How to choose the best indoor plant for your space (and schedule)

In March 2020, with the first wave of lockdowns looming, many people thought to seize the moment and turn the enforced home time into a mini season of The Block: Garden Week. Bunnings queues and profits increased, and nurseries were picked over quick.
It was a mad time, says Josh OMeara, Director of The Jungle Collective Australias biggest pop-up plant nursery company, which host pop-up sales around the country.

ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN/Sydney Morning Herald
Josh OMeara is the co-owner of The Jungle Collective, a pop-up plant nursery.

Stuck at home, people went crazy with plant purchases. There just werent enough plants going around in the end. Lockdown also coincided with winter, which is when theres always shortages of plants anyway so it was really a bit of a challenge.

Early surges were in food plants and seedlings, but it soon flowed to decorative and indoor plants, particularly as the initial upside-gazing of Covid-19 measures waned. It became less about home improvement and more about mental health.

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To those stuck at home, jobless, overwhelmed, lonely or anxious, plants offered something else: a reminder that things are changing, time is moving, and a sense of achievement.

Its a concept that Melbourne-based OMeara understands well. Three years ago, he had a concussion (his 12th in fact, the result of too many knocks playing Aussie Rules football) that meant he was largely homebound. Unable to read, look at a screen or do too much physical activity, he got into plants.

It was a slow pace that I could really handle, but also that optimistic thing, when youre recovering, and things are moving pretty slow, seeing that new leaf grow is uplifting and a reminder that things keep getting better. I think with lockdown, people found that same thing.

Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Use a moist cloth to wipe down the leaves of house plants from time to time to prevent an accumulation of dust.

Almost a year on from the first lockdown, its a different story. A lot of growers expanded to keep up with the crazy demand and added more variants. So now is the perfect time to buy because everything is starting to get big and look really good again.

Covid-19 might have given plants the biggest boom since the fiddle leaf fig became a trendy home must-have in 2016, but with more variants available, prices a flutter and having a happy home space more important than ever, what should we be growing? Heres how to be a cool, calm plant parent in the golden age of greenery.


Fiddles and monsteras, giant birds [of paradise], rubber trees and Bangalow palms, theyre all nice, beginner plants, says OMeara, adding that the fiddle leaf fig is still a phenomenon, particularly when it gets big, (which, if you bought one five years ago, yours may be).

Melissa King, horticulturalist and Northcote Pottery Ambassador agrees, The fiddle leaf fig will always have a special place in peoples homes, for its big bold foliage and the height and drama it brings to a space. It has, however, been surpassed.

The monstera deliciosa is the standout seller at the moment, says OMeara. Also known as the Swiss cheese plant (because of its holey leaves), this Monstera has similar oversized, but greener leaves than the fiddle and grows wide as well as tall.

Thrives on neglect​

Now that people have mastered the art of growing fiddles, they have moved on to more striking and unusual indoor beauties like the white variegated monstera, which has developed a cult following or plants that green your home without the hard work, says King.

Which path you choose probably has to do with how much success youve had. If you need something that survives being ignored, our experts suggest a Zanzibar Gem, devils ivy, philodendron brasil or mother in laws tongue (sansevieria). Its virtually indestructible and has a wonderful spiky architectural form.

Hedge your bets​

Variegated plants are becoming more popular, and more expensive.

According to OMeara, theres the mainstream popular, and the rare popular. Once people start getting into the rare factor, it gets wild. They are the ones that suppliers struggle to keep up with the demand so the price just goes up and up and up. Some of these plants are selling for $10,000. Its mad.

If youre looking for rare, but popular, he suggests the Variegated Epipremnum pinnatum. The name might not be as catchy, but it is very pretty. Its heart-shaped leaves appear almost acid washed, with as much creamy white as green on the leaves.

The one to look out for, says OMeara. They arent that expensive yet, considering how good they are, if you got in now, youd be ahead of the wave.

Growing trend​

Pinterest predicted the Japandi aesthetic to be the minimalism makeover dcor lovers would swoon over in 2021.

The Japanese Scandinavian mash up requires sleek designs, neutral colour palettes and a seemingly impossible indoor tree.

Brina Blum/Unsplash
If the soil is dry down to your second knuckle its time to give your plants a drink.

OMeara, who has a five-metre Illawarra flame tree growing in his living room, says while not impossible, indoor trees require more work.

Pests are more likely. Outside they have predators and it usually balances out, but indoors they are protected, so you want to know what youre doing in terms of pests and making sure the position is optimal for light. If youre up for the challenge, he recommends a Ficus, it can handle lower light.

Staying alive​

Understanding your space is key, says OMeara. Analyse where the light is. If its warm or drafty. Then do a little bit of research on what species will be best for that area.

Once theyre in, perfect your watering, overwatering is one of the biggest killers of indoor plants, says King.

So, before you get out the watering, do the finger test. If the soil is dry down to your second knuckle its time to give them a drink and make sure water doesnt accumulate at the bottom of your indoor cover pots or tray.

Drainage holes are important people! If youre guilty of over, or under watering your plants, try a self-watering version.

Then its down to a little bit of housekeeping, I use a moist cloth to wipe down the leaves of my house plants from time to time to prevent an accumulation of dust. Ive even been known to pop them in the shower every month or so to remove any build-up on the foliage and make them look all shiny again, says King.

If a leaky watering can wetting your rug and carpet is your main watering deterrent, OMeara suggests a spray gun. More control, but slower. You have to pick your battles, but it definitely creates less mess.

Sydney Morning Herald

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