Green Living

The Modern Reinvention of Houseplant Care by Engineer Darryl Cheng

Welcome to The Plant Care Chronicles — a monthly series dedicated to breaking down individual indoor plant care routines and exploring plant care as a form of self-care. We truly believe in the healing powers of plants, and want to shed a light on their many mental, physical, and spiritual health benefits. This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Darryl Cheng, founder of the House Plant Journal and author of The New Plant Parent

To say that Darryl Cheng’s relationship with plants is unique would be an understatement. The former engineer developed an entirely new approach to plant care, which he chronicles in his cult-favorite book, The New Plant Parent. 

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[*Giveaway*🇨🇦] When I first became interested in houseplants, I found a lot of fragmented, contradicting advice on the internet (and even in books). Everything seemed to be broken down into rules without explanations or vague instructions. This inspired me to write ‘The New Plant Parent’ to help people get clarity in houseplant care with a fresh, accessible and realistic approach . It includes sound principles on light, watering, and general care as well as detailed “plant journals” of my own plants, giving you an authentic look at a life with houseplants. – I’m excited to partner with @plantpositivity and @aphriainc to giveaway *5* signed copies of ‘The New Plant Parent’ – here’s what you can do for a chance to get one: – 1. Follow @plantpositivity on Instagram 2. Comment on my post below and tag your favorite plant friend – Good Luck! – NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Contest runs from Aug 26/20, 12:01pm ET to Sept 2/20 at 11:59pm ET. Open to residents of CANADA ONLY, excluding Quebec, who is the age of majority at the time of entry. Five (5) Prizes available to be won. Approximate retail value of the Prize is thirty-one dollars and ninety-nine cents (CDN$31.99). Odds of being selected depends on number of entries received. Skill testing question must be correctly answered to claim Prize. Internet access and Instagram account required. Instagram not contest administrator. Head to @plantpositivity 's link in bio for full Rules.

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“When I started caring for plants about seven years ago, I realized that the way people write about houseplant care was very vague and generic,” he tells Bloomscape. “We’re still using the same ideas from the 1950s and sixties. I thought it was time to change the narrative.” 

He began by applying his engineering skills to houseplant care in his Toronto, Ontario home, which doubles as a sort of plant laboratory. “As an engineer, I appreciate more precise things,” he laughs. “I quickly learned that light drives growth in plants — they need it in order to photosynthesize and create sugars. So I was like, why don’t I just measure light?” 

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Super impressed with the variegation on this Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) – 6 months ago, my mom cut off some of the uglier vines from a larger pothos and stuck them into these little wall planters (although I found these in Hong Kong, there are similar ones I found online ➡️ link-in-profile @houseplantjournal) – When first planted, most plants will look awkward – like someone just stuck them into soil. But given adequate light and watering accordingly, they'll establish themselves *and grow into the shape of their light situation* – Light analysis: at the lowest planter, indirect light levels range from 100 to 200 foot-candles in the morning and evening. Near the middle of the day, as the sun approaches the edges of the skylight, the indirect light measures 400-600 FC. There are only a few days in the summer when the sun angle is high enough to shine directly onto this plant, which measures above 5000 FC (needs to be measured by an actual light meter since my app maxes out at around 3000 FC – and is really only useful in the indirect light range of 50-2000 FC). – Water when soil is partially dry. Since these planters are enclosed (drainage hole has been sealed), my mom poured water equivalent to roughly a third of the volume of soil. For a more thorough explanation of this saturation volume ratio concept, search on YouTube "how to water without drainage holes" – As for fertilizer, I think my mom used a liquid 10-15-10 since that's what she had lying around. ~ ~ #houseplantjournal #pothos #epipremnum #epipremnumaureum #goldenpothos #devilsivy #moneyplant #houseplants #plants #urbanjunglebloggers #houseplantclub #plantdad #plantobsession #plantparenthood #greenthumb #foliage #leaflove #light #chasinglight #lightanalysis #measuringlight

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That’s exactly what he did. In addition to creating a light meter app, his plant care courses and books all speak to the vital importance of light. “Understanding light is the best way to truly understand what your plant is going through,” he explains. “The correct lighting is what plants require to function. The people you think have a ‘green thumb’ are simply the people with the most windows.” 

Of course, Cheng applies these care principles to his own plant collection. “If I had to guess, I’d say I have at least 100 plants at home,” he shares. “If I have a space with enough light for a plant, I’ll put one there.” He has tropical plants like monsteras, pothos, philodendrons, snake plants, and a growing collection of cacti and succulents under a powerful grow light. 

“I’ve moved away from looking at plants as decor — I’m more interested in cultivating an indoor garden,” he shares. “When a person only appreciates plants for the aesthetics, I think they miss out on so much. I get the long-term reward of seeing my plants flourish after months and years of care.” 

This sense of companionship is the “C” in his coined concept, “The ABCs of Houseplant Appreciation.” The letter “A” refers to aesthetics, and “B” stands for biology. He believes that aesthetics are what draw most people to houseplants, biology is the interest in growth, propagation, and care, and companionship is the connection you develop with your plants. 

“I’ve had some plants with me for so long, that if you just replaced it with an identical plant, it wouldn’t be the same,” he shares. “I truly have a connection to them. I could probably tell you a little story about each one, including when I got it, how long I’ve had it, and what it’s gone through. It’s almost like watching a pet grow up overtime, with less responsibility.” 

Of course, having 100-plus plants thrive is no easy feat. “If I had to total up the hours spent on plant care, it’s probably one to two hours a day, or 14 hours a week,” he shares. “Anytime I get distracted from work, I’m caring for my plants. I don’t necessarily abide by a schedule, I just respond to their needs and check things out everyday.” 

In addition to companionship and a flourishing career, plants provide Cheng with a sense of personal fulfillment. “Houseplants have become a really rewarding hobby for me — they’re so much more than decoration,” he shares. “I believe that thinking about plants strictly as decor can be harmful. What happens when it’s suddenly not ‘trendy’ to have plants anymore? These are living things.” 

Despite his relative mastery of houseplant care, Cheng views himself as a humble plant caretaker. “At the end of the day, plants are going to do their own thing. My job is to help them live their best life, and support whatever growth is possible in my space.”