Here are some helpful tips for budding plant parents from full-bloom plant enthusiasts

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Thinking of turning your home into a green, plant-filled sanctuary? Here are some tips from those who have been there and done that.

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Pets aren’t the only thing that’s been adopted since the start of the pandemic. Plants are steadily enjoying a lot of attention, making your grandmother’s favourite pastime a new trending hobby.

For many, getting their first indoor plants can be limited to what ‘looks good’ or what’s trendy (hello monstera fans). Instead of snipping off what you see on social media, we encourage you to head to the root of your new found love and purchase something that you truly find beautiful. As the old adage goes: beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Rather than turn towards social media for some plant inspo, we asked five real-life plant enthusiasts on the plants they’ve amassed in their collection, how their hobby came to be, and tips they have on saving money with plants.

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Understand what your plant needs 

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“I started out having an indoor planter at home, but the plants kept dying and I got tired of buying new ones to replace them, so I began learning how to grow them. Eventually, it became a great way to destress from work.

However, I was a little overly ambitious. When I first fell into this ‘black hole’, I got several different species of plants to give my garden a good mix of everything. Thanks to that, I spent a lot of money getting a bunch of items for these plants hoping they wouldn’t die on me because I did not understand what they needed.

I won’t deny that in the early stages of this hobby, quite a few plant purchases were driven by those aesthetically-pleasing plant posts I came across on Instagram. Thankfully, I’ve since passed the stage of buying ‘trendy’ plants. I don’t have a definite number on how much I’m willing to splurge on a plant, but it really depends on the species — whether I really like it and if that particular species is rare in cultivation.

Of course, I will also need to understand some of the species’ background and if I can provide the ideal environment to grow them in. I think it’s vital to understand what environment you have versus what plants can adapt to your environment. With this info, you can save on spending on additional purchases (such as humidifier, grow lights, etc.) to provide the required condition for certain plants.

During the first year of my hobby, my biggest fear has always been overwatering — which was the main cause of all my dead plants. I overcame this nightmare by changing to transparent pots so I could monitor their roots’ growth.

However, I’ve also learned to be more easygoing — as the wise men say, ‘learning is attributed to value and value always comes at a price’.

I haven’t been scammed so far, but I have encountered some dishonest and irresponsible sellers. I think it’s fine to leverage on this trending hobby and it’s a free market, but to my dismay, there are sellers who are selling relatively fresh cuttings and labelling them as ‘well-rooted plants’. That’s not right.” — SH Lee

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“Having plants also connects to my love of travelling”

“When I moved into my first apartment, my mother took me to IKEA (in Sweden) to buy some basic furniture and miscellaneous items. Next to IKEA was a plant shop, and we ended up there before heading home. I remember not being too thrilled about this additional stop at the time, but my mum insisted we would buy at least one plant to bring some life to my small studio apartment. Back at the apartment, once the furniture was assembled, I tried to find a spot for the little palm that we had purchased and it ended up in one of the corners. That evening I was evaluating the purchases done and I realized how much of a difference that one plant had made. Mum had been 100% right, and next time I visited IKEA (only a few days later) I decided to give the plant shop another visit and ended up with two more plants. I guess mothers indeed do know best!

In a way, having plants also connects to my love of travelling. I’ve never been much for collecting souvenirs from places I’ve visited, however bringing plants into your home that remind you of those places has been a way for me to achieving a similar result. I’m originally from an borderline arctic climate where no tropical plants grow, so having something like a potted yellow palm (for example) in your home made it a little easier to endure the dark winters as they remind you of a warmer and sunnier times and places.

I only started with a few plants at first, to see if I could manage keeping them alive. My problem is I cannot throw a living plant away (once I bring it back I fully commit!), so I rarely do impulse purchases when it comes to plants.

In general, I find the prices here in Malaysia very reasonable, especially compared to Europe, but I think my limit is around RM150. I have no problems paying over RM100 if the plant is exceptionally beautiful, is a bit larger or comes from a reputable nursery that can do proper delivery.

I actually have a funny story on plants. Being an engineer I’m always looking for smart solutions, and when I moved to Malaysia I was on the lookout for a specific brand which manufactures self-watering pots. I couldn’t find them anywhere locally, so I ended up bringing a huge pot back from Europe. It was a ridiculously large 145 litre pot which I dragged through three airports and ended up using as a luggage by storing my items inside the pot, then wrapping plastic around the whole thing! Needless to say, the airport security both in Europe and Asia had questions.

As for tips on saving money with your plant hobby, my best tip is to take care of your plants so you don’t have to waste money on buying new ones.” — Patrick J.

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It’s the challenge to keep them alive

“It all started with me being intrigued by a nice collection of plants posted on social media. I started out buying one or two plants, and then I got addicted to buying more! I’d say I’m quite willing to splurge on plants — depending on its rarity, I’d say at least RM1,000 and below. It gives me a challenge to improve myself on my gardening knowledge and keeping them alive — it’s a learning process for me. Also, because the plants are really pretty in my eyes.

Despite being willing to splurge on plants, I think you shouldn’t buy expensive pots for them. Instead, use or recycle plastic pots. After all, the plants are the attraction, not the pots.” — Naddy Ysf

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Follow your heart, not the trends

“My interest in plants started about five years ago. I was living in an apartment with large windows and white walls, which made it easy to cultivate plants. Also, my father was an agriculturalist, so I have always been brought up around plants in the garden. It started out with me buying a few cheap succulents. These plants thrive on neglect so I thought they would be a great addition to greening up the home. From there, I started collecting bigger plants, starting with easy sansevierias and finicky alocasias.

However, just because I enjoy collecting plants, the most I’ve ever spent on a plant is RM150 — it’s my Stephania Kaweesaki also known as the Stephania Nova. These caudiciform plants grow from a caudex and shoots out big large heart shaped leaves. I paid RM150 for it. I bought it over Instagram from this Stephania specialist called @budsome.my…if you’re a hobbyist like me, I recommend plant nurseries, so the heartache is less if they don’t work out.

I don’t believe in overspending on plants, especially plants I’m not familiar with. For example, people should buy a regular monstera deliciosa before just jumping in on getting a monstera deliciosa “Thai Constellation”, a variegated (white splashes on the leaves) version that can cost up to thousands.

I don’t believe in trends, which I feel just spoils the market for true plant lovers.

I tend to like plants for their own unique reasons, either because they have nice coloration, petiole shapes or just the challenge of nurturing a known difficult plant like succulents and cacti. I have a lot of common plants, they all belong to me and are all beautiful in their own way.

I use a number of different fertilisers and water much more, but it hasn’t significantly brought up my spending. I buy my fertiliser in bulk and I use rain water for my plants, which is better for them and it’s free. Buy soil and fertiliser in bulk, it will save you over a long time, or better yet, buy different types of growing medium and mix them yourself. I always have a supply of pumice, rich soil, coco peat, perlite and a special mix for succulents and cacti.” — Nicholas Ng

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© iakovenko | 123rf

Take it slow and know your plants first

“For me, it really started as a means to beautify my space when I was redecorating my new place. I wanted to add some warmth, life and colour to space. That’s when I started researching more on indoor plants and finally made the leap to purchase my first few plants. It’s rather nerve-racking when you’re a first-time plant owner. There were so many considerations — everything from choosing the right plant that would fit the lighting conditions of your space to something as trivial as choosing the right pot for it.

Once I started doing more research and learning more about the various types of plants, alongside the many trips to various nurseries around town, I started adding more and more plants to my wishlist. It was a snowball effect from there on.

I ended up with three different types of plants for my first nursery haul — one of which was a rather ambitious buy for a novice so that ended up being quite a challenge. Because of that, I became rather disciplined in reining in my excitement to procure more plants as I knew it was best for me to take it slow and only add more plants to my collection once I was more confident in upkeeping what I currently have.

I’ve been quite lucky that my current collection has mostly been gifted either by supportive fellow plant enthusiast friends or by members from the various Plant Swap communities on Facebook. I’m not overly particular about owning rare or very specific plants as I enjoy learning more about different types of plants and how to care for them — even those that are deemed common.” — Florence Song

Ready to grow your own plant collection? Here’s a guide to some of the best plant nurseries in the Klang Valley for your affordable planting needs, once the lockdown is over. If you’re not sure where to begin in terms of species, plants that are known for air-purifying properties are always a good bet.

Got more tips to share with us? Drop your submission here!

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