I am reluctant to admit that I am a restless person. Even more so when I spent >23 hours inside my apartment every single day. But the one time each day that I am guaranteed a little sunshine and the fresh air that eases the tension out of my shoulders is when I am watering my plants.
I love plants. I love learning their names and watching them grow. I love taking care of things and feeling like I’ve accomplished something tangible. I love the lightness and comfort they bring to any space they’re in.
However, I do not have a natural green thumb. As a teen and college student I struggled to keep plants from floundering. So when I moved into my first apartment, I set a goal: Learn to not kill plants.
And I did great! Over a year and a half, a couple of plants struggled, but most stayed content and a few even flourished. I kept a small stand out on the patio and others on the bookshelf by the window. When I moved into my new place, I planned to set up a tiered planter with herbs, and got the plants settled on the new patio and inside the apartment.
Except then I killed like six plants in a row. Air plants! Pothos! ZZ! All the plants that are supposed to be nigh impossible to kill. And it turns out, the inside of my apartment is apparently where plants come to die. Suffice it to say I was really disheartened. I’d worked diligently on getting better at caring for plants and then over the course of several months, I. Kept. On. Killing. Them. All the ones outside seemed to be doing well, but as near as I’ve been able to determine, most of my apartment is so low light that even the “low light” friendly plants will give up and die. Which means my patio has now become the garden. In the interest of saving money and also getting more plants(!) I’ve recently started propagating some basics as well: succulents, spider plants, and pothos. The new journey I just started is creating a large planter to grow tomatoes in (companion planted with some basil), because as much as I like pretty plants, I love being able to eat things I grew!
I’m still definitely a novice, but having something physical and really tangible to care for is so good for me. Since lots of folks are taking time to upgrade their green thumbs as well, I’ve included some tips that I’ve found helpful (or learned the hard way) as well as links to a few Instagram accounts by Black plant enthusiasts that I’ve really been enjoying lately.
What not to do:
- Buy a plant you have zero idea how to take care of. I have done this, and on occasion I’ve gotten lucky and the plant has done well, but it’s a huge risk. Instead, do some online research before purchasing and/or ask for info about the plant from someone at your local nursery.
- Overwatering. I’m determined this is the fastest way to kill a plant. And I suck at not doing it because I just want to smother the dang things with love. But seriously, it will kill them. Root rot in particular is super hard to come back from. For most plants (especially beginner plants), wait until you can dig your finger into the soil a little and it’s dry to water, then water thoroughly.
- Ignore when your plant is trying to tell you something. They’re living creatures, and they’re more lively than we usually give them credit for. Plants will stretch if they need more sun, can burn or wither if they get too much sun, and will droop when they need water, then perk up when they’ve gotten it. If you’re noticing odd behavior in your plant, check the basics and then look it up!
- Neglect pruning. I’m still learning this one, but if your plant has some dead or super damaged leaves, get rid of them! If they come off when you gently pull you can prune that way, or get a pair of sharp scissors/shears and trim.
- You can also revive plants this way sometimes! I have a polka-dot plant that was hardcore struggling, so I just cut all the leggy stalks down to little nubs and now it’s grown so many new leaves and flourished!
- Skip drainage holes. Lots of the pretty pots available don’t have good drainage, and that’s an easy way to drown your plant, or promote pests and rot. The best ways around this are to 1) buy a pot with appropriate drainage, 2) drill drainage holes, or 3) keep the plant in a properly drained pot for watering and then set that pot into another pretty pot for the rest of the time.
- Repot until you need to. Every time a plant moves areas or is repotted, it can be shocked and needs time to adjust. Try to let a plant adjust to its new home when you purchase it before repotting, and only repot when the plant has gotten too big for its current pot or if there’s an issue with the soil (I had to repot one recently because I’d overwatered and didn’t want the roots to rot).
What to actually do:
- Research your plants. Not everything that says it’s easy is actually easy, depending on both your experience and your setting. Learn what areas of your home have what kinds of light, pay attention to the temperature and humidity, and choose plants that are well-suited for the environment you’ll be brining them into. Also shop local whenever you can, not only to support local businesses, but because folks at local nurseries will know what grows well in your area!
- YouTube is also an excellent place to learn about plant info and care!
- Black plant enthusiasts whose Instagram accounts I’ve loved:
- Some good topics to look into if you’re expanding your plant knowledge:
- Seasonal planting
- Companion planting
- Water in the morning. This isn’t crucial, but most plants prefer it as it lets them soak up what they need before the sun is at its strongest.
- Get the right tools. My little garden doesn’t need much, but I’ve found that the following are indispensable:
- Watering can and spray bottle
- Small, sharp pruning shears
- Something to kneel on while you work (I use a folded beach towel, but you can also get a gardening mat)
- Pest deterrents. I occasionally buy ladybugs, and frequently use an organic Neem Oil spray to discourage pests
- Rubber-tipped bamboo gloves
- A set of plastic bowls for moving soil around as I repot
- Spare pots (they’re really handy! And save those nursery ones you move plants out of!)
- Start with plants you can handle. My favorite starters are spider plants and pothos, but these are the types of plants I currently have:
- Succulents (including aloe vera, burro’s tail, and lots of others I can’t name)
- Pothos (one of my favorites to propagate)
- Spider plants. I literally don’t think I’ve ever killed one, which is saying something.
- Marimo moss ball. This is the tank of “plants” (it’s technically an algae), though it’s not very exciting.
- Polka-dot plant
- Snake plant
- Herbs, including:
- Green beans**
- Note: For all the ones with an asterisk (*), these are new and very young so I’m still getting my footing in terms of caring for them. The ones with two asterisks I planted from seed.
- Shop around for good prices. A little research on good plant shops and average prices for certain plants will go a long way — you don’t want to pay more than you have to! (@grownbyliz._ has an affordable plant shop as well as good info on other affordable places.) I buy my basil every year from Trader Joe’s for like $4, and local nurseries can often have some good deals!
- Move plants around as needed. I’ve reorganized the garden a couple of times in the last few months because things were getting too much or not enough light, and that can often
- Be willing to experiment. I tried to grow garlic in one of my planter boxes a while ago and it shot up before immediately dying. Oh well! Especially if you’re trying with inexpensive plants, it’s okay to take a few risks.
- Be okay if a plant dies. I’ve killed a number of plants in the last year, and honestly it just happens sometimes. Some plants also won’t last forever! Basil is the kind of plant that typically won’t last through the winter, so I just go into each year knowing I’ll need to buy more the following spring.
Also a necessary shoutout to my best friend Megan, for enabling my plant journey, always giving me tips (including the accounts I recommended above), and also giving me plants haha.
What plants do you love? Any questions about caring for plants or gardening for beginners? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!