Let’s start out by acknowledging the obvious: You don’t need fancy tools and supplies to grow houseplants. I’ve seen people water their houseplants with a wine bottle and trim them with a steak knife. I admit to loosening the crusted soil surface of my houseplants with the same fork that twirled my ramen noodles at lunch.
But with all the cute, cool, reasonably priced houseplant tools and accessories available these days, it’s worth considering at least a few of them.
Tools you can use
Most important is a watering can. Although nearly any vessel will hold water, an attractive, well-made watering can makes the chore infinitely more pleasurable. It may even make you want to water more regularly.
Other tools, too, will help you grow houseplants more successfully and enjoyably. A moisture meter takes the guesswork out of watering. Cute miniature hand tools make you feel like Gulliver cultivating your Lilliputian houseplants. A sink hose lets you soak large numbers of houseplants quickly. A portable potting tray makes repotting less of a hassle. Hand snips help you groom your plants precisely and quickly—a treat if you’ve ever sawed away on woody houseplants with scissors or attempted delicate leaf removal with oversized garden shears.
For plants with picky light needs, a light meter calculates which spots in your house receive which type of light, so you can position plants where they’ll thrive. You won’t have to wait until light-related problems, such as legginess or disease, tell you it’s time to move the plant.
One thing you won’t see in the accompanying listing of tools and accessories is a mister. That’s because the jury is still out on their effectiveness.
True, one of the main problems for many houseplants is the lack of humidity in the average home, especially in winter. But cute as those little misters can be, the spray doesn’t significantly increase humidity for an extended time. On some shiny-leaved plants, the water simply makes unattractive water spots. And some plants downright hate water on their leaves; in fact, they’re prone to disease when moist.
However, Julie Bawden-Davis, author of Indoor Gardening the Organic Way (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2007), says she prefers to mist some plants. She says that for most houseplants—except fuzzy-leaved ones such as African violets—regular misting lightly washes foliage and discourages pests such as spider mites that like dry conditions.
If you’re serious about increasing the humidity in your home—a huge boost for the vast majority of houseplants—run a humidifier in the room or install a humidifier that works with your furnace to disperse humidity throughout the house.
Choose a watering can that holds a good amount of water, so you don’t have to refill often—a real plus if you’re adding liquid fertilizer. Look for a long, narrow spout that can work its way through foliage to deliver water straight to the soil.
Splurge: Watering cans cost $5 to $60.
Save: Use plastic cups, old wine bottles, or any other container that pours water.
If you purchase just one special houseplant tool, this should be the one. It takes the guesswork out of watering plants. Simply insert the long metal prong into the soil for an instant reading. You can check the surface of the soil compared to the bottom of the pot, which might be dry or soggy (neither one is good; you’re shooting for evenly moist). Most meters come with a small chart listing ideal moisture levels for popular houseplants. Be aware that accuracy can be way off if the soil is high in accumulated salts. Also, meters wear out over time.
Splurge: Moisture meters cost $10 to $30.
Save: Water when soil is dry to the touch.
These cute little tools spoon in potting soil, rake up fallen plant debris, and loosen and aerate the surface of the soil, which gets encrusted over time.
Splurge: Houseplant hand tools cost $10 to $30.
Save: Use the contents of your silverware drawer.
Mini indoor hose
If you have lots of plants, this can be a handy gadget. Attach the hose to the faucet, unreel the hose, and water. Some hoses stretch up to 60 feet, so you can water plants on your apartment balcony.
Splurge: Indoor hoses cost $30 to $60.
Save: Fill up a container and water plants the old-fashioned way.
Portable potting tray
If you’ve ever turned your kitchen counter or dinner table into a potting bench, you’ll appreciate this. Pile tools and bags into the tray when you’re done and stash.
Splurge: Portable potting trays cost $15 to $25.
Save: Pot plants in a shallow plastic storage box.
Some plant stems and leaves defy a pair of household scissors. And the clunky hand shears you use on the bushes outside can be overkill. A pair of snips, perfect for the in-between scale of houseplants, are a joy to use.
Splurge: Hand snips cost $10 to $30.
Save: Use scissors.
It’s difficult to figure out the ever-changing light in your home, since it changes through the day and the seasons. How nice to not have to wait for spindly growth or scorched leaves to figure out that a plant is getting too little or too much light. Depending on how well the meter is designed, you’ll have to take multiple readings, learn about foot candles (the measurement for light), and check out some conversion charts. Not for the math- and science-adverse.
Splurge: Basic models cost about $10; professional-level models run up to $350.
Save: Go online or check some books out of the library to learn what kind of light each plant needs.