Variegated, fiddly fig, monstera, deadheading. If you know what any of those words mean, you're probably a plant parent. 

Hoards of us have filled our homes with houseplants in recent months, from humble cacti to flamboyant monsteras. And it's not surprising: when you spend 90% of your time indoors – often in two or three, or maybe even one, room – you start to relish the small mysteries of each day, like the opening of new leaves. 

Erin Thomas, the owner of uber-popular Instagram-based gardening shop Hopeless Botanics, has seen first hand how hungry people are for houseplants. She says there are lots of people "finding mental release and calmness through keeping indoor plants".

Erin Thomas of Hopeless Botanics. Photo: Hopeless Botanics

"Some of the plants, they move throughout the day and it brings such life into a room. It's really cool to see new leaves unfurl, leaves getting bigger. If you're stuck indoors, it's a great break from the monotony to step away from your desk and have a little potter, water your plants, take 20 minutes away and check in. It frees your mind."

Talking to Thomas, it seems to me that the lessons of plant care are the same as self-care: feed it, water it, give it a nice home and don't obsess over how it's supposed to look. Maybe that's why we love them so much, not a misplaced nurturing instinct or a need to control something amid chaos. 

Millennials have gotten a bad rep over the years for their fixation on houseplants, a rep Thomas believes is entirely unfair. 

"I think it's definitely linked to our desire to be outdoors more and connect with nature, whether it's conscious or not", she says, but maybe it's not some symptom of a massive failing in our lives, like not having children or owning a home, that we want nice plants. Maybe we ... just want nice plants. 

"I think millennials are really smart. They're so exposed to the world through Instagram and they tune into important things. They often pursue such positive things that give them joy and satisfaction. Indoor plants are part of that. It's not drinking, it's not drugs!"

Here, Thomas shares her top tips for caring for your houseplants, whether you're a newbie or a plant pro. 

Top tip for new houseplant parents? 

People sometimes really overthink and stress about their plants", Thomas says. "Try not to stress, because you want them to enhance your life – not cause anxiety.

Plants are beautiful and real living things and it's normal for every single piece of foliage to not look 100% picture perfect sometimes, so don't beat yourself up if you see a yellow leaf or have been neglecting them. Do the best you can and just enjoy them!

Picking the right one will set you up well from the outset. Before you buy a plant, have a good think about where you want it to go, and then look for a plant that will suit that space, as well as your lifestyle needs.

Also, buy the one that you adore looking at! It's great craic keeping plants – it brings such life, colour and style into your home - enjoy it, don't be afraid of them! It's so satisfying seeing them grow and most plants are hardier than you think

How much should you water your plant?

People love asking "how many times per week should I water this plant?" It's a huge and common mistake to do your watering according to the calendar. When we say "water once a week" it's just a guide. Heating and light vary across people's houses, and this all affects the amount of moisture your plant will need.

The best way to know when to water is to research your plant a little so you know what type of moisture level it likes. Sticking your finger into the soil and seeing how it feels is the best way to decide if it needs a drink or not.

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Sansevierias can go up to 3-4 weeks without water, monsteras just like the top of the soil to dry out between waterings, and alocasias and calatheas like to be a little moist at all times.

What houseplant would you recommend a newbie starts with?

I adore aspidistras. They are structural, classic and nearly indestructible. They are also known as the "cast iron plant", and are tolerant of shade, don't mind infrequent waterings and look fantastic when they grow really tall. George Orwell wrote in his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying that they were the ultimate symbol of middle-class stuffiness, but we think they deserve more love than that. They’re hard-working easy-care plants and we’d love to see them make a comeback.

Other great easy-care options are monsteras. The "swiss cheese plant" foliage is beautiful and lush and they are easy to mind. I also love marble queen pothos for shelves. It's a super easy going trailing plant with the most gorgeous soft variegated leaves.

How should we care for our houseplants as we head into autumn and winter? 

A lot of indoor plants go dormant as we come into autumn and winter, and their needs are a bit different to the growing season of spring and summer. They might drop leaves, get discoloured, and often people freak out and start overwatering them thinking they've killed their plant. A lot of times it can be just the natural seasonal growth cycle of the plant, and you actually haven't mangled it.

Find out the name of your plant, try to research a bit about it, so you are aware of what it might start doing in autumn.

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The light changes so much at this time of year, and you can reassess the position of your plants. There is less direct sun and afternoon sun is not as strong, so windowsills that would have scorched your plant in the summer, might be a more inviting spot now in the colder months.

Now is also a good time to give your plants one last feed before they go dormant. It will really set them up well for the spring growth spurt.

Examine your plants for signs of any insects or disease. Check the top and undersides of leaves. Inspect the stems and remove any dead, decaying leaves that are sitting on top of the soil. Pests love it, so be sure to get rid of it. They also like dusty leaves, so give foliage a wipe with a soft damp cloth.

Trim any leaves that are discoloured, it will stimulate new growth.

Plants hardly grow in autumn and winter, so they use less water. Find out what type of moisture your plant likes - some love to dry out between waterings, and some love consistent moisture. When you're watering your plant, take care to just water the soil and not splash all over the foliage. In the wintertime getting lots of water on the foliage can encourage things like powdery mildew.

What do you do if your plant leaves start wilting or browning?

Wilting can be a sign of under or most likely, overwatering. Check the roots of your plant and ensure they're not sitting in water. Brown tips on plant can be a sign of inconsistent watering, make sure you know what level of moisture your particular plant likes (constant and moderate moisture for example, or if it likes to dry out before having a drink).

Brown tips can also be a sign that your plant isn't getting enough humidity. Try spritz it with a water spray bottle daily, or if you can, group your plants together as they create more humidity together, or bring your plant into the bathroom the odd time you’re having a shower and let it soak up the moisture in the air. 

When and how should you re-pot plants? How do you pick the right sized pot?

Ideally, springtime is the best time to repot indoor plants, just as they are about to take off with new growth. If you re-pot them now and there is too much soil in the pot, it will retain more water and this can cause the roots to rot.

It actually suits a lot of houseplants to be slightly pot bound. So, when you are repotting, choose a pot that is just around one - two inches larger.

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There are a few signs that your plant needs a bigger pot if:

  • you see large amounts of roots poking out the bottom of the plastic pot;
  • roots are actually pushing your plants upwards and roots are become exposed at the top of the soil;
  • you notice your plant has not been growing very much in spring and summer;
  • your plant dries out super quickly in between waterings or the water rushes out really fast when you water it, then there's probably not enough soil to hold the moisture it needs

Plants need to be repotted around every year or so. Some are quick growing (like monsteras) and some are slower (like Chinese evergreens), so it really depends on the type of plant. When repotting, make sure you use a soil mix that's appropriate to your plant.