A Beginner’s Guide to Establishing a Queer Houseplant Utopia

Look: you’re here, you’re queer; you deserve to live in a queer houseplant utopia. You deserve to come home to a room that’s been stripped of carbon dioxide by your own personal army of devoted plant friends; at night, you deserve to be carried off toward gentle slumber upon the frothy waves of oxygen emitted by your most trusted plant coven. In addition to cleaning the air, plants lend color and texture to a room; they also objectively make you seem like some kind of earthy sun goddess, the best possible version of yourself, someone who always packs an umbrella and eats a healthy amount of yogurt. Everything is possible with plants!

“But Allie,” you cry, “I have no experience with these creatures. How is it even possible to bring plants, one of the villains of the film Jumanji, into my home?”

Starting your own queer houseplant utopia can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. This is a guide for those of you who have always found the idea of growing plants exciting, but have never felt confident enough to give it a shot, written by a person whose only qualification is talking laughing loving breathing in a studio full of 30-odd plants. I’m going to give you a brief explanation of what plants need to be happy indoors, followed by a list of some of the easiest plants to keep alive, and ending with some tips you can use to fill your space with all the plants your heart desires. This guide is by no means exhaustive – there are so many plant things about which I am, sadly, clueless; for example, do all succulents yearn for death, or just mine? – but it is instead meant to help inspire you to start transforming your space into a mean, green, photosynthesis factory.

How to keep a plant alive

Ultimately, plants are just like humans: they need plenty of sunlight and water, they respond well to kind words and good music, and they will die if they are only given cut-up hot dogs and La Croix. The easiest way to keep a plant alive is to assess the conditions of your living space and then purchase a plant that will thrive under those conditions. When making this assessment, there are a few different factors to keep in mind:

Light

Does your living space get a lot of light? Is the light bright or dim? Direct or indirect? Are there windows that face east or west, which will give your plants lots of time to hang out with the sun, or do they mostly face north or south, which are widely known as the sun-fearing directions? Is there perhaps too much sun in your place, such that certain plants placed directly on a windowsill may get scorched? There are certainly many shy, bookish plants that do well in low-light conditions, so don’t despair if you look around and suddenly realize that your home is sunless because you have no windows because you live in a damp French wine cellar because you are a little rat who loves to cook.

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Water

Most plants want to be watered at regular intervals in which they can take a nice deep drink of water and then have the rest drain away so they don’t drown. The frequency and intensity of each watering varies from plant to plant, however, with some requiring abundant waterings and mistings and others only needing to be watered very rarely. When picking a plant for your space, take your dedication into consideration – a delicate fern may be a beautiful addition to your space, but if you know you’re going to be too busy gossiping and playing the French horn to carefully monitor the moisture of your fern’s soil, that plant is going to die and you are going to be sad about it.

Other complications

These include considerations like children, pets, and anything else not covered by the big two categories above. For example: my sweet little perfect cat Meryl also happens to be a hobgoblin who was once cast out of Hell for nibbling on all of Satan’s plants and now likes to play with mine. Ergo, I make sure anything that’s toxic to cats is hanging far out of her reach, I keep a close eye on all my cat-level plants for signs of interference, and I make numerous blood sacrifices to her brethren in the kingdom of Hell to help keep her paws out of mischief.

What plants should I start with?

Scientists agree: there are many different kinds of plants, just like, in general, in the world. Here are three plants that are great choices for starting your queer houseplant utopia. These plants are the lowest-maintenance, chillest of the chill, easiest to please plants around. These plants are Kristen-Stewart-lounging-on-a-yacht chill. If you, Internet stranger, are capable of making toast, then you can keep these plants alive.

Snake plant

Also known as “mother-in-law’s tongue”, a term that was probably meant to be sexist but now sounds totally bitchin’, snake plants are very rad and very difficult to kill. They’re my go-to plant recommendation to people who have never had a plant before and are worried that anything green they touch will somehow end up a smoldering pile of ashes. Snake plants need low light and very little water, and they generally thrive on neglect. They’ve also been demonstrated to purify air by removing CO2 and other chemicals from the air and releasing oxygen at night, making them ideal plants for the bedroom. Plus, every snake plant looks like the spaceship that once delivered Tilda Swinton to Earth, which is a cool bonus.

ZZ plant

Known as the zed-zed plant, probably, in the UK, the ZZ plant is another great beginner plant. It doesn’t need a lot of light or a lot of water, and its new branches unfurl in a very cool spiral-y way. I have only managed to kill one ZZ plant so far, but it was because I dramatically overwatered it, thus condemning it to a watery grave. Don’t be like me! Let the soil get nice and dry before you water these lil’ curly boys.

Pothos

I love pothos. They’re the kind of hanging plants that grow so long and viney and fabulous that I am pretty sure they’re going to try to strangle me in my sleep one day. I can’t get enough of them. Plus, it’s easy to tell when they need to be watered – their leaves get all limp and dangly when they’re thirsty, which means you can just kind of feel the leaves and murmur, “Hmm, feels like this needs to be watered” and whoever you’re with will be like, “who is this magnificent creature, this veritable plant whisperer, this magician of soil and wind?” and that’s how you earn people’s respect and maybe even get laid once in a while.

How to get plants and display them nicely

Finding plants, especially in this day and age, is pretty easy. I’d recommend starting by looking for a local nursery with a knowledgeable staff that can help you pick the perfect plant for your home and lifestyle. For example, I’m constantly swinging by my favorite plant store and asking, “I’ve been spending a lot of time crying to Tori Amos this week, what’s a plant that’s cool with that?” and they’re always very nice and let me do whatever I want as long as I don’t get Cheeto dust on any of the plants. Anyway, if there’s not a great nursery near you, you can always try Home Depot or another big chain store, with the caveat that the quality of their plants will probably vary pretty widely.

Feel free to plant your new friends in whatever beautiful pots or cups or mugs your heart desires, but remember: the easiest way to kill most houseplants is by overwatering them, so it’s crucial to make sure your pots have drainage. You can achieve this by planting in a pot that has holes or by keeping your plant in its original plastic nursery container, nestling it inside a larger pot, and then removing it to do your watering in the sink or shower.

More resources

Apartment Therapy is a great site for learning more about specific plants and how to care for them; they’re also a great resource if you’re looking to buy new plants and planters. I like to look at their house tours to see how other people display their plants and then I steal their ideas like I’m Jude Law in that movie where he plays a thief (that may have actually just been a dream I had?).

The Sill has some good plant care tips and is also a great place to buy a plant and/or planter. I bought a snake plant from the Sill for my sister’s birthday and it arrived at her apartment in good condition and is still going strong a few months later and if it’s good enough for her why shouldn’t it be good enough for you?!

The Spruce is another good source of information about houseplants; they also have a lot of information about gardening in case your houseplant garden begins to flourish so dramatically that you decide to expand your leafy dominion outdoors.

A final word

You’re going to kill some plants. I’m so, so sorry, but it’s true. You’re going to buy some lovely plants and do absolutely everything right and water them and give them sun and play them Steely Dan records and whisper kind things to them at night and then one day you’re going to realize you’ve been overwatering them this whole time and their leaves are going to turn yellow and brown and one day you’ll wake up with a sad, soggy plant corpse. It happens. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to buy a new plant, or ask for a new cutting from a friend, and try again. You’ll get the hang of it. And it’ll all be worth it when you can come home to your very own queer hobbit hole full of plant friends. Happy planting!

Allie is a writer and comedian living in Chicago. She has written for such publications as Reductress, the Hairpin, and the Women's Review of Books. Like all cool people, Allie loves the thrill of buying a good scented candle. You can follow her on Twitter, but it's 90% bad puns.

Allie has written 3 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. One of my roommates moved out this year and took all her plants with her, so suddenly I was like NOW I CAN HAVE MY OWN KIDS. I’d already killed several succulents and finally learned to just leave them the fuck alone most of the time and planted a hydrangea out on the patio that didn’t croak over the winter, so I was totally up to the task of finding new plant friends. I also asked for a grow light for my birthday because my new friends were eventually going to need support during Portland fall and winter.

    So far so good! I had a real struggle though with a dieffenbachia that was overwatered and getting too much sun. It’s still recovering and some of the established leaves are slowly falling off from the ordeal, but there’s also new growth!!!!!! So I must have done something right in changing its watering and light conditions.

    I also have trouble with any sort of rosette type succulent. Mine always get too leggy and recently the heads got knocked off the two that I had, so I’m trying to propagate them.

  2. 1) your cat is Meryl?!? my car is Meryl!?! long live Streep!
    2) mint plants are also super hardy! literally I forgot mine for a week, the existing leaves and shoots turned brown and died, but I just pruned them back and now she’s bigger than before despite living in the back of my car!
    3) nothing really but lists with three things are more appealing than those with two

  3. My tactic for buying new plants is to go to Ace and ask what kind of plants they have that thrive on benign neglect. So far this has mostly worked. I did manage to kill my snake plant, though, somehow…

  4. Can confirm that pothos plants are magical and immortal. In college I volunteered at my university’s LGBTQ Center that was 1) in the basement with no natural light (the only light came from fluorescent lights) and 2) staffed by college kids whose first priorities were not making sure a pothos plant was watered, and that dang plant was THRIVING.

  5. This whole article makes me so very happy!!! 🌿💚

    I am currently attempting to become a Plant Queer. I also have an adorable fuzzy feline who attempts to eat all plants INCLUDING cacti which I was sure she would be put off by the spikes?? Why cat???

    So plant stands are my friends and also numerous shelves. I also acquired the knowledge that you can tell if most plants need watering by putting your finger in the soil which has fully changed my plant parenting life!!! Also realising that not all plants need to be next to windows!!! With the result that my plants are now significantly happier and my spider plant is having their first baby and I am SO proud.

    I just really love plants so much 😭

    • My cat also tries, regularly, to attack my cacti? Once he got a spike in his paw and now he has a vendetta against them and stalks them and bats at them and then runs away. I love cacti so dang much and cats are okay too.

      CONGRATS to your spider plant!

  6. I agree that mother-in-law’s tongues are good as a start plant but only if you’re willing to put them in a much bigger pot than the original within a few months because they grow big and they grow quick. My dad’s had his for a decade and it’s almost chest height. My two year old plant is doing amazingly well just being left in a corner and I’m fully expecting it to take over my flat one day.

    • Yes to the pothos! I adopted mine from the plant shelter in town, which is totally a thing that exists here. The woman who runs it adopts neglected and orphaned plants and sells or trades them with new owners.

      Also, I swear by my plant app for reminders for when to water which plant, which can vary a lot. I currently use Plantbook, but I’ve heard good stuff about Plantsome too.

      And to add a super easy plant, I’m super impressed by my very prodigious tradescantia zebrina. It has purple and silver glittery leaves!

      Also, my calathea is super happy and actually blessed me with a bunch of white flowers this summer!

  7. Ahhh, this was great! Funny quips and legit advice. I consider myself an okay plant owner- I love them, I just need to remember to water them! Here are the plants that I own: spider plant, 2 air plants, snake plant, bamboo, neanthe bella palm, pothos, and philodendron. My current apartment gets a good amount of light, but the windows face southeast so it’s not overly sunny.

    Now that I’m talking about all the plants I have…maybe it’s time to adopt a few more before winter! 🙂

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