Hanging from the ceiling or making a major green statement in any room, houseplants are back in style.
“There was a period when the economy was bad and people were economizing. They’d say, ‘We don’t need it!’ But you really do need houseplants. They clean the air. They make us feel better,” said Kifumi Keppler, owner of Sacramento’s Exotic Plants, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this September. “People are realizing that now.”
Millennials such as Tyler Davis, Orchard Supply Hardware’s green merchant, are helping drive a current houseplant trend.
“We’re seeing sales explode,” the nursery expert said.
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Davis, 31, is himself a houseplant lover. He has more than 150 specimens at his Visalia home.
“They’re natural air purifiers,” he said. “Some of them, such as Snake Plant, release oxygen at night. That actually helps you sleep.”
Air seems to be a big part of the current houseplant trend.
“The trend we see is the growing interest in houseplants that filter the air – such as Peace Lily and Red-Edged Dracenea – and ‘air plants’ – Tillandsia,” said Tami Kint of Sacramento-based Green Acres Nursery & Supply, which also has seen an uptick in houseplants. “Air plants are super easy to care for and can be fun to incorporate into unique displays.”
Air plants can live without soil and tend to stay small. That makes them ideal for terrariums as well as hanging displays.
Garden Design magazine noted millennials, who are now mostly in their 20s and early 30s, tend to shop for houseplants like they would for furniture or accessories. They’re decorating with living things.
“Houseplants let you create your own space,” Davis said. “Everything old is new again. People are still going back to the classics. There’s a little bit of nostalgia, too. People remember houseplants they grew up with or at their grandparents’ house.
“Houseplants transcend generations,” he added. “It’s not just millennials. Everybody is getting into houseplants, even my mom.”
His favorite is Snake Plant (Sansevieria), also known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue.
“It’s just so easy,” Davis said. “It’s a foolproof houseplant. You don’t need to be an expert to make this plant grow in your home. It’s also very structural. Snake Plant was really popular during the 1950s and ’60s, the same period as midcentury modern furniture, which is very popular right now, too. They’re perfect together.”
Overall, though, this new wave is not the same old houseplants.
“Back in the ’70s, it was all hanging plants – Boston ferns, piggyback plants and wandering Jew,” said Keppler, of Exotic Plants. “Now, people are looking for something different.”
Large specimens such as 7- or 8-foot-tall fiddleleaf fig trees, an indoor star for decorators, “fly out the door,” Keppler said.
Customers also gravitate to colorful foliage such as neon-green pothos or variegated Chinese evergreen. Easy-care orchids such as phalaenopsis and dendrobium also grab attention – and sales. Such orchids offer weeks of eye-popping flowers with little water or care, even in low light.
“Just water them once in a while and put them in the right space,” Davis said.
How do you choose? Start with the room where that plant will live.
“Choose the right plant for the space you have,” said Green Acres’ Kint. “For example, a plant that has requirements of bright, indirect light won’t do well in a low-light environment.”
Anything that blooms needs more light than foliage plants, Keppler noted. African violets, for example, need bright light close to a window while Snake Plants can tolerate much lower levels and will even survive in windowless rooms – if they get a few hours of artificial light each day.
Anthuriums, a heart-shaped symbol of Hawaii, “are really catching on,” Keppler said. “They’re pretty easy to rebloom as long as their light is good.”
Indoor plants are like pets, she added. They’re totally dependent on their people for their care.
“Outdoors, gardens are more forgiving,” Keppler said. “Indoors, if something is wrong, a plant will decline very quickly.”
Knowing a plant’s needs will keep it happy and growing.
“The secret to happy houseplants is proper watering, lighting and using a good, balanced houseplant food such as Bonide 10-10-10,” Kint said. “Keep leaves free of dust (so plants can breathe) by taking them out occasionally and rinsing the leaves or wipe them with a soft cloth. Talking to them doesn’t hurt, either.”
So does music, Keppler said. “They like good music; they’ll grow towards it. But nothing heavy metal or too loud. Play heavy metal, they grow the other way.”
Many people kill houseplants with kindness, Keppler said. The most common problem is overwatering.
“The plant gets too much water, their roots start to die and their leaves turn yellow,” she said. “People see yellow leaves – and they give the plant more water. It dies. Instead, check the soil before watering and see if the plant really needs it. For most houseplants, water them once a week.”
Plants in low light need less water than those in bright spots, she added. Also, plants in clay pots dry out faster than those in plastic containers.
With a little attention, these indoor companions will invigorate you, Keppler said. “I have to have plants in any environment,” she said. “A room without plants looks stark and lifeless. Add a couple of plants and it really comes alive. They enliven the space and give it life energy.”
Super easy houseplants
No green thumb? It’s not necessary with these houseplants, considered by experts the easiest to grow:
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum): This houseplant teaches you how to care for it, said Kifumi Keppler of Exotic Plants in Sacramento. It droops when it needs water, then springs right back. “It’s the perfect beginner plant,” she said.
Snake Plant (Sansevieria): Known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (because of its spiked and pointed leaves), this is a bulletproof houseplant for beginners. It thrives on neglect.
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema): New hybrids of this old favorite feature interesting variegation and foliage colors. It will thrive in office light.
ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia): Its shiny foliage makes this plant an indoor favorite. It can grow (slowly) into a handsome specimen.
Bottle Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata): Also called ponytail palm, this little tree stays small for years with twice-monthly water and indirect bright light.
Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis): With long-lasting flowers, this orchid has become an indoor star. Water sparingly; a quarter cup a week is all it needs.
Dracaena compacta: This is the slowest growing of the Dracaena or cornstalk plants, and can survive indoors for decades. “Its naked stalk gives it character,” Keppler said.
Triangle-leaf Fig (Ficus triangularus): Ficus or fig trees are very popular because they make a big statement, growing to 8 feet tall indoors. The triangle-leaf variety is the least fussy to maintain; as long as it has bright light, weekly water and temperatures above 55 degrees, it grows very well indoors.