Tips from the pros on greening up your home

The way we decorate our homes can influence our emotions, our self-expression, and even our health. But it can be hard to know how to make an interior space truly sparkle. Adding houseplants, professionals say, is one of the simplest and most effective ways to elevate a space from almost-right to absolutely perfect.

Jessica Caccamo knows what it’s like to agonize over a room’s design—she remembers when her bedroom, in particular, had her stumped. After spending hours choosing and hanging the perfect full-length mirror, she expected to be ecstatic, but something still wasn’t right.

“I hung it up and I thought, I don’t know,” she recalls. “It just feels a little bit dead.”

Luckily for Jessica, her mom, Lynda, has more than 25 years of experience in the design world. “Mom was like, ‘You just need some plants,’” Jessica says. After placing a leafy ZZ Plant (short for zamioculcas zamiifolia) on a stand and a smaller plant nearby on the floor, the area was completely transformed.

Today, Jessica and Lynda, aged 35 and 63 respectively, have created an interior design firm that helps others transform their houses into stylish oases. Branded as JL Caccamo Design, they work with homeowners, renters, real estate agents, and people looking to downsize their homes. Their goals are to create spaces that are functional, comfortable, and beautiful—and they rarely leave a space without adding a houseplant or two.

“It’s a great way to bring that natural element into your home and really make your home look loved and cared for,” Lynda says.

Beginner-friendly Plants

The following houseplants can be kept in indirect sunlight. Make sure to research how frequently your plants need to be watered.

Small, bushy plants

  • Boston fern
  • Pothos (also known as “devil’s ivy” due to its seeming impossibility to kill)
  • Peace lily
  • Spider plants

Larger, vertical plants

  • Sansevieria (also known as “mother-in-law’s tongue”)
  • Ficus
  • Rubber tree
  • Monstera
  • Snake plants

Denise Maurer, a master gardener in Rensselaer County, agrees wholeheartedly that plants can work wonders for any home. In fact, she’s proudly cared for a ficus she purchased on her honeymoon for 43 years—a feat that many new plant parents can hardly fathom. The secret, she says, is to learn a little about your houseplants’ origins.

“The one basic rule of maintaining plants is to try to maintain the same growing conditions they experience outside,” she says. For example, spiky succulents need lots of sun and not too much water, and therefore thrive best near a southern or western window. Ferns, orchids, and other plants that naturally occur in the undergrowth of shady forests can thrive with less sun—although they can’t be completely in the dark.

“I always stress that they do need a source of light,” Maurer says. “It’s only going to be a slow death if you don’t give the basic needs.” (Want to learn more? Maurer’s class, Houseplants 101, is available for free on the Troy Public Library’s YouTube page.)

Maurer adds that plants can also clean the air they interact with. She recalls inheriting one houseplant from a smoker, and when she treated the roots with clean water, it leached brown tar for three days—toxins that were captured when they were removed from the previous owner’s indoor air.

In short, filling your space with plants can be a nice way to bring visual interest, texture, and life to the space, all while giving a boost to your mental and physical health.

As Jessica of JL Caccamo Design says, “When in doubt, try a plant!”

Houseplant in sunny window

Decorating Tips from the Pros

Consider light

“If you want a houseplant to bring life to your space, the worst thing you can do is put a houseplant in a place where it’s going to die,” Jessica says. “You really have to consider the natural light conditions you have in your home.”

Supplementing with a grow light is one solution for poorly lit rooms. It doesn’t need to be anything too fancy. Maurer has kept her ficus alive for more than four decades, partly by adding an inexpensive utility lamp from a hardware store that she hooked up to a timer. It shines on the little tree for six hours each day, keeping it healthy.

Pay close attention

It’s OK if you’re not sure exactly where a new plant should be placed; just keep an eye on it to see whether it succeeds. Even with a good deal of experience, Jessica Caccamo says she nearly killed a rubber tree that wasn’t getting the right amount of light. “We moved it to a new spot and it’s just been thriving ever since with really minimal care,” she says.

Group your plants

Maurer says placing plants together, near a window, will make sure they all get enough light—but it does more than that. “Grouping plants is very important because they support each other,” she says. When multiple houseplants share a space, they create a microclimate that helps them all to thrive.

Vary the size

Arranging houseplants in a group is great for the health of your greenery, but it’s also good design. Using a variety of heights, sizes, and textures adds a professional-looking touch to any room. Try using a plant stand to add some height until you feel confident enough to add something larger (and more expensive).

It’s OK to cheat a little

Jessica says she uses a mix of fake and real plants in her home. For example, she put a faux snake plant in a dark corner. Not only would a real one not get enough light, but she worried that her cat would chew a real one—and snake plants can be toxic to pets. Just remember to dust the impostors now and then. “If you have to go up and touch it to see if it’s the real deal, that’s a good test,” Lynda Caccamo says. The mother-daughter design team recommends for realistic-looking faux houseplants.

Photos: Woman arranging plants, elenaleonova; houseplant in window, Liudmila Chernetska.

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