Growing an indoor garden: Tips to ‘Make a Plant Love You’

July 11, 2019

Most feel a sense of accomplishment when they keep one houseplant alive and thriving. So imagine how accomplished Summer Rayne Oakes must feel: She has around 1,100 plants in her Brooklyn apartment.

Oakes — a Pennsylvania native turned New York fashion model, entrepreneur and environmental advocate — started collecting plants when she moved to the city more than 10 years ago as a way to feel connected to the “farms, fields and forests” from her childhood. Over the years, she’s noticed others doing the same.

In the last decade, her neighborhood went from having one garden shop, to having six. (D.C. has also added several new plant stores in the last few years.) She watched as the fiddle-leaf fig and other waxy green-leaf plants flooded Instagram feeds, and potted trees and jarred succulents became the home décor du jour.

“There has been a cultural shift,” said Oakes, who has made a career out of her plant passion and expertise. “There’s definitely a frenzy for plants.”

Bloomberg reports sales of houseplants have surged nearly 50% in the last three years, and much of it has been fueled by millennials. According to the National Gardening Association, the millennial generation is one of the fasting growing groups of green thumbs.

Why are houseplants such a growing trend? Some point to the health benefits, including improved mood and better air quality. Others view plants as an inexpensive way to spruce up a space. In Oakes’ opinion, plants are all about connecting; she views them as a relationship.

If you’re looking to add some green to your space and some dirt to your nails, Oakes has some tips to get you started and keep you going from her new book, “How to Make a Plant Love You.”

Looks, alone, are not enough

Oakes said too often, people walk into a garden center and pick out a plant for its looks. But looks, alone, won’t keep your plant alive.

“The best approach is asking what plant would be best for your space and by understanding a bit more of the light quality and intensity that you have in your home, that’s going to really help dictate the type of plant that maybe is going to thrive in your place,” she said.

Before you go to the greenhouse, figure out where you want to put the plant and take note of the closest window: Which direction does it face? How much light comes though? Is there scaffolding, blinds, curtains, etc. obstructing the window? Anything that interferes with or inhibits light will affect the plant’s ability to make food, and will help the shop employee determine the types of plants that will work best in your space.

What is your parenting style?

Oakes said the next thing you want to determine is “what type of plant parent you’ll be.” Do you have time to tend to a more finicky fern, or are you looking for something a little more hands-off? There are plants that do better when watered less frequently, and those that need a little more care and attention.

Know the signs of an upset plant

Yellow leaves, wrinkling succulents and crisping or browning edges are all signs that your plant could be unhappy. Instead of throwing in the towel, Oakes said take some time to figure out what the plant needs. Is it being overwatered? Is it not getting enough water? Maybe it fell victim to a bug infestation.

“These are things you begin to observe with your plant as you build rituals with them,” she added.

Get creative

With more than 1,000 plants, Oakes has to be a bit creative in where she keeps them all. “Horizontal spaces fill up quickly,” she said.

Consider hanging plants from the ceiling in front of windows, or fill the tops of bookcases with creeping ivy. Save the floor space for trees that need a lot of room for vertical growth.

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