The Unfortunate Truth About Your Favorite Trendy Houseplants
We’ve all seen those deceptively gorgeous houseplants on social media. You know the ones everyone drools over—the glamorous fiddle leaf fig, gem-like string of pearls, elegant maidenhair fern, and cascading rosary vine. They all look amazing in photographs, but there’s a lot more to caring for these plants than meets the eye. If you’ve fallen victim to Instagram plant envy, learn these tricks of the trade and keep your plants alive longer.
Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus Lyrata)
Let’s start with one of the trendiest, most sought-after houseplants in recent memory. Once these babies started popping up in design magazines, people went wild for this variety of ficus. But many a fiddle leaf fig has perished over the last couple of years due to incorrect care. It’s native to Western Africa, where it grows in the rainforest. It has beautiful, heavy leaves and can grow quite tall and thrives in the right conditions.
Keep in mind, the ASPCA classifies most ficus plants as toxic to both dogs and cats—citing oral and gastrointestinal irritation.
Bright, filtered light
Fiddle leaf figs love bright light—but not too direct, as it can scorch their leaves. Bright, filtered light from an east or south facing window, combined with a sheer blind or frosted glass, is best. If you think the light is too much, just move the plant back from the window a bit.
Fiddle leaf figs are tropical plants, so you want to recreate that environment for them. Mist their leaves according to your household’s humidity level. If you live in a moist sauna-like space, no need to mist. But, if you live in a home that feels like the Sahara Desert, mist every day or invest in a humidifier. If you have radiator heat, keep in mind that they create an extremely dry environment. Keep a pan full of water underneath, or on top of, your radiator for a low-cost way to introduce some moisture into the air.
Fiddle leafs figs are extremely sensitive to temperature change—you might even notice a difference after your walk home from the plant shop—so keep tabs on your home’s temperature. Don’t place a fiddle leaf fig near an air exchange/heating vent, radiator, exterior door, or any drafty window that gets freezing cold in the winter. After a move, the plant needs a three- to four-week adjustment period to acclimate to its new location.
Plant your fiddle leaf in a pot that is two to three inches larger than the pot it came in. Make sure the new pot has drainage holes, as roots that sit in stagnant water will rot. Water your plant when the top 2-3 inches of the soil dries out. (You can easily measure this by using the first two knuckles on your finger.) Water until you can see the moisture seeping out into the tray. The larger the plant, the more water it needs.
Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum)
Maidenhair ferns are found in places that are damp, but not always hot and tropical. They were popular during the Victorian age, when terrariums were all the rage. Without the proper attention, maidenhair ferns will crisp up on you.
Ferns are non-toxic to dogs and cats, with some exceptions.
Maidenhair ferns cannot tolerate any kind of hot sun, which can scorch and brown leaves. They also won’t tolerate low light, which causes droopy yellow leaves and poor growth. Put your plant in a spot that gets northern light, or indirect afternoon or morning sun.
Similar to fiddle leaf figs, maidenhairs love humidity. Treat your plant to regular misting or use a humidifier. You can also place it on a water-filled pebble tray, in a closed terrarium, or under a glass cloche.
Moist soil and good drainage
Make sure your plant’s pot has drainage. Keep the soil moist, but don’t let the roots sit in water. Water as soon as the top of the soil begins to dry out. The second these plants detect a lack of water, the fronds begin shriveling up and die. The good news is that, if all the fronds dry up, you can cut the plant down to the soil. If the roots are still healthy and you provide the right amount of water and appropriate light, the plant will put out new fronds within a few days.
String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)
There’s a lot of different advice on how to care for these delicate succulents. The string of pearls is a beautiful plant that, when mature, drapes over the edge of the pot, making it a perfect specimen for a hanging pot. Sometimes plant shops and nurseries market them as “easy to grow,” but if you get a young plant you might have a harder time. Young plants have very shallow root systems, which can be problematic when watering and repotting.
These are full sun lovers. The brighter, the better. Try an east or south facing window for the most success.
A lot of string of pearls are sold in four-inch pots. These are very young plants that don’t have a developed root system, which means they need to be watered more frequently because the top of the soil dries out before the lower layers. If you let the soil dry out all the way, as with most succulent care, you’ll find that the “pearls” will shrivel up. To remedy this, evenly wet the soil with roughly two or three tablespoons of water two or three times per week. If the pearls shrivel up, increase watering. If you have a more mature plant, water as you would your other succulents.
Repot with confidence
When repotting a younger plant, don’t freak out when you turn the pot over and all the individual strands fall out, or if a few of the pearls pop off in your hand. Just retuck the strands into the new pot of soil. Be sure and use a cacti mix, or a regular soil mixed in with equal parts sand. Bonus tip: String of pearls are very easy to propagate. Pop a loose strand into a vase of water and expect to see roots within a week.
Rosary Vine (Ceropegia woodii)
The rosary vine, or chain of hearts, is an elegant addition to any plant collection. Its strands cascade nicely, making this plant a stellar match for hanging pots. Rosary vines have super durable stems that produce delicate leaves in the shape of hearts. But a chain of hearts will give you problems if you don’t give it enough light, or if you over water it.
Bright, indirect light
The chain of hearts isn’t technically a succulent, but it does like bright light. Be careful to not expose it to overly direct light, as the leaves will burn.
Let the soil dry out
Let the soil dry out between waterings, or risk a rotting rosary vine. If you have a tendency to overwater your plants, beware. Make sure that the pot has a drainage hole and water sparingly, especially in the winter as the plant goes dormant.
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