21 Questions With Hilton Carter

We asked the beloved plant stylist, artist and author our most pressing questions. Read the AMA to get Hilton Carter's expert growing tips, learn about his favorite plant styling projects and see which garden "trend" he just can't get behind.

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December 19, 2023

Photo by: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

It's no secret that we love Hilton Carter here at HGTV. Hilton — who has amassed over half a million followers on Instagram, written four books (with another one on the way!) and styled everything from homes to hotel suites and restaurants — has been sharing expert houseplant care tips and styling tricks with us for years. He's been on our podcast, our YouTube channels and even invited us into his plant-filled Baltimore home.

So you know when we got the opportunity to play a game of "21 Questions" with Hilton, we were going all in. Read our Q+A to learn Hilton's favorite plant styling projects, how heavy-handed you can be with the pruning shears and if Hilton's dreams are filled with houseplants, too.

Questions and responses have been edited for grammar and clarity.

1. Did you grow up in a home filled with plants?
Rashidah Bashir | Director, Audience Dev & Editorial

Not at all. My mother had faux plants in our home but spent the time she had when she wasn’t working nurturing me. She had no room in her life for real plants.

2. What’s one plant you can’t get enough of, no matter how many of them you already own?

The fiddle leaf fig! I think it's just one of the most transformative plants you can bring into your home to make an instant statement. My first born was a fiddle leaf fig I named Frank.

Photo by: Courtesy of Hilton Carter

Courtesy of Hilton Carter

3. On the opposite end, is there a plant you feel you baby more than others?

Not really. I do find myself talking to Frank and my staghorn, Buck, more than I do my other plants. But seriously, it's like picking a favorite child.

4. When bringing in a new baby from a nursery, what are best practices to make sure you aren’t introducing pests? I have a new lemon lime maranta I would love to bring into the house that has been sitting by my basement window for two weeks. I have been burned before by spider mites in the past!
Manya Whitney-Miller | Senior Manager, Production Management

Quarantining plants before you introduce them to your other plants is a great practice to avoid spreading diseases. It's also a good idea to spray and wipe down the leaves of the new plant as well. As always, keeping a close eye on the new plants will help you catch any signs of pests early on.

5. Does your daughter have a specific plant she’s more drawn to than others?

Holland is drawn to whatever plant she sees taking my attention away from her. As soon I walk away from watering it, she wants to follow behind and test the sturdiness of its foliage.

Photo by: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

6. I know you’re a pet lover as much as a plant lover — I would love to hear how you handle fertilizing indoor plants without your dog getting into the dirt! My dogs find the combination of organic fertilizer and potting soil irresistible, and it drives me crazy — plus I imagine it isn’t exactly good for them.
Marianne Canada | Senior Director

You definitely want to keep your furry children and your human children from any fertilizer, even if it is organic.

Hilton styled this floor planter with small rocks for a cleaner look, and to keep his cat, Zoey, from digging it up.

Photo by: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

Hilton styled this floor planter with small rocks for a cleaner look, and to keep his cat, Zoey, from digging it up.

7. Do you have any “shame plants” AKA plants that just keep dying on you no matter what you do?

Haha! I used to kill maidenhair ferns, but then I realized they just weren’t for me. So when I see them in plant shops, I say hello and keep it moving.

8. Are there any plants you hate? If that’s too strong of a word, are there any plants you don’t like to grow?
Jackie McGilvray, Editor

I don’t hate any particular plant. In terms of ones I don’t grow, I’ve currently given up growing cacti at home to keep my daughter safe. Other than that, I’m excited to grow it all!

9. Are there any plant trends that you find annoying or that you can’t get behind?

So often I see plants placed in spaces where they truly can’t thrive! Plants are not props, they are living things that need light to survive. I hate to see a beautiful display of live plants in a room where the environment is clearly unable to support them. There’s no shame in going faux!

Faux Real Tips + Tricks for Styling Your Fake Plants

Think real is the only way to go? Think again. These quick tricks will seriously step up your faux plant game.

10. In your opinion, what will be 2024’s trendiest plant?

I think we will see an influx of fruiting trees and citrus plants becoming popular for indoor cultivation in 2024. For houseplants, anything variegated will be popular. There are new varieties of variegated alocasias and philodendrons that have crazy red and pink colors to the leaves. The pink variegated alocasia 'Black Velvet' and philodendron 'Red Moon' are seemingly popular for collectors right now. Tissue culture has come a long way!

How to Grow Alocasia

Commonly known as elephant's ear, this family of big-leafed tropical plants can be grown outdoors as a dramatic specimen plant or indoors as a houseplant.

11. What’s the best houseplant to give as a gift?
Laura James | Editor

That depends on the person receiving it! Gifts are always more meaningful when there is some thought put into it. It also depends on the time of year and what is typically available. The most important thing to consider is what your friend will like the most. Does this person like plants for their hardiness to grow, or for the thrill of keeping something alive? Do they like something in bloom, or are they a foliage fanatic? This will ultimately set the tone for choosing the perfect plant for your friend. A seasonal blooming plant is always a great choice if you're not sure where to start. A bright Rieger begonia, kalanchoe, cyclamen (around holiday time) and orchids will bring a smile to anyone's face.

The Best Gifts for Plant Lovers

Looking to find the perfect present for the plant lover on your list? Our hand-picked gift ideas are sure to knock their stalks off.

12. What are your favorite products for propagation?
Laura James | Editor

Well, funny that you’ve asked. I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t say it was my propagation vessels, that I call cradles. They can stand on top of a table or shelf or be mounted to a wall. I have many of them mounted on a wall in my home to create a living wall of propagations.

13. Do you have any ideas/suggestions for companion houseplants — like can you put a monstera vine in the same pot as a pathos? Or what plants are good paired up (not necessarily in the same pot) because they have the same growing conditions and just look nice together.
Jackie McGilvray | Editor

I haven't thought about indoor companion planting before. I haven't heard of any ornamentals that enhance each other's growth the way corn, beans and squash do (known as the three sisters). Typically when houseplants are grown in the same pot, they will compete for water and light. Plants of the same species grow best in the same pots together.

Are You Using the Right Pots for Your Houseplants?

Choosing the right pot for your plant is not just about looks. Different materials affect your plant's health in a variety of ways. Houseplant expert Hilton Carter explains what type of planter is best for each type of houseplant.

14. What fertilizers do you use? Do you ever add anything to your plants like coffee grinds, eggshells, rice husks, etc.
Jackie McGilvray | Editor

Composting scraps from your kitchen is an excellent practice! I would suggest this for your outdoor plants though. The decomposing process may attract some friends to your home. I personally like Liquidirt which is an organic non-burning fertilizer.

15. Should plants be exposed to synthetic heat year-round or is it okay for them to get a little chilly in the winter?
Karen Webb | Associate Producer

With the technology we have today, we can replicate almost any condition to grow plants year round. However, most plants need a period of rest after their growing season. Nobody is meant to hustle 24/7, 365 days a year. Winter is a great time to let your plants rest and rejuvenate so they can save their energy for the busy spring time.

16. Is it better to prune a dying leaf or just let it die off?
Karen Webb | Associate Producer

I believe that is up to the individual. There are benefits of removing dead/decaying leaves from your plants. It can deter any bacteria that may feed on the decaying matter. However, plants go through a cycle of loss and regrowth every year. They know when it's time to drop their leaves because nature is on its own clock.

17. I was gifted a Japanese-lantern cultivar ('Biltmore Ball Gown') and it has grown UP rapidly. I would love to know how to prune it to make it bushier and stronger and not just grow thin and tall. (Seriously, it is a long, spindly 5 feet tall.) I love it so much but I am afraid to prune it for fear of killing it.
Manya Whitney-Miller | Senior Manager, Production Management

Pruning is recommended in early spring before new growth begins. Thinning out the plant will help prevent it from diseases and encourage fuller growth for the upcoming growing season. Perennials can handle a bit of tough love! Don't be afraid to give them what they need.

Late Winter and Early Spring Pruning Guide

Get ready for late winter and early spring pruning chores.

18. What is the secret to keeping bonsai plants alive? Is it truly better to just keep bonsai plants outside vs. inside?
Karen Webb | Associate Producer

Bonsai is a method of growing a plant rather than an actual plant itself. The term Bonsai comes from the Japanese language bon (meaning "pot/tray") and sai (meaning "plant/cultivate"). Depending on what kind of plant you are growing in the bonsai method, it may be better to grow it outdoors. There are varieties of houseplants that are great for growing indoors in the bonsai method. The ginseng ficus tree, for example, is a great one to try. Its trunk can be thick and it has small leaves on the top which you can prune to your liking.

How to Create Indoor Bonsai Gardens

Bring beautiful, living trees into your home when you practice the ancient art of Bonsai.

19. You’ve designed and styled hotels, restaurants, residential areas and more. Do you prefer styling one type of space over the other? Is there a project that you felt was your favorite?

I love styling residential spaces more. There is something about seeing the excitement in a client’s eyes when their home has come to life. Knowing they will share memories with their families in these spaces that I’ve created means everything to me.

Photo by: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

20. Are there more hotel collaborations in your future that you can share with us?

None on the horizon, but I would love to! Whether it be a suite, the lobby or another space that I can activate, I'd love to take on a hotel collaboration in 2024, especially if it’s an excuse to travel somewhere beautiful.

21. Do you ever dream about your plants/being surrounded by nature?

I dream about being in nature, on the beach, under palm trees. I also have nightmares about killing plants or not giving them enough of my time. But that's what happens when you work with plants.

Photo by: Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

Hilton Carter © CICO Books 2023 | Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness by Hilton Carter, CICO Books

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