A young woman walks into our shop and looks around, awestruck by all of the indoor plant possibilities. We greet her and ask if she’s looking for anything specific. She shares she has a new apartment and is looking to create a more inviting space, especially since some of her roommates are now working remotely. Nervously, she asks, “What plant can’t I kill?”
This is one of the most common questions we get from people aspiring to be plant parents. At least 40 percent of all of the people who walk through our door start off with this sentiment. This tells me two thing.: First, more people are looking to enrich their spaces and lives with plants. Second, they have not been set up for success with other plant purchases or plants that they’ve been gifted.
Let’s discuss the motivation behind bringing plants into our homes and offices. Even before COVID-19 forced us to stay inside more often, people have been longing for connections to nature and one another. Our indoor environments tend to be filled with artificial light and stagnant air. Coupled with more time working or studying on our computer screens, this removes us further from nature and the natural environment where humans evolved to thrive.
A 2014 Science Daily article cited in a variety of long-term studies that showed organizations and businesses that invested in indoor plants had happier and more motivated employees. In fact, researchers found employees working in greener spaces experienced less anxiety and stress, as well as improved focus and well-being. Additionally, worker productivity increased by 15 percent, a significant increase for minimal upfront costs. With that kind of return on investment, all companies should consider plantscaping their workspaces, especially those that care about the triple bottom line (people, profit and the planet).
The wonderful thing about plants is they are non-judgmental (unless it’s a fittonia, which, if you have one, you know what I mean). Indoor plants can help calm anxieties and build self-confidence. The plant community is also full of opportunities for friendship and connections. The overwhelming majority of plant people that I’ve met are also non-judgmental, open and caring. Professionals and amateurs alike (even on social media) trade care tips, where they got their latest deal, and even cuttings from favorite plants. Introducing plants into our spaces and lives can open up many possibilities for professional and personal growth.
Setting up for success
Before we help customers choose their next houseplant, we want to know where the plant will live (bathroom, living room, porch), what the lighting is like in that spot, their lifestyle (do they travel a lot, have roommates, or have kids or pets), and their plant care experience. We want to set up each new plant parent for success and all of these factors weigh heavily on which plant will be right for them.
Plants harness sunlight (specifically red and blue wavelengths) to create energy through photosynthesis. Some species require more light than others and that ultimately depends on what ecological niche they evolved to fill. If they are an understory plant, they will require indirect sunlight, whereas a desert plant would require direct sunlight. So when a customer is looking for a plant for their windowless bathroom, that helps us steer them into a direction of some of our dried flower arrangements versus a live plant. There are certain plants that can survive (not necessarily thrive) in artificial light, but in a bathroom where the lights are not on all day, selling a plant for this spot would not set them up for success.
It’s important to know about the lifestyle of the customer. For frequent travelers, we suggest a plant that is more drought-tolerant as it might miss a watering or two. Some plants are poisonous (most not lethal, but could cause gastrointestinal issues), which means if kids or pets are in the picture, we want to ensure a customer is purchasing the right plant. Additionally, pets and kids like to pull off leaves or knock soil out of the pot, so choosing an out-of-reach spot is important. Lastly, communication about plant care in a household is crucial so no one over- or under-waters it. A couple came in once telling us how they had this beautiful orchid that just all the sudden rotted. Turns out both were watering it, not knowing the other had already taken care of it.
Watering needs are tricky to address with a new plant parent. This is where experience comes into play. There’s no magic formula as to how often you should water plants. Many things factor into a plant’s watering regime such as how much light the plant gets, what type of pot it is in, if that pot has drainage, the general humidity of where the plant is located, and most importantly, how much water the plant requires. Some plants like to be dry and others always want damp.
Our go-to watering method is to use the pinky trick. If a plant likes to be watered frequently, stick your pinky into the soil and if it is dry to your first knuckle, it would likely be happy with a drink. If it is drought tolerant, wait until the soil is dry up to your 3rd knuckle to water. Most plants fall in between. The most important thing you can do with your plants is to observe them -- notice their habits and what you did when they looked the healthiest.
We provide an opportunity for a customer to ask what they think are silly questions and never shame them for not knowing something. Heck, most of us are learning as we go! We even respond to people on social media who have plant care-related questions about a plant they got from a big box store. The more confidence we can help build in people, the better plant parent they will be, the healthier the plant will be and, ultimately, they will be a better customer for all of the Lowcountry’s wonderful plant shops. Now, go dig in!
Peace, Love, and Plants!