your plants every 10 days or so. Some will need water some will not but it helps to have a reminder to check in on everyone,  otherwise too much time can go by as life can be so busy.  In general, water and fertilize less in the winter months, plants are dormant and do not require as much water or nutrients. Fill up a water jug or watering can ahead of time and let it come to room temp ( 24 hours or so), chlorine also dissipates in 24 hours. We leave water jugs around the house so we have access to room temp chlorine free water at ease.

Fertilizing: Fertilizing is also important for your houseplants health. Before your houseplant comes home it is most likely regularly fertilized.  Keeping them fed is important. Using Earth Pods is a very very easy way to keep consistent feed without the hassle of mixing powders or using synthetic chemicals which are unsafe for you and your pets.  Earth Pods are pet, human and eco friendly.

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