I love plants. They give me life…literally and figuratively. I started with two plants and now I have over 50 and I am not satisfied. Over the years you learn things about these plants–you love them, you lose them, and you keep on going (and growing). At this point I’ll never stop and, to be honest, I don’t want to. Aren’t plants a healthy addiction? Of course they are. Because I could be addicted to a lot worse.
I’ve already defended Poison Ivy’s love of plants, so today I wanted to defend specific plants. These are plants I love and it’s possible that some of you disagree but we can all agree that plants in general are awesome, even if you don’t like these specific plants. And it’s Earth Day. What better day to talk about plants?
Don’t attack me. I know calatheas get a bad rep but hear me out! I got my first calathea without ever even knowing the reputation they had. I was buying a Christmas tree from a local nursery when a Red Maranta caught my eye. I’d never seen anything like it. The shop owner explained why they’re known as “prayer plants”: because their leaves, at night, resembles hands in prayer. I was sold! I had that plant for about 4 years! Unfortunately, she has passed on. I’m sure you’ve heard about the freak Texas snow storm of 2021. I was there for that. And so was my plant, Magdalene. She didn’t perish immediately but she was never the same afterwards. Hers was a slow decline. At any rate, I LOVED having her for the time I had her. So much that I’ve gotten other calatheas. While these calatheas have proven a tad more challenging than my Magdalene, I’m getting the hang of their individual needs and once you figure them out, they are some of the most stunning plants you’ll ever lay your eyes on.
The best advice I can give about calatheas is that they love moisture. Don’t let their soil dry out and make sure you provide them with a humid environment. The lighting requirements are going to vary depending on which species of calathea you have so you may have to play around with this a bit until you get it right. Some calatheas prefer low light because bright light can either fade or burn their leaves and some calatheas prefer bright, indirect light in order to get their fabulous variegation. Do your research on your specific variety of calathea. The one thing they all have in common is humidity–it’ll only vary as far how much or how little, but you want to be sure to keep this plant moist. You have been warned.
I feel like I may possibly get attacked for this one as well but here goes nothing. In particular, I should specify that I’m talking about Rex Begonias. Rex Begonias also get a fairly bad reputation for being hard-to-please. I got my first one a year ago to the day and she is living her best life. Ruby was hard to figure out at first. She would grow, then die back, then grow again, and then plateau. Once I figured out what she wanted, she started showing out. Ruby has some of the most gorgeous leaves I’ve ever seen on a plant–the leaves are fuchsia, magenta, silver, green, iridescent…overall they are stunning. I never knew such a thing existed. I found another tiny polka dot Begonia for a steal and jumped right on it. Polka also has stunning foliage. Green leaves with pink, iridescent spots–just beautiful. And, like her sister Ruby, she’s doing fine.
The thing I had to learn about Rex Begonias is that they like humidity. I severely underestimated just how much, though. They want humidity more than my calatheas. Ruby lives in a good spot now, but before I practically put her under the humidifier, she consistently had crispy leaves before she dropped them. She was near a humidifier, but apparently not close enough. When I adjusted her position, she did much better. She didn’t start flourishing until I gave her brighter light, though. I had her maybe a foot or two (or three) from the window and her leaves began to lose the magenta-fuchsia coloring that I adored. This was odd because she wasn’t in just any window–it was among one of my brightest windows. It’s the window where I keep my fiddle leaf fig (and for those of you who know about fiddles, you know they need TONS of light). But apparently, being 1-3 feet away from a bright window was just not enough for her. When I put her in the window, the coloring came back, and she has exploded with growth.
I have never heard anyone say a bad thing about peperomias, so I feel like I won’t get in trouble for this one. Peperomias come in a wide variety of species. There is a peperomia for everyone out there–there are at least 1000 species out there! And generally, they’re pretty easy to grow. I currently have four different species and they are among some of my favorites. (I usually try not to say I have favorites, but I love these guys). The first peperomia I ever wanted was a Watermelon Peperomia. At the time, I couldn’t find it in stores and, being a newbie, I was too nervous to order plants online. Finally, years later, I got, not a Watermelon Peperomia, but a Parallel Peperomia. I didn’t expect so much growth out of this little thing, but she’s a beauty. I did eventually get a Watermelon Peperomia, though, as well as a Pink Lady Peperomia which makes me swoon when she produces pink-marbled leaves.
Like I said, peperomias are pretty easy to handle. Similar to calatheas, the care is going to vary by species. When I first got my Pink Lady, I didn’t have her in the brightest of spots. It wasn’t dark by any means, but it wasn’t bright enough to cause her to produce her gorgeous, pink leaves. When she doesn’t have a lot of bright light, she produces cream/green or solid green leaves. They’re still beautiful, especially because they have a shimmery tone to them, but I got the Pink Lady for, well, the pink. Now that I have her in the window (right beside Polka and Ruby), she produces pink leaves on the regular. My Parallel Peperomia, however, has done well not being in bright light. Not just well, actually, she’s growing like a weed. These two plants couldn’t be more different from each other. This is another time where you’ll have to make sure to research the specific species you have. No two peperomias are alike.
I was extremely apprehensive with succulents at first. They intimidated me and for good reason. When I first began this journey of plant parenthood, I was a little too enthusiastic with the watering can. I had not learned that not only do plants not need to be watered daily, but some plants can go weeks without being watered! And what’s more is that some need to! My first plant was the one who bore the brunt of these lessons (much like with your first human child). Luckily, she was hardy enough to bear this weight. Other plants, not so much. I got my first succulent without knowing it was a succulent. It was an aloe plant that I named Suave. Suave has been a lot more forgiving than other succulent plants I’ve had in my care. Because I didn’t understand the watering rhythms, Suave struggled at first. When I started to leave him alone, he really started to grow.
Whenever people recommend plants to people, succulents almost always end up on the list. For most beginning plant parents, succulents are perfect because they can survive off of neglect. Once you’ve become as addicted as I am, or more than I am, you begin to develop habits that are centered around your plants. Before then, though, you have to train yourself. Many beginners don’t remember to water their plants because this is new to them and that’s why succulents are often recommended. I was the opposite with plants and watering. I got lucky that Suave worked out, but I was not so lucky with an Echevarria that I had. I was still learning when I got it and, unfortunately, I overwatered it to where it couldn’t survive. The lack of light didn’t help. Suave has been forgiving with light–in fact too bright and he gets burned. But that’s not the case with all, or even most, succulents. They usually need a LOT of light. I’ve learned the lesson now and invested in grow lights for the ones that need them and now my succulents are doing well.
What can I say about the pothos and philodendron variety other than this: they are among the most tolerant, hardy, and forgiving plants you will find. My first, first plant was a golden pothos. I named her Ivy. She has been in the trenches with me and she is doing great. I got lucky with her. She taught me much of what I know now and I have to say that we have the closest relationship out of all of my plants. She’s absolutely one of my favorites, possibly even the favorite. My partner asked me what five things I would save in a fire and Ivy was one of those five things. I always recommend the pothos as a great starter plant because mine was so tolerant and forgiving of all the lessons I had to learn. Six, almost seven, years later and she’s still here. I was relieved that she made it through the Texas storm. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done if she hadn’t.
Philodendrons are similarly hardy and forgiving. Philodendrons, like the pothos and succulents, are often recommended to beginners for their hardiness. When I was first starting out, I had heard of philodendrons, but I never was curious about them until I had heard of Pink Princess Philodendrons. (Side note: do not let your first ever plant be a PPP–they are usually not cheap). It took years, but I did eventually get my hands on a PPP and now I have two of them. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for pink leaves). But I also have other philodendrons. All of them have been easy to care for, I’d even say as easy as Ivy.
Because these plants are so forgiving, you can do most anything to them. I emphasize “most.” These plants are resilient, not invincible. For example, years ago, I was moving. It was in the middle of the summer and Ivy, who was smaller than she is now, was the last to be brought into my new place. I, unfortunately, was tired and let her stay outside a bit too long because I thought she would be fine outside. I was so very, very wrong. It was one of those bright, sunny days where there’s not a cloud in the sky. Ivy got scorched. These plants can tolerate most types of sun, but definitely not direct sunlight. Luckily for me, Ivy pulled through, and rather quickly I might add. Like I said, Ivy has been with me through every learning curve I’ve experienced. And my philodendrons have been just as forgiving–I’m getting lots of pink splotches on my PPPs.
I will not pretend to be an expert–I’m not even close. I don’t know everything there is to know about plants and there are few that do. Some may know more than others, but ultimately we are all still learning. The one thing we can all agree on is that we need plants (of all kinds) to survive and having them indoors is incredibly beneficial. Yeah, it can be daunting, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s worth it in the end. You will not keep every plant–Magdalene was not my only plant to succumb to the damage incurred during that storm. She wasn’t even the first plant I ever lost, but that won’t keep me from having plants. The fear of losing plants doesn’t make it any less worthwhile to have plants. The more plants there are, the better for us and for the Earth. So, celebrate Earth Day in a responsible way and go buy a plant!