March 17, 2014

How to Keep Plants Alive if You Have a Black Thumb

I have a black thumb.  It’s like the black thumb of death for any plants that enter our house,  the “plant hospice,” but there are few plants in my house right now that have survived for over a year and I thought I’d share my secrets with you.

The hardest plant to keep alive in our house is our staghorn fern.  But it’s lived a year here.  How’d I do it?

Bribery.  I offered a reward to a very determined person in my household, my husband, and if the fern could live a whole year, he won.  If it died, he got nothing.  And now, one year later on March 15th (fitting, huh?) I still have a living, thriving really, gorgeous stag horn fern on my kitchen wall:



Watering a stag horn fern is no easy task.  (It’s a major pain actually.)   It needs to come off of the wall and have its cypress board and root ball soaked for 10-15 minutes every other week or so, and more frequently in the winter with the heat on.  We fill up our kitchen sink with water and weigh the board down (it floats!) with heavy glassware to keep it down.  Then, it needs to dry for a few hours so our wall doesn’t get all dirty.


{image from here}


But the key to this fern’s life was offering a reward to someone who wanted something badly.  More than I could possibly want a fern to live.  By raising the stakes of the stag horn’s life, he lived!!  March 15th and the still-living stag horn got me looking at the other two living plants in my house and wondering why they’re also still alive, without stakes.

So, I wanted to share 11 of my  tips for keeping plants alive, even if you run your own plant hospice:

1. Keep them right near water sources.  (So close that you barely have to think about watering them it’s so easy.)

2. The kitchen is a great place for plants to live.  It always has random cups of water around and of course, a water source, and you’re in it all the time.  I find it’s really easy to dump leftover water into plants and notice them when they started shedding leaves and bits.

3. Bathrooms love plants. They get so steamy you can all but forget about lots of things in there and they’ll still live.  Plus, there are lots of water sources.

4.  Bring plants outside when the weather gets nice.  This gives you a break from fighting for their lives.  I had a couple of fiddle leaf figs pretty much come alive from their death beds when I brought them outside for the Spring & Summer.  (They bit it when I brought them back in and forgot about them though. :/  wups!)

5. Some Plants like showers.  This is pretty labor intensive but strangely satisfying.  When my fig trees were looking sad last winter, I gave them showers and they sprouted new growth almost immediately.  (I think they also liked the steam in the bathroom.)

6.  Vacation Plans.  Think about your plants before you leave.  Can one good soaking do the trick?  Or do you need to have someone stop by.

7. Breathe on them sometimes.  It’s been something I’ve done as a kid and is half joke/ half maybe-this-actually-works, but carbon dioxide really is good for them and it will at least make anyone around you laugh.  I only do it with the small ones (because who has time to breathe all over a big one?!) but I think it just reminds me that they’re there and that they need water.  (And I’m sure you’ve heard about the studies showing plants that get talked to, do better.  It’s all that exhaled air!!)

8. Find out how much water your plant needs each week.  Lots of plant tags say things like, “water when soil is dry” or “water when 2/3 dry”.. honestly, what does that really mean????!!!  Look up approximate water amounts per week and you’ll be more diligent.  I recently saw an orchid being sold that came with its own shot glass and it said it needed one per week.  How easy is that??

9.  Intensive Care.  When they start to struggle, do something fast.  My natural inclination is that when a plant starts to look bad, I start not liking how it looks and I take even worse care of it.  How terrible is that??  Give it a shower, water it, prune it and give it a little love.  (I.e. breathe on that bad boy.)  I’ve been amazed at how quickly plants can perk up when I attempt to give them what they need.

10.  Offer a reward.  It should be offered to someone in your household who wants something really badly, even if that someone is yourself.  Maybe the thought of having a plant that’s alive isn’t enough to keep you watering, but maybe treating yourself to an afternoon or reading alone, enjoying some amazingly yummy treat, or a new something or whatever it is that floats your boat will keep you watering.  Kids and husbands want things too.  Find out what they want and offer that reward in exchange for a plant that still lives by X date.  Once that date comes, give the reward and offer a new one.

11.  Learn to love sedum and other plants in the cactus family.  My Jim Henson plant (below, found at Home Depot) barely needs any water:



And then of course do all of the normal things  (which I rarely do)- make sure their roots aren’t sitting in water, add fertilizer, repot when they outgrow their current pot, making sure they get the required amount of light and things like that.

I’ll be back this week with a list of my favorite plants that are both pretty & easier than others to keep alive.  Hope you had a great weekend!!

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