Why do some folks seem to have nothing but success growing plants (the “green thumb”) and others barely look at a plant and it dies (the “brown thumb”)? I can assure you it has nothing to do with their DNA, and everything to do with their understanding of what makes plants grow. More importantly, if you really want to turn your brown thumb green, you have to be willing to take a little time to learn what the light, soil, water and feeding requirements are for the plant or plants that tickle your fancy.
What To Do To Keep A Plant Healthy
Unless you’re buying a plant for someone else (housewarming, hospital visit, birthday) or are adding a basket of mums to the dining room table for Saturday’s dinner and feel no obligation for its long-term health, I would suggest educating yourself before you buy. I think it would be fair to say that, “impulse purchases most often lead to death.”
Seven Ways to Successfully Kill a Plant.
For a brief overview on what I feel are the most successfully ways to kill a plant, I offer the following:
- Overwatering: This is, without a doubt, the number one cause of most plant tragedies. Because, strange as it may seem, since plants are usually buried in dirt, most plants’ roots require oxygen in order to survive. If you compulsively water your plants you will successfully kill them by preventing air from circulating and encouraging root rot. Unless you have a moisture meter, and if you do, you probably don’t need to be reading this, I suggest sticking your finger into the soli up to your knuckle to see if it’s dry. If it is, you probably need to water, if it isn’t, you probably don’t. And don’t “tea-cup” water them. A plant should be watered thoroughly so that water drains from the pot and then allowed to dry out. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t allow the plant to sit in water or this too will lead to death by drowning.
- Underwatering: A sure sign that a plant needs watering is if its leaves begin to wilt and it looses its look of vitality. By underwatering you cause it to become stressed, which lowers its natural defenses and allows insects and disease to infest it. While some plants prefer most soil and other like to dry out, most prefer to be kept “evenly moist.” This information should be available on the plant’s label or, if not, make sure and check with the garden center or Google the name of the plant. There are any number of website devoted to plants that can provide all the information you’ll ever need to know.
- Ignore Intruders: There are all kinds of pests just waiting for you to ignore your plant. Plants should be examined at least once a week for scale and a variety of bugs, particularly when there’s a lot of new growth. And make sure to look under the leaves where a whole host of creatures like to hang out. If you discover an infestation, there are a number of remedies including insecticidal soaps. If infestation is significant, the only solution may be to dispose of the plant and make sure that none of your other plants, particularly of the same specie, are infected
- It’s Either Too Bright Or Too Dark: If the label says that it’s a shade plant, it probably means it doesn’t like to sit in direct sunlight. And if the plant’s label has the Sun on it, you can rest assured that it needs to be sitting in sunshine the majority of the day. The amount of sun a plant needs may change during the year, but if your sun deck is actually bathed in sun the better part of the day, chances are it would not be the right location for a large fern regardless of the time of the year.
- Soil and PH: If you’re potting or repotting a plant either in the ground or a container, good quality potting soil that is appropriate for the plant is important. For example, if you’re planting succulents or citrus in pots, it’s important to use a cactus mix, so that the soil drains easily and there’s no chance of root rot. Also, there are a number of plants that prefer acid (pH 4.5 to 5.5) soil. They include ferns, African violets, Azaleas, Begonias, Cyclamens, Dieffenbachia, Gardenias, Hydrangeas, Spruce, Birch Heather, Rhododendrons. Soil additives are available either to mix in with the potting soil or can be added after planting.
- Plant Depth Can Mean Plant Death: As mentioned above, a plant’s roots need oxygen. If you place a new plant too deeply in the ground you may kill it by suffocating it. A plant’s root ball should be approximately 10% above the soil level.
- To Mulch or Not Too Mulch: A two to three inch layer of mulch, particularly during the dry months, will help retain moisture and retard weed growth. However, too much of a good thing can be deadly and function much like too much water, depriving the roots of the necessary oxygen, with the resulting root rot and death.
Like almost everything in life, knowledge is power. If you want to turn your brown thumb green try doing it one plant at a time. Find a plant you like, do a little research and if what you can provide and what it needs to survive mesh, take it on and make sure that it grows and flourishes. If successful, you have the blueprint for future successes.