How to start your own indoor plant jungle

Wildewood’s Kate Holl on which plants to get and how to care for them.

As tough Wisconsinites we often underestimate the negative impacts winter’s gloomy cold and indoor isolation may have on our well-being.

This year, when crowding around a cozy bar or with loved ones is a challenge due to COVID-19 concerns, sprucing up your home environment is a great way to combat seasonal depression.

Vitalizing your room, apartment or house with living plants isn’t just Instagrammable; there are real, tangible effects to filling your space with greenery. Many studies on house plants have revealed holistic powers, such as air purification, the ability to sharpen focus, and reduced anxiety.

“Obviously we live in a climate where we can’t be outdoors a lot of the time, so when nature starts to hibernate, it can be really beneficial to bring the plants indoors to get the same or similar health healing effects,” says Kate Holl, owner of Hilldale plant shop Wildewood. “I’ve also found that having something to care for and watch grow in the changing seasons can be really therapeutic and boosts self esteem.”

But before heading to the nearest garden center, make sure you know how to properly care for those pretty succulents or baby trees. We chatted with Holl about her tips and tricks for mindfully starting your own indoor, jungle oasis.

For Beginner Plant Parents
If you are brand new to the plant parent lifestyle, Holl recommends trying a pothos plant, ZZ plant or snake plant.

“ZZ plants and snake plants can do really well in low to bright light, so they’re very versatile … you can kind of put them anywhere and they’ll be pretty happy,” Holl says. “They’re also drought tolerant and actually prefer less water, so they’re really good for the forgetful waterer.”

“The pothos are a fun one because they are really fast growers, and you can see the fruits of your labor quickly,” she says. “They’re also fun to propagate and give away the cuttings to friends, which is also a nice community aspect of plants!”

Snake Plant

Snake plant from Wildewood

For Intermediate Green Thumbs
Think you have the chops to step up the care game, juuust a little? Holl suggests opting for a fiddle leaf fig or calathea plant.

“The fiddle leaf fig is a really trendy plant that is super fickle, but finding the right spot and care for it and then watching it grow can be super rewarding,” she says.

“Calathea plants require detailed care with specific humidity levels and watering. But, they also have the most gorgeous patterns in their leaves, so they’re really a fun one to have.”

Calathea plant

Calathea plant from Wildewood

The Bigger, The Better
We get it … big, towering leaves and branches are really tempting. But trees and big plants often are a bit fidgety when it comes to care, so try it out with a bamboo palm, as per Holl’s recommendation.

“The bamboo palm is a really good option for a larger plant, and they’re also pet-safe,” she says. “And they don’t require quite as much sunlight or attention to detail as something like the fiddle leaf fig.”

Bamboo Palm at Wildewood

Dracaena from Wildewood

Tropical Oasis Meets Apartment
What about my Caribbean island fantasy? While Holl typically likes to fend off the seasonal blues with low maintenance plants, she does like to dabble in exotic plants.

“I have this really big bird of paradise in my home, and I just love the tropical vibe that it gives off during the darker, colder months,” she says.

Bird Of Paradise

Bird of Paradise from Wildewood

Fighting the Misconceptions
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to plant care. Here are a few basics she shares with people who come by the shop.

“A common misconception folks have is that all your plants can be placed on the same watering schedule throughout the year. It’s actually really about getting to know your plants and the container and the soil that they’re in,” she says. “Actually touching the soil will give you the best indication of when to water, rather than just saying, ‘Okay, every Tuesday I’m going to water at this time and this amount,’ so it’s more about getting to know your plant and its needs.”

“Another misconception … and we’re all guilty of this … is that you can place a plant where it looks good, rather than where it’s going to thrive. Again, you want to just get to know your plant’s care to make sure it will get the right amount of sunlight,” Holl says. “And, you can always bring in a photo or send us a photo online if you have a place where you’d like to put a plant, and we’ll help you find the best one.”

When the weather outside (and maybe even inside) is frightful
Our questionably insulated homes may need to prepare for the frigid cold.

  1. “Notice where overdrafts are in your house, and make sure your plants are not near a window that gets a lot of the cold air,” Holl suggests. “Also there is radiator heat in a lot of Madison’s apartments, and that can really dry out the soil and crisp up the leaves really quickly so watch for those units.”
  2. “Another thing is that humidity levels obviously drop a ton [in winter]. Since houseplants are a lot of tropical plants, it’s good to figure out a way to supplement that. So grouping your plants together and introducing a little humidifier can be helpful, or even moving them to a room that has naturally higher humidity levels, like the kitchen or bathroom.”
  3. “You’ll also need to amend watering schedules and again, just touch the soil to make sure that it’s dry before you water it again,” Holl says. “Plants tend to dry out a little bit slower in winter months because they’re not getting as much sunshine as in the summer.”
  4. “If you’re living in a darker apartment, or if you don’t really have a south-facing room where you can put your light-loving plants, then a grow lamp can be really beneficial,” she says.
  5. “Lastly, you want a really good well draining potting mix, that’s preferably made for indoor plants. The draining part is important because to make sure that the water is really saturating all of the roots in the plant,” Holl says. “You want to make sure that there’s some good nutrients in it, and then repot your plant after a few years of it being in that same soil so that it can get another boost of those nutrients that come in the soil.”

Magazine footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"