The Rest

Going From Artificial to Real Houseplants

April 22, 2012

The Nester has been talking houseplants.

Over the last few weeks she has shown off the plants in her home, shared her plant secrets, and talked about planters, terrariums, and even fairy gardens.

Now she’s asking us to show our plants and I’m taking her up on the challenge because — along with dragging things from the yard into the house — I’ve also been replacing some of the fake/silk/plastic/artificial plants and flowers in my house with real ones.

In other words, I’m trying to have less of this…

My dusty, obviously fake plant on a shelf.

…and more of what I’m about to share.

Why Have Real Plants in Your Home

There was a time when I didn’t bother with real plants because I thought they were hard to keep alive and I didn’t exactly enjoy trying to do it. But I’ve since come to appreciate the benefits of keeping live plants in the house:

Plants are air purifiers. 

In fact, NASA studied the effectiveness of plants as interior air cleaners and came up with a top ten list, based on how effective the plants were and how easy they were to maintain. Here’s the list. (Hint: When in doubt, get a palm.)

Plants are beautiful.

Designer Lori Dennis even describes them as art:

“Because they grow and change, live plants are like sculpture that is always new and exciting. Even if you don’t have a lot of money for furniture and accessories, if you have a clean, uncluttered space with a plant or two, it always looks nice and feels like home.” – Lori Dennis

Plants are therapeutic.

Studies show that plants help with concentration and memory, speed up healing, reduce stress, and just generally make people happy.

I can attest to the fact that keeping a plant alive and watching it grow does result in a certain satisfaction that just buying an artificial plant or flower doesn’t.

What I’ve Learned About Plants So Far

While I’ll never be mistaken for a gardening guru, here are a few things I’ve learned since I’ve undertaken the great houseplant switch-out from artificial to authentic.

Consider what you like.

That may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me at first. I thought a plant was a plant was a plant.

But when it comes to your home, plants are no different than curtains or pillows or artwork You’ll develop a taste for what you like and what you don’t.

I’ve learned that I like plants with small leaves, like this China Doll

China Doll

and this Weeping Fig.

Weeping Fig

(We had a close call with the fig plant; I nearly killed it right after I got it. I’m happy to report that it seems to be bouncing back.)

I learned that I don’t like tropical-looking plants, like this one

This plant wasn't my thing.

so I switched it out for Rosemary, because herbs are something I do like.


Buy them small.

Speaking of that Rosemary plant up there, can you tell how small it is?

Plants are so much cheaper when you buy them little. I like to pay for someone to get the plant started for me, but not much beyond that.

I often pick up $1.99 plants at the grocery store. At that price, they’re really, really tiny, but that’s okay. Because watching a plant grow is where that feeling of satisfaction comes in.

So unless you have an area that you need to fill with something ASAP, I would advise starting with itty bitty plants. And if you’re nervous about keeping a plant alive, a small one is less intimidating too.

Keep plants where you are.

I think it’d be great to have at least one live plant in every room of the house, but I’m starting with plants in the rooms we’re in most often. Not only do we enjoy them more, but I tend to notice more quickly when they’re droopy or dry looking.

And if you keep plants near a sink, it’s extra easy to throw them in, water them, and let them drain, all in the sink.

White Orchid

This orchid is in my bathroom and I’ve managed to keep it alive for almost two months now. I’m so proud.

I was crazy intimidated to buy an orchid, but the woman at the nursery advised me to keep it on the dry side and only water it once a week or so.

So far, so good but any other long-term care tips you have would be appreciated.

So there you have most of what I know about going from this…

Fake greens and berries(?) in an urn.

…to this.

Live evergreen bought as a Christmas decoration, now a full-time family room decoration.

And here’s a bonus tip straight from me to you: If you need a plant that you are virtually guaranteed to be able to keep alive, choose a Peace Lily.

I know because I’ve kept this Peace Lily — a gift given to us when my son was born — alive for almost 17 years.

Peace Lily

Even in it’s obviously neglected state, it just keeps on living and giving. (There’s one of those “As Seen on TV” water globes in the middle of all those leaves. It’s dry, I’m sure.)

So now it’s your turn. Is your thumb green or brown? Do you have a favorite houseplant or a tip for keeping them alive? Tell us about it in the comments.

P.S. If you’re on Pinterest, Nester has a Planty Board (cute name) and I have a Gardening Board (boring name) with lots of houseplants on it. I’d love to connect with you there.

Gardening Pinterest Board

This post is part of Nifty Thrifty Tuesday, The William Morris ProjectFrugal Fridays, and One Project at a Time.

  1. I have live plants in nearly every room of my home – windowless bathrooms get the fake ones. I have a bunch of orchids (orchids and alpacas are my ‘things’). I would advise putting your orchid is a pot with bottom drainage. Water it from the top and let it run out the bottom, but not where the roots will stay wet (set the pot on pebbles in the drainage dish. The evaporating water will increase the humidity around it which is good. You should be able to move it outside for the summer – indirect sun or shade is fine. Most orchids are not that scary – although I have killed my share!

    1. Wonderful! Thanks for the tips, Holly. I’m hoping the humidity it gets everyday from the shower is good for it too.

  2. I’m the worst plant mommy on the face of the planet! Hubby is the one with the green thumb in our house. But as far as the orchid goes, I heard that you should put a few ice cubes in the soil every week or so as a method of watering. That way it’s hard to over water and the cubes melt in slowly and keep it moist for a few days.

    1. That’s the third time today I’ve heard about the ice cube method. I’m going to give it a try. Thanks for the info!

  3. Great post! You have so many pretty plants and I love all the pots you have them in too! Just did a similar post to yours Real or Faux. Stop on by when you have a chance, your newest follower.

  4. I love the evergreens- so pretty! I have no plants in the house except for a basil plant in the kitchen because my toddler would probably pull them out of the pot, but as my kids get older, I would like to bring more plants inside.

  5. Interesting post. I like that you are learning what your favorites are, and also what the real benefits are real plants have.

    I love silk plants but they get boring. I like houseplants, but they seem like too much work. Thanks for the encouragement.

    I found you at Nester.

  6. Beautiful plants! I’ve always loved real plants, herbs are my favorite too! I brought a rosemary plant in last summer for the winter, what a treat to add fresh herbs all winter long. Now I’m debating whether to keep it inside or transplant it outside, I love having it by my sink in the kitchen.

    1. Nothing beats the look and smell of fresh herbs, does it Susan? I’ve killed a lot of Rosemary so your skills impress me!

      1. Actually this is the first year it survived! I’ve been trying for years to save the rosemary from my garden. It usually makes it until Feb or March then dies. I think the secret is to make sure the foliage gets watered more than the soil. That has seemed to work this time around.

  7. I used to be a self-proclaimed black thumb with most plants I encountered, but I have slowly accumulated plenty of real plants in my home over the past 2 years. I love them!

    My best tip is to let the water sit for 24 hours if you’re watering with tap water. Apparently, it helps change the pH, which is vital in terms of chlorine added to the water, etc. The chlorine is a key reason why indoor plants turn yellow/brown despite getting enough sun, not being over-watered, and being water just enough.

    1. Thanks so much for that tip, HH. I’ve definitely experienced what you’re talking about so I can’t wait to try it.

  8. Your plants look so good! I have like the blackest thumb ever (as opposed to a green thumb) – I kill every plant I touch. We finally managed to keep some plants alive on our patio but that’s only because my boyfriend waters them and I barely touch them. I wish I could keep plants inside but not only do my cats eat them, I just end up killing them. Jealous of yours!

  9. So funny you should mention this Julie…I started putting live plants on our screened porch this year and really like it. I love your orchid in the bathroom! Maybe I will venture out and buy a few little ones like you suggested. I love the look!

    1. Do it, Pam. This orchid is so pretty that it doesn’t even look real. And a couple of new little buds are sprouting, so apparently I’m not killing it.

  10. Hi Julie,

    Love the title…”Show us you Planties”..too funny! :-)

    I agree with so many of the other commenters…I love all your plants. I have a lot outside but you have motivated me to keep more inside. I think it will be a great idea for those things that might be just a bit to susceptible to our cooler Texas Hill Country winters. We are in Zone 8, so I have always been hesitant to plant anything from Zone 9 thinking it might not make it to spring. But now I am going to put these more tender plants in pots and then bring them in the house during our cooler months.

    Thanks so much for all the tips! You’re the best.


    1. That sounds like a plan, Mary. More and more I’m hearing of people who move their plants from inside to out and back in again.

  11. Hey Julie. You won’t believe it, but our cat loves to eat our houseplants! Can you believe it? I’m not sure what to do about it. Seriously we put plants high up where (we think) she can’t get to them, and then we wake up the next morning and all the leaves are gone! Kind of funny, but ever so frustrating!

    1. Cats can get into anything, can’t they? I wonder if there’s a spray or something you can put on them to keep the cats from chewing on them?

    2. We have the same trouble with our cat and any houseplants or cut flowers that he can reach. So when I put plants up where he can’t get at them, I forget to water them. :( At the moment I only have 2 plants still alive, but I’d like to have more.

  12. Its still winter over here in Scotland – but the combination of a south facing window and care from my son means we have a veritable forest of thriving herbs in pots.

    Lovely to add to cooking – and frugal too. He really has a green thumb

  13. I love plants, but my cats eat them. I’ve tried everything to keep their whiskered noses (and damaging teeth) out of my houseplants to no avail. I gave up, but I do keep an outdoor potted garden every year.

  14. I’ve never been much of a fan of silk plants so we mostly only have real houseplants. I have somehow managed to find my green thumb with our houseplants, but I do wish we had more space in other rooms for them. Perhaps I need to figure out what could tolerate more shade since direct sunlight is tricky to catch in our house.

  15. I also used to have one of those fake ivy plants, in a brass container. Good lord. I’d almost forgotten about that thing! I love your orchid.

    1. Oh, the brass container! Of course! Sounds like you wised up long before I did. That ivy plant is still sitting on my shelf. I need to drag it down.

  16. I agree 100%! I don’t like tropical house plants, either, but I love rosemary! I think I am going to try to make a rosemary topiary. Thanks for all the inspiration.

    Have a wonderful and blessed weekend!

  17. Artificial plants have got a lot more realistic in recent years, but it’s for the very reasons you list that I truly hate them! If you want a bit of green just get a real one in my opinion!

    Real plants grow and change and are continuously interesting, all they want from you in return is a little time each week to water and check over. I know your post is over a year old now Julie! But how are they doing? Have you fallen in love with having them around?

  18. You mentioned a grocery store is where you would get a real plant? I’m not sure if I’v ever seen one there. Would it be possible to find it somewhere else?

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