How to pick plants that will survive in any Boston space or condition

Niche Urban Garden Supply owner Lindsey Swett talks houseplants.

Pothos.
Pothos. –Niche Urban Garden Supply

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There are two kinds of plant owners in this world: those who remember when to water their plants, and those who buy succulents.

Of course, being a good plant owner is about more than regularly sprinkling your plants with H20 or even resoiling them. It’s important to be thoughtful and honest about your office or living space before you go to the greenhouse to pick up some new leafy occupants: How much sunlight do you have to work with? Are you shopping for an indoor or outdoor space? How much maintenance can you realistically commit to?

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Lindsey Swett, owner of Niche Urban Garden Supply in Boston and Cambridge, helps locals answer these questions so that they can head home with plants that will live long lives and prosper.

Take a good look at the space around you, and read her suggestions before you invest in new potted friends.

For the newbie

The ZZ plant. —Niche Urban Garden Supply

When a patron comes in and asks for a low-maintenance plant, Swett usually points them toward the drought-tolerant ones.

“The snake plant or a ZZ plant would be good options in this case,” Swett said.

Snake plants generally have yellow or white striped leaves, while ZZ plants have dark, waxy leaves that have a plastic-like appearance.

“Even a pothos plant could work,” she continued, referencing the common houseplant with wide, golden-yellow leaves, “although with those you might need to check in a little more regularly than the other two.”

All three of the aforementioned plant types are also great for new apartment renters who signed leases for spaces that looked a whole lot sunnier on Craigslist. Swett said that drought-tolerant plants also tend to do very well in low-light situations.

For the person whose life is dominated by their pet (and proud of it)

Sometimes all of the chew toys or the litter boxes are a dead giveaway that your apartment completely revolves around your furry best friend. It’s important to make sure that your pet’s home isn’t suddenly invaded by the addition of a new plant that might be toxic to him or her. Swett said that customers who own pets are usually very mindful of this priority, and she suggested the safe peperomia plants, which have wrinkled or streaky leaves and are often called “radiator plants.”

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Succulents are also a good bet, she said, but in general, Swett said she’ll run any plant by the ASPCA’s guideline list in the store before recommending it to a pet owner.

Swett nudges pet owners away from anything in the ficus group or the euphorbia group because those tend to be more toxic when accidentally consumed.

For the person who’s lucky enough to have outdoor space

It’s important to remember that not all outdoor spaces are created equally from a plant’s point of view.

“If you have a shady patio, you’re going to want to go with a perennial that’s suited for low light and high water content in the soil,” Swett said.

She suggested a no-brainer shade plant like a heuchera, which is most easily spotted by its bell-shaped flowers.

For a roof deck, she recommended perennial grasses because they’ve been adapted or commercialized from prairie species. These grasses have deep roots that won’t be impacted by wind that is common on rooftops and might otherwise dry out the upper layers of soil.

This time of year — or, “once nighttime temps are in the upper 50s consistently and there’s no threat of frost,” according to Swett — is also a good time to think about taking plants you already own outside. Some common indoor plants that especially love to move outdoors about now include alocasias, citrus, Boston fern, and flowering plants like orchids and jasmine, said Swett, who reminds people to protect plants from intense heat and light.

“Morning sun and afternoon shade is the ideal scenario,” she said.

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While all of that hauling back and forth might seem like a lot of work, Swett said it’s a great way to appreciate your plants and the warm weather.  

“I love the ritual of moving my plants outdoors when it gets warmer out, and the reverse in the fall,” she said. “Invest a little more time in fertilizing and enjoying your plants over the next few months –– it’s their high-growth season.”

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