In the middle of winter when the Christmas greenery has been taken down but it’s not yet time for spring planting, I find myself craving the color and life found in houseplants. This is a perfect time of year to dive into what it takes to create a home full of thriving houseplants, and there’s no one better to discuss this with than Maria of Growing Joy Podcast, a self-proclaimed Plant Lady. If you consider yourself a plant killer, you are in good company because both Maria and I have had our fair share of plant fails. May this episode inspire you to try a new plant variety or tending method as you grow your houseplant collection.
In this episode, we cover:
- The top two mistakes people make when it comes to houseplants
- What your personality + lighting in your home say about what kind of plants you need
- Breaking down some popular houseplant varieties and why they are not as easy to grow as you might think
- Options for creating more light in your home if you don’t get enough natural light
- Everything you need to know about growing plants in your window sill
- Why you might want to propagate a plant and how to do it
- How you can grow beautiful blooms in your home when it’s too cold to grow outside
- Making sure your houseplants are getting adequate nutrition
- Should you transition your plants between indoors and outdoors as the seasons change?
- How you can grow herbs and vegetables indoors all year long
- Creating the right outdoor garden for you and your family
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Maria is a “Plant Killer Turned Plant Lady” on a mission to help everyone successfully care for plants and make the world a kinder and greener place. After learning to care for plants successfully and experiencing the exponential joy caring for plants brought to her life, she founded the Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast (Now called Growing Joy with Plants) to learn alongside her listeners as she interviews experts in all aspects of plant care. Growing Joy has routinely been in the top lifestyle and gardening podcasts lists and was a 2020 Webby honoree in the Lifestyle Category.
Maria is also the author of Growing Joy: The Plant Lover’s Guide to Cultivating Happiness (and Plants).
Prior to being a professional plant lady, Maria spent the last decade as a professional Musical Theater performer and has been seen in Broadway musicals on the Great White Way and around the world. She’s thrilled to now use her voice to help people grow more joy in their lives through plant care.
Growing Joy Podcast with Maria Failla
Visit Maria’s shop to see her recommendations for grow lights and other plant resources
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Lisa Bass Welcome back to this Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today we are turning our attention to indoor plants. As it is January right now, I am in the season of pulling down the Christmas greenery, the Christmas tree, and we’re left with a house that is bare and can look kind of boring and also just in need of some signs of life. So that is why I think right now is the perfect time to talk about houseplants, houseplant care, selecting houseplants. I am having on Maria. She is from the podcast Growing Joy, where she shares everything there is to possibly know about houseplants. I think you’re really going to enjoy this interview. I know that I, afterwards, was super inspired to want to get so many more plants in my house.
Lisa Bass My name is Lisa, mother of seven and creator of the blog and YouTube channel Farmhouse on Boone. Join me as I share with you my love for creating a handmade home, from-scratch cooking, and a little mom and entrepreneur life along the way.
Lisa Bass Well, thank you so much, Maria, for joining me. I’m looking forward to talking about plants as it is winter and dreary out here. It gives us a little bright spot to think about growing stuff and something green. So let’s start by you can introduce yourself, your podcast, whatever else you want to mention.
Maria Failla Yeah, I’m Maria. Thank you so much for having me, Lisa. I feel like I’ve seen your podcast logo on the charts. You know, we always hang around the charts together for lifestyle, so it’s fun to finally put a face to the name and the podcast art. But yeah, I’m Maria. I’m the host of the Growing Joy podcast and I help people care for plants successfully and cultivate joy in their lives through doing so. So I used to be an epic plant killer. You couldn’t pay me to keep a plant alive. And I went through this really amazing transformation when I moved in with my husband. He was my boyfriend at the time. I wanted to nest. I decided to give plants one more try, this time actually Googling them and trying to set them up for success for me to not just kill them. And the crazy thing is, when I learned to care for plants, they actually— I’m like a self-help junkie. I love a good self-development book. I love a good wellness podcast. And plants ended up being the most affordable, accessible tool for self-development and wellness for me. They really help me disconnect from screens, reconnect to myself and reconnect to nature because I was living in 500 square feet in New York City. So I was real disconnected to nature and farm style living and slow living. And houseplants were kind of my gateway drug to reacquainting myself with nature and the power that nature can have for healing and happiness. So that’s what I’m doing in my corner of the Internet. So slow living, but definitely through the lens of plants— houseplants and gardening.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And are you still in the city?
Maria Failla I am not. So I was part of the— I call it “the mass millennial exodus” in the pandemic. So another thing is I started my podcast. It used to be called Bloom and Grow Radio. Now it’s called Growing Joy because my book’s name is Growing Joy. So we just kind of simplified everything. But I was a professional musical theater performer for the last ten years. And Bloom and Grow Radio—or my podcast Growing Joy—was my side project. It was just a little passion project of mine. And in the pandemic, I lost my job as a performer, and that’s when I kind of had the opportunity to take my podcast and plant— I became a professional plant lady.
Lisa Bass Okay. Wow.
Maria Failla So in through that, in the pandemic, I no longer had to be in New York City for my real job, which was Broadway. So I ran for the hills, and now I live in the middle of nowhere in the Catskills in the mountains on five acres. We see more wild turkeys than we see humans every day. And I like to say I went from 500 square feet to five acres. And it was a really radical transformation. But I’m not looking back. I love it. I love it, love it, love it.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s awesome. I know that on your— whenever I was looking at your PDF that you’d sent me about your podcast, you talked a little bit about talking about business. And we didn’t really— I didn’t really put that on the outline, but is it your podcast and then the book sales that you decided to take full-time during the pandemic?
Maria Failla Yeah. So primarily podcast. Yeah. My main conduit to my audience is my podcast for sure and podcast advertising. I have a paid garden society, so I have an online app basically for my listeners so you can join if you want to meet other houseplant enthusiasts and get some trading and connect with other people that want to nerd out about plants as much as you do, you’re welcome to our our troll-free corner of the internet. I call it the kindest and plantiest corner of the internet. And then yeah, the book came out of nowhere. I had just lost my job as a performer. I was kind of asking the universe what was next. And out of nowhere, one of my listeners is an editor at a fancy publishing house and was like, “Hey, you want to write a book about plants and wellness?” And I was like, “Do I want to write a book about plants and wellness? I think I do.” So that’s been kind of the last two years. Navigating writing a book for the first time was a pretty wild, wild experience.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah, that’s awesome. Okay, so let’s dive straight into houseplants. We’ll start there and then we can go into some other garden type plants as well. Houseplants is where we’re at right now since it’s January and we’re all stuck inside. Now January is when I really start to think about houseplants because I have so much greenery going with Christmas decor and December and then most of January. And then I take all of that down. January, February, the only green thing I have in the house is going to be my houseplants, which are kind of just hiding right now as I have out all my Christmas stuff. So we’re going to do house plant care 101. The first bullet point on this is how to stop killing your houseplants. I guess in this maybe we’ll talk about the top mistakes people make when they kill things.
Maria Failla Yeah. So first off, whatever you’ve done, sweet listeners, to your houseplants, I’ve done it. There’s no need to be embarrassed. It’s interesting, as a society, we’ve grown so far disconnected to nature. I like to say you don’t know what you don’t know. With plants, we’re not really taught that nature is full of living things. So it’s normal to kill plants. I still kill plants as a professional plant lady. Right? Like I composted a fern two weeks ago because it was no longer thriving in my house. So if you kill a plant, you’re not a bad person. And you’re not a plant killer. I think people also— you know, and I’m guilty of this. You kill a plant or two and then you label yourself a plant killer and you don’t allow yourself the joy of caring for plants. Right? It’s just about finding the right plant for yourself. So if you’re a plant killer, if you’ve killed a plant, I think there’s always a lesson to learn in every plant fail. In my corner of the woods, we call it a plant fail is when you kill a plant. So, you know, how to stop killing your house plants. Let’s take this through the lens of what I used to do to kill my plants, and then I’ll explain what I was doing wrong and then how to fix it. Two main things that people do when they’re accidentally killing their plants. The number one biggest thing that someone can do to set themselves up for success is to understand what light you’re working with indoors. So most of us, we overestimate how much light our homes have. If you think about it, these plants are growing outdoors in tropical environments. Most of our house plants are tropical, so they’re in 60-80% humidity. They’re basking in the sun all day. Even if they’re in the shade under a tree, the shade outdoors is like ten times more strong than shade or high light indoors. So understand that your plants already probably aren’t getting enough light and then you’re probably underestimating the light in your home because of our light fixtures. An easy way to start assessing your indoor lighting environment is what direction your windows face. So the way that it works is the strongest window exposure for houseplants is southern. That’s basically because the sun—if you’re in the northern hemisphere—rises from east, sets in the west. If you have a southern facing window, you’re experiencing sunlight all day long. You’re getting like 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. Then second strongest is the west exposure because the sun gets stronger as it sets. Third strongest is Eastern exposure. It’s a little bit gentler light in the morning. And then kind of the worst exposure, the lowest exposure for plants— if you have northern facing windows, there is a limited amount of plants that you can choose that will thrive and you might want to supplement with grow lights. So that’s a good place to start. You can just take your phone out, open the compass, see where your windows are facing, and then look out of your windows. Because the other thing, the extra layer that might be confusing here is you could have a southern facing window that has ideally bright exposure, but if there’s a huge tree in front of your window, that window might be in shade and actually might be more of a northern facing window. So you kind of have to become a little super sleuth. If what I’ve just said is too confusing and people have checked out, I have a free download on my website called Understanding Natural Light. I’ll give you the link; you can include it in the show notes. But it’s actually a three-day worksheet. It’s really easy. You download a free app and I kind of walk you through how to assess your indoor lighting environment. And then once you understand your indoor lighting environment, it’s just about picking the plants that match your environment. So if you’ve got a high light, you can do succulents, you can do Hoya, you can do pretty much anything with a high light windowsill. If you have more of a low light environment, there’s plenty of options for you. You can do snake plants, you can do ZZ plants, you can do monstera. So it’s really just about figuring that out. And then I think another additional pain point for people and a reason why a lot of people kill plants is they don’t pick plants for their lifestyle and personality. This was something that I’ve seen over and over and over and over again in my community. So I actually created a free test on my website because I was like, this is crazy. I’ve talked to thousands of people now that fit into these different personality archetypes. So if you’re someone who has little kids at home or you travel a lot, if you’re a consultant and you’re always traveling for your job, you can’t be watering your plants every day. If you brought home a fern—which is a plant that needs a lot of water—and you don’t have the time, that fern isn’t going to do well. But if you have high light and you get a succulent or you get a high light, drought tolerant plant, that’s going to be the perfect plant for your situation. So I think it’s this one-two punch, this combination of figuring out your lighting and then figuring out your lifestyle and what plants fit that puzzle piece of what your light environment is and what your lifestyle is and then figuring out a routine to care for them. So that was a really long answer. But I’ve seen a lot of plant fails in my time, so I try to make umbrella answers to help as many people as possible.
Lisa Bass Yeah. No, that was actually really helpful. And you brought up some things that I think we forget to think about. You’re just like, “Eh, I’ll set it in this window,” and it’s a window, but is it really getting the right amount of sunlight? I have an issue with keeping fiddle figs alive. So I’ve tried it. And my sister, she gets them and they just go crazy, and mine always die. And so I’m sure I’m doing something wrong with that.
Maria Failla Well, fiddle leaf figs, actually— so I like to say there are a couple of plants that have a lot of fake news going around about them. Succulents being easy to care for. Everyone thinks— I don’t know why everyone thinks succulents are an easy plant to care for. They’re one of the hardest plans to keep alive.
Lisa Bass I’ve definitely killed succulents.
Maria Failla Yeah, and I think that’s a big problem is people get a succulent and they’re like, “Oh, I can’t keep plants alive. I’m going to stick with succulents.” Or you get a succulent as a favor for a party. If you don’t give that succulent exactly what it needs, which is 6 to 8 hours of bright direct light and very infrequent watering, that plant is going to be toast in a couple of months. So I think that’s a fake news plant. And then I think fiddle leaf figs are really tricky. And this is why: fiddle leaf figs are in every single magazine you’ve ever seen. If you open any Better Home and Gardens, Anthropologie, but they’re always styled in the corners of your house.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Right. That’s where mine is, and I’m guessing that must be wrong.
Maria Failla So fiddle leaf figs need bright, direct light. They’re almost like a succulent. They love light. They grow in like Africa. They bathe in exposed outdoor sun. So if you want your fiddle leaf fig to thrive and become that tree, that beautifully structured tree that we all see in all of these gorgeous photos of interior homes, you’ve got to put that plant in light. So either stick it in your window or you can do what I did, because I love a tree in a corner. I love a corner filled with a structural plant. I got a great grow light that looks like a modern pendant light. So they make really fancy grow lights now; they look like normal, sexy, modern lighting. They make grow lights that are light bulbs. You could put in any other lamps that you have. And I actually stuck my fiddle leaf under that. The minute I did that, the leaves tripled in size. And I set it on a timer, so the light turns on and off and I never have to think about it. And Figaro— that’s my fiddle leaf fig tree’s name. I don’t have names for all my plants, but Figaro is one of them that does have one. He’s thriving. And now, we’ve moved again, but now he’s in a Western facing window. So he’s getting like four hours of bright light a day.
Lisa Bass And I’m assuming they probably like warmth, too, right?
Maria Failla They do. Yes. They do not like— ficus, the genus that that plant is— so the scientific name is Ficus Lyrata. Ficus don’t like being moved a lot, too. So don’t put your fiddle leaf near a draft. They don’t like drafts.
Lisa Bass Oh, I have mine in like the all wrong spot right now.
Maria Failla And it’s totally normal. Why would you know? Why would you know that? Right? Like, of course that makes total sense. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? Like, why would we know that? But yeah, they don’t like drafts. They don’t like changing space a lot. They don’t like getting moved around. And so they’ll drop those leaves, but they are vigorous. Even if they drop their leaves, you can kind of give it a prune and then it’ll grow back for you. But I would say stick that baby in as much sun as you can and it’ll be much happier.
Lisa Bass Well, I like your idea of the lamp because I was thinking, okay, it’s probably ideal in a windowsill, but I cannot put this size of thing on a windowsill. That’s not going to work. So if I put it really close to the window, it’ll kind of be shaded by the wall. So probably the only option for me in that south facing window or like if I want a corner is to get a lamp. Now, what are the bulbs you recommend for that? Or do you just search like “grow light bulbs”?
Maria Failla Okay. Yes. I have become an expert in this. In my 500 square foot apartment in New York City, I had southern facing windows, but I only had windows on one side of my apartment. So the majority of my apartment was low light except for my sunny windows. So I had— I think before we moved, I had six different grow lights. And I have a YouTube video with a tour of that. If that would be helpful for your audience, I can give you the link.
Lisa Bass Yes.
Maria Failla But I’ll give you some some high-level things to look for. So with grow lights, there’s so many of them on the market now. The number one thing that I recommend people looking for is a full spectrum white light. So you don’t want the grow lights that look purple or orange. Those look like you’re growing cannabis, which is cool, but not the look you’re going for in a farmhouse lifestyle. So you’re going for more cozy vibes, more cozy white, broad spectrum light vibes. That’s what’s going to replicate the sun the most. So number one, I’m always looking for white light. If you’re buying a lamp fixture, I have two companies that I recommend: SolTech Solutions. They’re a long-term partner of mine. They make these really sexy, modern pendant style lights in white or black, so they blend in. I’m kind of bohemian with my style, so I actually macramed the cords, so it looked really cool. It looked kind of like a cool, macramé kind of funky look. And they come with timers, so you just set them. I usually set them 12 on, 12 off. They’re energy efficient. The thing with the grow lights is you have to— depending on the plant, you need to just make sure that the plant is a certain amount of inches away from the bulb. So that’s great. Soltech Solutions also makes a bulb that you can put into any light fixture. So I had actually a desk lamp in my office that I just screwed the bulb into. There’s another company— if you’re looking for smaller scale but pretty looking grow lights, Modern Sprout is a great company. They make— actually this light up here in my my background is their grow frame. So they make frames that have grow lights in them so you can put them on a gallery wall and then have living art. They also have like a bar that you could stick under your countertop. So there’s all sorts of different grow lights that are available now. It’s pretty incredible. And there are some really cool companies making them. But I definitely recommend the white. No matter what you’re looking at, white light. Make sure that it has a timer because the thing with grow lights is that your plants need a certain amount of sun a day, and you’re not going to remember to turn those lights on and off. So put them on a timer and be mindful of the space between the light and the plant. But yeah, I have a ton of recommendations on my shop and a little tour, if that would be helpful for your audience, because it’s a little intimidating. I think I also have a couple of episodes on my podcast that are just based on grow lights, like understanding the science of how the lights work and what you need to know about them, because it’s really fascinating how we’ve been able to replicate the sun indoors.
Lisa Bass Yeah. That is.
Maria Failla If you’re a nerd like me.
Lisa Bass Yeah and it never really occurred to me that—I mean, this seems pretty obvious now—but never really occurred to me that they could be in a regular lamp that actually looks nice. I’m just picturing what you do whenever you start seeds in the spring before you put them outside.
Maria Failla Exactly.
Lisa Bass I’m always like, I can’t wait till it’s summer so I can get that stuff out of my house. It’s not something I really enjoy looking at.
Maria Failla Yeah, if you look at my YouTube tour from my apartment, the thing that I was the proudest of is I had— I think I had six grow lights in total, and you would never know it. They just looked like normal lights. They looked like a designed aspect of my home. And I think that’s where the houseplant world is moving towards as well. People want to bring nature indoors. People feel disconnected. There’s so many reasons and studies that show that plants indoors can make you happier, increase creativity, decrease feelings of stress, increase productivity for workers in office spaces. But no one wants to look like a seed starting farm, right?
Lisa Bass Yes. Right.
Maria Failla So there have been some great companies that have kind of met that need, for sure, for us girls who like a nice, curated home aesthetic.
Lisa Bass Mm hmm. Yeah, definitely. That’s really good to know. I’m excited to look into that.
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Lisa Bass Okay. The next bullet point on my houseplant care 101 is growing plants on your windowsill. So we talked about that a little bit, but any more tips that you could give us?
Maria Failla Yeah. So for your windowsill, especially as we’re in the winter, be mindful of drafts. So some people— I just released a big episode on winter plant care because there are a lot of things that happen to our homes in the winter that we don’t necessarily put two and two together of, oh, that could really mess up with my plants. Like if your windowsill is above a radiator that kicks off a lot of heat and you have a bunch of plants either sitting on your radiator or sitting right above your windowsill, you’re going to have to watch that to make sure that your plants don’t get fried. Also, those radiators kick off a lot of dry air.
Lisa Bass Right.
Maria Failla And our plants like to be between at least 40% humidity and most of our homes aren’t. So that’s something to be mindful of. The other thing with windowsills is they can be so drafty. My windowsills in my old home are so drafty, and my plants— when I wake up in the morning, they’re like, frozen. So sometimes I actually pull my plants out of my windowsill in the winter. Or you can seal them for the winter. So you can put some tape on them to seal them. But windowsills are a beautiful thing, right? That’s where you’re going to access the most of your light. So I would make sure— you know, unobstructed views of the sky is the ideal thing that we go for with direct light. So your windowsills are where you’re going to have your most direct light opportunities. So if you get 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day, you can try growing herbs on your windowsill. I have a whole episode on that if people are interested. If not, this is where you can kind of play with your more higher light varieties, so plants that bloom. Good rule of thumb is if your plants have colors on their leaves, they likely need more light than just like a dark green plant. And the other thing with windowsills, if you have pets or small children, make sure that those pots fit the windowsill. So don’t put an enormous pot on your windowsill. And I’m speaking from experience. I’ve knocked so many plants, I’ve ruined so many planters from knocking stuff clumsily. I also try and get little trays that I can put my plants on so I don’t end up ruining the windowsill’s paint or wood, whatever type of windowsill you have. Yeah, windowsills are ideal because that’s probably where your plants would get the most light in your home.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Do you have any ideas for if windowsills are small? Any creative ideas for how to still get them there? And maybe just like building a new windowsill is the only option.
Maria Failla I usually just keep my tiny plants and tiny pots on my windowsills. However, in order to get the most bang for your lighting buck, hanging from your curtain rods is great. So hanging planters. So your windowsill is limited real estate, right? But your window is so many feet tall. So there are so many plant hangers. It’s not just about the macramé plant hangers that were popular in the seventies. If you have a more modern aesthetic— like whatever aesthetic there is, there’s a hanger for you. So you can create a curtain of hanging plants that are going to access that light. I’ve seen people build shelves kind of in their windows so that they have multiple— they kind of make more real estate. You can push a table up against the windowsill. One of those— what’s the name? You’re probably more of an expert than I am.
Lisa Bass Console table, like a real skinny little—
Maria Failla Exactly. The skinny little table. And then I also use plant stands. So my huge western facing window in my living room, you know, I can only fit so many plants on it, but next to it, I have two arm chairs. And then next to those armchairs I have— IKEA makes this fabulous plant stand. I’ve ordered so many of them, but it’s a three tiered plant stand. So you get three plants in one stand. It looks really pretty. It’s wooden. And so I kind of increase my windowsill space with some plant stands to kind of lift the plants up to the window. Because the issue is when the window is small, if you put a plant below the window, that’s like the lowest light in your home, so you just got to prop them up a little bit.
Lisa Bass Yeah, those are all really good ideas. I wasn’t sure if you would have any. I’m like, oh, yeah, actually, I can think of all of those being a really good idea.
Maria Failla Yeah. Good. Good.
Lisa Bass Okay. The next one is how to propagate plants.
Maria Failla Propagate free plants. Right? Who doesn’t want free plants?
Lisa Bass Yes, exactly. Budget-friendly.
Maria Failla Yeah. Budget friendly. Also a fabulous way to get your friends hooked on your houseplant love. I mean, I love nothing more than cutting bouquets from my garden and gifting them in the summer. But there’s something very special about gifting a friend a cutting of one of your plants and letting that cutting grow in their house. I have this great story I like to tell: a friend of mine had to move suddenly, and she gifted me a jade plant that she had had that was like over 20 years old. And it was huge. So I had to propagate it and made a bunch of smaller pots. And I gifted my sister one of those cuttings. That plant grew so much in my sister’s care that she then propagated it and gave it to two of her friends. So I think about this plant’s heart and spirit that is kind of spread across the country now with all of us in different cities now. So I don’t know. There’s something really beautiful about that. So high level with plant propagation is you locate the node of the plant, which is where the tissue that allows the plant to grow roots— so it depends. So okay, let’s dial back for a minute. Plant propagation is very simple and easy, but you have to know the style of propagation for whatever plant you’re working with. So we’ll do a standard pothos philodendron plant for right now, which is probably the standard houseplant that a lot of people have. But you can do stem tip cuttings, you can do node cuttings, you can do leaf bud cuttings. There’s all sorts of different cuttings that you can take, and we can’t cover that in a 40-minute episode, but we can start with leaf tip cuttings. So if you have a pothos, a philodendron, a monstera, a lot of tropical plants, this is what you’ll use. This is the method that you could do. So you’re going to locate the node, which I like to call is the knuckle of a plant. So if you’re looking at a plant stem, it’s where the other leaves are growing out of. And it kind of looks like this kind of stripe in the plant and it’s like a little— it bulges a little bit. So that’s where the plant can create roots. So what you’ll do is if you’re holding your pothos, you’ll separate the plant right under the node. You want to cut only a fourth of an inch to separate the plants. So you don’t want to leave a lot of that stem tissue on either side. And then with that plant, you’ll cut the bottom two leaves off. So where those nodes are, you’re going to remove the leaves and then that’s where roots will grow. Stick that puppy in water. Roots will show up. When the roots are, you know, one or two inches, maybe two inches long, ideally if they’ve branched, if the one root has turned into two roots, pop it in soil, keep the soil a little more moist when you first plant it up because it’s not used to being in soil. So you want to kind of help its transition, keep the soil wetter and then kind of reduce the water as you go. And that plant will establish and you’ve got a completely new free plant. If you have a spider plant, it gets even easier. Spider plants are another popular house plant, but they grow pups in their plant and you can literally like take a small pot and stick one of the pups next to the plant in the pot, the pup will root, and then you can just separate it. If you have succulents, another thing that you can do is— succulents are pretty simple. And I detail this pretty thoroughly in my book—in the back of my book—too, if people need photos. With a succulent, if you have an echeveria—which is like a very common succulent, it’s the one that looks like a rosette—you can remove the leaves.
Lisa Bass Okay. Yeah.
Maria Failla You know which ones I’m talking about?
Lisa Bass Oh, yes, definitely.
Maria Failla Yeah, or like a jade. All you have to do is remove a leaf, let the leaf tip scar, like brown, and then put the leaf on a little bed of soil. In the tip where there’s browning, they’ll grow a new little plant. And if you kind of water it enough, you could watch a YouTube video or two to, like, make sure you’re doing it correctly. But that one leaf will grow an entirely new plant. And it’s wild to watch. Like, it is so fun, especially in the winter. These are really fun projects to do in the winter when you’re going a little crazy in January, February before you’re starting seeds. You need a little project. It’s really fun to watch life appear in front of you when you look out the window and everything is dormant or dead or covered in snow.
Lisa Bass Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That’s something, too, like forcing bulbs. I guess that’s way down in the outline. But let’s just talk about that right now.
Maria Failla I love force— I actually just bought an amaryllis yesterday at the grocery store. Forcing bulbs is so underrated. It’s so much fun, especially in the winter. Getting that bloom, getting that rapid growth in front of your eyes when everything feels so still is so fun. And if you’re a houseplant collector, a lot of your houseplant— like a lot of your plant collection is green, right? Green is great, but it’s great to have some colored flowers. And you can force bulbs throughout the season. So like, we’re recording this in the holidays. Amaryllis are at every grocery store. Paperwhites are one of my favorite things to force, and they’re very simple. You get the bulbs. You can buy them in a pack that’s like a forced bulb pack. Or you could just get the bulbs. You put them on top of some marbles in a glass jar, you get to watch the roots grow. You get to watch the stem grow, and then you’ve got this gorgeous plant or you can pot the bulbs. The amaryllis I bought yesterday is potted. This is also—with forcing bulbs—where I cheat a little bit, and to me, it’s worth the $5.99 at the grocery store to kind of buy the amaryllis pre kind of set up and started so that I can just enjoy the growth of the stem and the flowers, so don’t feel like you have to go to the garden center and buy the bulbs and do it all from scratch. But it is fun. What are your favorite bulbs to grow?
Lisa Bass I do paperwhites. Those are probably my favorites. I haven’t done a ton. I did hyacinth, I think, a few years back. That was really pretty. Now, do you freeze yours first? I know some people will freeze them first.
Maria Failla Yeah. This is where it gets a little complicated. So there are certain bulbs—and you have to Google it—but there are certain bulbs that do need a period of cold. Because if you think about it, daffodils go through the period of cold outdoors. And then when it warms, that’s what triggers the plant to bloom. That’s why I think sometimes if you want to enjoy a bulb moment, buying them pre-started for you because you know they’re pre-treated at the grocery store, the garden center is a little bit easier. But if not, yeah, sometimes they involve a period of cold and then you take them out, you plant them, and you make sure that they have that warmth and then that’s what will actually trigger the bulb to grow. And I wish I could say that I put myself through the rigamarole of that. But come the holiday season, I feel like I’m so stressed doing all the shopping and traveling that it’s simpler to just get one at the garden center.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I’m like, I’ll think about that maybe next month. Right now—
Maria Failla Yeah, exactly. Totally.
Lisa Bass Whenever all the greenery comes down and my house feels bare, that’s probably when we’re going to think about that and some more house plants, too, for sure.
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Lisa Bass Do you recommend any fertilizers or supplements for your houseplants, or do you find that’s mostly unnecessary? I remember one time I bought my fiddle fig a supplement or maybe it was a fertilizer. It didn’t help, but I think because I was putting it in all the wrong spots. So that makes a lot of sense.
Maria Failla Yeah, I’ve heard— one of my best friends— I love her so much. Not a plant lady, not a big plant lady, and she had this huge cactus in her apartment and she was like, “I’m going to fertilize my cactus.” And she bought chemical granule fertilizer and covered the soil. I mean, she torched this cactus. She covered the soil in these fertilizer granules and then watered it, and it just totally burned everything. So, I’m an Espoma Organic girl. I don’t know if you know that company, but they’re a family-run company that make organic pet-safe products. I lean away from chemicals because, I don’t know, I just prefer organic gardening and I prefer organic soil for my houseplants. So, yeah, I think fertilizing can get really complicated and fertilizing can seem really complicated. I personally didn’t fertilize my plants for the first year and a half of having them because I just was scared that I was going to do it wrong and I didn’t know where to start. And that’s kind of why I like Espoma. They have a house plant fertilizer. It’s liquid, it’s pre-measured. I pre-measure it, I dunk it in my watering can and I water my plants with it. Rule of thumb is when your plants are growing, that’s when you fertilize them. So in the winter, you know, some people say, “Don’t fertilize your house plants in the winter.” If you have your house plants under a grow light or if your houseplants are getting a ton of light and they’re growing, give your plants food.
Lisa Bass They don’t know it’s winter.
Maria Failla Yeah, they don’t know it’s winter. Plants make their food through the light, right? Through photosynthesis. So they make their food through light. But fertilizer has a lot of macro and micro nutrients that help the plant be really vital. So, yeah, fertilize when your plant is growing. For me, liquid fertilizer is the easiest thing where I can just measure it and dump it into my watering can and not think about it too much. So I’m pretty low maintenance when it comes to that. I’m like, what’s the easiest and healthiest thing that I can do? And that’s what’s worked for me. Some people like doing granules where you actually put these granules in the soil, so every time you water, your plants essentially gets a burst of fertilizer through the granules getting wet. That’s cool. I actually use that in my outdoor garden because edible plants need so much nutrition. They need so much more fertilizer than houseplants do. Houseplants aren’t growing as fast as the plants outdoors in our garden, right? They’re moving at a slower pace. So I would say, generally, feed spring and summer, and then in the winter if you have grow lights, too.
Lisa Bass Okay. Now, are there any plants that you have that you’re moving outside whenever the season is appropriate?
Maria Failla Yeah, this is a great question and it’s something that I think a lot of people get wrong. So I’d love to give some tips. So yes, you can move your plants outside. It’s a great opportunity for your plants to experience some rapid growth, soak in the sun. It does require some prep and some pre-work and some post-work. So your fiddle leaf fig, actually, is a great example of something that would thrive outside in the light. So why not put it outside and let it kind of shoot up in the summer and then bring it inside for the winter? But realize that that’s a pretty big transition that you’re asking your plant to go through. It’s pretty drastic, right? So when you’re putting it outside in the spring, your plant is going to go through some shock because it’s all of a sudden getting so much light. So a lot of people recommend don’t pick like the sunniest day in the middle of the summer to bring your plant outside. Put it outside for a few hours a day, start it in the shade, and then graduate it to wherever you want it to live for the summer if you have the time and patience to do that.
Lisa Bass Right.
Maria Failla And then kind of the same mode of thinking for when you bring it back inside. It’s going to go from a lot of light to a little bit of light. And the other big thing when bringing your plants back inside is there are so many more pests outdoors than indoors. So I’ve heard horror stories of people putting their plants outside for the summer, bringing them inside, pests hitchhiked on those house plants, came inside, infested an entire plant collection, and they lose an entire plant collection to thrips or spider mites or whatever was going on outside. So this word, I feel like, is triggering now for people, but I was using it before 2020— so quarantine your plants when you bring them in. And this is a good rule of thumb if you buy a plant at the garden center, if you buy a plant at the grocery store, if you’re bringing a plant inside, you don’t know what invisible pests are hanging out in the soil or on that plant. So if you have the time and space, isolate them for two weeks. Don’t put them right in the middle of your entire plant collection because—God forbid—there’s a spider mite infestation on that plant. You don’t want it to take out your whole plant collection. Give that plant a couple of weeks to adjust to your house. You can check for pests, look for webbing, look for physical pests, look for those kind of things. Maybe spray it down with some horticultural soap, make sure that it’s all good before you introduce it to your plant collection.
Lisa Bass Okay. Yeah.
Maria Failla Do you do that? Do you put your plants outside in the summer?
Lisa Bass I haven’t, actually. It’s just something that popped into my head as you were talking. I’m like, well, why don’t I put them outside in the summer? And I’m like, well, probably because I never think about it enough to do that whole process of introducing to the outside. But I do like the idea, and I also regret getting— I always get ferns every year and then I never bring them inside. But really, I should. I should bring them inside. Like you said, though, they are kind of high maintenance.
Maria Failla Ferns are tricky.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. And they’re so large.
Maria Failla But are you getting the big bushy Boston fern?
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Maria Failla So there are ferns that are hardier. And I would argue the Boston fern is one of the hardiest. So you probably could. You could try bringing it inside. Do you have humidifiers in your house?
Lisa Bass I really don’t, but I should, because we do heat with wood and so it does get very dry. I have— I mean, I own them for whenever the kids get coughs, so I could definitely hook them up.
Maria Failla Yeah. I would say there are tons of people in my community that run humidifiers at all hours of the day because they really want to create an optimum environment for their plants. I understand that’s not everybody’s journey. And humidifiers require refilling and all of that kind of stuff. I understand that. But ferns definitely like a little bit more humidity, but I’ll say, I had a Boston fern in my apartment that— I do feel like plants adapt. So I think if you transitioned it well inside, it might be something for you to play with next year just as an experiment, because they can be really beautiful.
Lisa Bass Yeah, they’re so beautiful outside. I love them. I buy them every single year and I realize that’s very wasteful, but I just do. I put them in my planters outside.
Maria Failla Yeah, do you put them in hanging baskets or do you have them— like, where do you put them?
Lisa Bass They’re on the ground. They’re just in— I’ve done hanging baskets, too, actually quite a bit of that, but mostly they’re just in probably like five different planters throughout my porch and my back patio area.
Maria Failla That’s beautiful. You could also maybe play with— maybe you don’t bring all of them in, but maybe you propagate. And with a fern, you wouldn’t propagate, you would divide it. Maybe you bring a smaller chunk of the plant in, nurse it throughout the winter, and then put it back outside and then let it fill the pot again.
Lisa Bass Right. Yeah.
Maria Failla But also, pick your battles. If you want the big fluffy fern, like live your best life. But just an idea.
Lisa Bass Yeah. No, it is an idea. And I always think about this every year, too, with like I get a big rosemary plant. I’m like, this needs to come inside. And then when it comes down to it, I don’t end up doing it. But it is a nice idea in theory. And if you—
Maria Failla I will say rosemary is really hard indoors. Rosemary likes to be outdoors. So that I would say—
Lisa Bass Well, okay, that’s good to know. Don’t bother.
Maria Failla Yeah, totally.
Lisa Bass Well, I feel like most herbs are. And you have— I think I was going to ask you about that, too. Some tips for growing herbs indoors. I have found that for me it’s always just been a good idea in theory because the amount of water that it requires and the light, but maybe you have some tips that makes it work out better than it’s worked out for me.
Maria Failla Yeah. When you say it was a good idea in theory, but not in practice, is that what you mean?
Lisa Bass Well, I just mean for the amount of watering. I’m like, okay, I’ll just buy herbs at the grocery store in the winter or just not use them.
Maria Failla Yeah. Okay, I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this.
Lisa Bass Okay, good.
Maria Failla Have you noticed that I have thoughts on everything as I’m talking so much on this interview?
Lisa Bass That’s good. I mean, you’re the plant lady. You better have thoughts on this stuff.
Maria Failla I’m the plant lady. Also, I’m sure you understand, podcaster to podcaster, it’s always so weird but also fun to be interviewed instead of the interviewee.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Maria Failla So, okay, herbs need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight a day to thrive, to have the bushy basil that you want, right? To have the rosemary that you want. Very few people have that naturally indoors. If you do, go for it.
Lisa Bass Right.
Maria Failla Put four-inch pots of basil, all of it, on your windowsill, especially in the winter. However, there are so many easy ways to grow herbs indoors if you want. It does require an investment, so you need a grow light of sorts. You can do—
Lisa Bass So that right there, that’s something I have not done. So you’re already going into territory that makes this way more doable.
Maria Failla Okay, so then let me tell you— now this is an investment, but it’s so fun. I call it, in my book, it’s called my Smoothie Spaceship Tower. So I got— in 2021, I was living in the middle of the woods. Like in the middle of the woods, like very dark home, too. A wood cabin, so it was dark.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Maria Failla I got this— it’s called a Lettuce Grow. It’s a five foot tall hydroponic planter. It takes up only like a square foot, though, cause it’s vertical.
Lisa Bass Okay.
Maria Failla And it has a pump and you buy the plugs of the herbs, and it comes with grow lights. And the grow lights are on a timer. So it’s basically like if you’ve ever seen an aerogarden, it’s like a really tall, wild looking spaceship aerogarden. And all winter, I grew every herb we needed. We did not need to buy a boxed herb. I grew all of the smoothies, the lettuce for my smoothie material and bok choy, all of the super nutritious greens that you wouldn’t necessarily always find at the grocery store. I had so much fun. I grew tomatoes, I grew violas, I grew edible flowers.
Lisa Bass Oh, that does sound fun.
Maria Failla It was so fun. And if you have kids, too. I grew violas, so I would harvest bok choy and spinach, and then I would cook my husband— I called it a garden, so I would saute greens, but then I would put the violas on top. And it was just really fun. And also my husband has seasonal affective disorder, and—I mean, he wouldn’t say that he does, but I would say that he does—and the lights are so strong that he would sit by the grow— you know, we had it next to our couch and he would like bask in the sunlight.
Lisa Bass Like a little bit of summer right there.
Maria Failla Yeah. A little bit of summer. So that’s definitely the most expensive option. I think I have a coupon code for them. If I do, I’ll send it over to you. If not, there are smaller scale options that you can do. So you can do the $99 aerogarden option. Rise Gardens is another company that has smaller versions of— you know, you’re putting the plug in, but you plug the thing in, it knows when to turn the lights on, when to not. You can put it on your kitchen counter. They’re smaller. And you know, if you’re just someone who uses a lot of basil or a lot of rosemary or whatever, you can choose 3 to 6 herbs that you can grow throughout the year. And personally, it’s one of the funnest things that I own. We’re obsessed with it. Actually we haven’t installed it in the house that we just moved into and my husband and I were just like, “Are we going to get the Lettuce, Grow out of the basement? Like, are we going to do it this year?” And we just got our first snow and I’m already itching for it.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that sounds really interesting. I’m thinking about in my house where I could put something like that. How does the water work with it?
Maria Failla Yeah, it depends on which product we’re talking about. With the Lettuce Grow, you fill it in the bottom. So it’s a lot of water in the bottom, and you put the nutrients, so it’s— sorry, to clarify, so this is hydroponic gardening. So you’re basically putting nutrients in the water, and the water is feeding the roots and the roots are up taking the nutrients through that.
Lisa Bass Okay. So no soil?
Maria Failla No soil. Yeah. So it’s soil free. It’s just water. And the smaller kits come with whatever little vial of something you put in the water. The Lettuce Grow comes with a water neutralizer. You have to neutralize the pH. That takes 5 minutes and then you have to add— I say it’s like 10 minutes of maintenance a week to grow all that food because you have to add water. Maybe 15 minutes. You have to add water to the reservoir once a week, and then you have to add the nutrients and make sure that the water is pH balanced. But they teach you how to do it. It’s really easy.
Lisa Bass That sounds really, really interesting.
Maria Failla I know. I’m not a salesperson, but I love them so much.
Lisa Bass Yeah, no that sounds like extra fun right now.
Maria Failla They are not paying me to say this to you.
Lisa Bass Because that’s about the best thing about summer is every single meal. Even if you really mess up on your garden, like you just didn’t weed it right and everything’s going wrong, I always am able to manage to get a really bountiful herb garden every year because they’re easy. They grow really easy.
Maria Failla It’s so empowering.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And it’s just every single meal has something delicious about it. And so that is something that makes summer so much brighter than winter.
Maria Failla Yeah, it’s so empowering. It also tastes so much better. It’s like once you have basil cut off your basil plant, it’s really hard to go back to the grocery store, like plastic boxed pre-cut basil, you know? I just did a great interview on herbalism with this amazing woman who taught me how to make my own tea and taught me how to dry your herbs, too. So if you do have a really bountiful herb, you can dry it all and then you can use it medicinally. And that’s a whole ‘nother thing. I’m very curious. I don’t know much about herbalism, but I’m very interested in learning more. But yeah, herbs are amazing. And also tomatoes are amazing. Tomatoes are my other thing. What does your garden look like? How big is your garden?
Lisa Bass It is—let’s see here—probably like ten raised beds. And some years we do more than other years. I’ll say the last couple of years we’ve definitely neglected it more and more. But we grow a lot of tomatoes and a lot of herbs.
Maria Failla But you have small kids, right?
Lisa Bass Yeah. We have seven kids and the youngest ones are, you know, they’re all— I have three that are five and under. And so yeah, it just gets to be a lot.
Maria Failla Oh my gosh, you’re not in a season of, like, doting on your plants for sure.
Lisa Bass No.
Maria Failla Unless— maybe when they’re a little older, you can get them more involved in it.
Lisa Bass That’s always been the goal. But that even takes a lot of intention, too. Like, setting that all up, unless they’re naturally interested— there’s always that, too. So that’s something we’ve struggled with the garden is like, okay, I really want the kids to take this over. And even the mental space to make that happen hasn’t, so far, really worked out that well. But we still do grow a ton of tomatoes. I’m with you on that. Tomatoes are just the best. Next year— my daughter was actually like, “Why don’t we just only grow tomatoes next year? Tomatoes and herbs.” And I’m like, “You know what? Why don’t we?” It’s the only thing we really, really want from the garden is fresh, homegrown tomatoes.
Maria Failla Why don’t you? And maybe some lettuce, right?
Lisa Bass Yeah, some lettuce.
Maria Failla Yeah. I feel like lettuce is the only other thing. What’s your favorite tomato to grow? What varieties do you like?
Lisa Bass Oh, I really like the big, juicy ones. I like, in theory, the little cherry tomatoes and the grape tomatoes. Those are great, but they’re just annoying to harvest. And Roma tomatoes are great, but they don’t give you that juicy tomato. And so I don’t even know what variety I grow. But it’s always just like the big juicy ones is what I prefer.
Maria Failla Yeah. Beefsteak.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Maria Failla That’s so interesting because I’m a cherry— I only grow cherry tomatoes. That’s so funny. We have completely opposite tastes.
Lisa Bass Well, we grow them. We grow a ton of them. Because they’re so good, but then they’re really annoying to deal with. Like if you’re wanting to make— I guess they’re good if you’re wanting to make, like, a pizza sauce. I just throw them straight into the pot, add a little bit of onions, garlic, butter, and you can just blend them. So that’s pretty nice. But just I feel like they just take a while to get a lot, you know?
Maria Failla Totally. Yeah. It’s interesting. Learning to grow them from seed, too, is like a whole different— once you grow plants from seed that empowerment also is just like, oh my God, I grew you from seed and now I’m eating you.
Lisa Bass Yeah, those are more special.
Maria Failla But tomatoes are also definitely, I think, much easier to buy at the garden center pre-started.
Lisa Bass Yes, they are.
Maria Failla Even though I like to start them from seed, but I totally get that that’s not everybody’s journey as well.
Lisa Bass Yeah I’ve done both and a lot of years I will do both. But then because I don’t take the time to really acclimate them to the outside, the ones I get from the garden center always are doing better by about June, so probably should just start there instead of trying for it. I’ll do it. Every year, I’ll do it. I’ll get my seed starting stuff out. I’ll put up the grow lights and I’ll just do it, whether it makes it or not. It’s just like a January, February, probably more like March ritual.
Maria Failla Yeah. Another thing with your kids that might be interesting— and once again, take it or leave it, right? Because I don’t have kids, so I feel like I always preach. I love kids, and I’ve had a lot of episodes about plants and children, but it could be interesting— have you ever done, like, giving them one dedicated garden bed?
Lisa Bass Yeah, I’ve thought about that. We haven’t specifically done it, but that’s been something that we’ve thought about doing. Yes. Or we’ve talked about doing.
Maria Failla Yeah. Some people I follow, they have their kids have their own garden bed and it teaches them. When it’s their own and they feel more ownership over it, they feel more inclined. But I don’t know, I can’t speak to experience. I just follow influencers who do that.
Lisa Bass Right. Yes. I like the idea. Again, with that, you need to follow through on that. Kids will take ownership of it, but also they might not care enough. And it’s not that I am obviously against following through with things with kids because that is how you build disciplines and things, but there’s just only so many things. And so a lot of times— like so far, the gardening thing hasn’t taken enough into our priorities, I guess you could say, to follow through on getting the kids to take ownership of it. But that is one of my very idealistic goals. And I’m like, “This year, this year we’re going to all work on this together every single day.” And so, we’ll see. Hopefully that goes really well, because I see a lot of value in that. And I think that the kids would really enjoy it if they built up some confidence in learning how to do that for themselves.
Maria Failla Yeah, totally. And also there are seasons to everything. If it’s not this season, there’ll be seasons in the future when that makes sense, too. And also incrementally, right? I don’t know, I feel like I’ve seen this with myself is I throw myself so hardcore all into the deep end of the pond. And maybe it’s like going into the shallow end first and figuring it all out.
Lisa Bass Yeah, maybe they could just grow a little herb bed or little tomatoes or something. My son always wants to do a pumpkin patch, and I’m like, yeah, that’s going to take over the whole garden, so I don’t think that’s going to quite work out this year.
Maria Failla Oh, my God, that sounds epic. That sounds like fun, but that sounds hard.
Lisa Bass Yes. Yeah, exactly. All right. Well, Maria, thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge. And I know that we really only scratched the surface. So tell people where they can find you to learn more about growing plants. I know I’m inspired personally to get some more plants. I really am. I’m like, okay, I’m going to do this. This will make my house so much more cheerful this winter. So yeah, tell us where we can follow up with you.
Maria Failla Yeah, come hang out in my planty corner of the world as well. You can come find me at the Growing Joy With Plants podcast, @GrowingJoyWithMaria on socials and on my URL. I’ll make sure that we send you the links. We just went through a rebrand. We used to be Bloom and Grow Radio, and now we’re Growing Joy with Maria. And yeah, I’m here to help you learn how to cultivate, how to grow houseplants. We have so many gardening episodes, too, aimed at beginner gardeners. So if you’re interested in getting your first couple of gardens under your belt, we have so much. My whole podcast is about growing plants. So if you scroll our 200 episodes, there’s how to grow tomatoes, how to grow herb garden, how to do raised beds, how to grow in ground. Whatever you need, I’ve got. Here to support you. And yeah, and my book is called Growing Joy: The Plant Lover’s Guide to Cultivating Happiness and Plants. It’s a self-care book about plant care, so how to use plants to live a happier life. And if you are a plant person or a gardener, and even if you’re not, there’s a lot of really fun things in there.
Lisa Bass Awesome. Well, thank you again so much for joining us.
Maria Failla It was so nice to be here. Thank you. And I hope to have you on my show sometime soon.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. I will see you in the next one.