Elements of plants care: How to choose the right houseplant


Sometimes people go in blind to a nursery not knowing what they need or want and end up with a mystery plant. If that's the case, make sure you've read my earlier post You just bought a houseplant, so now what? If you want to be a successful houseplant owner, I think the best practice is to do a little research BEFORE going to the garden center and know what kinds of plants suit your needs and if you'll be able to give it the best home. This is, of course, a blog post geared towards folks who are still cultivating their green thumbs. After keeping plants for a year or two, you will probably be adept and knowing what plants will fit into your home and lifestyle.

In this post, I'll give you a few tips on choosing the best plant for you and your living space, as well as how to choose a healthy plant at the garden center/nursery. There are a few things to consider when choosing a houseplant:

  • Your level of experience - are you a beginner and don't know where to start? Consider some of these plants! You probably want to make sure you're not getting in over your head if you're still a fresh plant parent! I highly recommend a sturdier plant that will bolster your confidence. If you want a challenge: ferns, fittonias, calatheas, orchids, carnivorous plants are just a few that can be a great experience in learning how to care for plants with very particular needs.

  • Location in your home + size of plant - is there a space you want to fill in your house? You don't want to put a Monstera deliciosa in a spot that won't accommodate it's sprawling, mature form. Likewise, if you have a large area to fill, I think one or two big plants look good compared to a bunch of compact plants. It comes down to personal preference, of course! Just make sure you have the space for whatever plant you choose. Consider how large it will get and if you will have the space for it long-term. I also like to consider how the plant will look with my other plants and how I might want to display it or group with it's other green pals.

  • Lighting - this is probably THE MOST IMPORTANT factor in choosing a plant. Can you provide adequate light for it? Lighting is everything. You can have the most expensive potting mix and plant food, the nicest planters, fancy humidifiers, and rain water you collected yourself... all of that will mean nothing if your plant doesn't get proper lighting. For example, I personally can't keep many succulents or cacti

  • Humidity - most plants are equipped to handle standard household humidity (which is typically around 40%), but if you’re purchasing a plant that has higher humidity needs, consider if you need to make adjustments to your household humidity levels. You may need to invest in a humidifier, make a pebble tray, place plant in the bathroom, or even purchase a terrarium!

My plant pal Cristin choosing some different plants at Hewitt Garden & Design Center in Franklin, TN.

My plant pal Cristin choosing some different plants at Hewitt Garden & Design Center in Franklin, TN.

I know a few people who love to go to the clearance section of nurseries and choose sickly plants to nurse them back to health at home. It's totally awesome if that's your cause, but I personally don't like to take my chances. The healthier the plant is when you first buy it, the more likely you'll have success with it and it will continue to stay healthy. I guess my advice would be: if you're new to the plant world, stick with the healthy plants. Once you've gained more confidence and experience, then you can play nurse. ;) But at the end of the day, do what makes you happy and if you think you can save a plant, by all means do it! I love seeing successful plant stories! All that said, here are some tips for choosing a healthy plant:

  • Check to see if the plant has many yellow or browning leaves, brown crispy tips, or browning edges. These are indicators that the plant has suffered uneven watering or dry air. These are usually fixable issues, but it could also be a warning that there's root damage. I try to stay away from a plant that has a lot of yellow leaves, because chances are the roots are suffering greatly.

  • Check for any fungal or bacterial infections - these usually look like large, brownish splotches in the center or margins of the leaves. Fungus spreads, and I don't want to mess with that!

  • Once you've confirmed that the foliage is healthy, investigate the plant for pests! Common nursery pests are mealybugs, scale, thrips, and spider mites. They will destroy your plant and if you bring these bad boys into your home, will quickly infect your other plants. I always isolate plants when I bring them home, even if I don’t see any pests on ‘em - you never know when they might pop up.

  • If you are buying a plant known for its ornamental flowers, choose one that has mostly buds instead of open flowers. The buds will open at home and the blooms will last longer.

Even the best plant nurseries sometimes have sick or infested plants! Make sure you check plants before you bring them home.

Even the best plant nurseries sometimes have sick or infested plants! Make sure you check plants before you bring them home.