Growing a green thumb

I am, um, not a natural when it comes to plants. But I absolutely love them, so when I moved out I started making a concerted effort toward learning how to properly care for them.

I started really simple with a few air plants plus a couple of succulents I already had. The rule was that if I could keep a new plant alive (and relatively healthy) for 3 months, then I could get another one. This plan has been mostly successful, and I now have a small collection at my apartment, mostly on the patio where they get good sunlight.

As I’ve gotten more plants, I’ve also slowly escalated the level of skill needed to care for them. (And I do mean slowly.) This leveling-up has been:

  • Air plants
  • Succulents
  • Polka-dot plant
  • Spider plant
  • Aloe
  • Pothos
  • Basil (I’ll be adding more herbs very soon)

Moving and unpredictable weather have made it tough for a couple of these guys, but so far they’re hanging on. And while I aspire to have the sort of green thumb that would mean plants enjoy me as much as I enjoy them, I also fully admit we’re not there yet.

Throughout this process I have picked up some handy tips for helping our little green friends survive, and hopefully thrive:

Start small. As in don’t get a physically huge plant, and don’t get something super complicated. Pretty much everything I listed above is good for a beginner (except maybe basil), and are easily available in manageable, apartment-friendly sizes. Pro tip: Don’t start with seeds or sprouts either, as this portion of a plant’s growth cycle is particularly delicate. Pick a plant buddy who’s already established some roots.)

Do your research. Know what you want from a plant (air quality, foliage, flowers, etc.) and know the kind of environment you’ll be bringing it into (light level, humidity, temperature, etc.). Once you know those things, a few Google searches should bring up some suitable options.

Keep it natural. Whenever possible, design a plant’s environment to reflect its native environment (e.g. cactus-style potting mix for succulents or aloes; bright, indirect light for air plants; soft, but well-draining soil for basil). If you’re putting a lot of plants outside, or especially planting them in the actual ground where they may spread, try to choose plants native to your area. Not only will they grow better, but it’s more environmentally friendly! (Also stuff that encourages bees and butterflies, as their populations needs to be encouraged wherever possible.)

Water when dry. Seriously, it’s usually that simple. The best advice I’ve gotten on plant care is to wait to water until your plant’s soil is dry, and then give it a thorough watering. Overwatering a plant is often even more dangerous to a plant than under-watering, because it’s more difficult to fix. Pro tip: With air plants, I find that they do best when soaked for an hour or so about once a week in water, ideally with a bit of bromeliad fertilizer.

Go slowly with change. If a plant isn’t doing great, don’t make a ton of changes at once. For starters, it can shock the plant and further risk its health. Second, because plants can’t talk they can’t tell you what’s wrong. If you change a ton of elements at once, you may still not figure out what your buddy needs. Try making small changes, such as more or less light, one at a time. Give your plant some time with that change, and if it still isn’t happy try making another shift.

Trim as needed. If your plant has a dead or dying leaf, feel free to (gently) pull or cut it off. Often plants will devote extra water and nutrients to those leaves, which can hurt the health of other leaves.

Ask the experts. Feel free to swing by your local plant nursery and ask them about plants you have or are interested in getting. They can usually offer care tips, and can recommend what options might be best for your life and environment. One nursery near me even offers free classes on different gardening topics, which I’d highly recommend if you can find in your area.

And finally, the two types of plants I’ve loved having the most so far: air plants and pothos. Air plants are really fun and require minimal care, not even needing soil. They make really cool décor elements, and though they grow slowly it’s fun to see them flourish. Pothos are great for improving air quality and seriously love almost any light you give them — the one in the picture above has grown exceptionally well in my office. And if you do it right, they’re supposed to be easy to propagate! (I have not yet been brave enough to try.)

What are your best plant care tips? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

One thought on “Growing a green thumb

  1. Madeline Hastings

    Polkda dot plants are tough!! I did a post on good plants for black thumbs and I agree with a lot of what you say here! Especially about the “water when dry” point. It makes so much sense but I think people panic and over-water! Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

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