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How to Be a Good Houseplant Parent

By Joanne Elves

Winter in Alberta is famously fun for outdoorsy types. But even avid skiers, fat bikers and snowmobilers need a little R&R at home. Spending time tending to houseplants can elevate  your mood and reduce stress on the season’s most blustery days. 

Of course, it’s important to choose the right plants and produce for your home’s growing conditions. But with a bit of knowledge and patience, cultivating an indoor garden can be as easy as adding water and watching things grow.

Being surrounded by healthy houseplants can brighten anyone’s day. But sickly or unmanaged plants can do the opposite. So just like welcoming a new pet, it’s best to consider species, available space and overall commitment before bringing plants into your abode. 

Sheryl Normandeau, a Calgary-based AMA member and author of the Guides for the Prairie Gardener book series, advises that you get a sense of where you’ll put your plants before heading to the garden centre. At the nursery, read labels to see how much light each plant needs. Many can tolerate low light, but others prefer direct exposure in a south-facing window. Leafy golden pothos, for example, likes bright, indirect sunlight, and will show you when it’s happy: The heart-shaped leaves display deep-yellow streaks. 

If you’ve got a lot of space to fill, the dramatic Swiss cheese-like leaves of the monstera deliciosa lend tropical flair. For smaller spaces, Normandeau likes dainty African violets. “The cheerful blooms are long-lasting and showy,” she says. “Just be careful when you water them. The leaves don’t like lingering water droplets.”

It’s very important not to overwater your plants. Though each species has its own needs, a rule of thumb is to water when the soil feels dry to the touch. “And make sure the container has good drainage,” Normandeau says. “Roots sitting in boggy soil will not make for a perky plant.”  

1. Each time you water a plant, rotate it by a quarter turn to ensure all sides get some sun. 

2. Houseplants don’t like extreme temperature changes. Avoid placing them near vents, radiators and drafty windows.

3. Most plants don’t actively grow during winter, and don’t need to be watered as often.

4. If you have small children or pets, be mindful of plants like lilies, jade plants and philodendrons, which are toxic if eaten. 

Join AMA’s Good to Grow community to connect with Albertans and share tips for growing plants at home!