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Here’s How Plant Lovers Can Find Joy — and Free Stuff!

Is that beautiful bromeliad from a nursery? Nope! An urban farmer shows how to easily grow plants for pennies and create an indoor oasis.

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The pandemic has brought out the hobbyist in all of us, hasn’t it? Whether we’re stepping up a current skill, decorating our houses or learning how to bake sourdough bread, these pursuits ground and nourish us. It makes sense that so many of us are turning inward and looking for ways to escape the news and the doom scrolling. My particular passion is plants, and I love seeing so many sisters sharing their growing interest in Facebook groups and Instagram accounts dedicated to the plant mom life. There’s nothing quite like the joy one gets from seeing a bit of green sprout flourish under your personal care! It’s such a beautiful and necessary affirmation of life during this difficult season.

Now, this “plant therapy” can get pretty pricey if you can’t resist adding yet another sago palm, raven ZZ or calathea to your digital shopping cart. But you can also enjoy growing your indoor oasis while spending almost nothing. Have you ever complimented a hostess on her lush, leafy 6-foot beauty, only to hear, “Oh, I grew that from an avocado pit?” Or maybe you’ve rooted one yourself as a science experiment with a youngster. Well, I was surprised to learn that many other food scraps actually make for really attractive houseplants that, when mature, rival the beauty of nursery finds, all for the cost of a scoop of potting soil!

Even better, they are easy to start, even for beginners, says urban farmer and founder of We Sow We Grow, Natasha Nicholes, adding if you’re growing it as an ornamental, you don’t have to worry about proper timing for planting and how long it will take to bear fruit. You can put the seed in soil or water — to grow roots — and just watch and see what happens. She encourages everyone to give it a try. While you can’t expect roots to sprout overnight, the real pleasure is in being present to the process. You’ll also grow your daily mindfulness practice as you witness the budding miracle of life. I love giving my plants a name and tracking their growth! Nicholes agrees: “I'm getting more into houseplants, thanks to certain friends who are obsessed with theirs.”

First it was dinner, now it’s décor

Turns out, there’s a foliage for every taste once you stop seeing produce scraps as waste. Whoop whoop! Thanks, Natasha. Free is speaking my love language, girl, because this plant lady life is getting pricey, but I just can’t quit. Now that I’m learning I have more options, what? No vegetable’s safe. My kids are going to be like, “Really mom? Sweet potatoes again?”

If you like the look of... Sansevieria moonshine
The silver-green and upright leaves of this popular compact snake plant thrive in moderate to bright indirect light.

Then try growing... a pineapple top
The pointy leaves of the pineapple rosette create a pleasing symmetry as they spray outward, adding a tropical vibe to your space. “My kids are homeschooled and it was one of their experiments. So we’ve done a pineapple, and it’s not that hard,” says Nicholes.

Did you know that the pineapple is part of the bromeliad family, just like the pretty air plants you see in gardening shops? This is the plant to grow if you want instant gratification, since you’ll see foliage from the start. (It will get lusher and more beautiful with proper care.) Carefully separate the tuft of leaves from your store-bought fruit and trim away the lower ones from the stalk. Submerge the bottom in a jar of water, and in about two or three weeks you should see roots. You’re then ready to transfer your plant to a pretty pot. To start it out in soil, let the top of the fruit dry out for a few days to prevent mold and then plant it in soil, keeping it slightly damp.

If you love the look of... Schefflera
Also known as an umbrella plant, it offers lush leaves that beautify an area with bright but indirect light.

Then try growing... an avocado pit
The leaves of an avocado tree are a gorgeous glossy green. As the plant matures, the tall stem and similarly concentrated foliage make for a striking addition to a small space, lending what Nicholes calls “that pretty Instagram vibe.”

So, you’ve just made some guac or avocado toast. Instead of tossing the avocado pit, clean it off thoroughly. Fill a jar with water and using toothpicks, suspend the pit over the lip so that the broad end of the seed is submerged. Place the jar in a warm sunny spot, but not direct sunlight! Replace the water as needed, and in about two to six weeks you should see roots.  

If you like the look of... a croton
The multihued leafy plant is known for its beauty and unique coloring.

Then try growing... a mango plant
The sometimes rust-tinged green leaves of the resulting plant beautify a warm, light-filled room or window.

Cut open the husk and remove the seed. You can root it in soil, using a pot with good drainage. Wet the soil a bit, make a hole, drop in the seed with the eye side up and cover it with about half an inch of dirt. In a few weeks you should have sprouts that will transform over the coming months into a new plant to grace your abode! Alternately, you can root the seed using the water method.   

If you like the look of... a philodendron
This fast-growing vining plant drapes beautifully down or across any kitchen shelf or bookshelf.

Then try growing... a sweet potato vine
The verdant vines from this household staple also look wonderful dangling from a hanging planter.

When sprouts begin forming in a stored tuber, don’t toss it! Instead, find some toothpicks and a clean jar, in which to suspend it in water, so it can develop roots. Transfer it to a pot shortly after and watch it grow into a gloriously trailing vine with lush foliage.

For best results, cultivate more than one specimen. If one fails to thrive, you won’t have to start from scratch. If multiple plants flourish, you’ll have enough of them to green up your indoor oasis and, later, your patio. Or, give one as a gift and share the joy of horticulture with a friend.