Be sensitive to light levels to keep your plants healthy | GettyImages.com
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As area college students move into dormitories soon, we will start getting questions about how they can green up their dorm rooms. Many are new plant parents seeking to make their spaces more inviting and like home. Helping students is very rewarding, and it is our mission to set them up for a successful journey into plant parenthood as they figure out how to find balance in their new lives.

Observe your space before you shop

Whether you are going to the grocery store or to a plant shop, a little pre-planning will go a long way to ensure you don’t over-buy or purchase things that just aren’t going to work in your space. Before heading out, take note of the spaces where you’d like to introduce plant life. Do you envision a plant that grows upright, trails or branches? Do you want to place it on the floor, a shelf, a patio or a table? Does it have enough room to grow? 

Many guides and online resources suggest plant placement based on the direction that your windows face. While it is useful to know whether you have buildings next to you or other structures interfering with the amount of light that comes through your windows, choosing a spot for your plants based on window orientation is often moot. Instead, we suggest observing the type and amount of light that comes through your windows throughout the day. 

Do the spaces where you’d like to place plants get direct or indirect light? The difference between direct or indirect light is simple. Bright light means the sun shines directly onto the leaves of your plant, whereas indirect light would bounce off the floor, wall or something else before reaching the leaves. 

Determining if your indirect light is bright, medium or low can be a little more tricky. Bright indirect means your plant could get five or more hours of bright light a day, but that light appears diffused as if your plant is separated from the sun by a sheer curtain. Low light describes a space where you wouldn’t easily be able to read the words in your textbook. Medium indirect light would be somewhere in between. It should be noted that low light does not mean no light. All plants photosynthesize and require some amount of light to survive and thrive.

Take note of the placement of air vents in regards to where you’d like to place your plants. All indoor plants thrive in warmer temperatures and most thrive in more humid conditions, so avoid placing plants directly below any vents. Taking the time to study your environment before purchasing plants will help ensure that any plants you bring home have a place to go where they will thrive. 

Great starter plants 

Based on the observations of the places where you’d like to introduce plants, consider these types of beginner plants:

Sansevieria, or snake plant, is an excellent choice for the new plant parent with low light conditions. These upright-growing, die-hard plants thrive with very little care. In fact, one of the only ways to really kill this plant is by overwatering, so be sure to plant it in a pot with drainage. Water only when the soil has nearly dried out. 

There are over 70 different species of sansevieria to choose from, so your choice can come down to style and what would look best in your space. Another perk about having a snake plant in your room is that they are exceptional air purifiers. They produce clean oxygen at night while most plants release carbon dioxide during this time. Best placement, if possible, would be near your bed so that you can maximize this air-purifying benefit. 

Pothos. If you’re looking for a trailing plant whose tendrils can cascade down a bookshelf or hang from the ceiling, try a pothos. These hard-to-kill plants can last for generations with minimal care. They can survive in bright- to low-light conditions but thrive in medium- to bright-lighting. There are many species to choose from, but shop favorites include silver satin pothos and marble queen. Both have unique leaf coloring and make a statement. Stick your index finger into its soil and if the top 2 inches are dry, then your plant can use a watering. They are better at handling drying out between waterings than being overwatered. Try cutting a piece of the vine below a node (the part of the stem where there is a bump and a new stem grows out of it) and sticking it in water. Impress your friends with a new propagation station. 

Ponytail palm. A fun and unique plant for the brightest indirect spot in your space is the ponytail palm. It thrives in bright, dry conditions making it an easy-to-care-for plant. They have bulb-like trunks that store water and can typically go weeks without watering. The leaves grow out of the top of the trunk, and they have a short root system. Although they are slower-growing than the pothos or snake plant, they will bring a smile to your face all year long.

Communication is key

If your dorm or suite mates want to be involved in plant care, be sure everyone is aware of what each plant requires. Consider making a care chart of sorts so that no one over or under waters the plants. Make a plan on who or how the plants get cared for over school breaks. Plants bring people together. Creating an environment where everyone feels empowered to take care of them could be a positive and bonding experience. 

Toni Reale is the owner of Roadside Blooms, a unique flower and plant shop in Park Circle in North Charleston. It specializes in weddings, events and everyday deliveries using nearly 100 percent American- and locally grown blooms.
Online at roadsideblooms.com.
4610 Spruill Ave., Suite 102, North Charleston.