Plant Society (Hardie Grant, 2018) by Jason Chongue is an essential guide to bringing plants into your home, using them to decorate, and most importantly, keeping them alive. Chongue covers everything you need to know to be sure that you best incorporate plants into your home and lifestyle. The following excerpt is his guide to choosing your houseplants.
Gardening is about knowing what you can handle and building on your skills. When choosing your first houseplant, start with something low-maintenance and forgiving while you develop your indoor gardening skills. I often tell budding plant enthusiasts to put down a difficult plant and pick up what I call an ‘icebreaker’. This will allow them to comfortably learn how to care for an indoor plant. From there, they can slowly build up their collection.
If you are new to the world of houseplants, it’s important you choose the right first plant for you. Some of the best icebreaker varieties are peace lilies (Spathiphyllum), devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), Zanzibar gem (Zamioculcas) and fruit salad plant (Monstera deliciosa). These are all hardy varieties and will allow you to see and feel how they react to light, water and nutrition. Consider them your training wheels. Once they have helped you understand the basics, you’ll be ready for more difficult plants.
If you’re new to gardening, begin with one or two plants. A common mistake made by new plant enthusiasts is to buy plants for their entire home all in one go. This won’t give you the time you need to establish the skills required for indoor gardening. Instead, start with one or two plants and use these to develop your skills. Once they are thriving and you’ve discovered what works, continue adding to your collection.
When choosing a plant at a nursery, ensure it is healthy and check it for pests and ailments. Look for wilted leaves or leaves with holes. Also check under the leaves as well as on branches and trunks for any pests that may have attached themselves to the plant. Squeeze the pot to ensure the root system is established. When squeezed, the pot should remain firm and the soil should stay intact. You can also gently pull the trunk up away from the soil while holding the pot in your hand to ensure the root system is established.
Always consider if it’s the right time to buy a particular houseplant and try not to buy tropical plants in winter as they suffer from shock when exposed to cold temperatures. Similarly, if temperatures are high, be aware of the heat when transporting plants. Always remember plants need to acclimatize, so when you get them home, keep them sheltered from harsh light and strong draughts.
A great way to start your gardening journey is to exchange cuttings with other gardeners. This is an inexpensive way to practice with different types of plants.
Excerpted with permission from Plant Society by Jason Chongue, published by Hardie Grant Books April 2018, RRP $22.99.
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