The Plant Pro

Photo: Danny Kim

What are your favorite indoor plants?
I generally go for cacti or succulents, something like an aloe plant that you can forget to water for two weeks, and it’ll still be fine. The key is finding something that takes little water.

Like what?
Like the fiddle-leaf fig, which is a larger tree for inside, and schefflera, a great indoor bush.

What’s big in the plant world now?
Edibles—things like beets, cabbages, and dill. But I don’t recommend planting anything in the ground that you plan on eating. Make sure everything is in boxes. New York City backyards are basically construction dumping zones. You have no idea what kinds of contaminants are in the soil.

How can you improve your soil quality?
Make sure it has organic matter in it. Miracle-Gro, for instance, doesn’t have a lot. Metro-Mix is a good brand, and I’ll usually add in some organic compost when I’m planting.

What are some foolproof plants for outdoors?
Sky pencil is an easy plant. If you want some privacy, it’s a good evergreen for screening. I also love liriope. It’s a little grass about six inches tall that stays green year-round. It just doesn’t die, and it’s a great filler. Persian shield is a flowering plant that looks beautiful when you put a bunch together. It’s purple, metallic, and really shiny—almost like a scaly fish.

Will these work if you get barely any sun?
For the most part, yes. If you have a full-shade garden, get some pachysandra. It spreads, so you’ll get a carpet of green, round leaves about eight inches tall. Chocolate vine is another good option. It’s a blooming shrub with round leaves that cling to walls and trellises, so it hangs in weird, abstract shapes.

What should we steer clear of at the nursery?
Don’t just buy what you like at that moment. Most people want flowers—either for flower boxes or their backyards—because they’re the showstopper, but you should read up on the plant’s life cycle and what it needs. Just because something’s pretty doesn’t mean it belongs in your garden.

Where do DIY gardeners go wrong?
Drainage holes. Add your own to a planter, just to be safe. You also need to make sure your planter is sitting on shims or little feet. If you put it directly on the ground, it won’t drain properly.

What are your favorite local gardening shops?
Sprout Home in Williamsburg is always worth checking out, and Planter Resource in the flower district has great pots.

When is the best time to enlist a professional?
Bring in a landscaper as early as possible. If, say, you’re renovating a brownstone, have them work with your architect from the very beginning. You don’t want your garden to feel like an add-on. This is valuable square footage we’re talking about.

Check Your Soil

“If you have a sick plant and nothing’s working, use Cornell University’s Nutrient Analysis Lab. Send them a soil sample and $45, and you’ll find out what’s off and what you need to fix it.”
Illustration by Kate Francis

The Plant Pro