Houseplants are a simple way to add interest and vintage charm to your decor. Newer varieties of old favorites, like the leading member of the houseplant hall of fame–the philodendron, are a whole new world of leaf shapes and interesting variegated color patterns.
Classic terracotta pots are classic for a reason. They are inexpensive, they come in a million sizes and shapes, they breathe, they provide the plant with good drainage…the list goes on and on. But there are lots of alternative containers like tins and vintage planters that take a little extra work to make good homes for your plants but pay off by adding extra interest. With that in mind, here are some quick tips to make your houseplants at home in your home.
Choose plants to fit their location
Houseplants all require different levels of sun and moisture. Look at the locations in your home where they will live and pick plants that will thrive there. A plant that needs lots of sun is not going to thrive in the dark corner of a bookshelf.
Match plant growth habits to their containers and their location
Plants that grow up and are tall need a container that won’t become tipsy when the plant gets bigger. Plants that grow slowly are good for smaller containers in tighter locations. Plants that grow down are natural picks for high locations that would love a cascade of leaves dripping down.
For floor plants, add a base with wheels
Large plants can quickly get heavy. Making them mobile insures that you can move them for cleaning or for giving them a visit to another part of the house.
3 houseplant indoor gardening scenarios
The first locations: Two very boring kitchen shelves next to the greenhouse window. It gets indirect sun, but plenty of light.
Selecting the plants: One of these two is clearly not a player because it’s too tall. The spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) needs to be where it can stretch its leaves and grow tall. The philodendron ‘Brazil’ with its trailing form, is a natural for the top shelf. And you have to have a succulent somewhere. You just have to. Its compact size and growth pattern will make it a long term resident on the bottom shelf.
The containers: They’re not vintage, but they have vintage charm. A tea tin from Fortnum and Mason, London tea merchants, and an Irish oatmeal tin, emptied at breakfast. I used these tins because they are things I love and they will look at home in the kitchen.
The materials: Fine pea stone for drainage, a good potting mix. Holes could be punched in the bottom of the tins for drainage, since drainage is important. But I would need to add a saucer to catch the water and that would distract from the look I want. So, I went for ample stones to collect extra water and careful watering in the future.
The technique: Stones in, small amount of soil in, plant out of pot, loosen pot-bound roots, put in pot and water.
The results: From boring to full of leafy green life and vintage interest.
Second location: Tea trolley, gets some direct, but mostly bright indirect light.
Selecting the plants: Need height to fill space visually. This is a job for the spathiphyllum.
The containers: Two vintage planters from my youth.
The technique: Because these planters were previously used for plants, they already have water and mineral marks, so I planted directly in them. If I wanted to use them for another purpose later, I would plant in a smaller container and drop that in so the interior of the planter would stay pristine. No drainage here either, so same planting procedure as above.
The results: One went on a book stack, the other in a tray of pebbles with my cheerful hedgehog planter (a holiday gift purchased from Cindy Searles Ceramics on Etsy). Rather than risk damaging the books, the taller planter is watered elsewhere and returned to the stack when the planter is drip free.
Third location: Top shelf of bookshelf, bright indirect light.
Selecting the plant: Need a trailing habit, need a classic. The philodendron. Just a philodendron, no pedigree.
The container: Milk glass urn, a thrift store find that is one of my favorites. I use this for everything from silverware on a buffet to Christmas ornament displays, so I don’t want to commit to using it as a planter. I purchased the plant knowing the pot would snuggle inside the urn. The top of the pot shows a bit, I could snuggle some moss around it for camouflage, but meh. Life is short and I’m lazy.
The result: John Cleese must feel like he’s in the tropics.
The catch with using real plants is they need to be fed and watered. Don’t forget to give them a good drink and plant food when they need it.
Don’t plant directly in a vintage or new container you care about or that you use for food. The minerals in the soil and water will etch the container eventually. Use the container in container method.
Don’t mix plants that have radically different needs in the same pot. Dish gardens and terrariums are wonderful, but a cactus and a fern might have great eye appeal together, but they are going to be very bad roommates.
Have fun, be unexpected. Some of our favorite planting containers come from the kitchen–enamelware pots and pans, aluminum molds, mixing bowls. We’ve also been known to plant in Dutch wooden sabots, ski boots, buckets and baskets. In almost all those cases, I use a container in the container.