How to grow your happiness with indoor foliage | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

How to grow your happiness with indoor foliage

click to enlarge A few of Jordan Snowden's indoor plants. - CP PHOTO: JORDAN SNOWDEN
CP Photo: Jordan Snowden
A few of Jordan Snowden's indoor plants.
From waking up late and going to bed even later, I’ve noticed quite a few of my habits have changed during the quarantine (and maybe not for the better). But plants have been my saving grace.

My plant-mom status has evolved into a plant smother. I find myself checking in on my plants every day: stroking their leaves, touching their soil, moving them into spots of light when the sun emerges from behind a cloud, playing Mort Garson’s Mother Earth's Plantasia as loud as I can without disturbing my neighbors. I’ve been taking care of them, but really, they are taking care of me. And it turns out, this is something that’s not unique to me or the current circumstances.

“Biophilia is a term thrown around quite often, but what does it truly mean, or better yet what positive effects can it have?” asks Tom Horowitz, vice president of Plantscape in the Strip District. “The Well International WELL Building Institute concurs that humans have a psychological affinity toward nature, the natural world, and its simple processes. Just being around nature, or even a photograph of nature, can help boost our mood and give us those warm fuzzies.”


Beyond that, The Attention Restoration Theory explains that working within — or in my case, living and working in — environments with elements of nature can aid in the restoration of mental capacity when dealing with demanding tasks and/or distracting environmental factors that lead to mental fatigue.

“Within our post-COVID-19 world, our bodies are in a state of fight-or-flight,” says Horowitz. “Adding interior plant material has shown to provide a sense of safety within the subconscious part of the brain. Biophilia also, from a physical health perspective, provides positive outcomes. The NIH publication by Grinde and Patil states that ‘a decrease in health complaints, such as tiredness and coughing, has been reported in office and hospital workers when plants were added to the work environment.’”

The aesthetic of a space full of plants has also been tantalizing while stuck at home. Being in my apartment almost 24/7 has made me want to spruce up my living situation. And since the start of the quarantine, I’ve added about eight new plant babies to my collection.

“A home or office can sometimes feel a bit lifeless without plants,” says Abi Falcioni, owner of Perrico Plant Co. “They are a relatively inexpensive way to add color and life into a space. In addition, it's nice to just nurture and care for something once in a while, and plants are an easy way to fulfill that desire.”


Drew Clouse of City Grows backed Falcioni up, adding, “Plants can add unique pops of color in the home and help fill rooms [that have] unwanted empty space.” But he warned about the importance of picking the right plants to suit your home and lifestyle.

“Taking care of a plant, while not as daunting as a cat or dog, is still taking care of a living thing, and figuring out the right care routine for them is important,” says Clouse. “Having a designated time to water them, whether it's weekly or monthly, or to otherwise check on them daily helps to keep to a schedule for many people.

“Also plants provide a unique learning opportunity. Most people might not realize that taking care of plants, even for seasoned people, can be difficult at times, and that even we might wind up with some brown leaves or run into other issues, but that's part of the process of having plants.”

As plants grow in your home, you grow with them. You learn about them, and in doing so learn about yourself. Do you have the patience for daily watering? Or are you a once-a-week type person? Will you propagate your plants to share with others? Or propagate them to make your collection an indoor jungle? 
click to enlarge Abi Falcioni, owner of Perrico Plant Co., inside her Lawrenceville shop - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Abi Falcioni, owner of Perrico Plant Co., inside her Lawrenceville shop

“Taking care of plants is very rewarding and can also be challenging, but it's about taking on a manageable amount of work and making it enjoyable,” says Natasha Brittain, events coordinator and social media manager at Shadyside Nursery. “It's also about not giving up and finding the plant varieties that work well in your home and with your lifestyle. Plants make us better people; they improve our quality of life and they are valuable teachers.”

Plus, as Horowitz pointed out, “They do not have any current restrictions or need to wear masks! Plants are powerful in so many ways especially in today’s climate.”


Below, Pittsburgh City Paper chatted with a few local plant sellers to get some tips and advice on being a great plant parent.

Shadyside Nursery

510 Maryland Ave., Shadyside. theshadysidenursery.com
To adapt to running a business during the pandemic, Shadyside Nursery opened an online store and had plants available for pickup and local delivery. Pre-orders for houseplants began on Thu., May 13, but since the outdoor space can comply with restrictions of Allegheny County's yellow phase, the nursery was able to open for the season on Fri., May 22.

“We will enforce social distancing practices and suggest masks for our customers,” says Brittain, of Shadyside Nursery. “If customer numbers climb extensively, we will limit the number of guests and we have talked about doing a ‘senior/sensitive group hour’ for shopping in the a.m. if needed. Keeping our community and our team safe and healthy is our priority and we will be adapting as needed to do so.”

Shadyside Nursery will be open Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekends.

“We are incredibly grateful to our Pittsburgh community that has supported us by shopping on our online store during this time,” says Brittain. “Let the victory gardens and ‘jungalows’ commence!”

Recommendations for beginners:
Philodendron, ficus (rubber), pothos, and our all-time favorite [is] sansevierias (snake plant). COVID-19 has created an interesting dynamic in the industry and the silver lining for us is that some hard-to-source varieties became available to us. We are very excited to be a source of improving your home with houseplants and offer them to our Pittsburgh community.

Intermediate recommendations:
Cathatea, hoya, ficus tree, fiddle leaf fig, and the lipstick plant

Most unique plant in stock:
Our most popular plant is the carnivorous pitcher plant. It's AMAZING, it's weird, and it eats fruit flies, so it's the real show-stopper out of the group. We have 10" sansevieria sayuri that we are thrilled to have in stock. As sansevieria collectors, this is the first time to see this variety in person or have any size in stock at the shop! We also have some notable hoya and lipstick plant hanging baskets, as well as the sought after cereus peruvianus double cactus.

A typical plant mistake you see which can easily be fixed:
Identifying each plant’s needs and acting accordingly is very important (water, light, soil). I teach multiple classes at Workshop PGH that specialize in plants and the most notable is Houseplants 101 - How Not to Kill Your Plants. The class empowers people to work with plants, care for them inside and outside of their home, and remember that in doing so, it's gratifying and can also be humbling. The most common mistake is when someone kills a couple of plants, they think they have a "black thumb" or are incapable of caring for plants in the future, which is absurd. Anyone can stop in at the nursery and gather tips and recommendations on how to be successful!

Perrico Plant Co.

158 41st St., Lawrenceville. perricoplantco.com
Perrico Plant Co. used to sell plants online and through pop-up events, and opened a retail/wholesale warehouse in Lawrenceville right before things shut down. Customers can shop for plants on its website — Perrico ships house plants across the contiguous U.S. — and now offers curbside pickup.

“Fortunately, we had a great response from Pittsburgh customers who were willing to pay for shipping because they wanted to shop local, so it’ll be great to be able to safely serve them with curbside pickup from now on,” says Perrico Plant Co. owner Abi Falcioni.

Falcioni recently left her corporate job to pursue running Perrico full time and takes a great deal of pride in being a female small business owner.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and rewards of delivering plant happiness to all my amazing customers,” says Falcioni. “Additionally, the brick-and-mortar location has allowed me to expand to wholesale, giving me the opportunity to support other local plant businesses.”

Falcioni also runs a YouTube channel (Perrico Plant Co.) where she gives a behind-the-scenes look at operating a house plant business, as well as advice about house plants.

Recommendations for beginners:
Our entire website is dedicated to helping beginner house plant owners (or black thumbs) find their perfect plant. Our favorites for beginners are ZZ plants and snake plants (sansevieria), as well as easy vining plants like a pothos or philodendron. We actually offer a Beginner Bundle [with] three beginner plants which allows customers to get a great deal on a few plants that will be easy to care for.

Intermediate recommendations:
We call these "graduation" plants and would recommend a stromanthe triostar to anyone looking for a striking plant but is willing to put in the effort to keep it consistently watered and provide a humid environment, if possible.

Most unique plant in stock:
Since we focus on plants that are great for beginners, we don't tend to carry many rare plants, but a fan favorite is the monstera adansonii which is a skinnier cousin to the monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant) that has gained in popularity over the last few years.

A typical plant mistake that you see which can easily be fixed:
A typical problem is not picking a plant that will suit your space. We have our website designed to take customers through a few questions related to lighting and watering that will help them narrow the choice down to the plants that will work best in their home. Too often people pick a plant that might look interesting, but they don't have the right conditions to keep the plant happy. We try to guide customers to plants that will have a good chance of thriving in the space.

Plantscape

3101 Liberty Ave., Strip District. plantscape.com
Plantscape doesn’t have a storefront for the public, but does sell to businesses. There are sales and design consultants that go directly to Plantscape’s clients, or clients can come to Plantscape’s facility by appointment.

Recommendations for beginners:
For beginners, we recommend sticking to low- to medium-light plants, such as a cast iron, sansevieria, pothos, and aglaonemas. We have a plant selection guide on our website (plantscape.com/plant-selection-guide.htm) for reference.

Intermediate recommendations:
More advanced green thumbs could attempt a bonsai or other exotic varieties if they have the proper light levels.

Most unique plant in stock:
I would say the aglaonema with its vast selection in varieties. They range from dark green to speckled, to shades of pink or red. But if you are looking for a statement, a pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) is the way to go.

A typical plant mistake that you see which can easily be fixed:
Under- or over-watering tends to be the biggest mistake made when caring for plants. Giving little drinks of water here and there doesn’t get down and saturate the roots, and using too much water or watering too frequently the roots will rot since they don’t have a chance to dry out. Pro-tip is to water thoroughly so water comes out the drainage hole — after a while, empty the saucer or container of any sitting water and then let the soil dry down several inches or more before watering again. Better to under-water than over-water! The other mistake is not matching the plant to the light levels. The plant selection guide on our website shows light levels required.

City Grows

5208 Butler St., Lawrenceville. citygrowspgh.com
City Grows is a fairly small store, so it’s still figuring out the best way to allow customers inside to shop now that Allegheny Country is in the yellow phase. Until then, people can continue to make purchases by calling the store at 412-781-2082 during City Grows’ business hours, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. The Lawrenceville business posts different items it has available every day on Instagram (instagram.com/citygrows).

In addition to plants, City Grows sells a variety of pottery for plants and plants for organic urban gardening. It also has seeds, seedlings, soil, and various fertilizers and other soil amendments. 
click to enlarge Plants available at Shadyside Nursery - PHOTO: NATASHA BRITTAINCAPTION
Photo: Natasha BrittainCaption
Plants available at Shadyside Nursery

Recommendations for beginners:
The easiest houseplants we have to care for are snake plants (sansevieria) and ZZ plants both of which can survive in pretty low light and need watered about monthly.

Intermediate recommendations:
Our calathea and maranta are probably in that range. They need a bit more care: mainly higher humidity, which can be achieved by misting the plants or putting a tray with rocks or pebbles at the bottom, or a humidifier if you want to make the investment. They also need watered every 5-7 days generally, but do well in low-medium light.

Most unique plant in stock:
Our most unique plant is probably the Buddhist pine. It's a conifer native to Japan and China and also makes a great houseplant for our region.

A typical plant mistake that you see which can easily be fixed:
People tend to over-water succulents and cacti, or they don't water them at all, when they need water every 3-4 weeks. I usually try to tell people to try to get as close as possible to replicating any plant’s natural environment.

Schweikert Greenhouse

322 Wallrose Heights Road, Baden. schweikertgreenhouse.com
Schweikert Greenhouse is a family-owned greenhouse, run by Andy Schweikert, his mom Chicky, and his dad Hoby. Andy’s grandmother and dad started their greenhouse business over 30 years ago, and everyone who works there is family.

“My brother Brian helps us when we are busy, and my other brother’s mother-in-law Dianne helps us water and plant flowers, herbs, and vegetables,” says Andy.

Schweikert Greenhouse is open to the public, as the Schweikerts have seven spaced out greenhouses. They require a mask in accordance with Governor Wolf’s order, but customers can come and shop while maintaining social distancing. Schweikert specializes in flowers, herbs, vegetable plants, perennials, and succulents.

“Most of our plants are for beautifying your home or to grow your own vegetables or herbs in your garden,” says Andy. “For houseplants, we mainly have cactus and succulents which my 93-year-old grandma Betty Schweikert has grown and cared for over the years.”

Recommendations for beginners:
I would recommend solenia begonias. They can grow in sun or part sun to shade and don’t require a lot of water. Another easy plant for beginners is vinca. They love very hot sunny weather and are extremely drought tolerant.

Intermediate recommendations:
For a hanging basket I recommend a mandevilla or a dipladenia, as they do wonderful in hot weather and continuously bloom, and do not need watered every day.

Most unique plant in stock:
Our most unique plant is a customer favorite of ours, a cherry tomato basket. The variety of tomato is specially bred to grow in a basket, and they produce hundreds of tomatoes all summer. They just take a lot of water because they get very large throughout the summer. Another very unique plant we have is a succulent called a lifesaver cactus; they produce a yellow and red bloom that is amazing.

A typical plant mistake that you see which can easily be fixed:
The biggest mistake is choosing the wrong place for a plant meaning putting a plant that likes shade in a sunny location or over- or under-watering. Some plants love lots of water while others will do poorly with lots of water, so knowing the plant's requirement is important.

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