As in fashion, food and fads, houseplants follow trends too. And there’s never been a better time to join the movement. Words & photos Liz Carlson
The new year quietly ticked over for us down under without much fanfare. After a steady few years of isolation, tourists are back, and Kiwis are cashing in on their travel plans.
Now that we aren’t stuck at home as often, houseplant trends have been changing quickly. 2023 houseplants are very different from 2020 houseplants. Commercial nurseries have finally caught up with the demand for all things tropical and green. New varieties, species and cultivars have grown, and others have survived the rigorous quarantine measures released regularly into the market. Finally, we have so many options! With all these changes, it should come as a surprise to no one that houseplant trends have swapped around too.
Last year was a big year for houseplants in New Zealand, with new aroid releases like Alocasia ‘Black Velvet’ arriving on the market, and rarer plants – like Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’ and string of turtles – dropping in price and becoming widely available. We have so many more options to choose from, and it’s never been a better time to have plants in the home.
After a few years of closed borders, we’re finally allowed out of New Zealand. Travel is back on the cards, and everyone is taking full advantage. But whether you have one plant at home or one hundred, you’ll eventually need to water them. With that in mind, 2023 will be the year of easy-care plants. Plants that won’t straight up and die if you forget to water them for a month will remain popular as we begin to move around further afield. Tough, hardy and easy to care for houseplants will reign supreme, while our patience might wear thin with those that seem to sulk if we do one thing wrong – I’m looking at you, maidenhair fern!
Now don’t get me wrong, houseplants often need a lot less care and attention than people think. Most people kill houseplants with too much love, aka overwatering. Depending on your home environment, most plants can go over a week without water in summer and even a month or longer in winter. Iconic, easy-care houseplants include the peace lily, snake plants, ZZ plants, golden pothos, dracaenas and heartleaf philodendrons. These are plants you often see decorating shops and offices – and for good reason, as they’re virtually indestructible. I often joke that ZZ plants can survive in a closet, while in other parts of the world, the golden pothos is considered a pest – they seem to grow in any conditions. If you want to have some live greenery at home without too much pressure, turn your eyes to these guys.
As design trends adapt and change over the years, there’s been a noticeable uptick in styling indoor houseplants in new and creative ways. While planters and cover pots can often make a statement and tie a space together, there are many ways to grow houseplants outside of a pot. They can be mounted onto boards, grow up walls, be wrapped up into root balls and even be grown in water. If you’ve dabbled in plant propagation, the most common way people grow new plants in the home is in water. Most aroids are easily propagated in water because their ancestors grew in swamps, and their roots were accustomed to growing in water. While most of us grow cuttings in water and then pot them up once they have nice healthy long roots, what if you were just to leave them there?
I’ve seen a noticeable uptick in hydroponics in houseplants – the concept of growing plants without soil or substrates. The water doesn’t have the nutrients your plant will need, so it’s important to supplement it with a hydroponics fertiliser or add in the missing core nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. I love to use stylish glass vessels and vases that allow you to see the roots growing and make a big statement anywhere in the home. The good old peace lily is one of the easiest houseplants to transition into hydroponics. Absolutely indestructible, they come in so many cultivars and varieties that you won’t be bored.
Along with growing a houseplant hydroponically, another popular trend we’re seeing is the terrarium. A terrarium is usually considered to be a miniature garden or jungle inside a glass vessel; as you can imagine, there is a lot of room for play within this framework. They’re either fully enclosed or with an open top, creating an ecosystem behind the glass that allows heat and light in and traps moisture and humidity. Most terrariums have at least four levels inside, including rocks, moss, soil and, of course, plants. They were discovered by accident in 1842 when a botanist was observing a moth chrysalis inside a closed glass jar and forgot about it. Later on, he discovered that a fern spore had sprouted inside with the trapped moisture.
Low-maintenance and space-saving terrariums appeal to just about anyone, and they make great gifts and fun workshops. You have complete freedom to design them however you like, making something one-of-a-kind – living art at its finest. Many of our beloved houseplants do well in terrariums, whether they’re open or closed, thriving in the humidity. Ferns, jewel orchids, fittonias, prayer plants and even some Peperomia species thrive in these damp conditions. Just never put a cactus in a terrarium.
2023 is the year of sustainability. Finally, it’s mainstream. Most of our houseplants have tropical origins in hot and humid parts of the world, which is why they live inside our homes here in New Zealand. Most of them wouldn’t survive outside for long beyond summer. Working with houseplants over the past couple of years at my plant shop in Lyttelton, I’ve been lucky enough to visit many nurseries around the country and work with thousands of plants. Something I’ve noticed (and many have noticed worldwide) is that some nurseries pot their plants in a soil mixture with peat moss. Peat moss is problematic for a few reasons. Sustainability aside, it’s a dense, water-retentive substrate; nurseries love to use it because it retains water longer, allowing for faster growth and less watering. It’s also found in many of our houseplant soil mixtures; however, that’s definitely unsuitable for most of our homes, which don’t have the same optimal growing conditions, and where this kind of soil can quickly lead to root rot and plant death.
Aside from that, peat moss is also a non-renewable resource, and we shouldn’t be using it on a mass scale like this. Peat moss consists of decomposed fibrous material from endangered wetlands and peat bogs. Taking thousands of years to form and sequestering greenhouse gases, the peat moss is found beneath the living top layer of a peat bog, which means that when it’s harvested, everything is destroyed and cannot be replaced. Peat moss can easily be swapped out for more sustainable and responsibly harvested substrates such as coconut coir, fern fibre or sphagnum moss.
As 2023 shifts into high gear and houseplant collectors have pivoted along with the rest of us, there’s a resurgence now for larger feature plants. After all, is there anything more fabulous than a giant green plant in the corner of your living room in a stylish oversize planter? Since the houseplant craze went into full force in 2020, nurseries were absolutely depleted of stock, including older mother plants. It was hard to find big houseplants. But now, with time, of course, all those smaller plants have grown into much larger specimens. And don’t forget, the older the plant, the harder it is to kill.
Many of our most beloved houseplants really grow into their own after they begin to mature. Some of the most popular are bird of paradise plants, monsteras, kentia palms, rubber plants and the fiddle-leaf fig.
For larger plants like these, I tend to use designer cover pots and not plant directly into them but rather inside a plastic pot sitting inside. In the wild and after many years, they’ll grow into trees, making a big, bold statement in the home.