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Houseplants 101: Everything You Need To Know To Start An Indoor Jungle

Photo by Sophia Hsin
August 26, 2017

With Labor Day somehow just around the corner, everyone seems to be clutching on to the last remnants of summer with all their might. So the adorable new book House Jungle couldn’t come at a better time. We can’t wait to immortalize some summer sunshine into cooler seasons with our own little green paradises. Here’s a primer on everything you need to know before you take the plunge into plant parenthood.

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Get to know your tools.

Raising houseplants isn’t difficult, but it requires a few tools. Not all of them are necessary, but they certainly make keeping plants a little easier:

  • Spray bottle handy for watering bonsai and small plants
  • Scissors for trimming leaves and taking cuttings
  • Watering can to water your plant babies
  • Gardening gloves to keep your hands clean and safe from spiky plants
  • Kitchen tongs helpful when taking cactus cuttings
  • Your hands, duh!
  • Teaspoon acts like a shovel for mini plants
  • Hand tools for filling pots with potting mix
  • Containers to house your jungle
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Finding the right potting mix.

If you want to bring plants into your home, you are going to need potting mix. Even if you purchase all of your plants in pots, eventually they will need new homes, and you might also want a place to grow more babies.

A lot of people think that potting mix is a one-size-fits-all arrangement, but it isn’t. Even so, it is still relatively simple, and knowing some basics will really help your house jungle thrive.

All-Purpose Mix:

Most houseplants can easily be plated and repotted using all-purpose potting mix. However, some plants, such as ferns, hyacinths, and tulips, need more acidic potting mix to thrive. Be sure to read your plant label, peruse the options at the garden center, and choose the right mix for your plants.

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Cactuses & Succulent Mix:

Succulents and cactuses are popular choices for houseplants, but not everybody knows that they need a particular potting mix that has more sand and stones in it. It allows water to drain better. You can mix your own, but buying it is certainly easiest.

Tracking down the right container.

When you start up a little house jungle of your own, you might want to repot the plants you bring home. Many commercial plants are a bit too cozy in their pots and will be happy to have a slightly larger "apartment." Your décor will also benefit from containers that are prettier than standard plastic pots.

Most plants need a container with drainage holes so they don’t become waterlogged. Plastic and ceramic pots will keep the soil moist for longer, but succulents and cactuses often fare better in terra-cotta pots, which let the soil dry out more quickly. A new container should be an inch or two larger all around than the last, to give roots room to grow.

Your plants will also need dishes or trays to protect your surfaces from water. Another option is to nestle the plastic pot within a prettier container. Make sure to empty any excess that collects here to prevent plants from sitting in water.

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Choosing the right plant.

Hanging plants:

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Macramé has come back into fashion and with it a great way to decorate with houseplants. There are lots of hanging planters out there to turn your plants into wall art. (Or you could have a go at making one yourself!) These look fantastic with sculptural succulents and trailing plants. Handy when you run out of surfaces to put plants on!

Long, trailing plants:

Plants that grow over the edge of the container and tumble downward (such as string-of-pearls plants and ivy) can be great pieces to add color to unexpected areas of your home. Place them on a high shelf for a beautiful, streaming column of color that’s a little more adventurous than a generic potted plant.

Large, architectural plants:

Ficus, yucca, and palms look great in large sizes. Their natural form offers a pretty contrast to the uniformity of shelves and furnishings, and they add a bright splash of color. Experiment with placing the pots in cool containers such as baskets and linen "bags."

Houseplants are so much more than pretty centerpieces. Read up on easy-to-keep-alive ones that have productivity-boosting, toxin-clearing powers. And if you're scared you'll kill your plant pal by fall, check out this expert advice.

Based on an excerpt from House Jungle, text and illustrations © by Annie Dornan-Smith, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

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Annie Dornan-Smith
Annie Dornan-Smith

Annie Dornan-Smith is the author and illustrator of House Jungle. She sells her hand-lettered stationery, prints, and homeware through her business, Annie Dornan-Smith Design. Her work has also been featured on Hallmark products. She lives in Nottingham, England, and can be found online at