How to Shop for Plants: A Black Thumb's Guide

How to Shop for Plants: A Black Thumb's Guide

Sarah Coffey
May 31, 2011

I'm not a gardener — in fact, I'm a serial killer of plants, but my dark past has taught me that some plants can survive almost anything. Whether you're an under-waterer, you live in a dark cave that rarely sees direct light, or you're just not very good at growing things, there's a plant out there that will forgive your shortcomings and thrive anyway.

Plants that Can Survive a Dry Spell

If you're an under-waterer, try water-retaining succulents, which are adapted to survive in dry climates. California-based blogger Laure Joliet provides a helpful list of her top ten succulents — she writes, "They're easy to take care of, cheap, easily propagate, don't need much water and come in tons of beautiful colors and textures."

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This San Francisco store specializes in "all manners of succulents, large and small, unplanted or planted, as well as some airplants and bromeliads." There's no webshop — you have to call or shop in person to buy.

Hard to Kill Herbs

Easy-to-grow herbs include mint, basil, and sage. A few tips: plant mint in its own container (it grows like a weed), space basil and sage evenly and leave room between the roots. This post provides additional helpful info on caring for herbs.

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If you're looking for something beyond your local plant store, this mail-order company has a catalog full of herb growing kits, pots, planters, and drying racks. They've also got starter kits for vegetable and flower gardens.

Plants That Can Thrive Almost Anywhere

One of the easiest plants to care for, tillandsia (also known as an air plant) grows without soil. You can place it almost anywhere, and it only requires a spot indoors with indirect light and a weekly misting or soak in water once a week.

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For a large selection of air plants and cool containers to display them, I like Sprout Home. They have locations in Brooklyn and Chicago, as well as a website where you can shop online. The store staff is knowledgeable and can match first-time gardeners with the right plants.

Plants That Can Survive the Dark

Laure Joliet's post on 5 Overlooked Plants that Can Survive the Dark is a must-bookmark for anyone with a low-light apartment. She recommends maidenhair ferns, begonias, mint, Swedish ivy, and a moss terrarium.

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Chicago-based Marco Chavarry creates tiny terrariums from succulents, moss, stones, and personal objects. While there are tons of Etsy shops and garden stores selling similar stuff, Marco's feel unique in the sense that they're like little shrines.

Easy to Care for Flowers

Orchids have a reputation for being finicky, but I'm a notorious plant killer and I've always found them easier to care for than an average houseplant. They require indirect light and a little bit of water once or twice a week. If you're still squeamish, try begonias (just don't overwater) or a vase of cut branches like curly willow, which will last up to two months if kept in fresh water.

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A family-owned mail-order nursery located in northwestern Connecticut, they've been selling ornamental and edible plants since 1950. Their flower selection is huge, and their website is updated frequently with seasonal specialties.

Photo: Laure Joliet | Apartment Therapy

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