SF Plant Finder Tells You What Plants Will Survive in Your Neighborhood Microclimate

You can even filter on the basis of sun level and plant type

San Francisco is saturated with green. According to the Trust for Public Land, San Francisco is the first city in the United States where all residents live within a 10-minute walk to a park. Unfortunately, those of us who are chained to our desks all day hardly get to go outside, much less enjoy the sight or the scents of our native plants.

A real head scratcher

Enter the houseplant, a multibillion dollar industry — I can’t believe I just said that — thanks to Millennials, who often purchase them to “have something to take care of, and to feel less alone,” which is a quote that I just made up.

In a cruel twist of irony, Millennials often end up killing the very plants they have purchased from the one industry they aren’t killing. This can be a result of poor care. The most popular indoor plants, things like succulents and cacti, which are solicited as “un-killable,” end up drowning from overwatering. The leaves turn brown, a symptom that most first-time plant owners erroneously associate with undernourishment. Often, it is instead a sign that the roots are drowning, rotting or mildewing.

Thanks to Instagram, new plant owners also tend to choose visually appealing layouts for their plants that are counterproductive to their survival. Nearly every indoor plant needs to drain. The beautifully hanging ceiling plants will need buckets to catch the water, or they should be taken outside. Those succulents in mason jars will die within a week unless they’re watered sparingly and potted above a floor of gravel. The amount of light the plant receives must take precedence over aesthetic decisions, unless your aesthetic preference is gobs of dead plant.

I moved this plant to the kitchen, where there is hardly any sunlight, because I thought the basil would look nice there. Now it looks depressing.

Bulbristas — again, I just made that up — at plant nurseries can help with this by giving care advice. But some plants aren’t designed to survive in particular conditions. San Francisco is an especially challenging place in which to raise a plant, because the city is so dense with microclimates. The plant you bought from Paxton Gate might die in the fog of the Outer Sunset. Allow me to fluff your ego: sometimes plant death isn’t your fault.

Dear future foliage owners, SF Plant Finder is your new best friend. Enter your address, or simply click on the map, and the tool will pull up a list of plants that are suitable for your exact microclimate. The tool was designed for gardening and habitat building, but there is a filtering option on the right-hand side that lets you select “potted” and “shade” to find something that might be more suitable for the indoors. The data is obtained from a variety of sources, and all of it is designed for moderate to low water needs, which is both great for the environment and your sanity.

I tested a few regions, in no particular order.

Mount Sutro

Screenshots from SF Plant Finder

With the filters “potted plants” and “shade” toggled, this yields 42 results, including these gems, which sound like they came out of a witch’s cookbook:

  • Sticky Monkeyflower
  • Lizardtail
  • Leafy Fleabane
  • Live Forever

The Castro

This time I toggled “roof” and “sun,” for those of you with a rooftop. I got 69 hits (wink, wink), including the state flower. If that isn’t enough, you can also go with the following:

  • Pearly Everlasting
  • Coast Strawberry
  • Hooker’s Evening Primrose (I swear I’m not making this up)

Outer Sunset

Filters are “shade,” because duh, and “garden,” because you might actually have space to garden here. Here you’ll find the following:

  • Seaside Daisy
  • Manroot
  • California Blackberry

Happy planting, everyone.

All the data is on SF OpenData, if you’d like to fiddle with creating a better tool. If you do, let us know.