By Nora Klein ‘24 (she/her)

Looking for a way to brighten up your room? Just realized you actually have no idea how to take care of that succulent you got from Union Board? Plants are great ways to relieve stress and add a fun aesthetic to your room! But sometimes plant care can seem a little overwhelming, especially when you don’t know where to begin. No worries—there are hundreds of plants you can use to fill that empty space. Here are just a few basic tips for good plant care to keep them alive.

Tip #1: Choosing the right plant

With limited space, light, and (probably) effort, plant selection is super important. Get a plant that tolerates lower light conditions and dryer soil, and it will grow happily in your dorm without much attention. 

Some of the best plants for a dorm include (but aren’t limited to): 

  • ZZ Plant
  • Snake Plant
  • Succulents
  • Anthuriums
  • Air Plants
  • Sago Palm
  • Spider Plant
  • Herbs
  • African Violets
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Pothos
  • Other vines

Places near Davidson where you can buy plants include Turtle Creek Nursery, Pike Nurseries, Lowe’s, and Oakdale Greenhouses.

Tip #2: Choosing the right space

Some plants will be more tolerant of shade—stick those in a corner. Others will need partial or direct sunlight—stick those closer to the window or on your windowsill. Also, be careful not to put plants that aren’t tolerant of cooler conditions directly under an air conditioner, and vice versa. As long as you know what type of plant you have, it’s really easy to search for which conditions make it happiest. 

Keep in mind that all plants need a healthy amount of light to live, so you should definitely keep those blinds open during the day no matter what plants you have. 

Tip #3: Watering

One of the easiest ways to kill houseplants—or “dorm” plants—is overwatering. A good rule of thumb is that underwatering is always better than overwatering, so if you’re questioning it, let it sit for a few more days. Plants will also have different watering schedules depending on the season.

If you know your plant prefers dryer conditions, only water every one or two weeks to ensure the soil completely dries out in between waterings. This prevents root rot, which can kill your plants. Succulents can even go up to 30 days in darker, colder months without being watered! Other plants like ferns, bamboo, or flowers appreciate evenly moist soil.

Still, it can definitely be tricky to know how much water your plants need. One strategy for more leafy plants is known as the “taco” trick: gently squeeze either side of a leaf together, and if it easily folds up into a taco shape, it’s probably time to water again. Similarly, if your plant is droopy, wilting, or wrinkly (in the case of succulents), definitely give it a drink! You can also stick your finger an inch or two into the soil, and if the soil is dry, it’s time to water. Eventually, as you take care of your plants, you’ll learn how often to water them!

Also, know how to water your plants. Most like to be watered directly into the soil, but if you have a pot with drainage holes, you can also set it in a tray of water and let it soak up the water it needs for a few minutes and then take it out. Never let your plants just sit in water for extended periods of time. Some plants, like air plants, thrive in humid conditions and actually like to be sprayed with water every now and then.

Tip #4: Soil

It may be tempting to put your plants in whatever soil is available, but soil type is actually a fairly important factor in determining your plant’s fate. Some soil retains more moisture than others, so it depends on the moisture level your plant prefers. 

Most houseplants do fine in regular potting soil; however, this is NOT the best soil for a succulent. Because succulents prefer super dry conditions, they need well-draining soil. You can usually buy a succulent or cactus soil mix from anywhere that sells plants. Or, a fun trick is finding some sand and mixing it into regular potting soil (about half sand and half potting soil).

Tip #4.5: Or no soil at all!

Don’t want to deal with soil? Not a problem! Some plants can simply be grown straight out of the water. Get a bottle, a tube, or anything else that can hold water (non-metal containers are best), put your plant in it, and it can live happily with no soil at all. You’ll just need to add a water-soluble fertilizer to make up for the nutrients usually found in the soil.

Only certain plants can tolerate this though, so definitely do your research beforehand. A short list of some plants that do well in just water include:

  • Lucky Bamboo
  • Spider Plants
  • Vines 
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Wandering Jew
  • Philodendron

Be sure to switch out the water and add more fertilizer about every few weeks though! 

The Basics:

Know your plant. If you get it from a nursery or a friend who has knowledge about plants, definitely ask them for some specific tips related to that particular plant, but you can easily find the same information online with a simple search. Every plant is different, so just do what works best for your plant. The ultimate goal is to keep them happy and alive. 🙂 

If your plant isn’t as happy as it could be, experiment! Figure out what the plant’s warning signs are and adjust from there. Think you’re giving it too much water? Wait a couple extra days or an extra week before you water it again, and see if things get better or worse. Think it needs more sun? Move it closer to a window and see if it perks up. 

Taking care of plants is a fun responsibility, but don’t stress if you get it wrong the first few times. It’s a learning process. Good luck, and happy gardening!