Sage Advice

Written by Lauren Loftus Category: Web Extras Issue: December 2017
Group Free

Downtown phoenix’s premier plant guy Michael Lanier spreads his green thumb love with helpful hints and clever tricks to keep your garden – or at least that succulent on your desk – growing.

Photo by Rob Ballard
Photo by Rob Ballard

Back in April, we chatted with Michael Lanier, the owner of The Bosque and Pueblo plant stores in Downtown Phoenix on our daily culture blog, The PHiX, and picked his brain about house plants. Lanier, who at 24 resides in the thick of the millennial generation’s obsession with Instagramable white-walled homes filled to the brim with houseplants, gave us the scoop on finding the right plant for your space, and your personality type – from the commitment phobic to the helicopter (plant) parents. Best Plants for the ‘Gram with Michael Lanier of The Bosque
After profiling Lanier in Spotlight in our December issue – and after killing yet another succulent – we reached back out to the successful shop owner and plant guru for more advice.

Why do you think the house plant trend has exploded in recent years?
I think the trend has grown so much in recent years because people tend to care about authenticity, especially millennials. Plants can only be mass produced so much, and they’re always changing and growing according to how they’re cared for, so it’s personal. Plants are also easier than children and most pets [I think my cat and my ficus would disagree with you, Michael], plus they’re just interesting and can help create a healthy, comfortable space year-round, but especially when it’s miserable to be outdoors most of the day.

In The PHiX post, you outline the best leafy plants for different people rather than succulents and cactus. So what about succulents: do these prefer to be indoors or outdoors? Is there a most-common mistake people make in caring for them?
OK! Succulents actually have a very broad definition! Succulent means “water holding” in Latin, so even certain leafy plants and all cacti are succulents.

Secondly, most of the cute ones are really freaking hard to care for, even for an expert. They want humidity and moist soil, and usually want shade here in Phoenix. But, they don’t want too much humidity, too much water in the soil or too much shade. Every once in a while, a succulent just works. When that happens you should pray to whatever you believe in and hope it keeps working.

What about cacti? Is there a variety that thrives indoors? How often should they be watered? I had one cactus literally melt into itself the other day. What's up with that?
Cacti are all New World for the most part. There are a few rarer tropical cacti that like lower light and tons of water, these are usually the most interesting for me. Cacti tend to be really neat, and do grow faster than you’d expect. They’re also just great because they can be so sculptural, like a living piece of art. They want water two times a month or so, but always less in winter and more in the summer. But they will literally melt if they get too much water and too little light.

What’s the deal with potting? Do pots always need to have drainage? What's the most common mistake made RE: pots (pot is too big, not big enough, etc.)?
Pots are also interesting. Most people make a mistake in believing their plant wants a huge pot and that tends to usually send them backward or kill them. We’ve got a 15-foot tall pine tree in our shop in a pot so small we have to hold it down with stones or it would fall over, but that thing hasn’t been repotted in a decade and we’d probably kill it if we tried.

Repot 1 to 2 inches bigger, once a year if the plant stops growing or needs more water than it used to, otherwise just wait for it to tell you. We tend to keep everything in plastic pots and sell decorative pots without drainage that you can change out when you want, just don’t over water and you’re golden.

Let's talk about water: when watering, should we douse the soil or mist?
Ah! So, watering only works so well on a schedule. Every plant needs different water. I have some plants that need water two to three times a week and others that get water one to two times a month. You need less in the winter, and more in summer.

We tend to keep everything a tad bit moist and water more often at the shops, rather than flooding them weekly and waiting until they’re bone dry. Soil wants to repel water once it’s dry, so poke a few holes in it with a pencil if it’s every dryer than you meant it to be, and let water run through it in the shower or sink for a few minutes.

Misting isn’t necessary that much because it’s tends to leave calcium spots and is so temporary. To create a little more humidity, just group plants together and they’ll do better overall.