8 Genius Secrets From Real-Life Plant Stylists

updated Jun 4, 2021
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Credit: Kristan Lieb

So you’ve mastered propagation, know where the sunlight leaks into your home at practically every hour of the day, and have a color-coded Google calendar for watering your indoor jungle that should probably win awards for both its organization and beauty. You’re basically on your way to becoming plant parent of the year, right? 

Well, not just yet. As it turns out, you might be overlooking one more aspect of tending to your greenies: the styling. Yep, that’s right — just like there are food stylists and interior designers, there are also plant stylists, and they get hired to not only assess your home in order to identify and amplify the best growing conditions, but to set up your plants in a way that make them aesthetically stunning success stories. 

Dying to pick their brains? Yeah, us too, which is why we tapped six pros to give us their insider tips and secrets for making houseplants happy, harmonious, and all-around gorgeous. Grab a pen, because you’re going to want to take notes.

A quick heads-up: Note that any specific plants mentioned in this story or any others may be toxic to pets or humans. “Toxic” plants can induce symptoms that range from mild (upset stomach) to severe (possible death). If you have a cat, dog, or kid, make sure you research the plants ahead of time on a reputable site like ASPCA.org, PetPoisonHelpline.org, Poison.org, or by calling your vet or pediatrician.  

Credit: Viv Yapp

Embrace the Cachepot

We totally get that you may not want to display your pretty pothos in the flimsy, plastic “pot” it came in. But don’t toss that vessel into the recycling bin just yet, suggests stylist Danae Horst, founder of Folia Collective and author of the book “Houseplants for All.”

“Cachepot generally refers to keeping a plant in the plastic grower pot it comes in, then placing that inside a decorative pot,” explains Horst. “This is my preferred way to keep plants — many decorative pots aren’t designed with plants in mind and don’t have drainage holes, which are essential for keeping a plant healthy and avoiding the risk of accidentally giving the plant more water than it can use. With the cachepot system, you just take the grower pot out when it’s time to water, let it drain, and place it back in the decorative pot.”

Plant coach and Instagrammer Nick Cutsumpas agrees, adding that throwing away your plastic nursery pot is “the least sustainable thing you can do.” 

“For smaller nursery pots, I love to use them for seed germination, or to house cuttings to give away to friends,” says Cutsumpas. “You can even cut up a canvas bag and glue it to the outside of the nursery pot to give it a revamped and modern look.”  

Mix and Match Your Greens

When it comes to choosing which plants to introduce to your home, Horst says you should consider the visual blend of plants, making sure you have shapes and sizes that work well with each other and don’t feel too one-dimensional.

“Plant styling is all about the mix,” says Horst. “Try playing with scale, shape, height, and color to help achieve the most dynamic plant shelfie.” She suggests pairing tall and sculptural varieties (like snake plants) with soft, vining selects (like heart leaf philodendron) to generate an interesting vignette. 

“When thinking about a plant grouping, go for ones that grow in different directions,” says Tylor Rogers, plant stylist and co-owner of Arium Botanicals. “You can create a visually appealing display by pairing an upright plant next to something that grows low and bushy. The combination will give your collection a more natural look and feel.”

Level Up

Not only do you want to be conscious of how you combine your plants in your home, you also want to be mindful of where you’re placing them in relation to each other. The key? Varying the levels of your plants.

“Stands at different heights will be your best friend when placing plants around your home,” says Rogers. “Dispersing a collection of plants will avoid making it look cluttered, and will create a visually dynamic plant display.” 

“Plant stands can boost your plants off the floor for more variation in height and also gets them closer to a window,” says Lisa Muñoz, stylist and founder of Leaf and June. “Try using unexpected items as plant stands, such as a chair, stool, bench, or stack of books. Just be careful to protect them from moisture by using a cork platter beneath your vessels.”

Go Vertical

If your big love for plants goes beyond what your home’s square footage can accommodate, don’t forget to look to the walls and ceilings — spots that all of the stylists we talked to called out as prime plant real estate. 

“Hanging plants are key additions if you’re short on space,” says Muñoz. “They help create variation and draw the eye to a different level. They can also serve as natural curtains for your windows. Consider using trailing plants that will cascade beautifully downward, bringing texture and visual interest to a space.”

You can even look beyond the ceiling itself, says Laura Jenkins, Ph.D., founder of Houseplanthouse. “Consider hanging plants from anywhere in your home, including curtain poles, picture rails, and beams if you have them.” Maybe it goes without saying, but always take care to secure any hanging plants safely, and keep them out of reach of little prying hands, curious pets, and anyone else who may get injured from pulling on them. 

Aim for an Overall Vibe

You may have already guessed, but from a styling perspective, the pots you pick are just as important as the plants. Even the most basic fern can look next-level in an interesting pot but, like with everything else, pulling together the right scene is all about balance. 

“For standalone plants, if you have a very striking looking plant, choose a pot that won’t compete with the plant,” advises Horst. “Plants with patterned leaves often look best in solid colored pots, while very sculptural plants may require a simple pot shape.”

The moral of the story: “Remember that not every pot should be trying to steal the show,” Horst says. “In a grouping of plants, try blending handmade or vintage pots in striking shapes, textures, or colors with more simple style. To keep things from looking too busy, choose one or two colors and collect pots in varying sizes, shapes, and textures within those color families.”

Rogers also tries to consider the full look when contemplating planters. “I love potting all of my plants in vessels that are cohesive in color,” says Rogers. “I often choose white or light-colored clay pots to allow the emphasis to be on the plants. When viewing a collection of plants, the like-colored pots won’t be visually distracting, and they’ll almost always transition over to the next plant you decide to house in them.”

Top ’Em Off

Getting your hands dirty — both literally and metaphorically — is practically a given when you’re a plant parent. But just because you love tending to your collection doesn’t mean you want to see crumbly soil everywhere you look at home. The solution? Hide the mess with a few clever tricks.

“To finish off the look of plants, a well-loved plant styling hack is to top dress your pots with sphagnum moss or even chunky bark,” says Jenkins. “What started out as a necessity for moisture-loving houseplants such as ferns has really taken off as a way to add finesse to your planter. Let’s face it, it looks so much more boutique than staring at potting mix.” Plus, she says, that extra dressing can also help maintain moisture, “which will reduce watering frequency and create an increase in localized humidity.”

Add Extra Light

Without a doubt, choosing plants that can thrive in your home environment is a surefire way to keep them happy and healthy. That being said, our dwellings aren’t always conducive to light-loving plants the way we wish they were — especially in the case of a small studio apartment or an interior, windowless bedroom. Luckily, plant stylists are, ahem, shedding some light on strategies to boost the rays in your home, too. 

One of my most used plant styling hacks is to bring additional light into a space using mirrors,” says Jenkins. “Mirrors can be a game changer in smaller apartments. They of course create depth in a space, making it feel larger, but by cleverly positioning mirrors adjacent to windows, they can also bounce more natural light in. This adds extra illumination for your houseplants and provides a more diffused, less directional light.” 

Need more mirrors in your space than your walls can handle? No worries: Turns out, you can also hack your home’s existing lighting to benefit your plant collection, too. “Activating low-light areas of your home will require artificial grow lights, but executing this in a subtle way is key,” says Cutsumpa. “Installing full-spectrum bulbs inside existing track lighting or other standing light fixtures is an excellent way to grow where you’ve never grown before. It will go completely unnoticed and you will unlock new plant possibilities.”

Harness the Perks of Propagation

Propagation can help you keep a strong supply of new and established plants year-round. (Not to mention, it ensures you won’t totally break the bank on your new passion.) That being said, there’s another benefit to the grow method than just a harvest of healthy beauties. Cuttings make for an unexpected addition to your plant styling scene, too. 

“I love to propagate, not only to add more fronds to my jungle but because plant cuttings are gorgeous pieces to add throughout your home,” says Lindsay Wallstrum, stylist and owner of Leaf + Lolo. “They’re smaller than most full-grown plants, so you can really add them anywhere, from shelves to bathroom vanities or even as centerpieces on your dining table.”

Apartment Therapy’s Styling with Plants vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Greendigs.