This Is the Most Underrated Section of IKEA, According to Designers
After you’re done with your Swedish meatballs.
Updated Oct 11, 2018 9:34 PM
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Anyone who considers herself an IKEA connoisseur knows that the best part of shopping there isn’t playing house in a pretend kitchen or snacking on Swedish meatballs and macaroni and cheese—no matter how fun both of those activities may be. No, the best part about going to IKEA is walking in with the intention of buying plates and coming home with a brand-new plant.
IKEA’s plant department isn’t the first (or second or third) place you’d think to purchase fresh foliage, especially when there are a slew of online shops like Bloomscape and The Sill at the ready. But when we started talking to designers and expert plant parents about where they shop for affordable greenery, we realized the Swedish retailer is often their go-to resource. “Because the prices are so low, it’s a great place for beginning plant lovers to start. You can learn how to take care of plants without breaking the bank or being too worried if something happens,” says prop stylist and owner of Hoppe Shoppe, Alyssa Hoppe.
Others, such as Washington, D.C.–based designer Kerra Michele, keep going back for more because their IKEA plants are like family. “The best plant I’ve ever bought at IKEA was a snake plant varietal. He has lasted me more than eight years!” says Michele.
So where do you start? What should you buy? How do you know if it’s a love that will last? We asked Hoppe, Michele, and a few other savvy plant parents to share their insider tips and tricks for striking gold at IKEA. Before you know it, your Frakta bag will be full of adorable hoya kerrii and aloe.
Shop for the space you intend to decorate
Those seasoned in the art of plant care know the ins and outs of good lighting, but it never hurts to brush up on the basics. Before you even grab your wallet, evaluate what kind of light each of the rooms in your home receives and how much room you’re able to spare for your new friend. “The key to successful plant ownership on any budget is to buy the right plant for the spot you intend to put it,” says Michele. “Decide where you want to place a plant before you head to the store, because the location of the plant should determine the size and type of plant you buy.”
If you’re looking to fill an empty corner that’s drenched in sunshine, Michele suggests going with a tall, tropical plant like a bird-of-paradise. A smaller, shade-loving green, such as a money tree, is a great solution for a lonely bookshelf with limited access to light. “As long as you know what you’re buying before you actually buy it, you can have just as much success with an IKEA plant as you’d have with any other,” she adds.
Go after a new shipment
Like any other department, the plant section goes through an ebb and flow of replenishment. So it is, in fact, possible to go plant shopping at IKEA on a wrong day. “Most of what IKEA sells are hardy plants, so don’t expect to go in and find 100 different plant options as you’d find at a nursery,” says Michele. “However, if you go to IKEA soon after a shipment, you can definitely find a quality plant that’s healthy and beautiful.”
The fix? Check in with your local store’s department to see what their refresh schedule looks like. Additionally, IKEA tends to restock its shelves with new varietals and seasonal greens four times a year (February, April, August, and October), so you’re less likely to end up with a sad grace lily if you stop by during one of those swap-out months.
While there’s little we’d love more than to pick fresh citrus from a lemon tree from the comfort of our living room sofa, large plants don’t just soak up precious floor space—they also make a dent in your wallet. Sara Toufali of Black & Blooms has found a happy workaround: Buy your favorite medium-to-large greens while they’re young. “I love trailing plants like pothos and philodendron. I bought all of [my plants] cheap when their vines were super-short,” she shares. “I hang them from the ceiling and curtain rods, and the vines touch the ground now!”
Toufali’s best IKEA find? The now long and lustrous ponytail palm that keeps her bar cart company. “I got him a little over a year ago, when he had short ‘hair,’ as I like to call it,” she continues. “Ponytail palms are super–low maintenance, which I love, and such a fun-looking plant.”
Hoppe had a similar experience. “The best plant I have ever purchased at IKEA was the first plant my husband and I bought the first week we moved to New York City six years ago. It was a small fiddle-leaf then and now it has grown to 10 feet tall,” says Hoppe. Too large for her apartment, the healthy tree now calls Hoppe Shoppe studio home.
Pay attention to the soil quality
When you make it down to the plant department, which is typically located at ground level before the checkout lines, you’ll notice that the plants are crowded on tightly packed carts. You’ll want to avoid the ones up front, as they’re more likely to be dried out or damaged due to customers passing through.
“You may need to look through the plants to find the one that is the healthiest,” suggests Hoppe. Vital signs to watch out for include: good soil and no wilted parts on the leaves. Don’t be afraid to dig deep into the back of the shelf to find a plant that’s been living in favorable conditions. Pick it up, feel for fresh soil, and check to make sure there isn’t an abundance of roots coming out of the bottom.
Spend some time in the succulent aisle
The most popular variety of plant to buy at IKEA also happens to be the easiest kind to care for: succulents. “I love to adorn windowsills and small tea tables with succulents,” says New York–based designer Joy Moyler. For a high-impact look that’s low cost, Moyler makes sure to mix her inexpensive finds up by choosing plants with various leaf scale.
Stephanie Andrews of Balance Design Atlanta elevates her low-maintenance greens, like succulents and money trees, with design-minded accessories. “Their pots are pretty chic, as well. I mainly have them on a south-facing window, because it gets the best light,” says Andrews. “I also have a beautiful brass mister and watering can so that they can be close by for easy watering.”
Streamline your greens with uniform pots
Got too many greens waiting for you back at home? Refresh your plant nook by streamlining your pots. “Nothing elevates an inexpensive plant like a beautiful pot,” says Michele. “I styled my snake plant with an awesome pot from CB2, which is my go-to for unique yet affordable pottery.”