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How to Choose — and Take Care of — an Indoor Plant for Your Small NYC Apartment

By Emmie MurphyAug 16 2022

In the midst of midtown’s busy streets, tall buildings, and the overall hustle and bustle of New York City is a tiny oasis. OBSERVED has created a space of quiet contemplation where it’s easy to feel connected to the natural world. “We wanted to give people this kind of surreal inside-outside experience,” says owner Philip Kayden. “The space is very small but it feels calming and people seem to enjoy stepping into this kind of parallel reality.”

Bridging elements of its mission – to create spaces that “are sanctuaries for life to gather and flourish” – the OBSERVED pop-up at Rockefeller Center seeks to ground its visitors with the natural world. While they offer an array of items including honey harvested from their hives in Catskill, New York, tote bags, and apparel, OBSERVED is also full of greenery. In particular, the shop features an abundance of house plants that were grown upstate and selected for a very particular market: New Yorkers.

With this in mind, we sat down with Kayden to discuss the importance of having an indoor plant in your home, the best plants for smaller apartments, and how to care for them.

House Plant 101: How to Care for Indoor Plants

“I would say the first tip is: just recognize your limits and where your attention is and how much you want to take care of something,” says Kayden. Considerations to make are work and travel schedules, the environment of your home, and your general interest in caring for a plant. Be honest with yourself, and find something that suits your lifestyle.

“One of the classic gardening expressions is: right plant, right place,” Kayden adds. When it comes to the three big tenets of plant care – light, temperature, and water – think about how your space fits these. Every plant is different, so try to find one that matches your lifestyle and your living situation.

The Best Plants for Beginners

While your ability to care for another living thing is, of course, a factor when selecting a plant, there are some kinds in particular that are, as Kayden says, “confidence builders.” If you’re more curious skeptic than practiced green thumbs, these options below are a great starting point.

1. Snake Plants

You’ve seen these before – in building lobbies, perhaps, or on a friend’s windowsill. They are typically green with yellow edges and might remind you of snakes being charmed – hence the name. They are resilient plants – able to handle tons of sun or minimal light exposure, regular watering, or intermittent. “You can forget it once in a while and it will continue to thrive,” says Kayden. “It obviously has its limits, but they’re very resilient.”

At OBSERVED, they offer a special variegation of Snake Plant, one called moonshine. Named for its green-blue leaves that have a slight shimmer, these are a rarer varietal to spice up your interior.

2. Zz Plants

Another commonly seen and great starter plant is the Zz Plant. With their rhizome roots structure – an underground root system characterized by slightly bulbous nodes – the Zz is able to store plenty of water and nutrients, and therefore weather the forgetful owner (to a point). While these are typically bright green, OBSERVED carries a deep purple variety of Zz Plant called the Nova Star. When fully mature, the leaves darken to a near-black color, making it a striking addition to any home.

3. Hoya Plants

If you’re looking for a flowering plant, the Hoya is for you. With their thick, waxy leaves, the Hoya is another tough plant that can handle some inattention. “The Hoya can be climbing or trailing, depending on how you want to guide them,” says Kayden. “They’re a fun one for people.” OBSERVED offers a Hoya called Publicalyx, a plant whose elongated green leaves are streaked with silver.

Indoor Plant Essentials

Once you’ve selected a plant, it’s time to help it thrive. Light, temperature, and water – mentioned above – are crucial for a healthy plant, but there are ways to enhance these no matter what your environment or schedule is. If you have minimal natural light, for example, you might look into a grow light. If you have plenty of windows, consider when the sun is at its highest, and if anything blocks its direct light.

When it comes to temperature, many New Yorkers may struggle with radiator heating throughout the winter, which can dry plants out more quickly. Pay closer attention during colder months, and water more frequently if necessary. However, don’t overdo it. “A lot of people tend to either overwater or underwater,” Kayden jokes. If you’re the latter, try a cactus for starters. If the former, consider putting stones at the base of your pot to lift the roots up, or try to buy containers with drainage holes. If a plant sits too long in a pool of water, its roots may rot.

Above all, don’t worry too much. After all, Kayden reminds us, “plants want to succeed.”

OBSERVED is open in the 49th Street Glass Dome Elevator Thursday through Sunday 11am to 7pm through Labor Day Weekend.

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