MonthAugust 2020

How not to kill your houseplants

In the dense urban fabric that most of us live in, at times the only thing we see outside our windows is a concrete jungle. The best thing we can do to maintain our daily contact with nature is to bring nature inside our homes by having houseplants.

Having houseplants has many health benefits for one’s body as well as one’s soul. They are also a great way to decorate your home.

Home decor using houseplants

Plants can add so much life and beauty inside our homes. They can fill a corner, add life to a room and bring colour and texture into a space.

“I love that plants change as well — some change color with the seasons and others can fold in or spill out as they grow.” 

Jade Joyner, co-founder and principal designer of Metal + Petal.

There are numerous ways in which you can incorporate plants in your home design to accentuate your interiors. You can start small, with just one or two plants on side tables in your house, or you can go all out and create your own garden room filled with dozens of different plants. No matter how you decide to do it, decorating with houseplants helps bring the freshness of the outdoors in, and gives you a mini garden you can tend to all year round.

I am an architect and my interest in plants developed while landscaping my projects. Slowly, I started experimenting with them at home and once you start dealing with plants, there is no turning back. My husband and I kept getting more and more involved with our plants as just being around them gave us so much joy. We made many mistakes while nurturing them and we have had our fair share of plants dying. But slowly we are getting better and more sensitive to the kinds of plants that survive in the conditions available in our house.

Here is a quick glimpse of my house.

And a closer look at all the houseplants…

House plant care

Plant growth is affected by light, temperature, humidity, water, nutrition, and soil. To be a successful plant parent, you need to understand how the interior environment affects plant growth and how cultivation differs from growing plants outdoors.

Plants are like people: they’re all different and a little bit strange

John Kehoe

Hence, there is no single formula which works for all plants. You have to tend to them individually based on their characteristics.

Arrangement

Group plants in such a way that they appear casual and organic. When you can, group plants in an odd number. Using an even number can look symmetrical, making the arrangement look more formal

Shape, size and colour

Play around with plants of different widths, heights, shape, colour and foliage. The difference in size gives a more organic look than plants of the same size, which look uniform. Pay attention to the color of the plants you choose. For a cohesive look, put plants together that have leaves of the same color. For more variety, go for plants with foliage of different colors and shapes.

Decorative Pots

Pots can also add a lot of dynamism to your interiors. You can use pots with similar finishes and colors to make the arrangement look like a set. Or you can combine all your favorite pots of different materials and colors for an eclectic finish. The pots can also help in accentuating your interior theme. For example: Jute and cane planters go well if you have rustic and organic interior whereas solid coloured ceramic pots look better if you have a simple contemporary vibe to your place.

Indoor Green wall

Green walls or Living walls or vertical gardens are the ultimate blend of nature and art. They can look artistically stunning when in good health. While designing and composing the plants, consider the size and color of plants at full growth and how different textures, leaf shapes and heights will work together. It’s a game of trial and error, but plants can be replaced if something dies or does not work together aesthetically.

Indoor green wall at Imagine cafe, Mumbai

You can read more about Imagine cafe here.

Plant Parenting

Whenever I think of Plant moms, Rashi Jauhri is the first person I can think of. I have been to her house and the way in which she uses her healthy and beautiful houseplants to decorate her home has been an inspiration for me.

How has your journey been as a plant mom?


When I started buying plants some 6 years ago – my sister used to call me a “serial plant killer” because I killed most of them with over watering! From then to now, I have come a long way. With over 60 houseplants in my Bombay home – mint to monstera – grown from seeds, cuttings and propagated in water, I know what makes each of my plants tick. I’ve been using organic fertilisers, regularly pruning and with just the right amount of sun and water, they are thriving!

If you’re starting out as a plant parent, I suggest starting off with the easy ones like snake plant and pothos. Do your research – what plants are toxic to pets and humans, how much sunlight and water do they need and get them accordingly.

You can check out her Instagram profile for more plant, decor and DIY tips


Our next plant mom is someone with way more experience. Nina Roy has two big interests in her life. Handloom and houseplants. She runs her own handloom business which employs many artisans who hand embroider and bring to life her wonderful designs which we can see showcased in her own home in Parel. Her house has plants spread over all the rooms adding so much life and beauty to her interiors. Some of her houseplants like her adenium, have been with her for more than 18 years.

VD

What advice would you like to give to budding plant parents?


Growing and nurturing plants is a lot of work. I won’t complain because I enjoy personally taking care of my houseplants. Depending on the weather, I put them on the ledge by the window and water them once in 2/3 days. I feel the soil to see when it requires watering. I also spray and shower them once a week. Do not over water because the roots will die.

You have to really love your plants. As they say, ‘If you talk to your plants and show them how much you love them and care for them,they will thrive.’

You can check out her Instagram profile for more houseplants, handloom and decor inspiration.

The houseplant survival manual

Before becoming plant parents, it is important to know some basics and it is best to get these guidelines from someone professional. I have interviewed Sangita Ramesh who is a certified horticulturist with 15 years of work experience in this field. We owe most of our knowledge about plant parenting to her. Even today when our plants are looking a wee bit sad, the first thing we do is to share a picture with her and then blindly follow her instructions.

So let’s get started!

Sangita, Can you let us know about plants that will thrive at home under the following conditions –


1. Balcony

In a bright balcony with a direct sunlight of 6-8 hours, one can grow many plants. Flowering plants like –

  • Roses (Rosa species)
  • Jasmine varieties (Jasminum species)
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa sinensis)
  • Spider lilies (Hymenocallis littoralis), etc. 

One can also attempt Okra, Tomatoes, Beans.

Even in a balcony with lesser light (3-4 hours),  one can grow flowering plants like

  • Passion flower (Passiflora)
  • Star Clematis (Clematis gouriana),
  • Butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea)
  • Butterfly ginger lily (Hedychium coronarium)
  • Costus (Costus woodsonii)
  • Alpinia (Alpinia purpurata, Alpinia zerumbet)
  • Heliconia (Heliconia psittacorum, Heliconia rostrata), etc.

Hanging basket plants like –

  • Purple heart (Setcreasea pallida)
  • Zebrina (Zebrina pendula) and other Tradescantia varieties
  • Clover or Shamrock/Butterfly plant (Oxalis triangularis) also do well.

You can also try plants like Croton varieties, Stromanthe, Golden cypress, Syngonium and varieties of Fern.

Plants of Gourd family and Beans would also do well in such light.

North facing balcony in my old house

2. Indoor but near the window

The direction of the window is also important. A South facing window may have more intense light then a window facing East or North. 

Close to a South facing window, one can grow plants like-

  • Pink Aglaonema varieties
  • Calathea varieties
  • Croton varieties
  • Types of Aralia
  • Episcia
  • Anthuriums (avoid exposure to direct sunlight though)
  • Torenia
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.)
  • Most of the Palms
  • Dracaena
  • Cordyline varieties
South facing window in my current house

Example for plants closer to window with less duration of intensive light are-

  • Zamia Palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
  • Philodendron varieties
  • Money Plant (Scindapsus species) varieties
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
  • Shamrock
  • Nerve plant (Fittonia species)
  • Polka dots (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
  • Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)
  • Money Tree (Pachira aquatica)
  • Peperomia varieties.

3. Indirect but bright light

I would say most of the plants mentioned for East facing window works well in this category. Besides few more options to this are Dracaena surculosa varieties and Leea coccinea varieties.


4. Low light

Light is important for plants to thrive. While most plant may just survive in poor light, and eventually call it quits. There are just a few examples for plants that would be okay with less light which are Zamia Palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) and Snake plant (Sansevieria species) varieties. A good light will allow the plant to be more compact and bushier, low light makes the plant more elongated and delicate because of the compromised cell wall structure.

Snake plant and ZZ plant
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What does it mean when the tips of houseplants turn brown?


Brown tips usually are indication of poor water quality. My suggestion is usually to use filtered water for indoor plants not RO water necessarily. Thorough and less frequent watering rather than scarce and more frequent watering.

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How often should most houseplants be watered?


Deep watering and less frequent watering is the best method.One could either install moisture indicators or scrape top inch of soil to check before watering. It’s best to water SOS then to do a scheduled watering.

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How do you tell Underwatering vs overwatering?


A plant which is thirsty will have droopy and limp leaves that will perk up when you water it. While an overwatered plant will show signs of yellowing and may also go limp followed by browning of leaves. So, if the leaves are still green and as normal, but limp they need water. 

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How to get rid of bugs on indoor plants?


Houseplants are affected by mealy bugs most of the times. If the infestation is not very heavy, one may manually pick the bugs, but in case the infestation had spread, I usually use soapy solution to clean and spray the plants with. I also suggest drenching the soil with soapy solution to eliminate the pests hiding in the soil. I do not recommend using insecticide for indoor plants for obvious reasons.

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What are the signs that a plant needs to be repotted?


A plant needs a bigger pot when it becomes pot bound. The indications of a pot bound plants are that the leaves start becoming smaller and the plant growth starts looking stunted – as if all of a sudden it has decided to become a Bonsai. 
Having said that there are certain plant types that thrive being snuggly. Calathea varieties, Peace Lilies, Zamia Palms, Dracaena and most of the plants in Palms family thrive in pot bound conditions. They should be repotted only when there is no more space left for new growth to sprout.

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What care should be taken while repotting?


Take care of the following things while repotting your plants:

  • Maintain the collar. Do not plant too deep or too shallow. Don’t Bury the stem more than what was originally in the soil.
  • If the roots had coiled up in the old pot, loosen them up a bit. If you feel the need cut the brown hardened roots, but safeguard the white tender roots.
  • Do not disturb the root ball of the palms, they don’t appreciate it.
  • Pack the soil well to avoid air pockets and water thoroughly. I tell gardeners ‘pet bhar ke pani do’. Soil may settle, and you may have to top up a little bit if you have not compacted the soil while planting, but don’t overdo it (maintain the collar).
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What is a good soil mix for indoor house plants?


A good potting mix needs to have good drainage at the same time have good moisture retention properties. A ratio of 60% soil and 40% well decomposed manure is a good composition. You may want to add a little bit of wood ash or burnt wood coal to add to the filtration.

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What fertilizers or products will you recommend? How often should these be used?


There are many organic seaweed-based bio-fertilizers available in the market and they work well with most of the plants.
Having said that, I have experienced Peace Lily and Calathea do not appreciate fertilizers and plain filtered water works best for them. I have almost killed my most beautiful Calathea, because I got greedy and decided to fertilize them for faster growth – my bad. It took good amount of drenching with plain water to rinse the potting soil. The damage was considerable but they are recuperating, thankfully. As frequent as weekly or once in 10 days should be good enough. 

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What care should be taken while growing succulents?


Succulents are closely related to Cactus. The moment I say cactus, I visualize a sunny and hot desert. And that’s what it takes to keep them happy. Nice sunny location with very little water on a regular basis. The roots of succulents usually are only on the surface, so it’s best to water them scantily and almost daily.

Succulents at Exotica plant nursery, Hadapsar
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When and how do you prune indoor plants?


Pruning may not be a necessity for most cases if you have been regularly re-potting in a larger pot. But when you feel the plant is taking up space more than you can allow it to, you may want to trim for form or structure or make more plants (propagate). While pruning, cut needs to be just above the node not leaving behind a stub. Also use sharp secateur to ensure clean cut. A split or tear can result in damage to the plant. Try to ensure that the plant forms a callus before it comes in contact with water else it may lead to stem rot.

What care should be taken while executing an indoor green wall?


For indoor green walls, selection of plants based on the light available is the most critical part. Avoid using plants with different growing conditions in the small wall. Avoid placing the wall very close to AC draft or a fan breeze. I feel everything applied to plants being grown in containers, apply to growing in greenwall, its the orientation that changes.
Growing method (Pot or Felt) is what will be a decide the longevity or life of the greenwall. In my opinion felt is a better option for longevity as the plants don’t become pot bound.
It is better to grow green walls in soil less media (like coco peat). and hence fertilizer or nutrition is of importance for growth and vigor.

So now what are you guys waiting for? Ready, set, grow!

PS – If you have any questions for Sangita, please ask them in the comment section below and we will get back to you.

4 reasons why in 2020 renting a home is better than buying

Today, in the midst of a global health and economic crisis, there is one thing that I (VD) and R are thankful about every single day – the fact that we do not have the burden of a home loan. Amidst huge pay cuts and running our own cafe, we shudder at the thought of what would have happened if we had bought the flat we are staying in today, instead of renting it.

It is etched in our tradition and possibly in many others to own a property. Generations of Indian jobbers have utilized their hard earned life savings to invest in a house, burying many dreams and desires just to secure a roof over one’s head. But is buying a house really that important? My whole life I have stayed in the same house bought by my family. Therefore, till I started earning I was all in for owning a home. Only after that, when I started looking into buying property and doing some basic calculations, I realised that taking a huge home loan to buy a property in a city like Mumbai is not a good choice at all economically. The millennial generation is now realizing that buying a house may not be as beneficial or important as it is made out to be by the elders.

Why buy, when you can rent the same house for 25% of the cost every month?

Here are the 4 reasons why in 2020 renting a home is better than buying. These will help you to decide wisely on a choice that often has irreversible implications.

Cost:

Mumbai has a rental yield of 2.0 – 2.5%; your monthly rental comes to ₹ 20,000-25,000 for a property worth ₹ 1 crore, EMI for which will be around ₹ 80,000 – 1,00,000 . In Mumbai, the owner usually takes care of maintenance and structural repair costs. 

This is a summary showing the actual difference between monthly expenditures and wealth gained at the end of 20 years for a 2BHK large flat in Mulund, Mumbai. This flat is in a newly constructed high rise complex with a clubhouse, swimming pool etc.

I am also sharing the excel calculator sheet I used to derive these numbers.

After I had done these calculations, there was no doubt in my mind that in 2020, renting a home is better than buying one.

PS – There are many variables in this sheet and certain assumptions have been made while making this sheet. For eg: The interest rate, property tax costs, maintenance costs, tax breaks, investment growth rates etc. which will differ in different situations. I have taken very conservative assumptions about the investment growth rate. Put in the numbers based on your situation and take a decision accordingly.

Flexibility

One of the biggest benefits of ‘renting vs buying’ is the flexibility and freedom that comes with it. In today’s fast paced global society, we are all seeking change, new and exciting experiences or the ability to take that new job or give up your desk job and follow your passion. But it is hard to be spontaneous when you are tied down to something like a property and a 20 year long EMI. Owning a house forces you to set roots whereas renting makes it easy to relocate in the near future for work, for school/college, for family, or just because.

Also, renters can live virtually anywhere while homeowners are restricted to areas they can afford to buy. A home in the city might be out of reach for most home buyers, but it might be doable for renters. Although rents can be high in areas where home values are also high, renters can more readily find an affordable monthly payment than homebuyers.

In today’s economy, sometimes situations change so drastically that one day you might suddenly lose your high paying job and for a few months might struggle to make ends meet. By renting, you have the option to downgrade into a more affordable living space. But if you’re a homeowner with an EMI, it’s much more difficult to break free of an expensive house because of the fees involved with buying and selling a home.

And I am sure many of you are experiencing this thing right now, as we speak. We are in the middle of a global health and economical crisis. Banks are giving moratoriums but they are not interest free. Roughly with every EMI you miss, 3 of those get added effectively. So, by taking a 6 month moratorium, you have effectively added a year and half to your home loan term. Also, if you, as a homeowner have invested a significant amount of money in renovations, the selling price might not cover these costs.

Better quality of life

Owing to the fact that today even in big cities like Mumbai your monthly rent will be only 25% of your monthly EMI+maintenance + property tax expenditure, if you are renting, every month you will have a lot of extra cash. Of course, you should save and invest this extra cash but it also gives you the freedom to spend a part of it on daily comforts, better education for your kids or other luxuries like travelling and exploring the world.

Room to grow

The house you can afford to buy today won’t suffice you down the line once your family grows. This leads to a compromised lifestyle wherein either kids have to share rooms or they get no room of their own at all. On the other hand, if you are renting, your house can grow with your family, with a very small increase in your monthly expenditure.

What do you invest in, if not property?

So what do you do with all the extra cash with you by not paying an EMI? There are several ways to invest and multiply your money, with different amount of risk and reward associated with it.

But the most important concept to understand is ‘Always keep your savings separate from your investments.’ Confused?

Lock in a part of your money in safe investments like fixed deposits (FD’s), recurring deposits (RD’s), public provident fund (PPF), national pension scheme(NPS), LIC etc. These funds will give you a fixed return(which might not be very high), but no matter what you can be sure of those returns and rely on them, irrespective of the market volatility.

For the rest, have you ever heard of the proverb – ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?”

Meaning, build yourself a diversified portfolio. You could invest in –

  • Stocks – This is a high risk high reward option where in both short term and long term investment options are available
  • Mutual funds – If you are in it for a long term, investing in mutual funds is a good medium risk option which can typically give you returns around 12%-18%.
  • Gold – I personally find physical gold a burden to take care of. But now, you can buy paper gold or gold bonds which get linked with your demat account at a click of a button. It is a good option to have as a part of your portfolio, as many a times when markets are crashing the rates of gold and silver are rising.
  • Rentvest – Rentvesting is when you purchase a property as an investment while living in a rental property yourself. As you’re buying an investment and not a first home, you can buy it in a more affordable location and put it out on rent. The income from the rent can be used to pay a part of the EMI for that property. This asset equity can be used later, as bank security to buy a home in your preferred area, or to purchase another investment. You could also rentvest in a retail or commercial property which has a better rental yield (around 6%) and typically lower maintenance costs.

Conclusion

If you have money lying around you and you are in it for a long haul, go for it!

If you have an existing property which covers at least 60%-70% of the cost of your new property, it might still not be that bad to take a small short term loan commitment and invest in the new house.

But before planning to buy a property mainly on an EMI, chart down your dreams, think logically not emotionally and do your math accurately.

Don’t forget I am an architect by profession who works at a real estate development firm. Designing and building homes is my bread and butter. So even if after reading all this you all still decide to buy a home, good for me!

References:

https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/tvw1RPzx9DMdYH3uyLQvFI/Renting-vs-buying-a-house-Figures-dont-lie.html

If you have any queries you can post them in the comments section.