What to plant when you’re not good with plants

For years, my house and yard were littered with dead plants.  It’s not because I don’t take care of them.  I try.  I really do.  I read up on them and tend to them.  Still, they end up as dry, brown husks, flopping over the pots.  My father’s people were Nebraska farmers and my mother’s people were Irish and could grown potatoes in asphalt if they half tried.  I don’t know where that gene went.  I certainly didn’t get it.  But that was before I discover (dramatic drum roll) THE SECRET.

What I’m about to impart to you is a little-known and closely guarded secret.  Are you ready?  Here goes: To be successful at growing things, you have to plant the RIGHT things for the RIGHT places.
You knew?  Oh.

Well, in case I’m not alone in my ignorance, let me explain this very simple way to always buy the right plant for the right spot.  Feel free to take notes if you like.  See, plants need three things to survive.  They need light.  They need air.  And they need water/food.  The trick is, they need it in the proper balance.  That’s where I fail.  Balance.

Now, the darker the leaves on a plant are, the less light it needs.  Take for instance a Cast Iron Plant.  It has very dark leaves and will survive in your average office environment with just a little ambient light.  A petunia, though, has fairly light colored leaves and likes a good deal of sun.  Best to avoid that for your office.

Again, the darker the leaves, the less light required.  Hand in hand with that is the rule that says, the less light a plant requires, the slower it will grow.  And even more stunning is this rule: the slower a plant grows, the less water and fertilizer it requires.

If I were good at math, I could probably come up with some cool and impressive algorithm to express this.  Sadly, I’m as bad at math as I am at growing things.

Okay, so you have a plant with nice dark leaves, like a Cast Iron Plant or a Pilea.  It needs little light, little water, and even less fertilizer.  And now you know!  You can tell exactly how to care for a plant by the color of its leaves. And you can tell where you went wrong if the plant starts to change.  If a dark plant suddenly develops pale leaves, it’s probably that the leaves are bleaching out because it’s getting too much light.  If you can rule out the light thing, then it’s probably getting too much water and the roots are rotting.  Ease up on the water already!

Over the years, I’ve tended (and killed) hundreds of plants.  But there are a chosen few that have survived my TLC.  Here is a brief list of indestructible or nearly indestructible plants:

1. Pilea — this plant originated in Southeast Asia.  They grow everywhere in the dense jungles of Viet Nam, where I was born.  They can survive without much light, much water…they pretty much can’t die.  And they have these awesome bumpy/fuzzy leaves that tickle when you stroke them.

2. Pothos — I had two of these hanging in my kitchen for 17 years.  Sometimes, I forgot to water them for weeks at a time and they still survived.  They’re the storm trooper of the plant world.

3. Cast Iron Plant — as its name suggests, the plant can’t die.  It’s tough as nails and one of my personal favorites.

4.  Snake Plants or Mother-in-law’s tongue — these are the hardiest plants I’ve ever seen.  I once pulled one out of the ground and threw it on the driveway.  I was amazed to come back a month later and find the silly thing not roasted in the hot Florida sun as I had supposed, but sprouting new growth.  It lived off the daily rain run-off and was strong as ever.

5. English Ivy — watch this one though.  If you don’t keep it trimmed, the new growth will vine out and the tendrils will drill right into wood or weak stucco.

6. Peace Lily — they call this the closet plant.  You can put it in the closet and it will still survive.  Note that it has VERY dark leaves.  It will love you if you leave it.

If anybody has any other ideas, please feel free to respond.  I love to experiment with new plants and my plant database consists of whatever they have at Walmart.


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One Response to “What to plant when you’re not good with plants”

  1. Growing closet Says:

    Pretty cool post – raises some interesting points for debate. I just stumbled upon your blog this morning and wanted to say that I have really liked browsing some of the posts. Anyways, I’m subscribed to your feed and I hope to read more very soon!

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