Plant parenting 101: Healthy house plants in small spaces

Keeping houseplants in an apartment or dorm can be daunting, but with enough research, even college students with busy schedules can be successful plant parents.

House plants have lately become a hot commodity — a necessity in quarantined life. Maybe it’s TikTok’s resident plant professionals tempting viewers with backgrounds full of lush greenery that makes home gardening that much more appealing. It could be all the time people have on their hands, while trying to stay socially distanced — it’s all the time spent at home that’s leaving people ready for plant-filled spruce. Maybe being inside most of the time is making people long for a piece of the outdoors inside their homes. Or perhaps caring for a few plant buddies seems like the perfect productive distraction from the world at large. Regardless of the reason, house plants can be a great addition to anyone’s home, even if that home is a small apartment or college dorm room.

Many college students might consider keeping house plants in their space impractical. Keeping plants in a small space can sometimes feel crowded and often, dorms and college town apartments don’t let in enough natural light to keep plants healthy. Also, students tend to balance school, work and their social life, which doesn’t leave very much time for caring for plants. While this all can seem like a recipe for disaster, many insist that small spaces and plant parents with busy schedules can still yield happy, healthy plants — given adequate research.

According to The Spruce, gardening in a small space can be low-maintenance and rewarding. It just comes down to understanding what a plant’s needs are. The article explains that choosing plants with attainable care guidelines for one’s particular space and skill set is key.

Written by Marie Lannotti, The Spruce's article stated that apartments and dorms tend to not offer enough sunlight for plants that might need a full day of sun to thrive. Thus, choosing plants that enjoy fewer hours of sunlight or even shadier conditions might be in the best interest of apartment or dorm-dwelling plant parents.

Furthermore, Lannotti wrote that while more compact potting solutions seem like the best choice for gardening in a small space, space-saving pots and planters might not offer the drainage a plant needs. Though, potting plants in a well-draining potting mix can make it so that saving space while still caring for plants in tight quarters is achievable.

Urban agriculturist Bonnie Grant for Gardening Know How, an online community for sharing gardening tips and blogging, suggested a handful of low-maintenance plants perfect for a college student’s collection in her article. Among the plants she suggested are the low-light loving snake plants, philodendrons, lucky bamboo and ZZ plants. Plants that require moderate light but little care include ferns, ivies, African dasies, cacti and other succulents.

Grant’s article also suggested beginners without much time on their hands opt for purchasing plants rather than seeds, as the growing process can be easier and lower-maintenance at that point. One local business where already-growing house plants are available for purchase is at Warner’s Nursery. According to their website, Warner’s Nursery has trained plant care professionals available to help any plant parent choose appropriate plants for their space and offer care instructions. Additionally, the website also offers a week-by-week gardening guide that plant owners can consult based on Flagstaff's weather patterns.

According to an article by Tammy Sons published by the Tennessee Wholesale Nursery, there can be various benefits to buying plants online as well. Sons wrote that online, plants can be cheaper and someone could have more options than if they were shopping for plants in person. Not to mention, shopping for house plants online eliminates the need to go to a gardening center, which encourages safer practices through social distancing.

In her article, Sons recommended shopping at online wholesale nurseries, but Allix Cott’s article in Architectural Digest lists various other options. For example, Cott lists Amazon, Etsy and even Instagram shops as popular places people are ordering plants online.

Regardless of where a plant comes from, plant parents with small spaces face additional challenges in caring for their plants, even if they chose plants perfect for their place. Though caring for plants in apartments and dorm rooms doesn’t have to be as difficult as it seems because there are various resources available to plant parents to make sure their house plants stay healthy.

Namely, the free-to-download app Planta is a popular resource as it offers plant care instructions and reminders. With Planta, people enter room conditions such as light and humidity and the app will determine what plants will do well in which spaces. Additionally, Planta sends out reminders for watering plants based on a plant’s specific needs, so a plant parent doesn’t have to worry too much about if they are watering their plants too frequently or not often enough. Some features on Planta are paid, but can be helpful to a plant parent aiming to go above and beyond to promote their plant's health. For example, a plant owner can send in a picture and answer questions about a sick plant and the app will figure out the problem and suggest solutions to help one’s plant bounce back. Finally, with the app’s subscription, plant parents can also receive reminders about fertilization, misting and other plant care tasks.

Like the Planta app, there are numerous internet resources made for beginner plant parents that can help determine the best care options for plants. Pinterest has various guides and organization ideas for how to keep plants in dorms and apartments. Also, TikTok can be a valuable resource for plant care, as there are numerous knowledgeable plant parents and gardeners who share their tips on the social media app. Users such as Brian Atchue (@hanginghouseplants), Reagan Kastner (@reagankastner) and Mr. Houseplant (@mrhouseplant) offer tips and tricks for caring for house plants, regardless of one’s space. Popular TikTok plant care videos include propagation tips for plant parents looking to cultivate more plants from ones they already have, and care guides for beginner-friendly house plants.

Despite a college student’s naturally small available space, with enough research and the right attitude, dorm dwellers can also parent happy, healthy and lush house plants.