Dispatches From "The Jungle Upstairs:" The Unmatched Joy of Shopping for Plants in Spring

jungle upstairs

Ciara Benko

Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking, I know. Yet, somehow—even after 10 years of living in NYC—when the tree-lined streets explode with cherry blossoms seemingly overnight, I can’t help but to be absolutely delighted.

And I’m not just delighted because my morning dog walks through the park now feel like I’m on the set of a cheesy rom-com—it’s because those blooms are my signal from the universe that it’s time to start plant shopping again.

Those blooms are my signal from the universe that it’s time to start plant shopping again.

To put it bluntly, winter is a plant parent’s nightmare. If you’ve ever tried to keep a swath of finicky indoor plants alive during an East Coast winter (or in any cold-weather climate, for that matter), you can probably relate. Most popular houseplants are dormant during the winter months—which means the encouraging, pale green sprouts of spring and summer are replaced by yellow leaves and a concerning droopiness that you can’t quite put your finger on.

If there’s one group who can commiserate about your dwindling green friends during the dead of winter, it’s plant shop owners. Even the experts behind New York City’s best nurseries are facing the same icy reality, meaning harsh shipping conditions and less inventory overall. Their shelves are sparse during the dark winter months, and the loners that braved the cold-weather shipping process are usually just as limp as the ones on your own windowsill. 

I recommend against plant shopping in winter. 

But once those cherry blossoms make their grand entrance? It’s go time. 

Most popular houseplants are dormant during the winter months—which means the encouraging, pale green sprouts of spring and summer are replaced by yellow leaves and a concerning droopiness that you can’t quite put your finger on.

As someone who used to treat each plant store visit like an episode of Supermarket Sweep, I’m here to offer up a few words of advice on what to do before, during and after your next shopping trip this season. 

Before you shop, make a wishlist and do your homework. Save some inspiration posts on Instagram or Pinterest, and do a little digging on each plants’ needs. Where is it going? What size pot can you fit in your space? How much light does it need? Is it pet friendly?

So, now, once you’ve done your prep, you head to the store with your Notes app packed with wishlist plants and their individual specifications. 

First up on your list: a Monstera. You approach the sea of leggy foliage, and your eyes settle on the big guy in the corner. But, WAIT! 

This may sound like a no-brainer, but… plants grow. And if they’re happy (which they will be, because you did your prep work), they’re going to grow... a lot. 

Instead of nabbing a plant that will satisfy the look you’re going for now, think about how your new purchase will mature over the next six months; the next year; the next few years. This may mean sizing down, or choosing one that may not be the peacock of the bunch, but has the promise of new leaves. 

Trust me, as someone whose Monstera grew from a one foot to SIX feet tall in the span of four short years, this tip will save you from a lot of furniture rearranging down the line.

Once you stumble upon your “dream plant,” I would highly recommend you do a sweep for pests. In the early days of my plant obsession, I had no idea that houseplant pests were, well, a thing. But alas, they are a very real thing, and the worst feeling ever is bringing home a gorgeous new Alocasia 'Pink Dragon' only to find out that he’s actively being eaten alive by spider mites. (True story.) 


To check for pests, take a close look at the undersides of leaves, the stalks, and the top of the soil for signs. These could look like a fine dust or webbing (a sign of spider mites), white powdery residue (mealybugs) or tiny black specks with yellow splotches on the leaves (thrips).   

Upon returning home, quarantine your new friend for a couple of days away from your other plants. If you missed a single mealybug during your in-store investigation, that little demon will spread like wildfire and could infect your whole collection.

Last, but not least, grab a pot with a drainage hole and some well-draining soil—I personally use Fox Farms’ Ocean Forest for 95% of my plants—and pot that baby. I typically wait about a week to get used to their new home before potting them, but that’s just me; some people do it right away and other wait months. The jury’s still out. Take your cues from your plant and do what’s best for you.

Take your cues from your plant and do what’s best for you.

After a particularly harrowing winter, my plant wishlist this spring is short. For now, I’ve got my eye on an Anthurium Clarinervium (a rare and obnoxiously expensive pick; don’t judge me), and a mini Ficus Altissima (the low-maintenance cousin of the Fiddle Leaf Fig which, IMO, is having a moment). 

And the best part? Plant shopping season may kick off with the explosive April bloom, but doesn't end until the last yellow leaf wafts to the concrete in late November—so you’ve got plenty of time to get going on a wishlist of your own.

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