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International Workshop Series- The Joys & Challenges of Apartment Gardening in NYC

International Workshop Series-The Joys & Challenges of Apartment Gardening in NYC

Urbanization has given rise to high-rise buildings and apartment lifestyles. It often gets difficult to find space for gardening in apartments. In the hustle of a busy urban lifestyle, plants bring joy and happiness in small spaces and it’s very therapeutic to have some greens around us to calm us down after a long day.

If you are someone who is living in an apartment where sunlight and space are a constrain and are wondering how and what kind of plants you can keep at home then, watch our workshop on “The Joys & Challenges of Apartment Gardening in NYC” with our speaker Michael Wang. He is a hospitality art designer and avid plant enthusiast living in New York City. He will be sharing with us all about keeping plants in small spaces. He is on Instagram as “plantgroovy”, where he chronicles the progress of his ever-growing plant collection.

Michael and his tips on Apartment Gardening: 

“Hello, everyone. Welcome to another international workshop by TAOS. Today, we have with us Mr. Michael wang, all the way from New York.  I’ll introduce you to our viewers. Michael has overcome the odds we face in growing plants due to the lack of space in our apartments, and today he’ll share tips on keeping plants alive in apartments, where Sunlight, space, etc., becomes a challenge. So, let’s get started,” said Zehra.

“Well, so I am a plant lover, and in fact, I have grown up with them. I would always have about two to three plants in my home. I got more immersed in it during the pandemic when we were under lockdown. I came across various genera and species besides doing experimentation. It indeed had a therapeutic impact on me,” said Michael. 

“The plant community is indeed a very healthy community, and all the people radiate positivity which is indeed therapeutic. So, tell us what was the first plant that you bought and if there was any reason for selecting it,” said Zehra.

“My first plant was before the pandemic. It was Monstera. It has a classic tropical look, and I got it for a pretty less price, so that’s how I started. It had some issues when I bought it, but it has grown five to seven times since then,” said Michael.

“How do you manage to provide the basic requirements to the plants like sunlight, humidity, etc?”

“When it comes to general care, there’s a lot of information on the internet. You can’t take it literally. Sunlight, for example, varies depending on whether you’re on the first floor or the twentieth. Even for the same plant, the pot might be different, and the size of the plant might be different, so you need to know the environment, like where the light is coming from, how much is the humidity, etc. Even your lifestyle has an impact on your plant. How busy you are, let’s say if you travel much, you need to pick plants that are drought hardy. Hence, once you understand the environment, it is easy for you to provide proper care for your plant,” said Michael.

“Any suggestions for keeping the Orchid plant alive in an apartment in the cold weather of Minnesota?” 

“I think keeping them contained somewhere may help. Many people are currently converting Ikea cabinets into mini-greenhouses; you will find examples on the internet. You can keep your orchids in there and keep your humidity and warmth up there. People even buy mini humidifiers to create a proper environment to keep plants alive in cold weather,” said Michael.

“What plants have you chosen for your home, and what reason do you have for the same?”

“I am a lover of all plants. Some are hardier, while others are more challenging. The current trend supports tropical plants like monsteras, anthuriums, philodendrons, etc.  I would like to recommend two genuses of plants that are hardier and make you feel a little stress-free. One of them is Hoya, found mainly in Southeast Asia; there are about 200-300 species of the same plant. They differ in leaf structure; some are pointy, some are big, some are light green, some are dark, etc. They blossom little clusters of flowers called wax flowers because they look almost look unreal and are quite fragrant. I have several ones, such as:

  • Hoya Bella, there’s a little cluster, if you can see, which will blossom soon
  • A crinkle eight, which has got eight crinkles on every leaf
  • Hoya Rotunda flora, which has a little finger-like leaf shape
  • Callista phyla, which has a deep veining.

These plants are pretty hardy. The leaf structures are meant to be a little thick, which is why they are almost succulent-like. They thrive well in bright and direct sunlight. Another one I would recommend is the Sansevieria or the snake plant. I wasn’t interested in it initially, but since there are 70 different species so they all look quite different. You can find a Sansevieria Samurai here and a Sansevieria Halliai, which is the nickname of a baseball bat,” said Michael.

“How does this plant look like in the beginning? Is it just one leaf when you bring it from the nursery?”

“They are diverse. Some come in multiple leaves; others might have just one or two leaves, etc. One of mine came in as one leaf, but later on, it sprouted a second leaf.”

“What I love about snake plants is that even though they have just one leaf, it has a perfect shape and curvature. It almost looks like a sculpture, so you can just keep it in the corner of a room, and it would look quite striking,” said Michael.

“What is a good plant for a beginner who has no background or experience in planting?’

“There are quite some, such as monstera, any snake plant, hoya plants, etc. They are all pretty hardy plants and are capable of thriving in neglect. They can be good ones to start with.”

“What are your criteria for caring for your plants? Do you keep them indoors, or on the balcony, etc.?”

 “I keep most of them close to my windows. However, during day time, the area receives direct sunlight. So, I try to position them depending on the need of the plants, some close to windows, while others pulled back.”

“How do you take care of them during cold times?”

“The plants happen to adapt quite well during winter; their growth gets retarded. Since winters have shorter days, so I supplement them with artificial lights. You can get inexpensive lights with clamps on them, attach them to some parts of your home, and provide artificial light to the plants. I also reduce the rate of watering. So, that’s what I do in the winter,” said Michael.

“We’ve one question, is it hard to take care of terrariums?”

“Apartment plant keeping has got various different ways, and terrariums are, in fact, quite easy. It involves little experimentation since not all plants will survive in that environment. I have an aquarium in my place, so I started experimenting with the aquarium plants. I had put some soil and activated charcoal bits in the terrarium. I also knew that the plant would need high humidity. So, it’s been in the terrarium for the past 5-6 months, and it has been growing well. I have even grown plants in a glass cloche, it’s quite hardy, and you’ll find it online,” said Michael.

“These plants require light as well?”

“Yes, in fact, every plant requires light. The ones they say are low-light ones would need a little bit of light. So, these terrariums require indirect light actually. I can keep these terrariums about 10 feet away from the window on a bookshelf, yet they would do just fine.”

“Can you enumerate a bit about the plant on your back?”

“It is an Anthurium. It is quite popular right now and definitely velvety. It shows deep veining, and they require high humidity. Keeping a hydrometer in your house may be helpful. Some anthuriums prefer about 70-80% humidity. I keep this in an Ikea greenhouse since I don’t live in a tropical country, and take it out once in a while,” said Michael.

“What soil mix do you use for your plants?’

I actually make my own soil, so I have pumice, charcoal bits, sand, etc. It depends upon the plant. For the cactuses, I need to keep the soil thoroughly well drained; for the aeroids, I add coco husk and bark pieces, pumice, etc. So, that’s one thing you need to understand before going for a plant. One thing I would point out is that one section here is in a bonsai style. I was quite fascinated by the bonsai plants; they were beautiful-looking miniature trees which seemed to be fit for indoors.  However, I have learned that they actually thrive outdoors rather than indoors. They are tropical, and I couldn’t keep the humidity levels sufficiently high. Also, if you miss a watering, you’re very prone to lose your plant. You can rather go for plants that are drought hardy and are somewhat bonsai style. You can see this elephant tree here; they are native to Madagascar and may grow up to 30 feet. It’s a bonsai, and being from Madagascar, it is very drought tolerant. Here’s another one, Euphorbia Heditoides, which looks almost like an exclamation mark. They are also succulent-like. So, there are ways of achieving the look that you’re aiming for by just adapting the vessel that you put it in,” said Michael.

“Normally, Bonsais are grown in shallow pots, but you are growing them in deeper pots. Do they maintain their shape, or do you need to do something about it?”

“You can put them in lightly bigger pots. The thing with bonsai is that you need to trim them a little, especially in Summer and Spring when they are growing actively.”

“What is your opinion about coffee grounds being added to your soil? Does it help?”

“I think it is an easy and affordable fertilizer indeed. You can save your coffee grounds, your eggshells, and banana peels, throw them in a blender, pulverize it, and spray them on your plants. The eggshells will provide calcium, the coffee ground will give nitrogen, and the banana peels will provide Potassium. So, they will all provide nutrients to the plant,” said Michael.

“Here in India, we often use tea powder for the purpose. We strain it, and the remaining goes to waste, so we put it in plants. We do use eggshells and banana peels too commonly. So, here’s another question: What do you do for the pots? Are they all the same, or differ material-wise?”

“I actually use a combination of ceramic and terracotta pots. However, the terracotta pots are unglazed, so if you use them, the water permeates from the outside.  It also has an aesthetic way to it. However, these are the two primary ones you will find widely, except for the plastic ones. As for space, it’s preferable to go for narrow pots,” said Michael.

“Would you like to touch upon how you style your plants?” asked Zehra.

“Yeah, of course. One good tip that even I have often used is that I have created a trellis in case some of my plants come out of a curly willow branch. Florists often use them in bouquets and presentations. You can use them to wrap your vining plants around, and the plant would look pretty good,” said Michael.

“Any more tips for beginners?”

“Yeah, sometimes you just need to leave them aside and let them grow at their own pace. As a beginner, I would get too concerned over minute matters, and if one leaf turned yellow, I would start moving the plant around, which would eventually do more harm. So, at times it’s best just to let them be. One big challenge I faced was overwatering, and I killed some plants for that. Learning to water them properly is another important thing,” said Michael.

“Can you suggest some plants that are good to grow in low light?”

“Sure. Such include:

  • Sansevierias
  • Zi-Zi plants, etc.,” said Michael.

“It was a great session. Thank you so much for joining us today.”