Expat Life
February 21, 2023

5 Tips for how to have a green thumb - even when you really don’t

Look at your life today, your daily routine - I’m guessing it looks very different than it did 3 months ago. In times where information, data, and recommendations change on a daily basis, it’s hard to find some sort of consistency in our lives - this is where plants come in! 

In the recent weeks I’ve learned to treasure the moments I get to spend with my plants, even if it’s just giving them a good water or a small pep talk (yes, I talk to my plants and you should too!). The plants in my home have given me a sense of normalcy which nowadays seems to be impossible to find. 

But, if you’re anything like me, you don’t have a green thumb and seem to kill every plant that you come into contact with! The idea of having a green-filled home only seemed like a distant dream - until Covid19 happened. Now that the world has come to a standstill - there is no excuse not to dip your toes into the world of plants! 

So, here are a few basic steps to get you started as well as our favorite beginner plants. We’ve also included photos from our team’s apartments to show it’s really possible - even for those of us with deadly fingers! 

1. Know your home - what kind of light do you get? 

All plants need sun, some more and some less but knowing the type of light you have in your home will give you a great jumping off point to understand what types of plants will thrive in your home. Types of light vary from low, indirect and direct sunlight - the best way of determining what type of light you have in your home is to check the orientation of your windows. Here is a guide that will help you figure out what type of lighting you have in your home. 

Hanging plant over bed
Potted plants in the sun on window sill

2. Do your research - what plant is right for me?

Since you have already taken the step to decide to fill your home with greenery it’s important to know and understand what types of plants you will be getting. Instagram is filled with lushious homes to be envious of but you don’t want to buy a plant you are not ready for and regret the time and money you’ve put into it after you realise it’s dying or has already died. So, to prevent any heartache, do some online research. 

There are many articles and sources out there for deciding what type of plant is best for you - some of my favorites are: 1 , 2, and 3 (this is a little quiz that helps you find the most perfect plant for you). But, the most two useful tips I received when making a choice for houseplant was not to choose one that is overly fussy or one that has intensive care instructions. Understand that you are a beginner and need to have beginner plants! 

Also make sure you do not over buy plants! Do not go to the plant store and buy 20 new plant babies at once. It takes time to build your home oasis, so keep it slow and buy only a couple at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed when the time comes to take care of them. 

Here is our top list of beginner plants to get you started: 

Pothos: One of the most popular houseplants, it’s a super easy to grow, no fuss plant that is practically indestructible as it likes for its soil to dry out completely in between waterings. (And be sure to propagate any clippings you have in water to have new baby plants!)
Succulents: A classic beginner plant as the succulent can go long periods with no water (so if you tend to forget to water your plants, this could be a wonderful option for you)
Cacti: Of course this needed to be on our list as cacti are the ultimate beginner plant that doesn’t require any extra attention.
Monstera: The monstera plant is one of most Instagrammable plants out there with it’s “swiss cheese cut” leaves and towering height. It’s also quite a low maintenance plant that is easily placed in a bright spot in a room to add an extra pop of green.
Spider plant
Spider Plant: This plant once popular in the 70’s is making a comeback! It’s a very low maintenance plant that doesn’t mind low light or even if you forget to water it. It also is super quick to grow during spring and summer and will produce little baby plants that can easily be repotted to make new plants for your home.

3. Keep a plant care schedule!

So, you’ve gone to your local plant shop and stocked up on plant babies - now what? Taking care of plants is where most people usually freak out - How much do I water? What is fertilizer? Can I overwater? (The answer is yes!) 

But, there is no need to worry as there are dozens of extensive guides online on how to take care of your new friends that are super easy to follow. One of the more general guides on how to take care of plants can be found here. I also came across a lovely site where the most common household plants are profiled with detailed care instructions for each, and that can be found here

The general consensus between plant owners and experts is that you should keep a schedule - have a 15 minute slot 1 day of the week dedicated to checking up on your plants. During this time check the soil (Is it wet or dry? If it’s dry, give it some water), inspect the leaves to make sure no new pests have creeped up and make sure to look at each plant. It may have been a week since you last watered your plant but if the soil is still moist then most likely you won’t be giving him a refill. Having a schedule doesn’t mean just blindly watering when that day rolls around - it’s rather a time to “connect” with your plants and see what they need. 

Balcony with plants
Potted plant

4. Join plant groups! 

In the last year, botany has really skyrocketed as an interest for many people. Social media has been filled with picturesque living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens drenched with greenery. More and more people have dipped their toes into the world of houseplants or home gardening - meaning there is a whole community of people out there (experts and amateurs alike) that are giving tips, solving problems or just talking about their love of plants. 

My advice is to join one or more of these groups - maybe your local gardening club has a facebook group, or you’re interested in the Subreddit page dedicated to houseplants - whatever your knowledge level, there is a group out there for you. These groups are a wonderful way to expand your plant understanding, get help with plant issues you may have, and just to connect to people with the same interests as you. 

Plants in blue pots
Balcony with plants

5. Dive deeper! 

Now you have the basic understanding of plant care and know how to keep them alive but you want to dive deeper. You might have questions like - What is fertilizer? How do I propagate? When should I be repotting my plant? 

These are all next steps to become an expert plant parent and though they seem intimidating, they are all basic concepts that with a little reading and practice you will become a natural at. As well as being the next step of plant care - these topics are very important for the long term care of your plants and a way to make sure that your plant babies stay alive and happy forever! 

Of course there are free online sources you can find (like the ones listed above) that discuss all these topics but my advice is to buy a book! Articles tend to be summarized parts of plant care books, noted and shortened to make it easier to read. But what you miss out on is the deeper knowledge needed to be an expert in plant care. Some of my personal favorites are: Plant Society, The New Plant Parent, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual.   

Plants next to window
Roof terrace with plants

We hope this guide gives you a good jumping-off point to get you into the world of houseplants - and be sure to share photos of your own home oasis with us, we’d love to see what you’ve done with your place! Tag us with: @expathousingnetwork / #expathousingnetwork and get planting! 

Written by Jelena from our Amsterdam Rental Team