11 Experts Reveal the Unhelpful Plant Product or Habit You Should Get Rid of Today

updated Mar 16, 2021
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Credit: Natalie Jeffcott

I know I’ve personally fallen prey to the belief that expensive or highly specific tools are necessary for a hobby. (Targeted ads on social media and being able to shop with one click certainly don’t help). But it’s important to remember that you do NOT have to blow your budget or splurge on one of my favorite hobbies: being a plant parent. While it might seem like you have to have all the gadgets to be keep your houseplants happy, that just isn’t the case, and I’ve got expert proof! I asked 11 plant aficionados to not only share the products they find totally unnecessary along the journey of plant parenthood, but also to reveal the habits and mindsets that you should ditch. Below, nine unhelpful plant products or practices you should get rid of today:

1. Cool it on the “black thumb” jokes.

Darcie Young Tashey, who’s a marketer by day and a plant parent to over 100+ plants in her Chicago home around the clock, says she’d like to see the jokes about not being able to keep plants alive or having a black thumb stop. “It’s not because I feel bad for the plants, I just want people to have more confidence in themselves! I used to have that attitude when I couldn’t keep plants alive, but it’s really just because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Having an ‘I’m no good at this’ attitude isn’t good for anything and can stop you from trying to learn how to be good at it. Plants come with super simple care instructions — understanding these instructions and having a little confidence in your abilities will have you on the road to being a better caretaker to your little green leafy babes! Just take it one plant at a time; you GOT this.”

2. Don’t let cute decorative pots without drain holes fool you.

Asia Babbington, who offers interior design and plant incorporating services through her business Salvaged Sanctuary, LLC (and just recently let Apartment Therapy tour her mural-filled Chicago rental), learned the lesson about decorative pots without proper drainage from plant mentors Vega and Tony. “Unless you have a drill and porcelain bit handy, cut them out!” Asia, like Darcie, also thinks people need to move away from the black thumb mindset. “For people that always say they ‘I’m a plant killer,’ shift that into the mindset of ‘I’m not a successful plant parent yet, but I can figure it out with the right plant for me, my lifestyle, and my lighting situation!’ I truly believe there is a plant out there for everyone, even if it’s just one and that everyone should own a plant — they are a great rainy day reminder that you can take care of yourself and a little living thing!”

3. Stop jabbing your plants.

Alessia Resta, also known as the Apartment Botanist, lives in a 750-square-foot NYC rental apartment with over 175 plants and does NOT advocate that you use a stick to stab your plants. “Jabbing a stick into your potted plant to aerate the soil is by far my least favorite ‘popular’ tip given to plant parents. You can do so much more harm than good by doing this. Your plant is working hard to grow a delicate root system, and stabbing your soil around with a stick to break it up is compromising that root system. Even if you are gentle, you can still harm the roots because visibility is 0. If you’re having a problem with compact soil, you should be looking to fix your soil rather than using a stick to break it up.”

4. Skip the sun apps.

Bj Stadelman, who owns the shop and plant truck, Hægur, and who shared his plant-filled Charleston home a few years ago, thinks you should stay away from what he calls sun scanners or light wizards. “You know, the apps where they scan the sun in a certain exposure at home and offer insights into which plants might work there,” he says. Bj explains that a better option is trusting your local plant expert at a store or nursery. “Your phone most likely has a compass hidden someplace in its utilities. Give it a good point and screenshot. As a plant shop owner, it’s nice to chat with customers who know their exposure. From there, we can talk about curtains, tree cover, buildings, really anything diffusing those direct rays coming through your windows and doors to find the perfect plant for your space. If you’re buying online, take into account your exposure and how the sun moves through your room. Most web-based plant shops have filters for required light.”  

5. You don’t need one of those pricey light meters, either.

Rachana Pathak, who lives in a Brooklyn apartment with over 300 plants, doesn’t think you need to splurge on a light meter to have healthy plants. “For me, it’s the light meter — that pricey thingamajig that supposedly measures how much light is optimal for your plants. I don’t think most of them are accurate (they’re not standardized or regulated) but even aside from that, as a plant lover, you’ll learn to tell which plants are happy and which are not simply by caring for them. It’s trial and error: too much sun causes ugly burn marks; too little sun causes etiolation; too much water causes rot and fungus gnats; too little causes wilting, etc.”

6. Stop watering all your plants on a fixed schedule.

Cyril Sontillano‘s Monterey apartment is bursting with fresh green plants, but those plants AREN’T on a strict watering schedule across the board. “In the beginning of my plant journey, I automatically watered ALL my plants on a Sunday regardless of what type of plant they are, how much light they get, what substrate they’re in, or how big the pot they are planted in is. A better technique would be to dedicate a day of the week where you’d check all your plants to see which ones are thirsty and which ones need a little pruning or repotting etc. Doing this would not make plant care so overwhelming… but it really depends on what works for you.”

7. Quit aiming for plant perfection.

Sophia Kaplan and Lauren Camilleri are business partners at Sydney-based indoor plant and pot delivery service Leaf Supply (and Sophia’s Australian home is stunning), and they think that the idea of plant perfection is a “really negative mindset that can definitely kill the enjoyment of keeping indoor plants. Expecting our plant babies (that are living, breathing things) to be blemish-free, pristine, and Instagram-ready at all times is completely unrealistic and can really take the fun out of the process. We often have people sending panicked messages because one or two of the lower leaves of their plants are turning yellow. This is a completely natural part of a plant’s aging process as it sheds older leaves so it can focus on producing fresh foliage. So calm your farm and accept your plants for all of their beauty and quirks.” 

Credit: Claudia Salazar

8. Let go of the idea of a magic solution.

Gabriel and Victor created Planta, a plant and housewares shop, and their Buenos Aires’ home is verdant. “If you like plants you have to understand that it is a living being and as such, it requires care and attention. That is why we think that there are no magic solutions such as self-watering systems or products. Although it is tempting to think that this can solve all the watering issues, there are many factors to take into account that these systems do not consider. Every plant, every room of our home, and every season of the year requires different frequencies to water. Nothing will work better than your attention and intuition.”

An image from Marita's store, Into the Wild.

9. Quit tipping random cups of water into your plants

Marita McCausland, owner of interiors and indoor plant store Into the Wild (and whose Australian home is full of gorgeous plants), also isn’t a fan of all the plant apps. “I must say all the ads I’ve seen show completely the wrong thing to do… such as putting your Peace Lily in full sun to help with drooping leaves. That is the quickest way to completely kill your Peace Lily and burn the leaves so I’m very skeptical of plant apps and haven’t found any of them to be good. Even the ones that remind you when to water your plants based on an exact schedule worry me, as there are so many factors at play regarding watering such as light and warmth in a room. It’s not always clockwork or calculated, so the best thing to do is check in with your plants and lift them to work out how much weight is in the soil… i.e. how much water.” 

Marita has another suggestion of something to get rid of today when it comes to plant care: “Secondly… the other thing people really need to stop doing is tipping random cups of water on their plants rather than a really big drench in the sink at one time every couple of weeks. So many people tip their kid’s leftover water after dinner or the water left in their drink bottle after the gym on their houseplants (as they don’t want to ‘waste water’) and the poor houseplants are either getting way too much water and staying wet constantly or the small amounts they are tipping is not enough to drench the root system of the whole plant. It’s a very inconsistent way of watering and the conversations I have with people in my store that say they can’t keep a plant alive… 99 percent of the time this is the way they water their plants. I cant stress enough that a big drench of the root system every couple of weeks will keep your plants healthier than frequent small amounts.”