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.
I’ll run through my maintenance tips, unique challenges I faced in my NYC apartment, and FAQs I get about my plants.
I’ve learned 2 tricks for easy maintenance:
Those tips are good general advice, but my living situation in Manhattan has brought 3 additional challenges.
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.
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.
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:
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:
In particular, look how withered the vines ended up:
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.
Nope! See my maintenance tips.
Maybe a little! Some students measured the CO2 reduction of various houseplants and found statistically significant results, Suhaimi, et al, 2017.
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.
You’re probably over-watering them and they’re getting root rot. See my maintenance tips about overflow trays.
Yes! They’re pretty great. 🪴
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.