It’s early April and my plants are huddled together on a wire rack fixed with grow lights in my kitchen. In winter, when my apartment hardly gets the natural sunlight that plants thrive on as it is, putting them all together was their best chance at survival. Now that the sun no longer disappears at 4pm sharp, I feel assured that my plant-children will get enough sunlight instead of withering and dying. But, cutting back on grow light time so they can photosynthesize that coveted natural light isn’t all that I should be doing now that it’s spring. According to Christopher Griffin, aka Plant Kween on Instagram, there are some crucial spring plant care tips that all houseplant parents should know.
Plant Kween’s Instagram feed (boasting 326,000 followers) is a ray of sunshine on social media—like a window with southern exposure, the optimal type of lighting for plants. Their authentic joy for cultivating their own green sanctuary is infectious. They radiate positive energy in a glittering gown in their birthday post, reflecting on mistakes, growth, self-love, and how their plants have helped them be their best self along the way. Their Sunday morning self-care and plant care routine is aspirational.
Griffin shares their Brooklyn apartment with approximately 224 plants, which they affectionately call their “green girls.” They began plant parenting around five years ago, but their connection to plants goes back to childhood trips to nurseries with their grandmother. They don’t have a degree in horticulture and a lot of what they know is self-taught. But, looking at their Instagram feed full of lush greenery, you can tell that whatever Griffin is feeding their plants—light, nutrients, water, love—it’s working.
“I actually don’t really believe in the green thumb idea,” says Griffin. “I think it’s really around matching plants that fit your behaviors, and your space. I encourage folks not to really think of it as a green thumb but as a green muscle. And so you’re working to get to a point where you know the plant that works well with you and your space.”
Plant Care 101
Griffin acknowledges that achieving royal status when it comes to plant care takes time. But anyone looking to expand their home greenery—or even buy their very first houseplant—can do it. Whether you’re a total plant newbie, a struggling plant parent, or an experienced at-home horticulturist, here’s how to make sure that your green girls thrive.
Griffin suggests doing an “environmental assessment” of your space before you bring new plants into your life. Start by figuring out what direction the windows are facing, so you know how much light is coming in.
Then, you want to know the humidity level. Griffin recommends getting a hydrometer, which tells you the average temperature and humidity level in your space. Then, do your research and look for plants that pair well with what your home has to offer (And resist buying plants for purely decorative purposes. For example, Griffin says they struggle to keep ferns alive.)
“Researching the plant can basically look like you having conversations with plant friends, with the shopkeepers at the plant shop that you’re going to, or as simple as doing a Google search, and kind of collecting different plant care tips to create your own recipe based on your space,” says Griffin. Oh, and if you do adopt a new plant, remember to repot it in a planter that’s two inches larger than the nursery pot (more on this below).
What are the best beginner plants?
We’ve all been there. You lock your eyes on a gorgeous, flowing fern or a majestic monstera deliciosas, and fall in love, only to bring it home and, well, let’s just say your plant corner turns back into a reading nook faster than you’d imagined.
There are three no-brainer houseplants that Griffin recommends.
Pothos. A type of vine that does well in a multitude of light situations, this one’s great for beginners. It comes in different varieties, and it loves to climb on anything it can, from trellises to lighting fixtures. Or, you can just let your vine flow gracefully from a hanging planter or bookcase Griffin tells me that their first pothos is now nine feet long. “She’s lush; she’s glamorous.”
Sanservieria. Otherwise known as the snake plant, this leafy succulent has also taken the less-complimentary nickname of “mother-in-law tongue.” “They are also really easy to care for,” Griffin says. “You do not have to water them as often, because they’re used to arid conditions.” Even though they do well in low-light conditions, they can also live with ambient light. Their hardy nature makes them great for beginners; you can get away with watering your snake plant about once a month. And, you don’t need to worry about humidity because they’re used to those dry desert conditions, so it’ll be happy living in a different room from your humidifier.
Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Last, but not least is this, is the ZZ plant, a tropical plant with tall, elegant stems lined with waxy green leaves. Like the snake plant, it thrives on neglect and low light, so it’s good for beginners or homes that don’t get much natural light.
“The ZZ plant is absolutely fantastic and actually has these little potato-like roots that are really good at retaining water. So if you’re a queen that’s constantly on the go and you forget to water your plant, the ZZ plant is a wonderful green girl for you.”
Plant Kween’s 5 Tips for Spring Plant Care
Repotting isn’t just for new plants. It’s likely the number one thing your plants need when the days start to get longer, says Griffin. As a general rule of thumb, plants need to be repotted every 12-18 months.
“Spring and summer are the active growing seasons and are fabulous times for us to repot our green girls,” they say. “Because they have that kick that allows them to bounce back from root shock. And root shock is basically when you transplant a green girl from one pot to another, you change the soil, or anything like that.”
Repotting means two things: You can either change the soil or, you can move your plant into a whole new planter if it outgrew its old home.
“The reason for changing the soil is just giving that plant some new nutrients, all the soil that we put into the planters have a certain level of nutrition that is good for the plants. And so you may want to give them that extra boost of that fresh nutritious soil. And/or you may also need to give them a new pot that allows them to grow their roots,” says Griffin. If your plant is ready for an upgrade (You’ll be able to tell because the roots may be bunched up at the bottom of the pot), choose a planter that’s two inches larger than its current one.
“And if folks are confused and not sure if their plant needs repotting, I encourage them to just get dirty and take that plant out of the planter and look at the roots. And they’ll just have a better idea whether they need to repot the plant,” they say.
Up next is pruning, the act of taking your shears and clipping off parts of the plant. It may sound a little bit counterintuitive, but if you want your plants to grow full and healthy, then you’ve got to prune.
“Pruning allows for airflow between the leaves, it allows opportunities to propagate plants, you know, taking off those dead decaying leaves that pests are attracted to. We ain’t here for any of those pests,” says Griffin. By the way, common house plant pests include scale insects, mealy bugs, aphids, and fungus gnats, and despite their horrifying names, most of them are fairly easy to deal with.
Switch up your watering schedule
After all those sun-starved months when plants fall into dormancy, your plant-children are probably ready for a new watering schedule.
“So you know, as we get more sunlight, the temperature is increased, the soil dries out quicker. So folks may need to modify their watering schedule,” says Griffin. In winter, I can get away with watering my variegated hoya carnosa once a month. But now if I let my beloved hoya go that long without a drink, its leaves get sad and limp—every plant has its way of telling you that it needs water. It’s up to us as plant parents to do our research so we can give them the care they deserve.
But just as human children or pets have their idiosyncrasies that make them unique, every houseplant has distinct watering needs, and a nursery worker or Google can tell you how often your plant needs a drink. Most plants need watering once a week and you should water until it starts to seep out of the drainage hole. Be mindful of overwatering out of enthusiasm for helping your plants live their best life, which can lead to yellow leaves and root rot. A good way to know that your plant needs water is if the top two inches of soil are completely dried out. Just stick your fingers right in there. If the soil is still moist, check again tomorrow and repeat as needed.
Dust off that foliage
Spring cleaning applies to your plants, too. So, break out a damp cloth and wipe down those leaves. And it’s not just to keep up appearances; clean, shiny plant leaves are essential to plant health.
“Dusting off the leaves so our green girls can thrive, their leaves are their meal ticket,” says Griffin. Dust can accumulate on leaves over time, and that layer can block sunlight and affect the plant’s ability to photosynthesize, which is how it creates food for itself.
Griffin adds that you might want to regularly dust your plants when it’s warmer out: “You may have your windows open a lot more now which allows for dust to come into your space.”
Set the mood
“Folks may think that having over 200 plants in an apartment is just like a full-time job. It can be if you make it, right? But you know, the last thing I would say is definitely have fun with it all,” says Griffin.
Getting stressed out by plants isn’t a beginner’s problem. It’s something that everyone deals with every now and then as our plants react, sometimes dramatically, to their environment, being watered (or not), being moved, and any number of things.
It’s important to be patient, not only with yourself but also with your plants.
“Folks, if you’re anything like me, you helicopter plant parent. You’re looking at the plant and go ‘oh my god girl, she done dropped a leaf and it’s only been a day.’ And you know, it’s completely fine, plants drop leaves when they enter a new space. That’s just a part of transplant shock,” says Griffin.
Moving a plant from a shop to a home means introducing it to a new temperature, different humidity levels, and a different sunlight situation. Falling leaves are the plant’s way of saying “Girl, where am I and how can I readjust?” they explain. “And so being patient with that plant leaving her in one spot and letting her establish her flow and her rhythm is crucial.”
“There’s just so much that we can learn from these plants. And, it’s fun to create an intentional space for yourself to engage with nature,” says Griffin.
Griffin says that practicing “mindful gardening,” the act of incorporating meditation into their plant care routine, helps them not only enjoy their plants, but also be fully present. “There are so many things that take us away from being in the moment, whether it’s our laptops, our phones, social media, TV, that email… And, if you have an opportunity to utilize the nature that you have in your home and create a space for you to be reflective, introspective, and meditate, that’s something beautiful, and it’s been really helpful for me. So, I hope other folks can find that too.”
Looking to make your outdoor garden a little more sustainable? Check out our zero-waste gardening tips.
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