Alex W.'s Blog

30+ houseplants in a New York City apartment

As of December 2022, I’ve got 34 houseplants1 in my 14’ x 14’ apartment in Manhattan. They take <3 hours of maintenance per month and bring freshness and nature into my life.

A before and after photos. The before photo shows a bare-walled bedroom with only a standing desk and a bed. The after photo still has the desk and bed, but the photo is overflowing with green plants, which cover most surfaces.

I’ll run through my maintenance tips, unique challenges I faced in my NYC apartment, and FAQs I get about my plants.

Maintenance Tips

I’ve learned 2 tricks for easy maintenance:

  • Watering trays - Keep plants in pots that drain into overflow trays. Water them consistently, ~1 per week, with as much water is needed to overflow into the tray.
  • Evergreen plants - Don’t bother picking plants that are impressive, pick plants that are consistently good-enough. A plant that doesn’t lose any leaves or flowers and stays green all the time will look better than the orchid you forget to water for 3 weeks.


Those tips are good general advice, but my living situation in Manhattan has brought 3 additional challenges.

Challenge #1: No Sunlight

Challenge: My 2nd-floor room has a north-facing window and is surrounded by 10+ story buildings. I receive ~40 lux of sunlight at 1 pm. Even plants labeled “low light” still require substantial amounts of light to function, between 250 - 1,000 lux (source, 1 ftcd ≈ 11 lux). Compare those levels to standard indoor spaces: break rooms are around 250 lux and supermarkets are around 750 lux. For comparison, an overcast day is 1,000 lux and full daylight is 10,000 lux.

Solution: Replace the 3 overhead bulbs, originally 800 lumens, with 4000 lumen, high-CRI LED bulbs, and install 6 additional pendant lights. I chose these from Feit Electric since they fit standard A23 sockets, though they’re ~2” taller than a normal bulb. They have a CRI >80, which, even though Color Rendition Index isn’t as appropriate as Photosynthetically Active Radiation, still indicates plant-appropriate, and natural looking, lighting. At 5000k, they look like daylight. Most places in my room receie >2000 lux, which makes my room feel more outdoors-like.

Room with 30 plants strewn about. Red arrows point to 7 light bulbs spread across the room.

Directly under the bulbs can be too bright. See this leaf on a monstera deliciosa which sat ~4” under a pendant light for a few months. Notice the circular discoloration, matching the light’s shade, and the browning on the leaf. I now keep plants >12” away from the lights.

Monstera deliciosa leaf next to a light. The leaf is a deep green. There is a lighter green coloration forming a semicircle in the top right of the leaf, following the same curvature as the lamp next to it. At the far right edge the leaf is brown and curled.

Challenge #2: Limited Space

Challenge: I have a 14’x14’ bedroom, of which my bed + desk take up ~50% of the space. That leaves just enough room to walk around in and have floor space for ~8 plants.

Solution: Shelves. Shelves are amazing, and Ikea has many options that are low cost and easy to mount. I’ve double-layered shelves on my main wall, providing me with ample space for additional plants (about 24 more). I buy plants that fall into one of two buckets:

  • Floor plants - these need to be big, both tall and voluminous, with lots of leaves.
  • Shelf plants - these should be viny, with long, leafy vines that drape off the shelf’s edge.

Challenge #3: Travel

Challenge: I’m sometimes away from NYC for >4 weeks at a time. My plants usually get watered every 1 or 2 weeks. When I was traveling for the holidays from December 18th, 2021 to January 28th, 2022, many plants suffered:

On the left side are 11 plants looking lively and growing. On the right is the same photo, but 9 of the plants are yellowing or are dried out.

In particular, look how withered the vines ended up:

On the left are pothos that are lush and green. On the right are pothos where the leaves are shriveled up and brown.

On the left is a pothos that is voluminous and green. On the right is the same pothos, but it's lost most of it's leaves.

Solution: In this instance, I was able to recover all of my plants in a few months by aggressively pruning the dead vines and leaves, trimming the plants back to their base. I took cuttings and placed them in water to begin propagating them. Within 3 months the plants had new growth and the propagation were ready to be potted. Within 6 months all the plants were more lush than before.

A key mistake I made on that trip was leaving the lights on. This increases water usage by the plants. For future trips, I leave the lights off to extend the impact of my pre-trip watering. Then, I coordinate with a roommate to water every ~2 weeks while I’m away, which usually means one watering in the middle of my trip. I put all the shelf plants on the ground to make them easier to water.


You have so many plants… they must be hard to maintain?

Nope! See my maintenance tips.

Do you get lots of oxygen from the plants?

Maybe a little! Some students measured the CO2 reduction of various houseplants and found statistically significant results, Suhaimi, et al, 2017.

Have you had any pests?

Yes, centipedes and gnats. I dealt with the gnats using yellow sticky traps and I killed the centipedes by throwing out their host plant. I now isolate all new plants for a few weeks to mitigate the risk of them introducing new pests.

My plants keep dying, what am I doing wrong?

You’re probably over-watering them and they’re getting root rot. See my maintenance tips about overflow trays.

Should I have plants?

Yes! They’re pretty great. 🪴

  1. Catalog of species I have as of December 10th, 2022: 3 dracaena trifasciata (snake plants), 6 monstera deliciosa, 3 epipremnum aureum (golden pothos), 4 philodendron hederaceum, 4 scindapsus pictus (satin pothos), 1 dracaena fragrans (cornstalk dracaena), 2 pilea peperomioides (chinese money plant), 3 ravenea rivularis (majesty palm), 1 dieffenbachia (dumb cane), + 8 more I’m forgetting the names of.

Written by Alex Wendland, who is currently exploring fintech at Pinwheel. Here's a Twitter handle, a GitHub, some LinkedIn, ol' Facebook, or a hip Instagram if you're interested.