by Dominique Vickers
In the past, I had a bad habit of loving my plants to death. I would overwater my plants because I was worried that they were thirsty. I would make my room so hot that my plants would wilt because I was worried they were cold. Sometimes, I would neglect my plants because I was worried that I tended to them too much, and then, of course, they would die. No matter what, plants never lasted long around me.
My horrendous track record for keeping plants alive lasted until my junior year of college. Before classes started, my best friend and I decided to visit our local plant store to buy new plants for the new school year. Determined to keep new plant alive, I resolved to figure out everything I could to become the best plant parent of all time. So, for the rest of this piece I’ll share with you the lessons I learned along the way!
Inside the nursery, the selection of plants was completely overwhelming. There were light green, dark green, and even purple plants (was one color better than the others?). Some had flowers while others only had leaves (flowers are harder to maintain, right?). Some plants were up to my waist while others were small enough to put in a teacup (I’ve never had a plant more than a couple of inches tall, so I should probably get a small one?). Feeling out of my depth, I found the store owner.
How to Become a Plant Parent Step #1: Ask for help. The store owner was more knowledgeable about plants than I ever thought possible. After learning about my past novice plant-care experiences, she excitedly announced that a philodendron would be perfect for me. As I purchased my new victim (I mean, amazingly-beautiful-plant-that-I-swear-I’m-not-going-to-kill-this-time), I asked the owner what I should do to keep this plant alive.
How to Become a Plant Parent Step #2: Don’t go in ill prepared. This was the first time in my life that I ever considered that different plants might need different care I’d always assumed that plants just needed some water and sunlight and they would be good to go (obviously, this approach hadn’t been working too well). The owner explained how to avoid root rot by keeping plants in a tray or bowl, watering from the bottom, and how often to water it to prevent overwatering. I also found this helpful video all about philodendron care!
How to Become a Plant Parent Step #3: Watch your plant closely. A few weeks in, I noticed that the leaves of my plant (her name is Phyllis) started shriveling and turning brown. Naturally, I freaked out (How could I have been killing my plant already!?) This led to my typical “I’m-a-Biology-Major-and-I-Can’t-Take-Care-of-a-Houseplant-so-How-am-I-Ever-Supposed-to-Graduate-and-Do-Anything-with-My-Life” spiral, I noticed that only the leaves near the wall were turning brown. The leaves against the wall were completely shaded by the rest of the plant, so they were not getting any sunlight. This might be the problem! So, I moved Phyllis to the windowsill so that all the leaves could see the sun. It was so fortunate that I was watching her! Her leaves stopped browning, and she was healthier than ever!
A few weeks in, I noticed that the leaves of my plant (her name is Phyllis) started shriveling and turning brown . . . This led to my typical “I’m-a-Biology-Major-and-I-Can’t-Take-Care-of-a-Houseplant-so-How-am-I-Ever-Supposed-to-Graduate-and-Do-Anything-with-My-Life” spiral."
How to Become a Plant Parent Step #4: Notice what your plant does/doesn’t like. It’s also worth mentioning that Phyllis’s old spot near the wall was quite warm because it was near the heating vent. When Phyllis lived near the warm vent, her leaves and stems were very flimsy. After moving her to the windowsill, she became a lot firmer and perkier from the cool draft that comes in from my window’s (very) poor insulation. Clearly, Phyllis likes the cold!
A few more months passed, and then it was winter break. I watered Phyllis every two weeks, and our winter break was three weeks long. I thought she would be able to comfortably stay at school over break. I watered her thoroughly, made sure the blinds were open so that she could get plenty of light, and gave her a kiss before I left. When I came back Phyllis looked worse that I had ever seen her (OH MY GOSH WHAT HAPPENED TO HER!?). Although every leaf was still green, they were all completely limp and Phyllis was flat against the windowsill, as if someone had sat on her.
How to Become a Plant Parent Step #5: Never give up on your baby. An important note about this situation is that my room was really, really hot over the break. While I was away, the residence hall turned the heat up to full blast to prevent the pipes from freezing. Like I mentioned before, Phyllis Does. Not. Like. The. Heat. In this time of crisis, I remembered something that the store owner mentioned. Philodendrons are trainable plants, meaning that they basically stay how you guide them, which most people use to make them wrap around curtain rods, shelves, etc. But for me, this was how I would save my plant baby. I set up a support system with the string from my sewing kit, turned down the heat, gave Phyllis some cool water, and then, I waited. By the end of the night, Phyllis was completely revived. For the first time in my entire life, I -- the plant menace -- had saved a plant’s life!
How to Become a Plant Parent Step #6: Keep Learning! Nowadays, I have a windowsill full of happy, healthy plant children. I’m constantly learning about new plant-care techniques and new plants, which keeps me excited. Throughout my journey to plant motherhood, I saw how my plants improved my life. My plants keep me going, especially when life becomes challenging. Watering my plants reminds me to stay hydrated instead of sitting in the dark, I open the blinds so that my plants (and I) can get more sunlight. Somehow, it’s easier to focus on taking care of something else, as opposed to taking care of myself. As a Resident Assistant at my university, I encourage my residents to adopt plants to improve their physical and mental health. It turns out, house plants can have a whole host of health benefits.
I wasn’t born blessed with a green thumb, but these simple steps have helped me become a plant lover (and not killer). I hope that for those of you who can relate to my plant-killing days, maybe you can follow my rules to become a plant parent too!
Dominique is 21 years old and is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a Senior Biological Sciences student at the University of Pittsburgh, and a proud plant parent of four plant babies: Phyllis (variegated philodendron), Beatrice (Devil’s Ivy), Sedona (Aloe Vera), and Julius (another philodendron).
Photos courtesy Dominique Vickers.