Using Plants in Your Home Part 2

This is part two in a little micro series on using plants in your home, read part 1 here.

The other day, in part 1, I showed off all the plants in my home. Now I’d like to try to convince you that it’s worth risking killing a plant in hopes that it will live and give you years of enjoyment.  And I’m going to use the word “plants” to describe both plants and fresh flowers.  If I were rich I’d probably have fresh flowers delivered daily.  But fresh flowers are much more expensive so potted, living plants are an obvious alternative.

The most common phrase that people use when talking about plants and decorating is that plants breathe life into a room.  And it’s true, plants and fresh flowers are the cherry on top of a room, the finishing touch, the lemon zest, the polish, the completer of a room.  If a room feels stale or spiritless or undone, sometimes the addition of one plant can make all the difference.

These two gorgeous rooms (by Napoli and the second unsourced from tumblr) are both somewhat similar with their focus on white and wood and neutrals but one photo pulls me in more than the other.  You too?  The one with the flowers seems more complete.

If you have a Pinterest account pop over to some of your boards where you pinned photos of rooms you like my guess is most of the rooms will have plants.  Look at that photo again, would the room be as finished without the plants?  You can do the same with photos in a shelter magazine–have you ever noticed all the plants that are a part of every room?  Consider how the room would look if the plants were removed.


I promised I would tell you all my planty secrets.   And it’s tempting for me to google a bunch of planty tips so I can make sure I tell you everything there is to know about keeping plants alive.  But really, want I want to tell you is how I keep my plants.  You can google things on your own but this is what works for me, a forgetful mom who loves pretty things but doesn’t care to baby something like a plant.  Most likely, there is a plant that suits your home environment and your personality and natural nurturing tendencies, the trick is to find that plant.  It’s fun!

And here’s a secret, sooner or later you will kill every plant you ever own.  If you go ahead and accept that fact you will be much better off. Plants are not forever investments, I don’t have a plant that’s over a year and a half old right now which means that every single one of the plants I’ve ever had before that, I’ve killed.  But, THEY ALL brought enjoyment and some I had for many years, some just a few months.  The key is to be willing to take a risk and find out which kinds of plants work for you.  Ideally, you want to be able to keep your plants for years and years and years but even if you have a pretty plant for 6 months–isn’t that worth it compared to paying the same price for fresh flowers?

Most of my plant deaths are due to moving (for some reason moving always seems to kill my plants even when we simply moved one neighborhood over, not sure if I forgot to take care of them or if the change in environment got to them) or to due to me um, dropping them.  I can be quiet clumsy.

I’ve learned that I always kill African Violets, Ivy, Topiary, Indoor Herbs and Indoor Ferns, so I stay away from those.  But I had to learn the hard way buying a few plants over the years to see what works.

Plants That Work For Me

I’ve always heard that you should start with succulents if you are just getting into plants because they thrive on neglect.  And do you know what the number one killer of plants is?  Over watering. The second is probably pets.  I’m totally making the second one up but it’s a good guess.


I water most of my plants about every 2-3 weeks.  I’ve gotten in the habit of watering them every other Monday unless they seem fine or super dry I don’t bother with them.  My outdoor ferns are a totally different story, they are potted and get afternoon sun so they are happy to be watered a little every single day–so don’t do outdoor potted anything unless you can commit to their high maintenancy selves.

Bringing A Plant Home

When I first get a plant I don’t immediately repot it.  I always have it “on trial” for a few weeks and try it different places in my home to see if I could use it in the place where it’s the happiest.  If you read the tag on the plant you can find out if it wants lots of light or hardly any, do your best to accommodate and your plant will thank you.

burro’s tail succulent


Once I know I’m going to keep a plant (yep, you can return plants to most places if they aren’t going to work for you) then I’ll start looking for the perfect pot.  Many plants can stay in the plastic pot they came in and you can slip them into a decorative planter but, I figure if I’m going to have the plant for the long haul (which is always my goal) it’s best to go ahead and get it acclimated and repot it directly into a planter.

I LOVED this quirky planter from Pier 1, you could plant in the mouth and tail–it was just too large for where I wanted to use it. womp womp.

I purchase most of my planters from Home Goods/TJMaxx/Marshall’s where you can get large planters for under $15. But don’t limit yourself to ordained, labeled “for plants” planters,  you can use an interesting vase, a hollowed out stump, a ceramic bowl, just about anything to pot a plant.  You just need to make sure you have adequate drainage either by putting your plant in an actual planter and placing the planter inside the fun non-planer OR you can use gravel at the bottom of your unusual, un-ordained planter and that will help drain any extra water away from the roots.

I also think that the biggest mistake people make when they repot plants is that they don’t loosen up the roots.  If your plant has been in one pot for a long time the roots can begin to grow in a circle and strangle the plant itself.  Even if you have a non rootbound plant you want to make sure the dirt that comes with the plant is not in one hard pot shaped clog.  Have you ever pulled up a dead plant only to find that the soil that comes up with it is in the exact shape of the pot the plant came in?  This means that the roots and original soil weren’t loosened up before the plant was repotted.

Emily Henderson

I want a Fig tree (insert Nellie Olsen voice)

Where I Buy Plants

I am not a plant snob.  I prefer to purchase plants at the least expensive places possible like grocery stores, yard sales, IKEA, Lowes and Home Depot.  Just like thrift store shopping it’s smart to visit the plant section of the home improvement shops every time you go because there is usually something different.  My stores have a few different sections where they have plants that could work indoors–usually they have an area set up right when you enter the store for seasonal indoor plants, then there is a greenhouse and also the outdoor area, I always visit all three.  Many stores also have a one year guarantee for plants–just keep the original receipt and the pot it came in and it’s no risk–check out your local store to find out about their return policy.

Lowe’s One Year Plant Guarantee

And unless I know I can grow a specific plant, I look for the smallest plant I can find–so instead of buying the gallon sized plant, I’ll look for the one that can fit in the palm of my hand, that way I can experiment without wasting too much money.

I was doing my CVS coupon/shopping the other day and noticed a big shelf full of succulents! At CVS!!  You can use your ECBs on them if you want and they start at just $1.99.  I’m going to purchase a few to add into the empty corners of my planters.  Succulents are great plants to fill in little gaps of your planters, I love to plant them all together so they can get to know each other.

planter of succulents

A Few Bonus Tips

See that planter up there?  Ideally the few plants that are actually planted there will grow big and strong, so I didn’t pack it full of plants.  Instead I left some empty space but, I didn’t want it to look empty in the mean time so, I tucked a smaller planter inside…

…and I have a little pretend succulent that I use to fill in any gaps during the growing process.  You can mix pretend with real, there’s no law against it, just make sure your pretend plants are high quality.  Lucky for us, pretend succulents are very realistic.

When I notice that a plant is looking frail, the first thing I do is check and see if it’s dry as a bone (whoops, maybe I forgot to water it) the second thing I do is move the plant.  Maybe it needs more or less light?  Many of the plants in our home get moved around from place to place, I don’t really have a specific spot that each plant must stay in order for my house to look right.

Hosting a get together and want flowers but don’t want to invest in something that gets thrown out the next week?  Many times in the spring and summer I’ll purchase potted perennials like foxglove and hydrangea and bring them inside and put them in a decorative basket for a week or so to finish off a table setting or empty corner while we have guests.   After they leave, I plant the flowering whatever it is outside and then I get to enjoy it year after year (or at least until we move) a great use of $20.  And something you could do this Sunday if you are hosting Easter dinner.

If you’ve never had plants here’s your assignment, go buy a succulent. If it’s in a plastic, temporary pot, go ahead and buy a small bag of potting soil and a new pot, a little larger then the one your plant came in.  Feeling risky?  Purchase three succulents an a little larger pot.  Come home, break up any roots and pop them in that new pot with some fresh potting soil.  Check out how Sherry planted her succulents.

Hate to see nekkid soil on top of your plants?  Cover the top of your soil with gravel, little river rocks, marbles, moss, tiny ceramic animals….

Need more plant inspiration?  Here’s my Pinterest Plant board.

Reader Tips from the comments of the first post::

  • Water your plants in the tub so they can drain.
  • Mist the leaves of your plants.
  • Use half strength Miracle Gro to feed your plants
  • Don’t be afraid to trim back your plant if it’s growing wild (try a test spot first to see how it reacts)

Feel free to leave your best planty tips in the comments

Read part 3 :: containers here.

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  1. Heading to CVS to look for succulents.

    And I do believe you’re right about pets being plant killers. They seem to be the biggest culprits in my house.

  2. kate kehne says

    The lazy way I water that works well to not douse plants is putting ice cubes in the planter to slowly melt and water. It is fast, efficient, and clean! Have had my two plants for two years plus! Thanks Nester for indoor plant encouragement!

  3. Just gotta tell ya….i read yesterday’s post several times, studied each pic, was spellbound. I put up TWO NOTES to be sure to read TODAY’S post…….Girl, you got it goin’ on for sure. as someone said yesterday, w/ all these type blogs (and i spend hours reading SO many daily) seldom are the such informative post about HOUSE PLANTS. Haven’t read today’s post yet, wanted to comment early cause i know you’ll get tons of comments. Really APPRECIATE your efforts w/these type posts. I have lots of plants inside and i learned so much, esp about the TV wires too. Gotta go, refilled coffee cup and EAGER to read today’s part II>
    Happy Easter Week……

    • oh mercy, thank you Lesa! I hope today’s post holds true to your expectations, I struggled with whether to google a bunch of facts to share but felt like this entire blog is simply built on my personal experience doing things all wrong, learning along the way and hopefully ending up with some useful information (if even it’s just what NOT to do!!)

  4. Thanks Nester! I’m slowing getting on the bandwagon. But excited to experiment with succulents.

  5. You don’t have to have all your plants die. I have plants I’ve had for several years. I have a Thanksgiving cactus in my office that is a cutting from a plant of my grandfather’s – from YEARS ago. One of the best things you can do is repot the plants. Use good potting soil and this will be so much better (usually) than how they come. I never leave a plant in the original plastic pot. Fertilizing is important, as is watering and light. I read the tag on a plant and then look it up on the net and see what it needs/likes. Love, LOVE having plants in our home, especially love them in the sunroom. I have one of the big Kimberly Queen ferns in there. I like that that variety doesn’t shed as much!


    • I am SO addicted to Kimberly ferns! I used to have several year year old plants but man, that moving gets them EVERY time!!! Crazy. And you know, I have NEVER fertilized–HALP, I so don’t know what to use for that!

  6. This post is exactly what I needed to get me excited about a project I had stalled on. I broke the lid to a tall apothecary jar I used on the bathroom counter filled with cottonballs. I still love the jar and thought I would put a few of those colored glass/stone rocks from the dollar store in the bottom to take up some space. I will fill the rest with potting soil and plant some succulents and maybe cover the dirt with some little white pebbles. I have a half wall beside the toilet that needs a little something and my new planter will fit perfectly!

  7. I have had a plant for about 6 years. It has moved with us 4 times and taunts me daily. I feel like it looks at me and says “Just try to kill me!” I won’t water it for weeks – then throw my extra glass of water in there and wa-la happy and thriving again. AAACCCKKKK! Have I mentioned this is not my favorite plant – it was a gift. Anyway … looks like it is here to stay so I guess I’ll have to get used to it.

    Great posts – really enjoyed them! Missi

  8. Nelson's Mama says

    I don’t have an incredibly green thumb – BUT – my youngest daughter is fifteen and I have two peace lilies and a huge schefflera that are all OLDER than her!! I’ve killed more palms than I care to count, but these guys are indestructible!!

  9. I’d love to add some plants to our home. I LOVE fresh flowers, but they are draining on a budget. I’ve tried plants before but I shall try again.

    The watering is usually what gets me. And we don’t have pets but we do have four small children. They’d probably be the “second” killers in our home. =) Thanks for the good mini series.

  10. Love these plant-y posts! I have 2 plants who I love dearly and both have been around for almost a year! I’ve never thought about it but I guess I CAN keep plants alive! I love your ferns out front in the planters hope I can find something like that for the summer…..
    Love your blog so much!

  11. I used to have plants in my home, but our current home has no good spot for any direct sunlight where I can actually put a plant, so ones that need light are out it seems. Then we had a dog and I worried about that – he died a few months ago so maybe I should try some again. I just wish I could find a good green plant that needs no direct light – any suggestions?

    • hardly any of my plants get direct sunlight most get a few hours of filtered light, but our house does get a lot of natural light even if it is indirect. Basically, I’m no help. anyone?

      • oh, DUH, here’s what you do, go to your local home improvement store and read the tag on the pots and find one you like that is low light and buy the smallest one you can find and see how it works. that’s what I would do!

        • Nelson's Mama says

          The peace lilies that I mentioned do very well without direct light. They are also very forgiving about watering – they’ll wilt down and look practically dead, water them and within hours they look good as new!!

  12. I have a black thumb, but have found over the years a few plants I can grow; succulents, philodendron and shefflera. That last one was given as a gift and it overtook my huge kitchen. It was a big, bushy tree! I ended up taking it outside and it died. I think I had it over 10 years. But now I have no live plants since my 15 year old cacti bit the dust one at a time. You’ve motivated me to go to Lowe’s and pick up some new plants for my home.

  13. I love both articles about plants, and I want to try the succulents. I have tons of “hens and chicks” in the yard, I might move a few indoors. BUT… What I really want to know is…. Where did you get that gorgeous blue rug in (looks like) the living room? It is exactly what I have been looking for. Perfect for my dining room.

    • wish I could claim it, that’s in Emily Henderson’s house–click on her name–the link right under the photo to find out more. xo

    • That’s the same rug my grandma had in her living room while we were growing up. i think it’s from the 40’s.

  14. Fun post(s)totally love house plants. I want one of those fiddle leaf fig trees too, aren’t they amazing

  15. Ooh, you’ve inspired me! Now that my 2.5 year old boy is starting to listen better, I should have more plants! I want a whole row in my kitchen bay window to disguise the view outside of the back of the sideboard. A couple of plain white window boxes should work.

  16. this post was so helpful! thank you! I’ve been needing to add some life to our home in the form of plants but just don’t know where to begin..

  17. I love succulents too! I did a post about 18 months ago where I planted my succulents in thrift store tarnished silver. I hope you can check it out. I am going to post the link and hope that’s okay.


  18. We have tons of house plants. I can’t imagine my house without them.

    My favorite easy to grow plant is a spider plant. They’re cheap to buy, but if you have a friend with one, you can pinch off the little plantlets (seriously, I just looked up what they’re called on wikipedia), place them over a glass of water so that the bottom is barely touching and they’ll grow new roots in a week or so. Then, you can plant a few in a pot and in a year you’ll have an incredibly full plant for free.

  19. I laughed when you said “insert nellie olsen voice”. I’ve really enjoyed your topics lately, thank you!

  20. My SIL used African Violets as gifts for guests at her wedding in June 2009. I brought home two – my mom the master gardener suggested that I put them in our dining room that faces west and has sheer curtains for filtered light. I kept them in small plain pots that I set in Ikea planters that are the next size up with river rocks in the bottom. I lift the plant pot up occasionally and add water to the rocks so the violet drinks from the bottom. They bloomed wonderfully in 2010, did not bloom in 2011 and one of them mysteriously died last fall, though they sat right next to each other with the same sun exposure and same watering routine. So I guess it is a semi-success?

  21. ditto the pets. We once had a cat that loved to go to the bathroom in our plants, it either killed them, or smelled so bad we had to get rid of them. I too, have moved a LOT, so that has interfered with plant ownership. Three of my plants have lived with a freind in Tennessee since 2007, so I guess they aren’t really mine anymore – last I heard, they were thirving quite well, which is good as I probably would have killed them by now. However, you have inspired me to go buy some succulents! They may just survive! I’ll keep you posted.

  22. Bethany B. says

    Ditto on the pets as well…my cat will eat anything green and almost died after eating a lily that is poisonous to cats. He even eats fake plants!! Maybe succulents won’t be so appealing to him…it’s worth some research! Thanks so much!

  23. OK so after eading these two posts, I asked my girls if they would like to go to Lowes and Walmart to look for plants because I realized that that is what was missing in our home. I bought 3 succulents, a palm and another plant I really don’t know what it is, but it’s pretty. My girls each got a plant for their rooms also. A ponytail plant and a kolanchoe. Lots of fun. Thanks again for the inspiration.

  24. You are so funny. I love how honestly you write about this sort of thing. I’ve killed a plethora of plants in the last two-ish years that I’ve been working at it, but there are a few that have done well for me, mostly snake plants. I’ve also got two Queen Kimberly ferns that have survived all-day shade and infrequent waterings on my porch and a big ‘ol rosemary in a tarnished silver urn that I’m not sure if it’s still alive or just dried up really nicely. Either way I’m thrilled.

  25. my planty tip: i am a fancy nursery plant store convert. I found the plants to be much prettier and healthier there than Home Depot, etc. They are also often regionally grown (or locally) so you are much more likely to find something that does well in your area. ALSO, the employees tend to be extremely knowledgeable about what will do well in each condition. I went a few weeks ago (and i have a pretty brown thumb) and explained what sort of lighting i have and was shown lots of really pretty options and all of them are thriving at home. it cost me a bit more at the front end, but not being disappointed and getting helpful info has paid dividends.

  26. You’ve given some terrific advice here for would-be plant owners! I used to own a flower shop, so I will add my two cents:

    Make sure you don’t put your plants too near a window, especially a south or west-facing one and especially in a hot climate. A few feet back is best.
    Also make sure you don’t put your plants too near baseboard heaters or your fireplace in the winter time. Similarly, keep them away from drafts.
    If you just pour water into your plants, you leave pockets of dryness in the soil. The best way to water small and medium-sized plants is to submerge the pot in a bucket or sink full of water. When the air bubbles stop, your plant is thoroughly watered. Then let it drain thoroughly.
    Ivies are difficult to grow indoors. They get spider mites and it’s virtually impossible to get rid of them. Ferns are difficult as well unless you have a light-filled bathroom. Ferns love moisture.

    Even as a florist, I killed more than my fair share of plants. We had an area at the back of the flower shop we called “Plant Hospital” where we sent plants that weren’t looking their best. Most of the time we forgot about them back there, which led one of our employees to rename the area “Plant Mortuary”!

  27. I love the look of Burro’s Tail but have a hard time finding them. I will go looking again. You inspire me as always.

  28. I absolutely adore plants. At one point, I had over 20 thriving plants in our home. I don’t know what happened, but now I only have four. This week, though, I bought some plants for the outside. Which led to an indoor tree–a fiddle leaf fig! I’ve wanted one for years, and the price at Home Depot on Sunday was too good for me to pass up. That led to more houseplants and….I’m fast on my way to 20. Plants really do add life to a home, and they are so good for your indoor environment, too!

  29. I also am a plant lover, and I loved your posts! Here are just two comments:

    * I thrifted some shallow glazed dishes that were perfect for succulents. The problem? No drainage holes (duh) and no room for gravel. So my dad drilled a few holes in the bottom using a diamond bit. They turned out great—no cracks!

    * My grandma has quite the green thumb and told me to polish my plants’ leaves with mayo when they look dull. I don’t know if that’s an idea botanists would endorse, but her plants thrive for years, and she’s an 83-year-old gardener. :)

  30. okay, I know practically nothing about keeping a houseplant alive, and this was all very helpful. But for me the real light bulb moment was when you said:
    “it’s tempting for me to google a bunch of planty tips so I can make sure I tell you everything there is to know about keeping plants alive. But really, want I want to tell you is how I keep my plants. You can google things on your own but this is what works for me”.

    Maybe it’s my legal background, but I’m always tempted to research and write a comprehensive report instead of just saying what I think. Like it has to be official or something. But now, I have a new perspective, thanks to you.

  31. i’m not sure how it happened, but i ended up bringing two indoor plants home with me from lowe’s last weekend. i’ve always been too afraid of killing them. but they really do make a home more inviting. thanks so much for the tips. i am going to keep experimenting.

  32. On Monday I treated myself to an orchid. I’ve been wanting one for some time and I found them displayed in my local grocery store for just $15. It is blooming beautifully and has a few buds left to open. My plan is to try to keep it around, but if it doesn’t make it, it’ll be a good experiment and I will have enjoyed it immensely. They say that orchids are not hard to grow. They thrive on very little water, comfortable room temps, and filtered light.

    I’ve really enjoyed this mini-series. Thanks!

  33. I used to have a ton of houseplants, like over 20. I haven’t had any plants for years now, because I got tired of the kids digging in the dirt and all of the bugs that seem to come with the plants. Everytime I get a new plant indoors it continues to remind me why I hate them now, and I throw it away. Fresh flowers are the same way. When my husband brings flowers home I just can’t wait to throw them out. The bugs and dying flowers drive me nuts. Maybe I’m OCD with flowers? It’s a good post, though. I can tell you that peace lillys are easy and don’t need much light. I used to have two huge ones that hardly ever got even filtered light or attention.

  34. thanks so much is nice to see im not the only person taking pic of my plants hee hee thanks for sharing some great tips

  35. Saw on Pinterest –
    Use a coffee filter inside bottom of pot – under dirt – to keep the soil from flowing out of the drain hole.

  36. Was just reminded that a local nursery contacted a school district nearby who was having major odor problems after remodeling a school after it flooded. The nursery suggested adding lots of green plants to the classrooms to improve the air quality – and it worked!

  37. These posts reminded me of the wonderful plants I’ve owned in my home. The majority did well (with the exception of ferns). We haven’t had any in a while and husband is not a plant fan. So, after reading this, I went out and bought- cilantro (seedling) for my kitchen window, 2 succulents (my lil man picked them out) and a big umbrella tree for our problem area. While at work, someone was giving away spider plant babies which I alway have success with. So, I’ve accumulated quite a few plants and all but the spiders have the money back guarantee from Lowe’s. I used to buy at my local nursery- but that’s not in my budget right now. Thanks for the inspiration Nester!

  38. that BHG picture with the pear painting? it kinda took my breath away.

  39. Thank you again!!! This is truly inspiring and encouraging. I can’t wait to get out to the store TOMORROW to get some succulents and other things to decorate my house. I have a bunch of planter options that I am eager to try out. You are wonderful!

  40. This is great. I just recently brought home some indoor hydrangea,repotted it and I’ll replant it outside when it gets warmer. I spent $12 and smile at least 10 times a day when I see them. Plants are pretty amazing. And I’m excited about the thought of these 2 hydrangeas being in my yard, hopefully one day they’ll be big enough i can gift them to a stranger : )

  41. All the images you shared were amazing! I want some plants now!

  42. Thank you!!!! I am not good with plants but you made me re-think it!!!
    Will try the burro succulent!!!
    Beautiful pictures…

  43. What a great post, I read the whole thing and loved it. I’m just starting to feel springy and like I want to get some plants inside. Great timing!

  44. Loved this article! i’m inspired to repot some of my old plants into new planters and try some new indoor plants.

    how about a post about the best kinds of flowers to buy when you do splurge on fresh flowers? mine never seem to last more than 4 days and i never know how many to buy.

  45. My husband and I enjoy gardening together. We have over 30 plants now. We move them inside in the winter and sometimes it can get when summer comes , I can’t wait to put them all out.I have had my fair share of killing plants like Aloe , Lavender and even a cactus. My problem is over watering, so now I note the day I water, in my calendar , so that I remember. A nursery employee told us not to place succulents in the bathroom. Loved reading your post..its true plants bring life into the room.

  46. Hii..I loved this post so much that I got inspired enough to get some succulents and plant them around the house. They look beautiful. Thanks for the inspiration

  47. Great tips – I love having indoor plants. I figure it’s a good investment – like you said, similar to fresh flowers but last way longer.

    I’ve had a pot of succulents in my yard for years (even survived a 500 mile move!) and never bring it in or water it – that thing thrives!

    Off to CVS to see if I can find some more!

  48. Ahaa, its nice discussion about this article at this place at this webpage, I have
    read all that, so at this time me also commenting at this place.

  49. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

    I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is excellent blog.
    An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

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