Two top tips for getting your houseplant fix

By Robb Eastman-Densem (he/him)

Of all the things the 70s popularised – bell-bottom jeans, macrame, the colour beige – houseplants were probably one of the better things that could’ve had a resurgence. I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of their own indoor jungle? Even just the thought of a succulent study buddy is enough to warm the heart of the hardest of plant haters. Unfortunately, though, this resurgence has not been without consequence, and in recent months the price of houseplants has skyrocketed (much to the sadness of me and my wallet). All is not lost, though! There are many ways to get plants for cheap or free. Here are two of my favourite budget-friendly ways to achieve jungledom without breaking the bank. 

PROPAGATE

Making more of what you have is a great way to create redundancy (in case you forget to water) and give yourself spares that you can sell or trade. Most houseplants on the market are stupidly easy to root in water or damp sphagnum moss, too, so propagating things is often just a matter of waiting. Although it can be hard to give your beloved children the snippety-snip, chopping plants that can be a bit sparse naturally, like Pothos, can actually help them to fill out and be bushier; just be certain to cut near the base of the stem, as new growth points are produced from nodes immediately beneath the cut area in most houseplants. 

If you’re not feeling brave enough to try a DIY plant haircut but still want to increase plant numbers, then you can always try layering too. This method is particularly popular for thinner stemmed or smaller leaved plants like the ‘Chain of Hearts’ as it can help to overcome their leggy nature. All you need for this to work is some sort of clip or peg to keep the stem (and a node) in contact with the soil (old paperclips straightened out and bent into a v are great for this), and hey presto, you’re on your way! Provided you keep the plant well-watered, sections of stem should eventually grow their own roots, after which point you can cut them off separately so that they form new growth points. 

Top proppers: 

  • Literally any Pothos 
  • Philodendron  
  • Tradescantia (NOT the weedy kind!) 
  • Spider plants 

TRADE

This is a great way to get plants that might be a bit out of your budget and make new friends along the way! Plant swaps are becoming more common now, and the rise of the houseplant Instagram means that there should be no shortage of people looking for things you might have spare. Although good plant-person etiquette means you should always try to give more than you get (no one node cuttings here, Karen), the Karmatic advantages of this mean you’ll no doubt reap the rewards in the future. 

The one downside to trading is that if your plant buddy is not nearby, it can mean having to ship your plant/s. If not properly packaged, this can quickly reduce anything green to a sad mix of crushed leaves and dirt (not ideal). Luckily though, with careful packing, most shipping damage can be avoided or mitigated. When I’m preparing plants for shipping, I usually like to send them bare root. This means unpotting them and removing most of the soil mixture from their root ball. From here, depending on the plant, I’ll either wrap the roots in damp sphagnum moss or a damp paper towel and then cover everything in a bag. Unless you’re using a prepaid box, the next step is to find something relatively solid to nestle your plant in. If it’s small enough, empty (and clean!) Watties cans can be really good for this, as they’re unlikely to get fully crushed. Depending on the shipping method, nestling it inside a cardboard box and packing the thing full of newspaper can also work well- just remember to try and prevent crushing as much as possible. Plants can easily grow new leaves if they get a bit battered, but it’s much harder to save something that’s had its stem broken in half.  

Top trading fodder: 

  • Fast-growing variegated plants like Monstera standleyana 
  • String of turtles  
  • Succulents 
  • Pretty much anything the plant mums are currently craving 

At the end of the day, the houseplant hobby doesn’t need to be something to break the bank over. With a little bit of time, patience, and craftiness, anyone can fulfil their indoor plant dreams. I mean, who needs a $500 Monstera when you’ve got a $0 spider plant you stole from your friend?