Five simple ways to be an adult and not kill your house plants

Up until two years ago, I never gave owning house plants a thought. My thinking was that they were something that only old people and my grandma enjoyed. But after living for 3+ years in the downtown of a large city amid fumes, dirt, and questionable air quality, I have come to see their importance:

  • They contribute to cleaner air
  • They are proven to improve health by reducing anxiety, loneliness and depression
  • And they make you feel ‘at one’ with nature

A couple of years ago, I made the leap and went to Ikea (of course) to purchase a reasonably priced plant. Enter Paul. Yes, I name my plants. All I needed was for Paul to be able cook and give me a backrub, and I was golden.

What Paul looked like at first.

What Paul looks like now:

Womp womp

And Paul isn’t my first casualty. As you can see by the fledgling basil plant behind him in the second picture, I am a plant killer.

Despite this, I try to continue to keep house plants in my condo. More recently, I spent hundreds of dollars (why are plants so expensive!) on plants for my destitute and polluted condo balcony.

But I am determined not to lose that money within a mere matter of months! So how do you not kill them? I have done my research and would like to impart my new found wisdom on to you.

1. Buy plants to fit your lifestyle — e.g. those that are low maintenance and almost indestructible (but trust me, it is still possible to kill them)

Not all plants are meant for people with a lack of a green thumb. A prime example is orchids. Temperamental and requiring care between blooms, I was once gifted an orchid only to watch it quickly die.

Plants can be expensive, and if you are likely to kill them, that money may go down the drain. If I was going to make a side business, it would be re-selling plants in a downtown urban area. I have seen the same $10 succulents at home depot priced at $40 in convenience stores or specialty stores on King or Queen West.

Plants such as spider plants, palms, cacti, succulents, and aloe are all great plants to keep inside and require minimal care. In order to find the most ideal green friend, I suggest downloading the Garden Answers app for free. This app allows you to identify any plant through a simple picture, and will also provide needed details on its care.

2. Provide drainage when re-planting…apparently this is always a requirement

One thing I did not know – which is apparently obvious to everyone else – is that potted plants require holes for drainage. Why? Without them, plants will rot. While various kind of plants have differing needs, none can tolerate sitting in stagnant water for too long. When you are watering plants and there is no where for the water to go, the roots will get waterlogged and your plants may die. This was one of the keys to my original plant killing problem.

But what if the overpriced pot you bought didn’t come with ready made holes? Where does the water go through these holes?

Here is what I did:
1. Drill holes in the bottom of your pots. This may require a drill depending on the material of your planter.

I’m so handy

2. Use stones or a a broken ceramic planter to cover the holes so that soil does not seep out. I used cheap ceramic plants from the dollar store.

3. Find a raiser or some sort of rack that will elevate your plant. If indoors, I would put something down, be it plastic or a cloth to ensure that no water gets on your floor. This will ensure that the drainage is happening. Again, the dollar store is a gold mine.

On the left are the risers I got from the Dollar Store. Clearly, I still haven’t learned how not to make a mess…

4. Ensure that there is water coming out of the bottom and there is no rot. I periodically check to make sure drainage is actually happening.

3. Place your plant in the best place for it to thrive

Knowing if your plant can tolerate sun and how much of it, it is important. There are usually three types of plants: Full sun (6+ hours of sunlight), partial sun (4-5 hours of sunlight), and full shade (No direct sunlight) plants.

I think this was also one of my biggest problems. I face West and have a lot of sun come through the windows of my condo. I recently moved one of my basil plants as it was starting to crumble under the heat. For fun, I also recently purchased a Chinese Hibiscus as I wanted to have a tree. Little did I Know it would soon die 🙁

Knowing how much sun your plants are getting is the same as knowing the direction in which the window they sit near faces. If they are full shade plants, keep them far inside away from the window, or in that gloomy cubicle of yours. These plants are great for the office.

4. Don’t double up on watering every time you forget

I am the worst at remembering to water my plants. Especially when there is only one. I definitely underwater and overwater at the same time, if that is possible.

I will forget to water them and then when I do remember, I double up that water amount in sheer guilt and hope that they will be ok. But lesson learned: plants are like birth control, just because you forget one time, doesn’t mean you should double down the next time.

How often to water your plants? Depends on the type, location, and the amount of sun. But apparently, there is also an app for that too: Waterbug. I like their motto: You may never get your shit together. At least now you’ll be able to keep your plants alive.

5. Tend to them. More regularly than you may think you need to and more than you probably want to. But it is oddly worth it.

It’s weird, but plants make living in a city may more tolerable and can become your ‘friends’ if you live alone (if they start talking back to you, you need to evaluate your life).

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