Q&A: How to be a Responsible Houseplant Parent, According Blogger to Kierslyn Kajawa
With Kierslyn Kujawa, what you see is what you get. And what you get is plants—a lot of them. The houseplant enthusiast chronicles her number one passion, houseplants and plants in pots, on her Instagram (@plantedinpots), Youtube channel and aptly named blog, Planted in Pots. Kujawa also brings her knowledge on the subject to Earth’s Ally, an organic gardening product line, as a brand ambassador. We recently sat down with Kujawa, who spilled the dirt with us on the secrets to keeping houseplants happy, healthy and free of pests and diseases.
How did you first become interested in houseplants?
About five years ago, I purchased a couple “easy” or “beginner” houseplants from big box stores (snake plant, a Chinese evergreen and a Philodendron Brasil), and I did some research on how to care for them. Once they were thriving, I was hooked!
What made you decide to start a plant Instagram?
I made some amazing connections (both online and in real life) with people who share my passion for plants. One person in particular not only introduced me to my favorite local nursery, but encouraged me to start @PlantedinPots, an Instagram to share my indoor jungle, and from there, it just bloomed (pun intended).
What are your favorite houseplants?
This changes almost every day. But right now, I am really adoring my Philodendron melanochrysum, Monstera pinnatipartita (or really any Monstera), and Scindapsus treubii moonlight.
What is the easiest houseplant to take care of?
This depends so much on your climate and your personal tendencies, but overall, I would say snake plants, or ZZ (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) plants are the easiest. Just make sure you have well-draining soil and a pot with a drainage hole!
What’s your favorite place to shop for plants?
Lida’s Jungle and My Crazy Plant Life are small businesses that I LOVE. They both have online stores.
Where do you find your adorable pots?
Mostly at stores like HomeGoods. Lately I have started making my own concrete planters, though, and I cannot stop! I find things I can use as molds from Goodwill or Dollar Tree. This way, I can make planters much more affordably.
What do you look for in gardening products?
Well, first they have to work! Pests and disease are terrible to deal with, as I am sure any plant parent will tell you. So controlling them from the get-go is important. It is also important that they don’t damage the plant. So many insecticides and gardening products will make the plant look worse than before treatment. I also really try to choose products that are safe for the environment, especially for my outdoor plants. For the indoor ones, they have to be OK for my dog.
What are your top tips for indoor plant care?
1. You are the best water meter.
Stick your finger down into the soil to see if it is dry or wet. Sometimes the top layer of soil feels dry, but it is still wet a couple inches down. And pay attention to how much the plant weighs when it is dry vs. when you water it. There is really a significant difference! Once you start paying attention to that, you’ll be able to just pick up the planter and know if it is time to water.
2. Consistently check your leaves for pests.
Check the back and front of leaves, and look out for early signs of damage, such as discoloration. It is much easier to rid one plant of pests than it is a whole jungle. You can also use Earth’s Ally Insect Control as a preventative.
What would you say to/recommend for people who want to get into houseplants, but are apprehensive because they have a “brown thumb”?
Start slow and be honest with yourself. Are you going to neglect your plant or over water? Do you live in a humid environment or a dry desert climate? Then pick a plant based on these. And always, always, always put your plant in a pot with drainage.
Do you have any advice for how to best display plants in an aesthetic and cohesive way in your home?
So, a little trick to this has to do with another plant care tip. Falsely pot your plants! Falsely potting is using a nursery pot or a terracotta pot, with lots of drainage, and simply inserting it into a cache pot (which is just another word for a fancy pot). This way, you can mix and match your planters and really step up your decor game. I, personally, like to blend neutral, coordinating planters together on a shelf or in a cluster (e.g. all-white tones but different textures and shapes) with a pop of something fun, like a gold planter or stand. Another really great way to make plants aesthetically pleasing is to mix and match the heights of plants and try to stick with odd numbers.
What are some gardening/plant books you recommend?
“Plantopedia” is my favorite right now! I’d also recommend “Wild at Home”, “New Plant Parent, Little Book of House Plants and Other Greenery”, “Leaf Supply: A Guide to Keeping Happy House Plants” and “The Leaf Supply Guide to Creating Your Indoor Jungle”.
What effect do plants have on your mood?
My favorite thing about plants has been creating a space I can relax in and that feels like a home within my rental apartment. Especially since I have been working from home for almost four years, I also use it as a break from work—to either quickly repot a plant or water some, which really helps break up the day and stop the grind. Anything that can do this is a quick mood booster.
I saw on your Instagram that you have a very cute dog. Do you have any tips for keeping indoor plants alive and well and safe from pets?
Thank you! He (Fitzgerald) thinks he’s a model. I am honestly very lucky that he does not have that much interest in my indoor potted plants. Occasionally, he might sniff at them, but outdoor plants are a different story, he tends to tear them up on the hunt for lizards. If you’re worried about your dog eating your plants, it is much better to be safe than sorry and either check out ASPCA’s list of plants and toxicity or keep plants up higher than your dog can reach. Shelving, hanging plants and footed planters are your friend.
If you have planted pots that are not toxic to dogs and are low enough for them to reach, make sure you don’t use any products that could be toxic. Products like Earth’s Ally are pet-safe, so I reach for those when there are issues, on the off-chance Fitzgerald decides to chew on one. I have read that chili pepper, citrus and vinegar smells deter pups from plants/soil. If you have a problem with them digging in your indoor plants, you could try upside down plastic forks or rocks on the top of the soil so they can’t get dirty.
Do you have any tips on how to revive dying plants?
The trick is to figure out what is killing them. Are they over- or under-watered, in the wrong soil mix, in a pot without drainage, or are there pests or disease? I always start by checking the back and front of leaves for insects. Some are so small you cannot see them, so a magnifying glass is helpful. Then, I’ll take the plant out of the pot and check the roots for any sign of rot. If I cannot pinpoint the exact issue, I will wash out the planter, give it fresh soil, spray it with insect killer just in case (and as a preventative measure) and then give it a good drink of filtered water.
What advice would you give to novice plant owners?
If you’re a new plant parent, don’t give up or get discouraged. You’re going to struggle with some here and there and most likely kill a few dozen or so over time. It happens and anyone who tells you otherwise should buy a lottery ticket, or is lying. Some plants are much harder than others and some are always going to be challenging for specific environments. Do some research about types of plants that do well for your particular climate, the amount of sunlight you have in your home and the care needed, and go from there!