THE WASHINGTON POST – Houseplants are a little like tattoos – once you have one, you tend to want more. And while the lush plant collections you see on social media might look effortless, a trip to your local nursery will quickly correct that impression. Plants not only require real work to stay healthy, they can also get expensive.
There are, however, some strategies you can deploy to keep your houseplant hobby from draining your bank account. “Starting with small plants is a great way to stay on a budget,” recommended owner of Flora Plant Shop in Nashville Kerbi Howat. “Plus, you get the joy of watching your plants grow.”
Herewith, more advice for the thrifty houseplant collector.
BUY COMMON TYPES OF PLANTS
If you’re on a budget, you’ll probably want to steer away from anything rare. “Plants that are more common, like pothos and snake plants, are typically more affordable than hard-to-find varieties,” said Howat. If you’re coveting a specific type of rare plant – perhaps a variety that’s making the rounds on social media – Howat suggests waiting a bit to see if prices cool down. As nurseries catch up to the trend, the plant might become easier to find and at least somewhat less expensive.
BE WARY OF TRENDY PLANTS
That said, make sure you do your homework before snapping up a plant just because it’s trending. Some popular plants are notoriously finicky, such as fiddle-leaf figs.
“These were Florida, outdoor, full-sun landscape plants,” explained CEO and founder of NYC Plant Doctor Christopher Satch, and an adjunct professor at the New York Botanical Garden. In other words, it takes a lot of effort to keep them alive indoors, especially in sub-
Other plants, such as certain variations of monstera, anthurium and philodendron, are experiencing high prices due to increased demand. “These plants, like diamonds, are not rare, but have been Insta-glamorised,” said Satch. “(But) their prices will crash once the big-time plant growers start mass-producing them.”
You shouldn’t pick houseplants based on price alone, since a bargain-basement variety that dies right away isn’t a deal at all. “When you’re looking for an affordable plant on a budget it’s pretty important not just to go for cheap, but also for indestructible,” said Lee Griffith, who runs the popular TikTok account @kill_this_plant.
PRIORITISE HEARTIER PLANTS
Griffith suggests low-maintenance plants that can handle varying light needs and inconsistent watering, such as dracaenas, which come in a range of sizes and shapes. “The Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans), doesn’t get enough love for how inexpensive, hardy and versatile it is,” Griffith said.
SKIP THE CLEARANCE SECTION
It can be tempting to browse the sale rack, but that’s a mistake for most plant owners.
Rescue or sale plants are typically sick, explained Griffith, who adds that any pests on these sale plants might cause you to infect the rest of your collection as well.
CHOOSE PLANTS THAT ARE EASY TO PROPAGATE
Another great way to increase your plant collection on a budget: Learn to propagate your plants. One plant can turn into many – especially if you choose the right type.
“If you’re willing to let something take over an entire shelf … you can’t go wrong with a tradescantia zebrina,” also known as an inch plant, said Griffith. “You can take a cutting from this plant, stick it back in the soil, or put it in water and it will root in a matter of days. After about a year you’ll have so much of this plant you won’t know what to do with it.”
Other varieties that are particularly easy to propagate include ferns, pothos, hoya, kalanchoe and pilea peperomioides.
PLAN FOR ADDITIONAL EXPENSES
“Plants, like all living things, are susceptible to pests and illness,” said Howat. “It’s something that all plant owners should keep an eye on and be aware of as a possibility.”
You might need to buy treatment options (such as neem oil spray), higher-quality soil or new pots. But for the most part, said Howat, plant-health issues require more time and attention than they do money.
BE STRATEGIC ABOUT BIGGER PLANTS
Oversized plants are a fun way to add lots of green to your space all at once, but it’s important to choose the right one.
“If you’re looking to show off to your friends with a huge statement plant, you need to get your hands on my favourite, the monstera deliciosa,” said Griffith, because it’s easy to care for, inexpensive for its size and fast-growing. He recommends finding a “large form” monstera – which will have shorter gaps between nodes on the stem, a sign that it can reach a bigger size.
Certain types of dracaenas can also get quite tall. Plus, they’re relatively affordable and can tolerate most light conditions. If you really have your heart set on something like a fiddle-leaf fig, Griffith recommended opting for a rubber tree instead. “The rubber tree is in the same genus, the ficus,” he explained, “but is much more forgiving than the temperamental fiddle-leaf fig.” If you’re looking for inexpensive houseplants, it’s okay to stop by big-box stores. They typically offer popular plants at much lower prices than independent shops, but you’ll want to be wary of quality. “If you know what a good plant looks like, you can get a bargain there,” said Satch. “I bought a fluffy ruffles fern 20 years ago, and it’s still going!”
SHOP AT BIG-BOX STORES
Before bringing home a big-box plant, Satch recommends inspecting under the leaves for mites or other pests, as well as checking the leaves for fungi. “If you see browning or crisping leaves, especially if the brown has a yellow border, then it’s a fungal infection,” he said. “Always select the fullest, most robust plant with active new growth. The fewer problems or fixer-uppers you bring in, the easier it will be to keep your collection in top shape.”
GET CREATIVE WITH POTS
As your plants grow and thrive, you’ll need to spend more money to repot them. But don’t throw away your old pots or feel pressured to fill them immediately. Instead, keep them for reuse in the future, or consider swapping empty pots with friends as needed.
There are also ways to be budget-conscious while shopping for planters. “Terracotta is typically the most affordable when it comes to pottery,” said Howat, “and there are beautiful options available that aren’t the standard orange clay”. Griffith recommends watching for planter sales at the end of summer.
SPLIT COSTS WITH YOUR FRIENDS
One of the best ways to expand your plant collection is by making friends with other plant lovers. Not only can you swap clippings and propagated plants, you can also plan your purchases together. Griffith recommends splitting shipping costs, especially if you’re interested in buying hard-to-find plants online, then propagating them.
“This is a great way to expand your plant collection quickly, at a low cost,” he said. “Provided your friends don’t kill the plants, of course.”