Plant Care 101

The Essential Equipment for Happy Houseplants

What You Need (and Why) at Every Level of Plant Parenthood

So, you’ve become a plant parent. Now what? The way we see it, there are types of plant parents, just like human or pet parents. Depending on what type of plant parent you are, you might consider different equipment essential. If you’re not sure what to get or why to get it, think of this article as a little primer for how to start and if you'd like—level up from there.

Look, we’ll be honest. You can absolutely spend a whole lot of money on your plants and still want more. Trust us…we know. But one of the most fantastic things about plant parenthood is that you truly only need a few essentials to succeed. And you can work with just those for as long as you want. Don’t say we didn’t warn you, though. Once you start, you just want more plants. It’s a proven fact (kind of).

Let’s dive in and cover the essential equipment for all levels of plant parents. We’ll go over what you need to care for your very first plant, all the way to what might come in handy to create the ultimate jungle in your home.

The Minimalist Parent

Were you gifted a plant by that one friend, but you’re not actually sure you want to commit? Are you just tentatively dipping a toe in the water by bringing home your first plant? Or are you just a minimalist at heart who doesn’t want a bunch of stuff to enjoy thriving plants? We’ve got you.

You can start out as a plant parent with basic (and sometimes makeshift) items. Just make sure your plant is as easy-going as you are and doesn’t have super specific needs. Maybe don’t start with a Trumpet Pitcher (which requires more than six hours of bright light, distilled water, and a regular feeding of insects…NBD).

You should at minimum have access to:

  • A vessel for water
  • A container with drainage (if your plant didn’t come with one)
  • A good indoor potting mix

Vessel For Water

We suggest getting a watering can with a long narrow spout to target the water better into the soil, but you can also get away with a pitcher of any kind. If you don’t have a pitcher around, any clean glass, cup, or vessel will do. Just know that more water might get around your plant than actually in the soil, but it'll do the job!

Container With Drainage

Pick a container with👏drainage👏. This allows excess water to seep out of the container instead of sitting in the bottom of the pot, damaging your plant. If your plant is still in the nursery grow pot—you know, one of those plastic ones—you can also just leave them there until they need to be repotted.

Pro-tip: If your pot doesn’t have drainage holes, you can drill holes in the bottom of the pot (carefully! and please watch a tutorial first...). Or, you can use it as a cachepot, a decorative pot to conceal your plant’s practical drainage-hole-having pot.

Good Indoor Potting Mix

Plants must be repotted every once in a while. We recommend at least every few years.

Look at it this way—the potting mix in a container is at its peak on day one and from there, it's just getting drained of nutrients and its overall quality is degrading.

It's not being replenished by any natural processes—in fact, only YOU can be the replenisher! Not to mention your plant is growing and may want more space. To repot, all you really need is some good potting mix. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but do look for a quality indoor potting mix—this will already be formulated for your plant's indoor life in a container.

P.S. Even if you have dirt that looks perfectly fine in your backyard, please don’t use this for your houseplants—they won't like it.

The Blooming Plant Parent

Consider this as a more-than-the-basics starter pack for plants. You love your little plant family, but they aren’t going to take over your life and space (at least, not yet! 😈).

We recommend starting with these basics and building up as you get comfortable. So, for new plant owners and long-term minimalist plant parents looking to expand a bit, these are a few things to consider:

  • Watering can
  • Mister
  • Drainage trays
  • Hand trowel
  • Scissors or snips
  • Gloves

If you don’t have all of these—that’s okay! We will cover what we deem as absolutely necessary and what you can squeak by without (and how).

Watering Can

Plants love getting the right amount of water. Not too much, and not too little! A watering can helps you give your plant the right amount of water in the right place for the plant. Now, unfortunately, it doesn’t measure it out for you and automatically stop watering when your plant has had enough—that’s still down to your judgment.

As we've already hinted at, a watering can helps you reach the sweet spot: between the leaves and in the soil.

Instead of dumping water from above and getting it all over your plant’s leaves and on the floor, you’ll be able to pour it directly at the soil level. It can also be an effective tool when you are bottom watering as you can pour water exactly where you want it in the drip tray.

There are all sorts of watering cans, but in its most basic form, look for something that is lightweight with a long spout.

  • Choose the right size. If you only have small plants or succulents, you don’t need a gallon watering can. If you have a giant Bird of Paradise, you’ll probably go crazy trying to water with a tiny 1-cup watering can. But just remember—the bigger, the heavier! Try to find a balance between annoyance at making multiple trips and what you can actually hold up as you water.
  • Choose the right spout. We always recommend long spouts for houseplants. It helps you reach wherever you need. However, there are single-targeted spouts that pour water, and then there are the spouts that have multiple holes to sprinkle water. If you mostly have larger plants, some plant parents may prefer the rainfall kind which allows for a wider spread of water all at once. But if you have small and large plants alike, we would suggest the single spout as the most versatile option.
  • Choose one that makes you happy. A watering can is the thing you'll be interacting with the most as you care for your plants, so why not pick something fun? Like maybe you want one that you can leave out on your coffee table and feel good about it. Or maybe you’re looking for an absolute statement watering can that gives you ✨joy✨ every time you use it!

Mister

You may have heard that a mister is a good thing to have around for humidity, but we can't in good faith suggest that a mister will do much in the humidity department. It's really not much more than a fleeting spritz of water. For a true impact, you'll have to take advantage of humid places in your home (bathroom or kitchen, perhaps), look into getting a humidifier, or try grouping humidity loving plants together.

On the other hand, we highly recommend misters to help you clean your plant's dusty leaves. All foliage, but especially large leaves, easily gather dust indoors. That accumulated layer of dust will block your plant from fully taking in the sun, which means they can't photosynthesize! A mister comes in handy to give a little spritz and wipe down those leaves!

A mister is also great for people who just love checking in and interacting with their plants on the regs (like...multiple times a day 😇).

Drainage Trays

Plants need water, but they do not like sitting in water constantly. Containers with drainage holes are the easiest way to ensure that your plant doesn’t become a victim of root rot or moldy soil. The only problem with drainage holes is that the water has to go somewhere.

Many pots, like the ubiquitous terracotta, usually come with their own matching drainage tray. But it's good to have an array of the plastic kind in multiple sizes on hand as well. Sometimes when we go overboard with water, the drainage tray is at risk of overflowing, so we'll do a quick swap with a spare while we dump out the excess water in the other.

Drainage trays can also be useful for bottom watering—but again, just make sure you aren’t allowing your plant to sit in the excess water for long periods.

Hand Trowel

You will definitely want a hand trowel when you’re working with the soil in your houseplants. You’ll have to repot eventually and a hand trowel helps you put the right amount of dirt in the right place.

Its design allows you to reach places more easily than your hands allow—it's kind of like an extension of your hand. Plus, you'll feel like a proper gardener!

If you don’t want to get a hand trowel, that’s fine. You can use your hands or another small container (think yogurt or deli containers)…but do expect things to get messy!

Gloves

In a similar vein—gloves help keep your hands clean when repotting or handling your plants, getting you right back to what you were doing before. Also, if you have sensitive skin or you are dealing with a plant that has thorns or spines, having gloves will definitely help!

Scissors or Snips

What is the difference between scissors and snips? Snips have long handles with a spring in between them and shorter, pointy blades. Scissors are exactly what you think, but a bit more heavy duty for cutting plants—kitchen shears would work well.

Which do you need? It’s really down to personal preference. Why do you need them? It’s for trimming and pruning your houseplants. As a part of natural growth, sometimes the older leaves at the bottom of a plant wilt and die off. You did nothing wrong—but you can prune those away!

You can also use snips or scissors to trim away yellowing or browning leaf tips but be sure to leave a little brown, so you don’t stress out your plant too much and the discoloration doesn't expand.

The Green Thumb Parent

You’re really getting the hang of your houseplants. You want them to have a long and happy life. And you’re ready to take on some bigger projects that go beyond the basics. Maybe even tackle that diva species you've been eyeing. Sound like you? Then you may want to look into some of these handy items:

  • A pruner
  • Hori hori
  • Soil scoop
  • Plant stakes and ties
  • Multipurpose spray bottles
  • Soil additions

Pruner

A pruner is basically a heavy duty cutting device designed specifically for plants. Having a pruner is super handy for trimming houseplants efficiently and to ensure a clean cut. Especially if you have a lot of trimming to do, a pruner is the most comfortable way to get that done. Pruners are also a level up from snips or scissors because they can cut thicker woody stems with ease (like a Fiddle Leaf Fig or Rubber Tree).

Hori Hori

This is a common tool found in a gardener's tool shed, often used for weeding or transplanting. It’s also known as a “soil knife,” but we like the traditional name better. A hori hori is essentially a hybrid between a trowel and a knife.

It can help greatly when you're ready to repot a plant. You can extract the plant from their current residence by using the hori hori to cut around the perimeter of the pot—this loosens everything up and makes the job much easier.

This is particularly helpful for rootbound plants that are ready to burst out of their pots, making it a very tight fit!

In the case of rootbound plants or those with some root rot, the hori hori is also useful to de-tangle and prune back those unruly or unhealthy roots.

In a pinch, you can also use a bread knife! Up to you if it weirds you out to use on both dirt and bread.

Soil Scoop

Are you getting the hang of repotting? Are you dealing with big plants? A hand trowel does a good job until you’re getting the hang of things and want to do it more efficiently. A soil scoop allows you to pick up more soil at once, meaning less work in the long run.

Picture this: If you’re trying to serve soup with a spoon (hand trowel), it’s going to take quite a while. But when you pull out the ladle (soil scoop), it just takes on or two scoops (depending on your appetite 😋)!

It’s the same with hand trowels and soil scoops. Hand trowels are great to top off your plant or evenly distribute soil—but if you’re trying to move a lot of soil or pot up a large plant, a soil scoop makes quick work of it.

Plant Stakes and Ties

When you’re growing your plants successfully, you may notice that your plants need some support. Or, you may want them to grow taller as opposed to wider. This is where plant stakes and ties come in.

They can help you “train” your plant to grow up instead of out—and they don’t mind.

They definitely come in handy with that tall plant that’s started to lean to one side. They're doing so well they can’t seem to support their own weight! A plant stake will help you out there.

You can use a variety of items for plant stakes and ties, including just about anything stick-like and some twine. You can also get stakes and ties specifically for plants—they tend to be green or brown to blend in with your plant better. Or they can be more decorative in a fun color or maybe shiny brass. Just make sure whatever you use is actually sturdy enough to support your plant.

Multipurpose Spray Bottles

Are you to the point where you have the confidence to use fertilizer or have encountered the need for neem oil? Both liquid fertilizer and neem oil need to be diluted and both can be applied effectively with a spray bottle. It's always great to have a few empty (and clean!) spray bottles you can put to use right when you need them.

Soil Additions or Amendments

Now that you know your plant well, you may notice the potting mix isn’t quite right for your plant. There are many soil additions you can use that will help the soil retain more moisture, improve drainage, or increase overall aeration (airflow around the roots).

While most indoor potting mixes will have a good balance of these additions already, you can always supplement if your plant's soil is wanting.

It can also be useful if you have many different plants, requiring different balances. Instead of buying multiple bags of specialized mixes, you can make your own.

You may be wondering, what do people put in potting mix? We'll cover some of the most common ones here:

  • Perlite is in most potting mixes—it’s the little white pieces or balls you see throughout the mix. It can look a bit like styrofoam, but it’s actually a volcanic mineral that provides great aeration and allows for swift drainage.
  • Orchard Bark is often used for orchids, but is useful for many houseplants. The small chunks or shards of bark (usually fir or pine) come in different sizes and grades. The smaller the pieces, the more moisture is retained. While with larger pieces, you can expect better overall aeration and drainage.
  • Activated Charcoal is heat treated charcoal that can absorb excess moisture and prevent fungal or bacterial growth. It can definitely act as a defense to overwatering, but it’s not magic. You may see this offered as a solution for pots without drainage, but you already know how we feel about that. 😤

The Greenest Thumb Parent

You’ve named each and every one of your many houseplants. Maybe you sing to them in the morning. Okay—you don’t have to be that dedicated, but your houseplants have definitely made it to a special place in your heart. Your home simply wouldn’t be a home without your plants.

If you’re ready to one-up the Green Thumb and claim the Greenest Thumb, let’s go over what you might need:

  • Containers (like vases or vessels) to build a propagation station
  • Rooting hormone powder
  • Moss or coir poles

Propagation Vessels

You’re ready to break into the world of propagating your plants. Maybe you want to spread the love or just enjoy the satisfaction of multiplying the plants you already have without buying more.

You’ve read up on how to do it, and you have all the other tools you need. Now, you need a propagation station!

Depending on your plant, you can use a lot of different containers for propagating. A lot of plants simply need water to propagate—a glass vessel is ideal because it's heavy enough to stay stable and you'll be able to see when the water gets murky. You can also easily monitor how the roots are coming along. For plants that you want to root directly in soil, you'll need an array of small grow pots at your disposal.

Rooting Hormone Powder

All plants produce a natural rooting hormone, but every species produces a different amount. So for some stubborn plants, using a supplemental rooting hormone can help make sure your propagation is a success.

Every brand will have their own instructions, but typically, if it's a powder, you just wet the end of the cutting a little, dip it in, and proceed as normal. However, don't dip directly in the original container of rooting hormone as this can degrade the quality over time. Instead, pour just the amount you need into a small container or tray and dip your cutting there.

Moss or Coir Poles

A moss or coir pole is a wooden stake that is covered in sphagnum moss or coir (coconut fibers). These are great to support houseplants that are inclined to climb. For example, Monsteras can be vigorous growers, but they do even better when they have something to attach themselves to—in the wild, they grow up trees!

Many climbing or vining plants enjoy the introduction of a moss or coir pole.

The pole allows more opportunities for root attachment which makes for a stronger plant and bigger leaves!

Available in multiple heights, you can select one to match your needs or make your own.

The Helicopter Parent

You obsess over your plants. You want the absolute best for them. You check on them every hour on the hour. The helicopter parent just wants to be certain they are doing everything right, and they want to prove it with metrics.

BTW, this can apply to both the very experienced plant parent and the novice who needs a little extra reassurance.

We get it. No judgment here! This is what you’ll need to hover efficiently:

  • Moisture meter
  • Humidifier
  • Light meter
  • Grow light

Moisture Meter

There are a few types of moisture meters, ranging from straightforward analog, digital, and multipurpose, but essentially they consist of one or two metal prongs that you can insert in the soil of your plant to get a reading of the moisture level—wet, moist, or dry.

Moisture meters can help reassure you or confirm that you aren’t accidentally over or under-watering your plant. This is a Helicopter Plant Parent’s dream! And equally useful for beginners that just want to understand what things should look/feel like first.

Humidifier

Do you have a room full of plants that can’t fit in your bathroom anymore? A humidifier can help you keep those moisture-loving babes happy. Most plant parents will eventually get a humidifier designed for a small to medium space in the home in order to battle any extra dry spaces. This can be especially useful in the winter. You could also go all out and set up a few humidifiers to create a dedicated and constantly humid jungle oasis. Up to you. 😉

Light Meter

A light meter measures the foot-candles in a specific area, mostly used by photographers, but useful for plant parents as well. Are you determined to find the exact right spot for your plant that needs bright, indirect lighting? Using a light meter at various times throughout the day (and over the changing seasons) can help identify if you’ve picked the perfect spot.

Light meters can also come in handy if you're just generally struggling to figure out the lighting in your space.

Grow Light

Have you run out of space for plants that need a lot of light? Are you worried about the dwindling light in winter? Are you determined to help your plants grow to their full potential? You may want to invest in some grow lights.

When you start looking at grow lights, it can be as simple as a special type of bulb in a lamp you already have to a mini greenhouse situation and all the way to an entire rack of lights. Many grow lights also have timers and intensity levels that you can dial in to your plant's needs. It's a vast and varied world with a lot of possibilities to explore!

The Tools For The Job

You really don't need much to care for a houseplant. In fact, for every basic tool outlined here, there is almost certainly a makeshift alternative. But as you start to get comfortable with your happily growing plants or start expanding your collection, having dedicated tools that were made for the job can make the continued care of your plants easier and more enjoyable.

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