6 Tips for Buying Plants You Won’t Kill, According to This Author and Plant Store Pro

updated Feb 3, 2020
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If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the process of picking the perfect houseplant for your home, entrepreneur and plant-mom extraordinaire Jen Stearns is here to demystify the process.

Stearns, author of the recently released indoor houseplant guide “The Inspired Houseplant” and owner of Seattle-based plant store Urban Sprouts, grew up elbow deep in dirt, working in her mom’s garden. After studying urban agriculture in college, Stearns fell in love with growing greenery and food in small spaces — and she thinks you can, too.

(Image credit: Urban Sprouts)

Since shopping for plants (and learning how to care for them) can be overwhelming even for the most experienced plant parents, we asked Stearns for her best recommendations. Here’s what she had to say:

Shop at the right place

“I always recommend that when you’re ready to get a plant, you first consider where you’re going to go. You’re not going to get good help at a department store, especially if you’ve never gotten a house plant before. Going somewhere that specializes in indoor plants is usually more helpful, since most employees at department stores are outdoor specialists.”

(Image credit: Reagen Taylor)

Identify your plant care personality

“Somebody might be really good with cactus, and another person might kill every cactus they own because it’s not their care style. So it’s important to figure out what’s best for you before you go plant shopping.

Before you go in, think about how often you want to take care of it. Do you want to baby the plant every day, put it in a corner and forget it exists, or take care of it once a week? If you set yourself in one of those categories, you can talk to someone at the store to a identify a plant that’s right for you.”

Adjust your expectations

“I always warn people about going in with too many expectations. For example, maybe you want an aloe because you’ve heard they’re on the NASA air purifier list and they’re supposed to be easy. Aloe IS a great plant if you have it in the right location and it’s the right care style for you. But if it’s not, it’s hard.

Rather than going plant shopping with a specific plant in mind, I recommend spending time on Instagram or Pinterest looking at styles of plants that you like. Do you like vine-y plants? Are you drawn to cactus or giant leaves? Go in with broad parameters for the style of plant that you like rather than specific species. You might end up with a plant you’ve never considered, but because it’s suited to your needs, you’ll be much more successful taking care of it.”

Don’t start with a tiny plant

“A lot of people are inclined to start with tiny plants because they think they’re easier, but they’re not! Little plants, just like little people, are a lot harder to take care of. They usually need a lot more attention, and they’re a lot more likely to eat it if you make a mistake. I recommend starting with something that’s at least in a 6-inch pot, since those plants are more established and will more likely make it through your ups and downs.”

Keep it simple at first

“I always want to pair someone up especially the first time with something that’s really suited for them. If they take it home and it’s really hard for them, they won’t want to try it again! It’s important to find that right plant the first time. If you want a specific plant, you can pick that up a little bit later once you’ve gotten the hang of taking care of your first one. You’ll be way happier with the process in general this way.

Make sure you have a good resource for questions

“My business offers a free text support line and Instagram DM support, so if you have any questions about your plant, you can text us pictures and we get back to you with our best guess about what’s happening and how to correct the problem. Find a resource, whether online or in person, that can offer you regionally specific care instructions depending on where you live. Most care tags are written in places like Florida, where a lot of plants are grown, but taking care of that plant in Florida is super different than in, say, Colorado or Washington.”