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The best houseplants for beginners? It all depends on your personality

Emilee Yawn, of the Plant Connector, talks about what plants to own, plant care

The best houseplants for beginners? It all depends on your personality

NORTH ADAMS — With cold weather and short days, winter can be bleak. Adding some greenery to your house could help brighten your days, but if you’re new to houseplants, it may seem daunting.

Many people new to plants feel intimidated, said Emilee Yawn, co-owner of The Plant Connector in North Adams.

What she likes to tell beginners: “We live in sort of a rural area. We’re surrounded by plants. We walk on grass all the time, we eat lettuce, so we already have a relationship with plants. It’s just a little bit of figuring out how you integrate them into your home ... I like to demystify it because people make it so complicated, and it doesn’t need to be complicated.”

Yawn often helps people with their plant problems. “I get a lot of emails and photos sent to me, every day pretty much, is my plants surviving?” She walks them through it, she said. “I am really here to try to help people’s plants live.”

She walks us through some of the basics of houseplants.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What do you feel like are some of the best houseplants for someone who’s just starting off?

A: I really think like when you first start off with plants, you should just ask yourself a couple of questions. I really do think that there are two types of people: There are the people that are really, really busy and kind of neglectful, which, there are plants for those people. And then there’s the people that are like super over-nurturers that tend to over water and look at the plants constantly. It’s really kind of asking like, that one question: Do I tend to be a little bit over-obsessive? Or am I kind of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind kind of person? So there’s plants for both of those people. And then I like to ask lighting questions. Which ways does the sun come into your house? Are you east-facing, west-facing north- or south-facing? And then the other question I ask is if you have animals. If you have an animal that is very nosy and loves to eat plants, then there’s certain types of plants for you. If you have not a lot of light because we’re in New England, it’s winter time, and you don’t like to water a lot or you kind of are a little bit neglectful, I think like a ZZ plant (Zanzibar Gem), this is also not pet friendly, so a ZZ plant or a snake plant are like the best starter plants.

Yawn holds. a ZZ plant

Emilee Yawn, co-owner of the Plant Connector., holds up a ZZ plant.

Of course, plants like pothos and spider plants are going to be really good too. If you have a lot of light, I would say like definitely succulents and cactuses are great starter plants. Umbrella plants are great for like kind of just letting things go and pothos are really good too, they are pretty forgiving. And I even think monsteras are a great starter plant because they’re huge and they grow really fast and they have really dramatic leaves the with the split leaves.

Q: How do you know when to water your plants?

A: For cactuses and succulents, I do like once every two to three weeks. So it’s not very often. The same with the snakes and ZZ plants. Then for pothos and monsteras, it’s like every 10 days is good watering routine for them.

It really depends on your home environment. So let’s say you have a really dry environment, you’re going to kind of up the watering a little bit and the best thing to do is just touch the soil and if your finger pulls out soil, if it’s wet to the touch, then I usually don’t water plants but if it’s dry and it feels dry up to an inch in, I tend to water them.

Yawn shows off a monstera deliciosa plant in her store

Emilee Yawn, an owner of the Plant Connector, shows off a monstera deliciosa in her Eagle Street store.

You can also water them from the bottom. Watering from the bottom really helps, the walls kind of suck up all the water and from the root down so it’s just a way to make sure the plant is getting the exact amount of water that it needs for its soil. So for that, you just take a bowl of water and you stick your plant in there, so you can only do this if it has drainage holes of course ... I usually let them sit in there for about a half hour. That’s another trick that we do in the shop a lot.

Q: My plants seem a bit sad in the winter. Do colder home temperatures have an impact?

A: Definitely. I like to think about where they come from. A lot of our plants that we have come from tropical areas so they’re not used to cold, cold weather. If it’s really cold near the window, I kind of pull them away from the window. We will put them under a light like a lamp or a grow light. I tend to try to get them artificial lighting at this time, and I don’t want to make it more complicated, like you have to buy new tools, you can use your own lamp that you already have.

Another thing is it could be really dry in your home. I’ll put like a tray of pebbles underneath to help with humidity, or I’ll group a bunch of plants together so they can kind of feed off of each other’s own humidity and it really helps.

I think a lot of times plants just kind of hold on during the winter. And then like as soon as like spring and summer comes, they flourish. And so that’s when you can like start repotting and start rethinking it but during the winter, I tend to like not fertilize, not repot, if possible. And just kind of keep an eye on watering and humidity, just so that they’re as happy as possible. Just kind of like us, you know, like hibernation. We’re all in this together. They’re in it with you.

Q: How do you know when to repot a plant?

An airplant

A large Xerographica air plant needs to be watered every 10 days.

A: A lot of times, a good way to tell a lot about your plant is by picking it up, especially if it’s small enough. If you sort of see roots coming through the bottom of the pot, the drainage or roots are kind of coming out of the pot, or you haven’t repotted in two years, it’s probably time to repot. New soil gives new nutrients to the plant. If the plant feels kind of light, that means the soil is kind of being evaporated and the roots are kind of taking over. That’s a really good indicator that you need to repotted.

Q: How important is it for the pot to have a hole or drainage?

A: It depends on the plant. But yeah, drainage is great. Most plants hate sitting in water. For the most part, I tend to try to get drainage or at least put like a good inch or so of rock at the bottom of your plant before potting just so that the water is kind of not sitting in the soil. You can just get some gravel or even rocks. I have rocks in the shop I’m always happy to give people. I use a lot of fish gravel, like the gravel for aquariums. It doesn’t really matter. It could be marble chips or even rocks that you find outside. It’s just important that if you do get things outside, just to make sure you clean them pretty well.

Succulent plants for sale

Various succulents for sale at The Plant Connector in North Adams. 

Q: What common mistakes to people new to houseplants usually make?

The leaves of a white star calathea plant.

The colorful leaves of a white star calathea.

A: I think the most common mistake is overwatering. I tend to try to underwater that rather than overwater and you can always see if the plant looks kind of droopy or looks sad, most likely it needs water, so you can just add more water. But when you overwater, the leaves like start to turn yellow and it’s like then you’re kind of questioning does it have spider mites or is it you know, is it the windows or it’s not getting enough light. So when you overwater the roots get kind of rotted. The plant dies from the bottom up. So it’s really hard to really understand if that’s what’s going on.

And then the other thing is just like making sure I think just the temperature, especially in New England, just making sure that there’s not a huge draft coming from a window. And it’s really easy to do this stuff — everyone loses plants. I lost a great plant this winter. It’s not uncommon, you know, it’s really sad, but it’s just part of it and it’s just a learning experience. We try really hard to not do it, but it’s just kind of going through the process and understanding your environment and the plant’s needs.

I think that’s kind of the beauty of plants though, that they do teach us to kind of slow down, think about our homes, our environments. And usually if it’s not a great environment for a plant, it’s not a great environment for human either. I think it’s the same things that we need, like water and light, and it’s a way to think about care and nurturing in general.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6272.


Greta Jochem, a Report for America Corps member, joined the Eagle in 2021. Previously, she was a reporter at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. She is also a member of the investigations team.

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