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Gosh, getting into house plants can be a spendy hobby. EVERYONE wants a variegated monstera, which’ll set you back about £200 and even then it could revert.
I recently got a Thai Constellation (my boyfriend got me one as a gift) which are currently a bit cheaper and won’t revert, but at £90 it’s hardly cheap.
But how does this work.?
Are more expensive plants hardier? Will my Tesco monstera be of a lower quality than if I got it from a garden centre?
And my answer is no. There are crap plant specimens for sale in garden centres, and there are great plants selling for £14 in Sainsbury’s.
And my Thai constellation is as likely to die as my £5 golden pothos. Cry cry cry.
The difference is that the staff in Sainsbury’s are often not helping to keep the plant alive so you may need to give it some TLC, whereas garden centres are usually (but absolutely not always) more likely to be giving it the conditions it needs.
So a supermarket plant may recover more quickly in your home because it’s no longer in a cold, artificially lit situation, and a garden centre plant may be a little bit droopy whilst it adjusts to its new (probably dark and dryer) home.
So, if you can only afford cheap plants, buy cheap plants. There are just a few guidelines that may help to get the best out of your bargain plant.
How to keep a cheap plant alive:
- Check for pests
- Allow them to acclimatise
- Check their roots
- Snip back damaged leaves
- Keep an eye on them
- Don’t overwater them
Check them before you buy them
Do NOT bring home a plant that has an issue that you can’t identify.
I’m talking any kind of creepy-crawly (spiders are ok as long as you’re 1000% sure they’re spiders and not spider mites), weird markings, a funny smell… and no, I don’t care how weird you look sniffing the ferns in Tesco.
If you bring back a diseased or infested plant, not only are you less likely to be able to get it to thrive, but you’re risking your other plants.
Transit damage is ok, so look for damage to the leaves that looks uniform – straight lines where the leaves have been bent etc.
Crispy leaf tips and crispy edges are most like to be a humidity or watering issue, so they’re ok too.
Allow them to acclimatise
Your plant will find the move home traumatic, especially if it’s moving from an environment more suited to its needs to somewhere with lower light or humidity or whatever.
It’s your job to make this move as untraumatic as possible, so:
- Don’t repot it immediately unless you need to.
- Have a space in your house designated for new plants – somewhere with nice bright, indirect light, so it can get established. Leave it there for a couple of weeks so that a) it’s acclimated tothe temperature and humidity of your house and b) you can be sure it hasn’t brought any unwelcome pests with it.
- Don’t put it near an open window or radiator
- Check its soil before you water it.
- Research it so you know what conditions it would like – I wouldn’t just read the care label it came with.
Check their roots
Supermarket plants are almost always overwatered (or absolutely bone dry, at the other end of the spectrum), so it’s best practice to check they don’t have root rot before you bring them home.
HOWEVER, if you’ve ever worked in retail you’ll know what a ballache it would be if someone casually left soil all over the floor, so sometimes it’s best to just..guess.
If the soil is sodden and the plant is dying, maybe put it back.
Exceptions are if you think you can save it. If you know exactly what to do in the case of root rot and are a house plant whisperer, buy it.
If, however, you’re a newbie, put it back, and get a happier-looking one, even if it’s more expensive.
Discounted plants tend to be discounted because they’re infested or dying.
Remember how I said you shouldn’t repot unless absolutely required? One of the circumstances (probably one of the only ones, actually) under which you should repot is if the plant has root rot.
To repot, mix up some potting mix. Add orchid mark and perlite to house plant potting mix for most house plants. Ferns and cacti don’t really need the orchid bark, but it wouldn’t hurt.
I tend to do equal parts of all three.
Then CAREFULLY remove all the soil and cut back any brown and mushy roots before potting the plant up.
You can use terracotta pots for root rot victims because of its moisture-wicking and aerating properties (but if you have to put it back it’s nursery pot, it’s no big deal.
What you mustn’t do is pot it in a pot that’s too big – every time you water the plant in the future the soil will hold onto far more water than the plant needs and you’ll be caught in a cycle of root rot that’ll only end when the plant dies.
Snip back damaged foliage
If there’s a lot of damage to the leaf, cut it off, but if there’s just a bit, leave the undamaged part.
If you don’t really mind a bit of cosmetic damage, you can leave it. Just bear in mind that once a leaf has gone brown and crispy, the cells have died and no amount of tlc will turn it green again.
Yellowing leaves at the bottom of the plant can also be removed since they’re the oldest leaves and have probably succumbed to old age. This happens on even the most healthy plant, so don’t worry about it.
If there are a lot of yellowing leaves, it might have been a victim of overwatering, so check the roots (see above for instructions on surviving root rot) and leave it to dry out.
Keep an eye on them
Don’t just bring your plant home and abandon it, because very few plants, no matter the price point, will survive complete neglect for very long.
You may have unwittingly brought home pests that were in the egg or larval stage, and are only now emerging into the light to feast on your plant.
If you want to be proactive, a gentle wipe-over with some neem oil solution is a good way to deter any would-be pests, and it’ll add a bit of shine without clogging stomata.
Don’t assume your plant is thirsty when you bring it home. Check out my resources page to see the (cheap) moisture meter I recommend. If you don’t have a moisture meter, stick your finger into the soil and see if it’s wet, or use a chopstick. If your finger/the chopstick comes up clean your plant is dry.
Nine times out of ten, supermarket plants overwatered, because a lot of plant novices assume that more water is always better.
It’s not uncommon for plants to be watered every day in supermarkets, which’ll kill them in a couple of weeks. They’ll often not need watering for weeks when you first buy them, because the soil is completely saturated.
Don’t let being on a tight budget put you off buying house plants. There are so many gorgeous cheap plants out there, that aren’t wildly common.
A few of my favourites are:
- Philodendron micans – it’s a deep, deep green vining philodendron, but the new growth is burgundy. I got mine for £7.99 from a garden centre (Dean’s in York).
- Epipremnum Marble planet – which I believe is the same plant as the Monstera Karsteniatum. I think mine was about £15
- Asparagus fern – Tesco often have them for a fiver and they look so cool (like little trees) but are drought-tolerant, unlike true ferns
- Aglaonema – my aglaonema Crete was £7.99, and has the most beautiful fuschia leaves.
If you click on the links they’ll take you photos of the corresponding plant on my Instagram.
Baby plants from garden centres are also a great option BUT they can be bit tricky to look after since they’re usually new cuttings without a very established root system AND they dry out super quickly due to the tiny pot size.
I got these ones recently – all four for £22, which is great considering there’s a Philodendron gloriosum AND and an Epipremnum cebu blue in there: