Actually, it’s my home that is a jungle. I never used to have house-plants because I was a selfish being who could barely look after myself. But around 2 years ago I moved in with my boyfriend who already had two plants (and not a whole lot else) in the apartment. After a while, we went and got a third and from there on the collection has expanded to (pause whilst I run around the apartment counting…)
- 40 living, potted, houseplants
- around 20 propagating leaves
- a bustling herb garden on the balcony
That sounds like a lot to a normal person and hardly any to the plant fanatics but for us, it’s a good amount that we add to periodically when something really special catches our eyes.
Why fill your house with plants?
The Maltese government is obsessed with killing any and all plant life by embarking on ill-conceived projects like cutting down centuries-old trees in order to widen roads and increase car usage.
When we, the people, complained, they told us to shut up and plant our own trees at home. I won’t go (much) into how that’s the most ridiculous advice ever given by a public servant or how a sapling at home can’t make up for the loss of hundreds of 200-year-old giants, but, in any case, the people have complied and I see loads of my friends and Instagrammers proudly showing off their own growing home jungles. It’s nice.
I find they make a house feel so much more like home and it’s insanely rewarding when they bloom or grow or sprout new leaves and you realise that you are nurturing this little thing and keeping it happy.
Quick tips for caring for houseplants
I think when you see big collections, it can be a little daunting, but it’s so easy to get started. You don’t need to become an expert and you don’t really need to know anything to start off with.
If you’re looking to start, or grow, your own home-forest here are some tips to make it as quick, cheap and hassle-free as possible.
- Don’t overdo it- only have as many as you can look after.
- Save money and propagate!
- Plant your food.
- Check for pet safety- you don’t want to poison your cats or dogs.
- Get an app- to identify, monitor progress and learn how to care for your plants.
Don’t overdo it
I know on Instagram you’ll see these plant-influencers with hundreds of plants covering every surface of every room. It’s beautiful, but it’s extreme and you don’t have to go that far, to have a collection to be proud of.
Even the easiest plants take some work and the more you have, the harder it’ll be to keep them all happy. You’ll end up without the time to care for them all, or with an apartment full of pests and eventually a collection of dead plants. Start off slow and gradually add to your brood as you find a good rhythm and only take on a new plant when you know you have a good spot for it and the time to help it grow.
For some people, the limit will be one plant, and that’s fine! Pour your love into it and give it the best life and be proud. For others, it’ll be 10 plants, or 50, or 100. Nothing is right or wrong so long as you’re enjoying it.
Save money- propagate!
Propagation is a scary-sounding science word for something that is super easy and quite fun- makes you feel a little bit sciency. All it means is the process of breeding a new plant from a parent plant. Find a leaf on the street? Chances are you can pop it in some water and in a few weeks, it’ll sprout roots and be ready to grow. We do this all the time with bits of fallen greenery we find outside.
Plus, if you want to spend some money and buy a nice plant, make it into many more plants by cutting a few leaves and propagating them into more, baby plants.
Propagation doesn’t work the same for every single plant so when you have one, or find a leaf, identify it and how it can be propagated and off you go. But for many, it’s as simple as half-filling a cup with water (in my experience, in Malta, bottled water works better than tap) and popping the leaf in, ensuring the stem is submerged and the leaf is not. Clean the water every now and again then plant once a root starts to form.
- Find or cut a leaf or cutting
- Put some bottled water in a glass
- Put the cutting in- stem in the water
- Wait for a root to grow!
Usually, in just a few weeks you’ll start to see a little nub of a root poking through. Let it fill the glass a little so it’s strong and sturdy then pop into a plant pot and watch it thrive.
Plant your food!
Similar to propagation, growing plants from the food you eat is also a lot of fun and fairly easy. Anything with a pip, seed or stone can be planted. Some are easier than others to grow, some grow faster than others but many will flourish nicely and soon be providing you with fruits and veg of your own.
We love planting avocado stones- the plants won’t bear fruit for something like 10 years (if you manage to keep them that long!) but they grow into a pretty little tree along the way. Simply peel the stone, find a way to suspend so just the bottom is in the water (making sure not to pierce the vein) and just leave. Clean the water periodically if you want and watch the roots grow and spiral around the glass before a shoot explodes out! Once big enough, plant!
Check your plant for toxicity
Unfortunately, the majority of plants are toxic to cats and dogs, but it’s the level of toxicity you need to look out for. Almost all will induce a sore mouth and vomiting (especially in cats) but, so long as they don’t eat the entire plant, it’s usually mild enough not to panic about but severe enough to teach them not to nibble it again.
Some plants though, are highly toxic and can make your little furry friend incredibly ill and can even be fatal. Be sure you know exactly what plant you are buying and check one of the many resources online to see if it is toxic and how toxic it is.
With dogs, I feel like it’s much easier- just pop the plants up high and they’ll be safe. But cats love climbing up high so I’ve learned that nowhere is truly safe. If your cat simply won’t learn, you can buy motion sensor canisters that you place near the plants and which spray a gentle mist of water at the cat when it gets close. This is enough to deter most cats from venturing near them again.
Get a plant app
I use “PictureThis” but there is a selection of plant-focused apps available these days. I use it to identify plants- just take a photo of the leaves and it’ll tell you things like:
- the plants common name
- botanical name
- any other names it goes by
- lots of pictures to help you see if it’s correct
- FAQs about the plant
- a description
- how it got it’s name
- characteristics (type, lifespan, height)
- requirements (soil, light)
- care guide (difficulty rating, bloom time, water, propagation tips and loads more)
It’s really handy to understand if you have the time and energy to care for a plant before buying it. I also snap a photo, identify it, then quickly google if it’s safe for cats before purchasing.
But then there are other apps where you can take regular snaps of each plant (daily, weekly, monthly- as you wish) and see how they change over time. That’s really nice, to store the journey of your plants. Often, I don’t realise how much they have grown until I spot an old photo and see how tiny they used to be.