How to Grow Big Houseplants

The guys on Queer Eye are literal ANGELS. They show up, shower you with love and gifts, and fly away, leaving your life transformed. We at Practical Sanctuary aspire to be like them one day.

But Bobby’s reckless deployment of fiddle leaf fig trees is criminal.

Fiddle Leaf Fig Trees In A Dark Rook

He does it in every interior design makeover. He parks a gigantic fiddle leaf fig tree in the living room corner, four feet from the nearest window, where it will look lush, dramatic and style-forward for approximately one week. Then it will drop its leaves and die.

Because the corner of an urban living room is not made to support a large fiddle leaf fig tree. The light and humidity in this corner bear no resemblance to that of a West African rain forest, and you cannot fool the fiddle leaf fig tree into thinking so.

This is the case with big houseplants in general. As inspired as you might be, you cannot go buy yourself a jungle. You must grow one.

How to grow big houseplants: buy a small houseplant, and care for it until it becomes a big one.

You may not heed this advice. You may be seduced by the ficus tree, the palm, the five-foot Sanseviera. You may splurge on one, in high optimism, and admire how it transforms your entryway.

But when it drops a few leaves, and then branches, and shrivels up inexorably in silent pain, you will feel like a murderer.

Houseplants Have Feelings

Getting a houseplant is like getting a pet. This pet cannot bark, scratch, or rattle its cage. It has no way of attracting your attention when its needs are not met. You have to learn to read its cues. And if you do not pay attention to houseplants, you miss–or misinterpret–those cues, until it’s too late.

The good news: small houseplants are cheap. The best houseplants are free; you grow them from cuttings, given to you by friends with big houseplants.

Spend your houseplant budget on PLANTERS. You are supporting local artisans and investing in statement design pieces when you do so. As your houseplants grow, you will continually upgrade their planters, and fill the empty ones with new, smaller houseplants.

Basic Houseplant Care

When you obtain a small houseplant, find out what kind of light it needs: bright, medium or low? Direct, indirect or filtered? (A houseplant which needs direct sunlight is not a houseplant. It is a rose bush. You cannot grow roses indoors, no matter how many adorable miniature roses in charmingly rustic containers they sell at Trader Joe’s. Do not ask how many miniature rose bushes I have killed, trying.)

Also find out how much humidity and what kind of soil it requires. Most houseplants commonly sold in temperate climates originate from places like Xilitla, Mexico, i.e. rain forest jungle. As I can attest from my time in Las Pozas, 95 degree temperatures and 100% humidity are much more comfortable for orchids and philodendrons than humans.

Thus you want to create microclimates for your houseplants.

Example of a houseplant microclimate:

  • Sunny window
  • Light filter (i.e. lace curtain)
  • Plant support structure (i.e. baker’s rack, hanging basket, window shelf)
  • Humidifier (i.e. fountain, double pot, watering can, mister)

Over time, as you learn to pay attention to your houseplants, you will sync with their cues. 

  • Droopy leaves: thirsty plant!
    • Solution: Water it.
  • Spindly stems: not enough light.
    • Solution: Move to sunnier location.
  • Pale leaves: not enough nutrients.
    • Solution: Add fertilizer. Miracle Gro or homemade compost.

Why Grow Big Houseplants?

When you grow small houseplants into big ones, you’re accomplishing several things that simply buying them and killing them won’t do. 

  • You’re establishing structure, harmony and awareness of your own ecosystem
  • You’re filtering and oxygenating your indoor air, thus improving your family’s health.
  • You’re giving yourself a win over time. Wow! You GREW that! 

Houseplants grow big a lot faster than you would think. Before long, you will be gifting small houseplants because yours outgrew their habitat. That’s empowering. 

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