Surprising and Delightfully Odd Ways to Keep Houseplants Alive

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Being Home With Hunker is a podcast where each week we chat with designers, artists, and creatives in the spaces that express and shape their identities: their homes.

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During the height of the pandemic, there was a boom in houseplant sales ... and it's a trend that isn't going anywhere, anytime soon.

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In 2020, Article (the furniture company) launched a survey with OnePoll to 2,000 millennials (ages 25 though 39) and discovered that 7 in 10 millennials call themselves a plant parent.

And of these plant parent millennials, half of them say they incorporate greenery into their home because it's trendy. Half of them own plants because they say it improves their air quality. Half believe plants are peaceful and calming and half also say that it makes their space look beautiful.

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However, on top of all that, just about half of them (48%) are nervous about being able to keep a plant alive. Yes, according to this study, the average plant parent has killed seven houseplants in their life.

I imagine that this isn't just for millennials — I hear this from lots of people in all age groups.

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So, there are anxieties about how to keep houseplants alive. And I get it — there's so much to know. What's the right amount of light for a plant? Where to place it in your home? Does it need more or less water? When do you prune it? When do you fertilize it? When do you repot? What's up with those gnats? Why so many wilting, yellow leaves? I mean, help help! It's no wonder people are nervous.

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Luckily, I work with green thumb experts at Hunker who know the ins and outs of caring for plants. They are the indoor gardeners I turn to. Here are four of my favorite slightly wacky ways to keep plants alive and thriving.

Some houseplants enjoy coffee for the acidity. Coffee acts as a natural fertilizer. But make it weak — don't serve up a strong espresso. When in doubt, dilute your drip coffee with an equal amount of water before adding to your plants. Just be careful to use a filter that hasn't been bleached because that's not good for plants. Also, and I feel like this goes without saying but just in case, serve this cup of coffee cold and never hot.

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Try this method with moth orchids, African violets, a Christmas cactus, or a Norfolk Island pine plant.

In some cases, adding the coffee grounds to plant soil is helpful because it adds nitrogen, which mean faster growth. This works well with a philodendron plant.

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Plants That Love Coffee

How, you ask? Kitty litter can assist with drainage, which is very important for certain potted plants such as succulents and bulb plants. If these plants sit too long in water-soaked soil, they'll die. For well-draining soil to be effective, it needs to have air pockets to provide oxygen for the plant roots. So, mixing kitty litter with potting soil and horticultural grit helps retain enough water to prevent the plant from drying out, but also provides ample aeration and drainage. Which means, a happy plant. Just be sure to pick a low dust clay-based kitty litter.

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Try this method with a hoya succulent, a ponytail palm tree, Donkey's tail succulents, and a money tree.

Plants That Love Kitty Litter

Got milk? Asking for a green friend. It's true that some plants benefit from milk, all thanks to milk's main nutrient: calcium. Calcium builds the cell walls that enable plants to stand upright, as well as transport other nutrients. In fact, using milk mixed with water to fertilize plants was a method often used by our grandparents and great-grandparents. Milk is also known to be an great preventative spray for houseplants prone to fungal diseases like powdery mildew. You'll want to mix the milk with water, of course.

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Tray this method on plants who are often victims to this type of mildew such as Angel Wing begonias, jade plants, English ivy, and African violet plants.

Plants That Love Milk

These next three hacks might make you wonder, but they work. Check this out: there's a condiment that can make your plant shine. I'm talking about mayonnaise. Every month or two, you can rub a bit of mayonnaise on each leaf with your fingers or a clean cloth. They'll make the leaves look lush and shiny for weeks.

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Here's another hack to try: put a sponge at the bottom of the pot. Our indoor plants need to be on a consistent watering schedule, so an inexpensive — and smart — hack is to set an ordinary kitchen sponge on the inside of a pot before you add potting soil when repotting. It'll absorb excess water and keep it at the bottom of the container, acting like your plant's own personal reservoir to call upon when it's thirsty.

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And finally, if you eat hard- or soft-boiled eggs, save that egg water and give it to your plants for a nutrient-rich drink. Just make sure it's a room temperature. You can also use the water whenever you boil vegetables, too. The water has nutrients that can serve as a homemade fertilizer for your houseplants.

So, as you can see, there are many weird and wonderful ways to care for your indoor plants. However, if you're someone who simply wants a new plant that is low-maintenance and can thrive on neglect, you might want to try a ZZ plant, a snake plant (one of my personal faves), a pothos, or a spider plant. No shame in keeping it simple. Oh, and air plants are always a delightfully easy option, too.

Plants That Are Low-Maintenance

ZZ Plant
BLOOMSCAPE

$149.00

Snake Plant
THE SILL

$50.00+

Pothos Plant
BLOOMSCAPE

$29.99

Click on the all above links to where you can learn specific instructions because each method has different requirements to use on different plants—so be sure to dig into what's recommended for your specific plant.

Just have fun and get weird. Happy healthy plant care!

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