Home Is Where the Houseplants Are
A get-started guide to decorating with plants
Whether you have a tidy bungalow, a sprawling rambler, a coastal Cape Cod, or a stately Colonial, there is one decorating trend that never goes out of style, always adds a pop of color to your area, and has an added benefit of helping clean the air and make your home healthier (can’t say THAT about that wallpaper border or Harvest Gold fixtures, now can you?).
That magical design accent (or even magical focal point)? Plants!
Not only are plants an easy and inexpensive way to bring life and color to a space, they are great for your health and well-being.
Studies have shown that indoor plants can improve concentration and productivity by up to 15 percent, reduce stress levels, and boost your mood. Plus, plants, like pets, can also help with loneliness and depression. Taking care of a living thing, helping it grow and thrive (and yes, even talking to it), creates a sense of purpose and is rewarding.
And it isn’t just our mental health houseplants can help with—it’s also our physical health and the health of our environment. Plants spend their time “breathing” like us, but in reverse: while we take in oxygen and emit carbon dioxide; plants absorb that CO2 and put out O2—freshening the air and eliminating toxins. And the little green folks are good at their jobs, too: NASA research has revealed that houseplants can remove up to 87 percent of air toxin in 24 hours. They are truly “Nature’s life support system”!
Special considerations: Children and pets
Truly, there are plants for virtually every household—whether you have a green thumb or not. But before you hit up the nurseries and greenhouses, a few important things to consider.
Pets and kids are a major consideration when choosing a plant. You may be surprised at the number of very common plants that are quite dangerous to Pawline or Pluto if they happen to nibble on them—or even brush up against them (lilies and cats, for example, can be a fatal combination).
The ASPCA has an extensive (but not exhaustive) database of toxic and non-toxic plants that can be sorted by plant or by pet type. They also have a poison control hotline that you can call in case of emergency. Double-check if your potential potted friend is a danger before bringing it home at ASPCA.org. (Fun fact: Spider plants, like the one little Pawline is about to gnosh on here, are not toxic to cats...but they can have a mildly hallucinogenic effect. So, if your furry friend starts stockpiling catnip and Chlorophytum comosum, you'll know why!)
Kids are naturally curious, and while a giant floor pot with a lemon tree in it might sound like a great idea (sturdy, tall, easy-care)…if the kiddos decide it is an awesome proving ground for their Tonka® trucks and get stuck with a thorn or dump dirt everywhere, it begins to lose its appeal. Consider plants that can be kept up and out of reach of little fingers, like hanging spider plants or similar.
Ready to start picking out your new best friends? (Hey, you can talk to them and they never judge…ideal BFF material) We’ve asked designer, brand ambassador, and HGTV personality Laurie March to give us some tips and tricks about what to look for and suggest a few of her favorites that she uses in the homes of her clients—and in her own home!
Plants aplenty: Talking green with Laurie March
When I was growing up, we always had the same houseplant – the good ol’ tried and true Pothos. The classic “starter” plant with its endearing heart-shaped leaves, its deep shades of green (or yellow stripes), and its inability to be killed, totally defined my childhood. Our Pothos climbed over bookcases, dangled down from side tables, and even crawled down the shower wall in the bathroom. Naturally, when I moved out on my own, that beloved houseplant was my first purchase.
When I became a designer, incorporating plants into my décor was a no brainer. They remove allergens, cooking odors and smoke from the air – who wouldn’t want that? They add a natural warmth and texture (not to mention color) to any space. And, there’s pride in keeping something alive. But when it comes to decorating with houseplants, there are a few rules of (green) thumb.
First, you’ve got to pay attention to where to put them. There’s nothing better than seeing a plant lifting its chin up to the sun streaming through the windows. We all took science in school – plants absorb light and turn it into energy (it’s called photosynthesis, people).
So just stick them in the window, right?
There’s more to it. Are your windows facing North? You’d be best looking for indirect-light loving plants (maybe Pothos). East-facing? That’s pretty much only morning light, so get plants that say, “moderate sun” on that handy little tag that sticks in the dirt. West-facing? That’s that good, toasty summer afternoon sun – you’re good to go with full sun plants there. And Southern Exposure? Ding ding ding! That’s the winner - you’re going to get the most consistent light year-round and have endless plant opportunities to choose from.
Next, what kind of plant person are YOU? Will you remember to water them? Will you remember to look at them? Admittedly, I adore plants, and don’t mind babying some of the more complicated house plants, but I also appreciate some simpler friends too.
So, my #1 go-to plants are the snake plant and the spider plant. One, because I love the names, and two because they are almost indestructible.
Snake plants (sansevieria) have tall, stiff light yellow-trimmed leaves that run straight up and down and give great height and color to any space. They have a modern vibe, so you can really play with their containers. And bonus points – they’re technically in the succulent family so you can forget to water them for weeks at a time. Snake plants are low-light plants, so they’re a great choice for the bedroom too.
Spider plants are exactly how they sound – they look like a bunch of long, thin spider legs climbing out of the pot.
Put them on a high shelf and they might find their way to the ground. The mother plant grows little baby spider plants with flowers at the end, so they are constantly changing their look – natch, their design. They like a lot of light but won’t hate you if they don’t get it. They’re the perfect houseguest. (And non-toxic to pets, too!)
Succulents have made a huge comeback. I love designing with succulents because you can put them in any room. They liven up a coffee table, are perfect to perch on a stack of books, and look great clustered into a group with their friends. You could line the windows with them – they’ll look good anywhere, including bedrooms and bathrooms. Water them, don’t water them, they’ll still love you.
Speaking of cacti, they’re actually a great design tool. Don’t feel like making a permanent statement with furniture? Cactus plants will do it for you. They come in all shapes and sizes, so let your hair down and have some fun. Like succulents, you can mix them together in one pot, of show them off on their own. Bunny Ears, Easter Cactus, Chin Cactus, Saguaro, Old Lady Cactus (it’s really called that) – they all give off different blooms that will take your breath away. And – you water them monthly. MONTHLY. I heart you, Cacti.
The Air plant (Tillandsia). They’re trendy, they’re cool, I’ve killed so many of them. Moving on.
When in plant-design doubt, go with Old Faithful – a potted tree in a great corner. It will never go out of style. I am loving the Fiddle Leaf Fig right now. With its wide, rich looking leaves it just gives a “come in and sit down” vibe to any room.
Another favorite is the Rubber Tree – there are tons of varieties of this one, and if you’re feeling bold, go for the one with burgundy-black leaves (swoon). Another fave is the Yucca. You Southern Exposure people, run (don’t walk!) to grab a Yucca tree. It will bathe in your sunlight and you can totally forget to water it because it’s drought tolerant. Win-win!
Hey, did you know you can put a dwarf fruit tree in the house? Try it! They love keeping watch in the window during the winter months and will make your house smell citrus-y fresh. Not to mention, add a cheerful pop of color to any space. “Could you grab me a lemon from the tree in the living room? Thanks!”
The greatest thing about decorating with plants is that they all live in a pot – which means you get to dress them up. Let your pots do the designing for you – these days, there are so many styles to choose from: hammered metal, bright ceramic colors, geometric, woven materials, etc. And here’s a tip – group your plants according to their care. That way, if you forget to water the drought tolerant ones, they’re all together, keeping each other company while they wait for their drink. Same goes for the ones that need more water – if they’re all together, they’re more likely to get watered consistently. And they won’t be lonely.
If you’re truly not a plant person, don’t be scared to decorate with faux plants – they’re making great ones these days. So, stick them in the window and let the sun shine in.
But – don’t forget to dust them!
P.S. Want to see more from Laurie March? Visit Get Inspired With Laurie for tips, tricks, videos, and more!