8 tips to turn your black thumb green
The routine goes like this: Walk into a plant store and buy the cutest thing you see, take it home and hope for the best.
It becomes apparent that something is wrong when one thing leads to another and the plant is killed within a couple months. Unless you’ve been through this several times, you probably think you have the skill of a “black thumb.” Although there’s some intuition involved, caring for plants isn’t an inherited skill. It must be learned and practiced.
Because we are at the top of the food chain, it doesn’t mean we necessarily understand what’s happening at the bottom, especially in modern times, when many of us don’t grow their own food, and we even outsource cutting their grass.
After 15 years of plant mothering, I’ve come up with my secret sauce so you can turn your dead-plant streak around. Following these 12 tips to pick the right plant and start will increase the chance of getting better results with your next green friend!
The best way to learn to tend to a garden is with just one plant. You have to get to know its needs before you can grow a small army of green friends. Even easy plants can become sick or unhappy if you fail to care for them sometimes.
If you have cared for one plant successfully for a few months, I would suggest that you add another once you notice you’re sorely overextended. When you start neglecting plants, then you are overextended.
Adjust your expectations
Plants can be finicky, so mistakes are a normal part of the process. So you should think of your plants adventures as learning experiences rather than tests of success or failure. This way, any failures will be seen as learning opportunities to apply next time.
As a minimum, you’re getting a lovely plant that will last longer than cut flowers. As a maximum, you’re getting a long-term contribution to the environment that will require some maintenance and ongoing adjustments over time.
Consider your resources
You have to consider the amount of time and money you can give your plant. I have killed plants because I have been too busy or didn’t want the hassle of buying plant food, getting a bigger pot, etc.
Make sure that you choose a plant that fits your schedule and the investment you’re willing to make, then put the care schedule on your calendar, and make sure to remind yourself to water your plant! I’ll say it again: make sure you remember to water your plant!
Be honest about your caretaking personality
Whichever personality trait describes you best, pick a plant that will match it! Most gardeners make the mistake of over- or under-watering, so regardless of the care tag on the plant or the guidance given by your local plant nursery, follow the instructions and you’ll be fine!
Cactus plantings that need watering every few weeks may frustrate you, therefore choosing tropical plants that need misting once a day would fit your lifestyle better – if that is the case!
Match your plant to the right location
When having plants in low light settings, such as workspaces without windows, you’ll need to find plants that are adapted to them. In sunny, south oriented windows, you’ll need plants that benefit from the intensity of sunlight every day.
While many plant tags provide little in the way of information, they need more than just “part-sun” or “shade.” Consider the native environment and imitate it as closely as possible. Consult your local nursery for information, or do some online research to be sure you are offering your plant everything it needs.
Watch your plant
Aside from watering too much or too little, the second biggest rookie mistake is to ignore your plant’s signs of distress. It is trying to communicate what it needs! When you discover a problem in a nursery, you should investigate it or call your local nursery. Most problems can be corrected if caught early.
It’s not the right spot if the leaves are turning brown at the tips due to too much water. That “perfect” sunny spot in the window? It’s likely not the right spot if the leaves are bleaching white due to too much sunlight.
There are no “good bugs” for houseplants or those that will just “go away on their own.” Make sure you pay attention to the problem, seek help, and then get rid of it as soon as possible.
Keep in Mind These Fundamental Care
Most plants need light, but some need it more than others. The one-sided light from windows triggers plants to turn their flowers and leaves toward the light. To avoid foregoing the benefits of rotating your plants, give them a little turn every time you water them. I do that every Monday when I’m watering my plants.
When you pot your plants, ensure the pot has a drainage hole. It is also helpful to have some stones at the bottom of your pot, so the soil doesn’t freeze. In addition to allowing water to drain better, this also keeps the roots from rotting in saturated soil.
Feeling the soil can give you a good indication whether your plant needs watering. If it’s dry and crumbly, it needs watering. I used to hate touching the soil when I first started planting, so droopy leaves were what I was looking for. And I found that too! Water thoroughly until all the soil is submerged. If the soil feels even slightly damp to the touch, never water it. Even if it’s been a week since the last time you checked, little buddy still has plenty of moisture to drink up for now!
Enjoy your plant
Finally, choose a plant that brings you joy. If you can’t find a plant that brings you joy that will work for your location/schedule/resources, then go somewhere else to find one that does! You’ll treat a plant better if it’s something you truly enjoy, so don’t settle for anything that doesn’t make you happy every day.
It’s so rewarding to care for a plant once you’ve found the perfect one for you. Even better, you can share it with your family for a lifetime of plant appreciation and love! Remember to take pleasure in the process, and your plant will appreciate your great care. You have it! Are you ready to care for your plants?