A Firm and Final Defense of Fake Houseplants and How to Best Use Them In Your Space, According to Plant Experts

updated Mar 29, 2021
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Assortment of fake plants, styled on a table

There comes a time in every adult’s life where they have to reckon with their faults. I’ll go first: I get really crabby when I don’t eat, never unpack on time when I get home from a trip, and dang, do I kill every single living green thing in sight. On the surface, you’d think this would be pretty unexpected for my personality type. I’m a textbook INFJ (give me all the things to take care of) and someone that thrives on routine — I should be surrounded by a forest of thriving plant babies, right? Nope. Reality is any plant left under my care meets a swift, untimely, and often a dry, crunchy death. 

My partner is the total opposite. He’s pretty much the Bob Ross of houseplants; he just wants to put happy little trees everywhere. Somewhere around year four or five of our relationship, though, when I was asked yet again to please not touch the living plants, I decided that we needed to become at least a partially-faux plant household, for the sake of my self-worth and our marriage. 

Here’s the thing: Faux plants have a really bad rep. If they call to mind the dusty corners of a dated, taffeta-covered living room or that ’90s song (Radiohead? Anyone?) for you, you’re not alone. Up until this point, I’d pretty much written them off as something that is nearly impossible to “get right.” That is until I talked with some of the best pros in the faux plant industry and learned — get this — these are so not the fake plants you remember from yesteryears. 

“When [The Sill] launched our own collection of faux plants two years ago, it stemmed from wanting to make sure everyone can enjoy the happiness that having plants in their home brings, regardless of their restrictions — be it low light, busy schedules, small children, curious pets, or health reasons,” says Erin Marino, director of brand marketing at The Sill. “It’s important for everyone to have the ability to bring greenery and joy into their space: real, faux, or both.” 

Intrigued, I picked Marino’s brain — plus, the minds of other pros at Artiplanto, AFloral, and Nearly Natural — to get their expert tips for making faux plants work at home. Bold statement, but I think by the end of this article, you — and even my husband! — maybe on #teamfaux.

Invest in quality picks

Unfortunately, not all fake plants are created equal. Like many things in life, you get what you pay for, and making a small investment up-front when purchasing something faux can save you a lot of money in the long run, especially if you’re a serial plant killer like myself. Turns out there are a few key materials to look for when hunting for a perfect passable fake.

“High-quality, ‘real-touch’ faux plants are typically made of latex, foam, or soft plastic,” says Meg Callahan, social media director at AFloral. “These materials make them look and feel more realistic.” When it comes to a sure-fire pick, she suggests something like a pothos plant. “The real thing is naturally shiny, so a high-quality faux one never looks out of place,” Callahan explains.

The Sill’s Marino agrees, adding that large plants are the way to go if you’re only looking to purchase one or two faux plants. “If you like to change things up on the regular or are a brand new plant parent, you might want to invest in larger faux plants and go au natural with your smaller potted plants, which are less expensive and easier to change out.”

Play with them

It’s pretty rare that something looks amazing right out of the box. Just like you need to fluff new pillows or iron the creases out of those linen curtains, so, too, should you give your new faux plants a little TLC once they’re home. 

“Our faux stems have metal wires inside of them, so you can bend the leaves and stems to the shape and look that you want,” explains Frank Daniel, co-founder of Artiplanto. “Many of our customers are scared to bend them, but we remind them that these plants are meant to be positioned aggressively so you really can obtain a wild, spread-out look. If you want to take things to the next level, you could also add some brown spots with a marker to create slight imperfections.”

Set aside some time to really help your faux tree or plant take shape and look to the real deal for inspiration. “Google images of the real plant, and shape your new faux one to match,” suggests Callahan. “It will act as a guideline for bending and manipulating the stems and leaves until they feel more organic.”

Shop by room

Just like home decor picks, plants totally have a vibe and style to them, so make sure you’re marrying the two when selecting which plants you’ll invest in. “When shopping for faux plants, try choosing your plants by room,” suggests Cindy Venerio, a content writer for Nearly Natural. “That way, it’s easier to stay organized and pick plants that complement your style, decor, and space.” 

Think of it this way: If your home’s decor is classic and traditional, it might not make “sense” to have a very tropical, very boho-esque faux palm plant in your dining room, right? Picking a faux plant that has a sense of place and style appropriate to your home will make it less likely to stick out like a sore thumb. 

Put them in a realistic spot

Similar to how you want to unite form and function with your faux plant pick, you also want to ensure that the plants you choose aren’t completely unrealistic for their new home. “When it comes to faux plants, the venue matters,” says Callahan. “Place your fake plants where a real one could technically live. If the real deal wouldn’t thrive there, a gorgeous faux one may look out of place as well.”

For The Sill’s Marino, it’s all about striking a balance between a realistic location and embracing the indestructible benefits that faux plants bring to the table. “I will say, a trained plant parent can spot a faux plant based on where it’s located; if you see a large olive tree in a windowless room,  you most likely know it’s faux because olive trees need an incredible amount of natural light to survive,” she says. “That being said, there’s no shame in wanting to liven up a room without windows!”

Incorporate real materials

When it comes to really walking the walk with fake plants, a little dirt can go a long way. “If your plant comes pre-potted, add a layer of soil to the planter to make it feel fresh,” says Callahan. Artiplanto’s Daniel suggests investing in a planter that coordinates with your decor then reinforcing it for both aesthetic and safety purposes. 

“Faux plants, especially tall ones, need to be placed in a planter to make sure they do not tip over,” he says. “What we personally like doing is filling the planter with white stones or moss. If it’s an eight or 10-foot plant, it’s a good idea to fill the pot completely with rocks to help stabilize the plant then add an extra layer of stone or moss on top.”

Still provide some lovin’

Sure, you may not have to water or rotate your fake plants, but that doesn’t mean you’re completely absolved of your caregiver responsibilities. According to the pros I spoke to, it’s imperative that you periodically bend and fluff them back into shape and — perhaps most importantly — keep their foliage free of that telltale layer of dust. “If you give your artificial plants the same love you do your real ones in terms of presentation (not maintenance), they’ll aesthetically harmonize in your space and keep guests guessing which is which,” says Marino. 

Mix faux and real

I would have guessed combining real and faux plants was a big no-no, like some terrible “spot the fake” scavenger hunt. However, I’m very pleased to say combining living and factory-formed greenery gets the green light from our experts. 

“If you plan to incorporate faux plants into a space, mix them with live plants when you can to keep things fresh and playful,” says Marino. “This will help make the spots where you use faux-only — like on a high shelf or in a dark corner — seem natural and organic and less out of place within your greater decorating scheme. ‘

According to Marino, if you’re able to pick faux plants that have similar light and care requirements to the live plants they’re grouped with, that’s even better. “This trick could potentially fool any visitor into thinking all the plants are live,” she says.