How to become a quarantine plant lady (or man) without breaking your bank
Like the rest of society, when quarantine hit earlier this year, I had to find solace and entertainment in new hobbies and activities… after all, you can only watch The Office and Breaking Bad all the way through so many times, and I simply refuse to spend any more money on puzzles. I’ve owned my house for nearly 6 years, and the yard has always been a mess, but with endless hours that needed filling and lots of murder podcasts to catch up on, I started religiously tending both a flower and vegetable garden. When cold weather descended at the start of a bleak, quarantined Colorado winter (snow spots are not my forte), I brought my plant skills indoors and started my very own indoor jungle, which along with weed, has helped keep me at least moderately sane through this weird weird time.
I wasn’t sure exactly how to get started, because growing indoor plants can seem daunting at first. Every plant has different water and light requirements, and it’s also really easy to overwater your plant babies, especially if they aren’t in pots with good drainage. Also, plants and pots aren’t cheap, and I didn’t want to totally break my bank just to grow some green things. I started asking my plant-loving friends and neighbors for tips and tricks, and in just a few months, my house has become the indoor jungle I yearned for.
My first and favorite tip: if you’re going to get really into indoor gardening, invest in a soil moisture tester (and by invest, I mean buy one from Amazon for $10… I got the UniverseStar Soil Tester and it works great!). I was so used to an outdoor garden that you simply CAN’T overwater, that I way over-hydrated my indoor plants at first, both out of care and boredom. Most plants don’t really need to be watered more than once a week, and some only every other. Bonus: some plants, like Pathos, love to dry out and then grow exponentially when you give them a good shower. The soil tester has helped me curb my obsessive watering habits, and my plants have never been happier or healthier.
If you’re looking for plants on the cheap, I’ve found that the best places to buy are Home Depot, IKEA, and Lowes— there’s always a “rejected” section of plants that look a little under the weather, but most of the time, all they need is a little bit of light, water, and love. I’ve gotten $50 plants for $3 in this way, and they take a few weeks to recover, but in the end I find it all the more satisfying because I feel that I’m rescuing sad plants in need… and saving money at the same time! Pots can also be expensive, and I find the best deals are at wholesale florists where they’re getting rid of mass inventory for just a dollar or two (in Denver, I go to Lehrer’s Flowers). Don’t like the colors available? A coat or two of spray paint will easily do the trick!
An absolutely amazing way to get free plants, and also create your own little plant community, is to propagate your own babies from cuttings, either from plants you already have in your house, or you can trade with friends. I had NO idea how easy it is to propagate most plants in water. You simply cut them at a “node” so a root has a spot to grow from and place them in water until you start to see roots form. When there is a decent root sprouting, you’ll dip it into a rooting powder (I use TakeRoot by Garden Safe… a couple of dollars at Lowe’s) and plant right into the soil. I created my own “propagation station” with these glass bottles and string from Michaels for only a few bucks, and it gives me a cute artsy spot to put my cuttings while they sprout. You can also use an old recycled jar or bottle, as long as it’s clear glass… just make sure the plant isn’t fully emerged, you only want the root end in water. You’ll see the roots begin to grow, day by day!
You can also (AND THIS IS SO EASY) take fallen bits from pretty much any kind of succulent and place them on top of dirt, and in a few weeks they’ll begin to take root. Don’t pour water on them, because they’ll begin to rot, but instead spritz with a water bottle once a week until they establish themselves. If you’re having issues with your plants, you can download the app “Picture This” to not only identify unknown species, but also diagnose dying leaves, drooping, or funky brown spots. It’s been a complete plant lifesaver, and it’s free as long as you’re fine with ads.
I had several successful cannabis grows in the past (my pride and joy!), but it’s been really exciting for me to learn how to grow other indoor plants to keep myself busy and rejuvenate my space. I’m to the point now that I no longer need to buy any plants at all, and can completely propagate from the collection I have. A cute little plant in an adorable pot also makes an amazing house warming, birthday, or Christmas gift. I’m already over winter and can’t wait for it to warm up again so I can get my vegetable garden on… but until then, this will do!