David Bergner has been caring for plants for as long as he can remember.
“I couldn’t tell you the exact plant that got me started,” says the nursery manager at Flower Power Garden Centre in Mascot. “But it sewed the seed – for want of a better word – of an interest in the environment, nature, and requirements of a living organism.”
Bergner sees plants come in and out of fashion for a variety of reasons. Wandering through rows of flora and fauna at the nursery, Bergner says plants are rarely bought based on consideration for their destined environment – especially with apartment living. He says purchases are most often dictated by what people are seeing in magazines and on social media. “They’re often trying to create a look without realising what the plant’s requirements are,” he says.
Don’t get caught out. Here’s five plants Bergner says are ideal for apartment dwellers, and tips to care for them.
The Tolerant Plant
Robust, easy-care plants like the rubber tree (Ficus elastica) are ideal for apartment living. Bergner says the rubber tree – originally popular in the ’60s and ’70s – has returned to prominence thanks to its combination of hardiness and colourful foliage, featuring variations of purple, orange, yellow and red sheaths.
The rubber tree is resilient in most conditions and doesn’t need too much watering. In summer, water the pot soil but not so much that it remains damp to touch. Lightly spray its leaves with water or wipe them with a damp cloth to keep moist. In winter, water the soil just once or twice a month. If leaves begin to turn yellow, you’re watering it too much.
While the rubber plant thrives in bright light, it can be harmed if left out too long. “Most plants require good light but won’t tolerate the sun coming through the glass,” Bergner says. “They’re best away from direct sunlight so they don’t burn.”
Look at where the light falls in your apartment and place it in positions that won’t leave it in direct sunlight for extended periods.
The Bold but Temperamental Plant
Bergner says a bold plant like the fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is a favourite thanks to its large architectural foliage. With layers of big leaves and striking angular lines, it’s as much a statement piece as a dash of nature indoors.
“People don’t want dainty and pretty,” says Bergner. “They want bold shapes. These style of plants work well alongside things like leather sofas, glass tables, and modern architecture.”
Fiddle-leaf figs flourish in humid, jungle-like environments as opposed to inner-city apartment. This means the fig needs a little more attention than most other varieties. Bergner recommends a seasonal approach to watering of the plant – twice a week in summer, down to once a month in winter. Touch the soil at the base of the plant regularly to confirm it’s damp.
The Low Maintenance Plant
With its dark green leaves and curved white flowers, Bergner says the peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is a popular choice for indoor environments. Its appeal to apartment living is in its low-maintenance tolerance of most positions, as well as the long flowering period of its white blooms.
While hardy indoors, the peace lily doesn’t love direct sunlight. It also only requires water when the plant is drying out. If in an air-conditioned environment, spray its foliage with water mist to keep the atmosphere around the plant a little more humid.
Bergner says it’s important to choose the right kind of pot for extending the life of the plant. “People make the mistake of putting a plant in a pot with no drainage holes and killing [the plant] very quickly,” he says. Add fertiliser only during the growing period. If leaves start to go brown, it’s either over-fertilised or under-watered.
The Long Blooming Plant
Bergner says the most popular plant he sells for indoor-living is the eye-catching Phalaenopsis orchid. Featuring graceful curved stems and round purple and white flowers, the orchid’s desirability can be partly attributed to its long-lasting blooms, which can continue for up to three months. This makes them popular for people after fresh flower cuttings.
Bergner stresses the orchid is seasonal and requires more maintenance than many other varietals. Orchids are sold on bud count – a greater amount of buds means an extended life for your plant. Bergner suggests buying one with plenty of buds and ensure it’s not overwatered.
“Their natural environment is the fork of a tree, where it’s moist but well drained,” says Bergner. “They grow under the canopy and the rain drops out.”
To assist with drainage in an apartment, stand the pot on a tray of pebbles. Fill the tray with water so the plant remains in a humid atmosphere, and give it a brightly lit warm spot out of direct sunlight, as well as away from air-conditioners and cold draughts, which can damage the flowers.
The Steam- (and Mind-) Friendly Plant
Bergner says tropical plants like the maidenhair fern (Adiantum) thrive in the steamy atmosphere of kitchens and bathrooms. Watering is imperative for these kinds of plants, and won’t last long if allowed to dry out.
With it’s impressive quiver of small leaves, the maidenhair fern is one of many indoor plants that can assist with improving air quality, by naturally removing toxins from the environment and releasing fresh oxygen.
Bergner says living in close-quarters with another living organism is good for the brain, too.
“You see the result if you look after it,” he says. “You watch it grow. It’s something living that breaks the monotony of being surrounded by manufactured goods.”
Maidenhair ferns need to be kept constantly moist as they will quickly expire if they dry out. A self-watering pot with a reservoir underneath that the plant can draw from when necessary is ideal. Stand in a brightly lit, sheltered position away from wind.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with The Finery by Mirvac, a new boutique residential project in Waterloo.