Call me melodramatic, and I’ll call it parenting. (I’m not saying it was good parenting.) I do believe, however, these are moments every plant parent can relate to, both the joys of seeing a plant thrive and the grief when a plant dies. There are also the emotions in between and the stress of not knowing what you’re doing wrong when your plant looks unhealthy.
So to help any first-time plant owner out there who’s still trying to learn how to take care of their plants, I’ve asked plant shop owners and workers, plant experts, and Instagram plant influencers about the most common mistakes beginners make and how to avoid them, and about the easier, more accommodating plants that beginners can start with.
What are the most common mistakes?
1. Misunderstanding your plant’s lighting needs.
Several experts I talked with mentioned that plant owners often forget to give their plants sufficient light. And just because a plant is tolerant of low light does not mean that it will thrive in such lighting conditions.
🌱Tip: Most houseplants do best in bright, indirect light. Generally speaking, west- and east-facing windows offer bright indirect light and are well-suited for most tropical houseplants, says Lindsay Pangborn, a gardening expert at online plant retailer Bloomscape.
🌱medicine: Check how much light your space actually has. Taking note of things such as the direction your windows face and the amount of light coming in will help you avoid buying a plant that has lighting requirements you can’t meet.
🌱medicine: Imagine the plant’s natural habitat. Whenever you are confused about how much light your plants need, look up where their natural habitat is and that might give you a better idea of how much light they usually receive.
🌱medicine: Group your plants by family, advises Chris Raimondi, horticulturist and president of Raimondi Horticultural Group, an interior landscape company based in New Jersey, as plants in the same family will have similar lighting needs.
2. Overwatering your plants (sorry, Ann Perkins, I definitely did this).
Overwatering is extremely common as new plant parents might be sticking to an overly rigid watering schedule that leads to them flooding the soil with water, which could cause root rot and the leaves to turn yellow.
🌿medicine: Underwatering is safer than overwatering. “When you’re confused about how much to water, always err on the side of not enough—underwatering is a much easier problem to fix,” says Olivia Z. Cote, the social media manager of Urban Garden Center, a plant store in New York City.
🌿medicine: Adapt to your plant when it comes to watering. Most plants like to have the soil dried out before you water them again. Instead of adhering to a strict watering schedule, you can stick your finger in the soil to gauge the dryness or use a water meter, suggests Jira Sai, owner of Plant Corner NYC.
🌿Type: Drainage holes are your friend. When you water your plants, pour slowly and stop after the water trickles through the holes, Pangborn suggests. The drainage holes will allow excess water to drain from the pot and prevent root rot. Make sure to remove any excess water that has accumulated in the saucer as well.
3. Being a helicopter plant parent (I feel attacked.)
Plants are much more resilient than we think and could benefit from a little bit of neglect. As experts pointed out, sometimes less is more.
🌲tip: Practice “mindful neglect.” Instagram-famous urban gardener Nick Cutsumpas says allowing your plants the space to experience stress as they adjust to a new environment is important. Plants are slow and “the opposite of instant gratification,” Cutsumpas says.
🌲Tip: Don’t beat yourself up for losing a plant. Interior stylist and Instagram gardener Kamili Bell Hill says she likes to joke that “you never know exactly how to take care of a plant until you’ve killed it at least twice.” You might make mistakes in the process, but “if you learn from the mistakes you made, then it’s not so much a loss as just an opportunity to grow. Pun intended.”