Happy Houseplants: Pick a Perfect Plant | Learn with The Sill | Chris Satch | Skillshare

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Happy Houseplants: Pick a Perfect Plant | Learn with The Sill

teacher avatar Chris Satch, Botanist, The Sill

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Houseplant Basics


    • 3.

      Choosing Plants for High Light


    • 4.

      Choosing Plants for Medium Light


    • 5.

      Choosing Plants for Low Light


    • 6.

      Selecting Healthy Plants


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About This Class

Plants heighten our creativity, happiness, and even oxygen levels — and this short class covers everything you need to start and cultivate your own houseplant collection!

Taught by The Sill's Botanist Christopher Satch, you'll learn about the proven benefits of bringing plants into your home, how to shop for healthy plants, and how to choose the best plants for your space.

Looking to add plants to your home? Eager to grow your collection? This class is the perfect place to start.

The Sill was created with a simple ambition: to inspire people to bring more of the outdoors in. Their mission is to make the experience of discovering the perfect plants as wonderful as the plants themselves.

Photo courtesy of The Sill

Meet Your Teacher

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Chris Satch

Botanist, The Sill


Christopher is the resident Botanist for The Sill, an NYC-based company that does plant design, installation, and maintenance for both homes and corporate offices.

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1. Introduction: Plants make people happy. The Sill was founded in 2012 with a simple ambition, to inspire people to bring more of the outdoors in. My family has always had a garden. I guess just growing up through plants, I realized the beauty of the plants and how great, and productive they can be. How much happier they actually make everyone around them. I wanted to make that my career. I wanted to help others feel the same way that I do about plants. My job involves design, installation and maintenance of plants. As well as educating people about the wonders of plants, as well as the benefits that they bring. Offices that have house plants, end up being more productive, more focused and happier than offices that don't. House plants also bring indoor a sense of creativity, as well as an aesthetic using this. Today, we're going to talk about knowing your space, knowing the conditions of your space and how they affect your plants, to healthen life of your plant. Then, we're going to talk about selecting your plant, which plant works best for the space that you're living. So, we talk about a whole bunch of plants. 2. Houseplant Basics: I'm going to talk about now conditions in your home that will affect your plants' life and well-being. The first and most important thing that I want to talk about to you is light. Plants gain their energy and make their food through light. They need light to survive, and so getting the appropriate amount of light for the plant is the most important. Not all of them like to be in rays of sunlight like cacti do or succulents. But others like to be shaded and still even more like to have a little bit of both. When having a plant in your home, you have to ask yourself, where are my windows? How far away is my plant from my window? Which way is the window facing? How much and how long light does it get? And what is the quality of this light? Is it direct sunlight? Or is it shaded light? One of the more important elements of keeping a plant indoors is which direction the window faces. Buildings have four sides and there are also four directions. In the Northern hemisphere where we are in New Jersey, the sun rises in the east, swings to the south and sets to the west. Therefore, southern exposure is the best exposure for high light plants. Eastern and western exposure are also good but, they do not get as much or as intense sunlight as the southern exposure does. So, it's important to keep that in mind. Also, direct sunlight is as it is, direct sunlight. Sunbeams that are hitting your plant are direct sunlight and are usually reserved for higher light plants such as cacti and succulents as well as some high light tropical such as Bird of Paradise. Medium light is light where you get filtered sunlight. That is maybe there's a tree in the way of the sun. So, you get some spots of sunlight and some spots of shade on your plant. Medium light could also be just bright indirect light, like you're putting it right next to your window but not in the direct sunlight. Low light is where you have your plant more away from your window and where there is almost no direct sunlight on it at all. Low light plants are usually very easy to take care of and low light plants usually don't grow very fast. High light plants grow the fastest because they get the most energy from the sun. If you do put a low light plant in the sun, it will usually burn. The plant will start to blanch and turn white and that's usually a sign of too much light stress. So, the cure for that would be to move the plant into a slightly darker spot, where there's no contact with the sun. Usually also, plants that do not get enough light, such as a cactus placed in a dark corner, will also blanch as well. But they'll blanch on their new growth, not in the whole plant and so it's important to look out for these symptoms and where they're occurring. A great way of finding out what kind of light you have if you're not really good at sort of eyeballing it, is the blank paper test. What you do is you take a blank piece of white paper and you figure out where you want to put your house plant and you put that blank piece of paper where that house plant is or on the floor by that house plant. Then hold your hand at midday above where that plant is going to be and if you can see a nice bright shadow, a nice clear distinct shadow with solid edges then you have high light. If you see sort of a fuzzier shadow then you have medium light, and if you see almost no shadow then you have low light. That's one of the other tricks to figure out what kind of light you have in your apartment or house. An important factor for a lot of plants is humidity. Certain thinned leaved plants and ferns are very sensitive to humidity. Some plants even make their living off of humidity such as air plants. They thrive off of high moisture and so do ferns and mosses. So, it's important to keep that in mind when selecting a plant for your home. Will it be in the bathroom where it gets the most humidity, or will it be in another room where it's more dry. These are things to consider when you're getting your plant. Another thing to consider is heat. Usually, in most older buildings, radiators are placed right in front of windows. It's energetically efficient for the house warming, but it's not quite efficient for your plant. Usually, plants are pretty sensitive to being cooked over radiators and will not do well when placed around a radiator. So, it's very important to consider where the heat sources are coming from in your home and where the plants are in relation to them. In the Northern hemisphere where we are here in New Jersey, we have four seasons. We have spring, summer, fall and winter, and each of those seasons presents a different challenge with regards to light. Summer gets the most light, winter gets the least amount of light, spring and autumn are kind of the same. So, it's important to note where your plant is and how the sun is changing and how it's changing the quality of light for your plant. What would have been a good position in the east for your plant might not have been such a good position in the wintertime. In winter, there's less light, and for some plants you may even need a supplemental life to help them survive the winter, although usually this is not the case. Most plants will make it if you keep them in the window directly exposed to light. You're probably wondering how do I know how much humidity I have or what is high humidity or what is low humidity. You yourself will be the best judge of that. When the humidity is low, your nose tends to dry out and you tend to get nosebleeds for more sensitive people. But in high humidity, you may feel a little more congested, like the way you feel after you take a nice hot shower. That's high humidity and the way that that feels is how the plants would like to feel who like high humidity. If you have low humidity in your home, you can raise the humidity by having a humidifier. It'll be good for the plants and it'll probably also be good for you, too. 3. Choosing Plants for High Light: Now, I'd like to take this time to talk to you about high light plants and certain high light plant selections. So, you'll see on my table here a whole bunch of different high light plants. You'll have this agave right here, one of my favorites, grows in a nice central rosette pattern. That's this type of growth, where the growth comes out through the center and just spreads out like this. It's a very high light plant. It is a succulent, very easy to care for, not too much water but a lot of light, comes from arid desert-like environments and very low-water regions. So, when you think of this plant and you think of aloes and you think of other plants that look very similar to this, think desert, think low water, think high light. So, this is a succulent as opposed to a cactus or cacti, many of them. They behave in a similar way. They're both high light plants, they've both adapted to desert arid regions, but they're completely unrelated, which is why we have different words for them. Succulent is an umbrella term. So, a cactus is a succulent, but not all succulents are cacti. So, this particular barrel cactus is a very nice specimen, very pretty. Under the right conditions and with some really good high light quality, may even flower one day or produce little pups, which are little tiny baby cacti growing on top of it. So, that one's a fun one. This Hoya Heart is a succulent, not a cactus and not related to the agave over here, but it is a succulent in a very different family. But they have all adapted these features for surviving in either low-water environments or just high light environments. So, you'll notice that they're all pretty waxy, they're very fleshy, they're pretty thick in terms of their stemming, and they're very easy to maintain. Now, talk about this Dracaena over here. This is a medium to high light plant. It can withstand high light, but it particularly likes more on the medium side. So, you get plants with ranges that can survive in different types and qualities of light. This Dracaena here, they grow in a similar pattern where the older leaves you can just pinch off if they start to look not really great or you can cut them off with scissors, but they look like this. This is a very nice, easy plant to have, as well as this Staghorn Fern. So, this is one of the few ferns that's actually a high light fern. Most ferns are medium to low light, and as you'll see, it is named for its stag horn, antler-type shape. So, you'll see that nice there, it's a nice addition to your wall, your trophy wall. So, what's interesting about this fern is that it has a very obvious gametophyte, which is just a different stage in its life cycle, and a very obvious sporophyte, which is the other stage in its life cycle. It alternates between the generations of gametophyte and sporophyte, and so, you'll see here at the bottom, the sporophyte grows out of the gametophyte in a very nice way. After some time, the gametophyte will brown and die, but in this particular plant, that's normal and that's healthy and that's acceptable, because you'll also see that there's some algae and some beneficial fungi growing there on the side. So, this is a very healthy plant right here, and this is what they should look like. Usually, non-healthy qualities of the Staghorn Fern will be when it starts to turn black or when you start to have live tissue starting to die and get infected. Then, another bright light plant, it's in between high light and medium light, would be this nice air plant over here. Air plants are fun because they're one of the few plants, they're epiphytes, meaning that they grow on something else. These don't really need soil, they don't really grow in soil. Their natural environment is to hang off things and grow into the air or just lay in the dust and be kicked around. So, these are pretty interesting plants. They also go pretty well in this nice air plant holder. You can have this nice and stylish. You can have it tacked to your wall, you can have them hanging upside down. They don't mind. You can have them right side up in the classic desktop position. With regards to air plants, you care for them a little differently than you do the succulents, than you do Dracaena and the Staghorn Fern. So, Staghorn Ferns are very high water, so they're high light and high water. They love to be wet, and they love high humidity. If they get too low humidity, the tips will start to burn, and they'll start to die at the tips right around the edges. So, high light, high water. This guy loves a lot of water. He likes to be wet. He's a fern. Most ferns like to be wet. This Dracaena, a little bit drier, just treat it like you would a normal house plant. You would water it such that the soil is moist, and then, you let the soil dry out, and then, you give it some more water at that time. The Dracaena is only a little bit sensitive, less sensitive than the fern is, to humidity. So, you'll see it also in the same pattern. Most plants will burn at the edges or start to show dead tissue at the edges when the humidity is low. So, that's something to keep in mind when you have plants like that. So, the Hoya Heart can be treated in a similar way to the Dracaena. You water it, you let it dry out, and then, it's good to go. Cacti and succulents can all be treated in a very similar way, but the succulents require a tiny, tiny bit more water than the cacti do, not really much, though. You would generally water these in a high light position maybe once every two weeks, and in a lower light position or maybe not so direct sunlight, you would water them even less than that. There have been cacti that I've had that I hadn't watered for two months, and they were fine. The way you can tell if they need more water is if they start to shrivel a little bit, and so, they start to get wrinkles. So, when they start to get wrinkles, that means that they want more water. They'll totally absorb the water quickly, and they'll bounce back from that. But with these guys especially, less water is better than more water because if they get too much water, then they will root rot, and then, they will just die. With the air plants, you can just leave them in your bathroom. You can give them a light misting, and you can also soak them. They're very sensitive to water temperature. So, you always want to use warm water, just lukewarm water, whenever you're dipping them or spraying them. Room temperature water is fine as well, but I have mine in my bathroom and I've only had to spritz them maybe once a week, because I have three roommates and they all take showers, so it gets very steamy in there. So, when you have a lot of people using the same shower, you can get away with not misting your air plants as much if they're in that bathroom, so long as the bathroom gets good enough light. So, that's where I like to keep my air plants, anyway. 4. Choosing Plants for Medium Light: Now, we'll talk about some medium light options. So, just to go over again, medium light is not quite direct sunlight, not quite full shades. So, either by a window that doesn't get direct sunlight or by a window that's shaded from sunlight by a tree or maybe further away a little bit from a bright window, maybe like a couple of feet away from a bright window. So, here are a whole bunch of medium light options. We have this nice crocodile fern here. He likes to be wet because he's a fern, so you can give him a lot of water. He likes medium amount of light so not too much, and you'll get some really nice explosive hanging growth like this. We call it a crocodile fern because it has a crocodile look to it. Like all other ferns he's also sensitive to humidity. So, if the humidity is too low, the edges will start to burn in and fern will start to crisp away. Just be careful of that. Plants will usually let you know when there's something wrong, you just have to understand what their symptoms are. So, this one is a neon philodendron. Nice medium light plant. This will start to vine just like the pothos which I'll bring up here. So, the neon philodendron and this is a Marble Queen pothos. Very similar plants, the care is pretty much the same. They both have the same habit of vining. So, if left for long enough they will grow into a nice hanging basket and you've probably seen hanging baskets of these everywhere. They're very easy to train and they're very pretty, too. Some nice white variegations here and just a really cool neon color on this philodendron. So, very interesting, very cool plants. You would treat these like a typical house plant, you water them then you wait for the soil to get dry and then you can water them again. Not too much water, not too little water. They have to be watered about once a week. It's about the amount of time that it takes for them to dry out. But if the soil is still wet, you can let it go for another couple of days and then get it watered. Then, I'll talk about this nice bird's nest fern. Bird's nest fern. Very pretty, very nesty, called bird's nest because it looks like a bird's nest in the center. Like other ferns, likes to be kept very wet, high humidity and really pretty plant. Now, this one is a rubber tree plant. A ficus, technically, and it is a medium to low light plants. So, this one's sort of the ones that's in between. They can tolerate more, they can tolerate less. This one has a better range. This one's actually really pretty. It's got that nice color to it, so if you're really into adding a splash of color to your home, a nice rubber tree plant would be really great to have. These can grow really big into actual trees and they're called rubber tree plants because when they're cut, they exude a latexy sap that's rubbery. These are very interesting plants, very nice ones to have. Also I will talk about these air plants again, because I did mentioned they were high light. They can also be medium light. You can have them in a northern facing window or in a southern facing window. But just keep in mind, these dry out pretty quickly. So, if they are kept in higher light, then they have to also be given more moisture and more frequent mistings or waterings. So, that's something definitely to look out for. Another common rule of thumb with house plants is the more light they get, the more dry they get. So, with increased light comes increased water and watering. So, pay attention to your plant. Some plants will droop very obviously and they will tell you that they need water, some will shrink and wrinkle up, and others may not give you any signs. But it's just up to you to feel the soil and just make sure everything's going pretty well. This one is also one of my favorites besides the agave. This is an asparagus fern or a plumosa fern, and it's definitely a nice medium light plant. You would treat it just like you would other ferns and it likes a lot of water, a lot of humidity, but it's definitely a medium light plant. It likes that in-between. It's a really beautiful plant. It also dries out a little bit faster than the other ferns because it has so much surface area on its leaves. The more surface area on the leaves, the faster a plant dries out. So, you'll notice on some of the more cacti succulent type plants, they're very thick and fleshy, they don't have a lot of surface area or area exposed to the outside. Whereas this plumosa fern has a lot of surface area, a lot of exposure to the air and exposure to being dried out. So, that's something to look out for. 5. Choosing Plants for Low Light: Now I'm going to talk to you about low light plants, and so you'll see some repeats from the medium light section, since they can tolerate low light as well. You'll see the marble queen pothos as well as the neon philodendron. Those perform very well in low light, but again because light means energy, the lower light you have them in the less that they will grow and the less productive they will be. But they will still live and be all right. They'll just sort of not grow as much as if they were in the medium light. You'll also see over here we have some nice agglaonemas, very nice plants to have, very tolerant of low light, very very low light conditions they can survive. We also have selaginella or clubmoss. So you'll see there's a red variety and we have a nice golden variety. These are nice for high humidity conditions and they perform very well in bathrooms in places like right next to your humidifier. These can never dry out, because when they dry out there is no recovery from them they just die. So they are extremely sensitive to humidity, more so than the ferns are. So please keep an eye on these, especially how wet they are. They can sit in the water, but they'd rather sit in water than dry out. So these are especially wet ones. Then also you'll see a nice ZZ plant or an eternity plant. So this one's really nice this one's really popular. I like the name eternity plant, and they call it that because it doesn't really do much. It stays the same for an eternity or what feels like an eternity before it actually does start growing. So it's a very fun plant a very nice plant, very easy to care for plant. You would take care of it in the same way that you would take care of a snake plant in that you would water it very little extremely little do you maybe water it, when the soil dries and even then you could leave the soil dry for an extra week. So you'd watered them maybe once a month, or less. Snake plant this one you treat the same way. Overwatering these guys is very bad because just like the cacti or the succulents they will rot out, and the snake plant especially starts to smell really bad when it starts to rot. So just like the cacti and the succulents. Less water is better than more water. These guys these rubber tree plants we have a nice different darker variety in India rubber tree plant. These are also adapted to low light conditions. They can survive also in medium light conditions but again, just like with the pothos and philodendrons, they won't grow as quickly as if they had more light these. These angleonemas are really easy to take care of, so you can treat them like you would most other house plants. You can give them a little less water though they can dry out. These are actually very easy because when they do dry out their leaves droop very obviously. So you'll be able to tell when they need water. And then they come in all sorts of different colours and variations there's just so many I can't even keep track of the count of our names anymore. 6. Selecting Healthy Plants: When you do go out and you do look for your new plant, there are some things that you want to look for when you're buying a plant. So, this eternity plant or the ZZ plant, something you want to look for is a nice new growth shoot. So, for this one that kind of looks like this and it needs to be nice and green and healthy or at least something that looks like it's going to turn into something, and you generally want one that's free from leaf blemishes so something that looks nice. There's not a lot of yellow, there's not a lot of burns, there's not any insect holes or any other damage to the plant as well. So another good example of a healthy shoot is this Aglaonema, you just sort of see the green shoot coming right out of here and the rest of the plant looks pretty good, you know nice green leaves, it's all evenly spaced, shoot looks good. You may see some cuts, but sometimes you've got to cut it. Some things to watch for is, in this particular rubber tree plant, you'll see this is a nice healthy bud or shoot and this one just sort of kind died. So, you can see the difference between one that's not doing so well and one that is doing well, it can be kind of tricky because this leaf looks okay and this leaf also looks okay, but this one is the healthier one. If you see a bud that's not doing so well, you would generally sort of, if I pull this apart you would see that it's not really doing too well. It's starting to bleed a little bit. You generally don't want plants that are dying. You don't want to try to rescue a plant. You should just buy a really nice plant. So, that's something to watch out for so you generally don't want to buy a plant that looks like it might need some rescue and you want the best because you do want the best for yourself and for your plant, so you pick the best plant.