A Philadelphia Renters Guide to Houseplants

Nothing livens up an apartment more than plants. Whether you already know how to coax blooms out of a reluctant amaryllis or have a reputation as a serial plant killer, Philly has knowledgeable plant shops throughout the City, ready to help. 

Choosing the right houseplants for your apartment is like going on a first date. It’s not just about what looks good to you. It’s about matching your space and preferences to the plant’s needs. To make the process easier, we have provided a list of things to keep in mind. Jot down your answers and take them with you when you visit a plant shop. 

Before you go

Be prepared to answer questions: 

  • What kind of sun exposure do you have – east, west, north or south? 
  • Is the light blocked by any tall buildings or trees? 
  • Do you want a high, medium or low maintenance plant?  
  • Will plants be on window sills, in window boxes, hanging, or on the floor?  
  • Do you have pets?
  • Do you prefer succulents, tropical plants or exotics?
  • What is your plant budget?

South Philly

“Most people are beginners,” said Tara Alexander, owner of Urban Jungle in East Passyunk.  “They do best with hardy plants like pothos, philodendrons and snake plants which do not need a lot of care and require less light. These plants tell you when they need water. They droop!”

If you travel a lot or simply can’t be bothered with weekly upkeep, start with a snake plant. “They thrive on neglect,” quipped Alexander. A once-a-month watering will do. Plus, snake plants will rise to new heights, up to three feet tall. Alexander recommends placing your snake plant on a stand for a more dramatic effect.

Before you pick out an artisanal ceramic container, Alexander advises taking your plant home in its original pot and living with it for a while. “Some plants do better in smaller containers, others need to be transferred to a larger pot. Give it some time before making a change,” she said.

These days, everyone wants a kitchen herb garden even if they live on take-out. Urban Jungle will be getting herbs closer to Spring, but cautions that they are not easy to grow. “Herbs are outdoor plants that like heat during the day and cool nights. They need a windowsill with a lot of sun,” said Alexander. “A grow light and a humidifier will help, especially in winter.”  

Undecided? Pick up an Urban Jungle Houseplant Grab Bag – four “mystery” plants for $40.


Located in the heart of Fairmount, Plants Etc. is an adorable little shop with a big heart. Established in 1982, owner Dana Kalens designs and delivers some of the classiest window boxes in town, as far as Fishtown. (Speaking of classy, she also does the window foliage at Rittenhouse Square fashionista destination Sophy Curson.)

Known for its specials on Foliage Fridays and Succulent Saturdays, Kalens also offers DIY kits for making your own succulent garden in a glass bowl. Pair that with a bottle of cabernet and a few friends and it’s a party! Not into DIY? No problem. Kalen’s will have a succulent garden ready for pickup or delivery.

This is also the place to get colorful geraniums for your terrace or a tall statement plant indoors. Big things happen in this little shop!

Northern Liberties

City Planter owners Mary Costello and Peter Smith channel their 25 years of horticultural experience into making novices feel confident. “We will give you advice on how to keep your plants alive, even if you don’t have a green thumb,” said Costello.

During the pandemic, the store has been closed to the public for indoor shopping but their online shop continues to offer a wide variety of houseplants of all shapes and sizes, including African violets, Bonsai plants and herbs.

Check out their Garage. There you will find a selection of plants and containers that don’t come up to the standards for sale in the shop but are still worthy of love. Grab a bargain for bubkas. 100% of proceeds from the Garage go towards organizations in need.

East Falls

Vault & Vine combines a café and small scale event venue with a lush selection of houseplants. It feels like something you’d expect to find in SoHo or Paris, not on Midvale Avenue in East Falls. Originally launched as Falls Flowers in 2009 at another location, the owner Peicha Chang made the leap to her current concept and location in 2017.

“We promise houseplants that are almost impossible to kill,” said Chang. “And we’ll help find plants tailored to your unique space.”

Want to be surprised? Become a member of Vault & Vine’s Plant of the Month Club, a three-month subscription. Each plant comes potted in Organic Mechanics soil and includes an instructional video to help you succeed. You can pick low maintenance, pet safe and air purifying.  Members receive their plants the second week of every month by pickup or delivery. Subscriptions – which make a great gift – fill up fast.

Ultimately, the plants you bring into your apartment are a reflection of your personality and style. Delicate or audacious. Whimsical or seductive. Graceful or prickly. They will grow with you, change with the seasons and reciprocate your nurturing care.

Composting 101

Your food is natural and organic. You drive a hybrid car. So why is your garbage ending up in landfills, contributing to climate change? Perhaps you think composting is only for people who have yards large enough to grow veggies. Maybe your only plant is a cactus. Whatever your hesitation, we have tips on becoming part of Philly’s robust compost community and helping our City reach its zero waste goal.

The Basics

To start, you need a metal, plastic, or ceramic container to keep in your kitchen in which to collect organic waste. This includes eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, rice, pasta, bread, other grains, fruits, and vegetables without oil, butter, or salad dressing. It cannot contain meat, bones, grease, fats, oils, dairy products, ashes from charcoal barbeques or fireplaces, pet waste.

You will also need a compost bin system to keep outdoors. The City of Philadelphia provides a Backyard Composting Guide which explains the three types of bins available. They all work the same way, turning organic waste into compost through a chemical process. 

Composting is about layering “green” materials and “brown” materials. Green material includes Food scraps, fresh leaves, plant cuttings, weeds, grass clippings fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and tea bags. Brown material includes Dead weeds, dry leaves, clipped brush, wood chips, eggshells, and paper products.  Each time you add new green material to your bin, cover it with a layer of fresh brown materials to avoid odors and pests

Compost needs airflow. If you’re using a two or three bin system, use a pitchfork to turn the compost every 3-5 days. Turn the pile frequently during the initial three to four weeks and once or twice during the remainder of the composting period. Once the compost is mostly broken down, it can be moved to your second bin and you can start over in the first. If using a tumbler, just turn it once every few days. 

A typical compost pile will take approximately three to four months to decompose. It’s “done” when it is no longer hot in the center, crumbles when squeezed, and smells like fresh dirt.

Community Garden Composting

Philadelphia has 400 community gardens, always looking for new members to get involved in composting. You don’t even need to live in the neighborhood. An affiliate of Neighborhood Gardens Trust, Old Tennis Court Farm, at 5407 Wissahickon Avenue in Germantown, has 63 members, several coming from as far away as Center City and South Philly. 

Margaret Lea at Old Tennis Court Farm. Photo: Rob Smith

“We do a lot of onsite composting and have constructed eleven composting stations,” said Mark Kearney who has been an active member since 2013. “Initially, we used household waste, but soon found it was attracting groundhogs, raccoons, and rats. We now only use material that is generated in the garden.”

With 49 gardening plots measuring 12 x 12 feet, managing the compost at this community garden takes a lot of manpower. “It’s a constant process of turning and moving the materials until they are ready to be mixed with the soil,” said Kearney. But it’s worth it. This one community garden yields abundant fresh vegetables to its members and those in need. “We take between 35 and 75 pounds of fresh organic vegetables per week to the Whosoever Gospel Mission in Germantown and to SHARE,” Kearney said.

Be a good neighbor

Philly residents without access to backyards or community gardens can have their compost recycled by Bennett Compost. They pick up compost from nearly 4,000 Philadelphia households and businesses every week, keeping over 70 tons of material out of the landfill every month. Once a year, they offer up to 10 gallons of free compost to customers. 

Bennett Compost provides five-gallon compost buckets with air-tight lids and picks them up on a weekly basis, leaving you with a fresh bucket.  In keeping with Solo Real Estate’s commitment to sustainability, we recently partnered with Bennett Compost to offer tenants and owners in over 400 properties a trial offer with two free months of compost pick-up service. Not a Solo tenant? You can still take advantage of Bennett’s free one month trial by signing up on their website.

Other residential compost services in Philly and nearby include Circle Compost (Philadelphia), Mother Compost (Main Line), and Kona Compost (Bucks County).

Additional Resources

Interested. in learning other ways you can help reduce your environmental footprint? Check out our article on Four Ways to Minimize your Waste Footprint in Philadelphia or our list on 5 Things Philly Renters can do for the Environment. If you’re a Solo tenant or owner and want to sign up for the trial offer from Bennett Compost, please e-mail us!

Setting Up the 2020 PHS Flower Show “Riviera Holiday”

This Saturday is the opening day of the 2020 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, “Riviera Holiday.” For nine days, visitors to the Flower Show will be immersed in the sights and scents of the Mediterranean Riviera through garden displays, floral arrangements, design concepts, and more.

Set-up Begins in the Philadelphia Convention Center

We visited the site of the Flower Show on Tuesday of this week and found the halls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center buzzing with forklifts and people. Piles of mulch surrounded soaring olive trees – shipped all the way from Southern California – and countless pots of lavender and roses huddled around displays. Garden beds were being built quite literally from the ground up, brick by brick and tile by colorful tile, as weeklong temporary homes for fig trees and succulents. 

Quaint mediterranean homes and front gardens being constructed from the ground up the week of February 24, 2020.

Some plants, including the olive trees, were shipped into Philadelphia from California, the United States’ most “Mediterranean” climate. Others, such as the lemon trees, were grown in Florida and shipped to Philadelphia. Lavender and rosemary plants were forced (which means to grow plants out of their season) in the greenhouses of PHS’s Meadowbrook Farm in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. 

The Oldest Horticultural Event In The Nation

As the oldest horticultural event in the nation, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is no stranger to the preparation it takes to create the extravagant displays that have garnered the fame of the show. Dating back to 1829, the Flower Show is one of the longest-running events in Philadelphia. This year, more than 250,000 visitors are expected to attend. Since the official start of set-up on February 19, hundreds of people (and thousands of hands) have worked around the clock to put the enormous event together. To get an idea of the scale of the gardens being built, the equivalent of 30 tractor trailers of mulch were used in the halls of the Convention Center to create “Riviera Holiday.”

On Thursday, we returned to the Flower Show to see the progress of set-up. The halls of the Convention Center looked a world of difference from Tuesday. A French-style plaza and a 25-foot olive tree welcomes visitors at the entrance of the show, with scents of sweet citrus wafting from the thousands of flowers and lemons hanging tantalizingly on garden arbors. Most of the mulch had been bedded neatly around a variety of landscape and floral exhibits: in a matter of steps, we were taken from dreamy Mediterranean fountain patio to Cinque Terre to a dark pool overlooking the French Riviera. 

Floral designers imitate the colorful homes in the steep hills of Cinque Terre, Italy.

Lemons hanging over a walkway encircling the main French plaza at the entrance of the “Riviera Holiday.”

What To See At The Flower Show This Year

New exhibits this year include an educational station on the benefits of medicinal plants, including cannabis, and a home gardening hub, where interactive seminars will take place every day, including family-friendly DIY crafts and games. The Flower Show Marketplace features over 200 vendors!

For a comprehensive overview, click here. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance! We look forward to seeing the gardens of the European Mediterranean in full bloom this coming week. 

Painstakingly constructed flower arbors at the 2020 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show.

Solo Real Estate is proud to support the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society by sponsoring the PHS Pop Up Garden at South Street, open from late April to October.