Choosing and caring for house plants is a science. The amount of natural light your apartment receives, the humidity level of your climate, and how much space you have to spare are all factors when it comes to selecting the best plants for your home.
I’ve mentioned before that my apartment is on the ground floor with buildings surrounding us on all sides, meaning our natural light is minimal and indirect. While I absolutely adore houseplants, I’ve been hesitant to venture beyond our virtually indestructible snake plant, which requires low light and infrequent watering. (It’s seriously the best plant for lazy people.)
To get a better education on choosing the right house plants, I turned to the greenest thumbs I know: my dear friend and avid plant mama Emily Goldberg, a visual designer for Kate Spade, and her amazing mother, Tara Vincenta, an award-winning landscape architect based in Connecticut. Although as a kid, Emily was hardly thrilled to accompany Tara to job sites, nor when Tara would pull over the car to snap photos of uniquely patterned tree bark, Emily’s exposure to plant life and care ultimately made a lasting impression. Emily is now a self-proclaimed plant lady, caring for a small jungle of cacti, succulents and various other leafy beauties in her chic Clinton Hill, Brooklyn apartment.
Emily and Tara were awesome enough to sit down with me to chat about house plants, plant care, and cool ways to display your green babies. We had a fabulous time dorking out about all things plants and snapping some fun photos for you to enjoy.
Read on for insightful plant recommendations and tips for choosing and caring for house plants of your own!
On choosing plants for an apartment
Tara: You want low light that doesn’t need a lot of tending. Sansevieria, also known as a snake plant, is one of the best ones. There are varieties that are plain green, there are varieties that have white margins or yellow margins, so you can decide whatever appeals to you. You don’t need to water them very often.
Emily: I water mine about every month and a half. And then every time [my mom] comes she rotates it to distribute the light.
Tara: Also what’s important is knowing what kind of conditions you have in your apartment. If you’re lucky enough to have a lot of light, that’s terrific, and then you can choose something that has higher light requirements. But then what you also have to understand is that they’re going to dry out faster and you’re going to need to water them more often. Unless you’re choosing a succulent. They need a little bit of light, but not very much water, so as long as you have some bright light, they’ll do well.
I also think that if people have a little bit of light in a Manhattan apartment and the space, there’s nothing like a palm tree to make you feel a little warmer.
Emily: It does something to you. It’s such an emotional tree. It signifies relaxation.
Tara: There are palms that require less light than others. But you do need a little room for them to spread out. There are some other dwarf varieties, like a dwarf date palm or a sago palm. They don’t get huge but you still need a little room for them.
Plants that fair well in low light
Tara: Jade plants are a type of succulent and are so fabulous. They’re gorgeous and make such a statement. And aloe is something that everyone should have around for medicinal purposes. Bromeliads are similar to succulents. They’re exotic and beautiful.
I have had success in my own home with peace lilies, also known as spathiphyllum. I love them because you can get them in a plain green leaf or a verigated leaf, like a silver form. They throw a beautiful white blossom and are extremely hearty. They do need to be watered probably more often than other plants, but they’re very easy to take care of. A silver queen is one of my favorites.
And then there’s the ubiquitous spider plant. I grew that in my studio in college. Those things will live in practically no light. [They’re perfect to put] on a shelf that’s up high.
Another plant that’s good in low light situations is an areca palm. Those are another really easy one to grow. A ZZ plant is one of the lowest light types of plants that you can get for an apartment. It looks kind of like a fern but it has leathery leaves. Plants that don’t need a lot of watering usually have some kind of leathery texture, like a snake plant or a cactus, because they’re holding water.
Emily: I’ve always wanted a rubber tree. They’re so cute, I love the color. It’s more of a dark green but the underside of the leaves are sometimes a little pink-y. In person the leaves are really stiff.
On choosing plants based on available space
Emily: I had a fiddle leaf fig tree in my bedroom in my [last] apartment and we were kind of downsizing from my other place [to our current place]. We already have such a jungle that I had to give it away. It was between that and our floor lamp, and the floor lamp won.
Every time I’m at the flower market, all I want to do is just get a big banana palm tree and monstera leaves. That’s plant goals. One day, in a bright sunny corner in my home, I’ll have that big pretty green tree.
On bringing nature into one’s home
Tara: I love plants with beautiful veining and markings. Those are the things that draw you in to stop and take a moment to appreciate nature. I try to do that in my business as a landscape architect, I always try to remember that I’m reconnecting people with the earth, to take a moment from their busy lives and just chill and look at all the beauty that surrounds them. And even if you live in a tiny apartment in Manhattan, you can do the same. You can love them and take care of them, but in the meantime you can start small and really appreciate those things.
The other thing I think is just fun to do is to go to the botanical gardens and look at plants and see what really speaks to you. You can learn about their light conditions there and a lot of times you can even buy them in the gift shops there.
It’s all so personal. There are endless [plant] varieties to choose from. I think that’s what is so incredible about nature.
On plants in bathrooms
Emily: I don’t have a window in my bathroom, so I put one of those little succulents in there. I’m kind of doing a test run: I might just take it out of the bathroom and give it light during the day while I’m at work for a day or two and put it back in so I’m not completely starving it. If it doesn’t need that much, it might just be a matter of pulling out every once in a while to give it some sun. It just adds something nice in a bathroom.
Tara: I’m not a big fan of plants in the bathroom, I’ll be honest. I don’t have a lot of light in my bathroom, maybe that’s what it is. But it all depends on your light situation. If you have a big, bright, beautiful bathroom, you could make anything work. I will say, though, that a white orchid would be beautiful in a bathroom.
On displaying your plants
Tara: The other thing that makes the statement is not only the plant but how you’re displaying it. There’s so much beautiful pottery out there. There’s nothing more classic than a clay pot but at the same time terracota pots are awesome. Emily’s got her little collection of cactus grouped together.
Emily: It’s my terracotta moment.
Tara: There’s such beautiful pottery out there that you can mix and match and make something really interesting and textural. Or you can also keep it very ultra modern.
Emily: My plant addiction goes hand-in-hand with my following ceramic artists that I see on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. There are so many artists on Etsy too. Like Group Partner, I want one of the lady pots in every design.
I love that this whole plant people thing goes hand-in-hand with the people who are making the planters. And it’s like we’re all in it together kind of thing, because we all want our plants to look good. I feel like I keep buying plants because there are pots I want to put them in.
Tara: When it comes to succulents, there are so many different varieties that you can go to a supplier and pick out whatever appeals to you–they come in greyish-green leaves, and chartreuse yellow, and darker green–usually all of them bloom at some time. And you can combine them in a lot of different ways. You can put them in a container and get really creative with that too to create sort of an indoor garden. Or you can put a single one in a pot for a more simple statement, which is nice too.
Tara: With succulents, once they’re in a pot, they don’t really like to be transplanted.
Emily: But if it’s a leafier plant, those ones are actually growing. If you’re supposed to expect a mass amount of growth, then you’ll be able to tell if it’s starting to overflow over what you have it in. You have to give the roots more room to grow. When you transfer it to a new pot, you want the soil to settle, so I just run it under water and let it drain once, so the air spaces close up.
A lot of these cute planters don’t have drain holes, so you have to put a layer of river rocks at the bottom, followed by a layer of gravel and then some filter fabric and then the soil. Then when you water it, the water has somewhere to go and it doesn’t rot your plant.
On caring for your plants
Tara: When you pay attention to your plants, they just thrive. If you think of them like your babies, they do really well. You have to check behind their ears, clean them up, and dust them so they can breathe. If it starts to grow something that’s making it sick, you should repot it. You have to make sure you have drainage no matter what kind of plant you have.
Emily: I’m pretty low maintenance [when it comes to choosing plants]. I like to enjoy plants aesthetically more than I like nurturing them. I have alerts set up on my phone to help me remember to water my plants.
Tara: Cacti hardly need much of anything. You just water it a tiny bit. The soil will completely dry out, you don’t want to soak a cactus.
Emily: When a lot of my cacti were dying, I think it was because I had them in too much light but I wasn’t watering them enough for how much sun they were getting. The baby moon cacti aren’t natural, so they don’t really last. I’ve had a graveyard of them. They’re fun to have and luckily they’re only $4 or $5, so you can just keep replacing them.
Resources for plants
New York City’s flower market on 28th between 6th & 7th (Emily’s faves: Planter Resource – wholesaler; B&J; Paradise Foliage [Emily: They have a whole wall of different succulents and will put together a little succulent garden for you.])
Home Depot (Tara: You can order plants really cheap online from Home Depot – they’ll ship them to you!)
Resources for planters/favorite designers
The Object Enthusiast
The Primary Essentials
New York City’s flower market on 28th between 6th & 7th (Emily’s faves: Jamali; B&J; & Planter Resource)
SHOP THE STORY
Book of Palms // Octahedron Ring Planter by Eric Trine // Case Study Plant Stand by Modernica // Light Banana Pot by Group Partner // IKEA Senap planter in pink // Earthenware Wood Base Planter by Threshhold at Target
peace, love & neon,