My dumb green thumb
Getting a novice's plants to last longer than a day
Shaunette Wright, Gleaner Writer
You love them. They light up your spirit and bring a sense of peace to your environment. They add colour to your life and make your home more inviting. They listen when you have something to say and don't fuss when you say too much. And to top it off, they don't talk back!
But something's wrong with the picture. You want them to be your permanent friends and houseguests, but they keep leaving. You've tried so many times to start and maintain a relationship, but somehow, these relationships can't seem to survive beyond a day or two, or maximum a week! You're desperate!
How can you fix your broken green thumb and prolong the life of your flowering friends?
Well, as with humans, so with plants. Choose your friends wisely! If you've laboured in vain to keep your green pals around, one expert's advice is to ask, ask, ask.
"Start off by asking yourself why you want to plant. You have to know why you want to take on this responsibility," says Douglas Harrisingh, operations manager at Nature's Paradise, a St Andrew outlet which sells plants.
Although it may appear elementary, Harrisingh says running out and grabbing the first plant that looks strong is a no-no. Information is very accessible these days, so he suggests reading up on the Internet or picking an expert's brain.
"If you're getting your plant from a nursery, ask questions," he emphasises. "Ask the attendant(s) about caring for the particular plant you're looking for. If you have no idea what plant to get, ask which one is easy to start with. And also, consider the season when you've decided to plant."
Lisa Comery, supervisor at Best Buds, also in St Andrew, agrees.
"As with everything else, you must prepare. If you're planting outside, you must ready the area intended for use. Ensure the soil is good, with few rocks and stones, and ask about fertilisers."
Once you've gathered enough information, Harrisingh suggests beginning a relationship with an easy-to-care-for plant.
"Anthuriums and cacti are good indoor starter plants for beginners. If you're venturing outside, bougainvillaeas and sansevierias are great. Orchids are also good, but people tend to overwater them, so I wouldn't suggest these."
But knowing which plants are great starters and
actually caring for them are two completely different things. If
you were that student who waited to get your homework done at the last minute,
chances are you're going to notice your plant's plight when it's at death's
door. To prevent a rescue operation, Harrisingh recommends daily care, of which
watering is a part. Even a cactus will die if left too long without water.
"You don't have to do it every day, but make sure that they get
water. You can feel the soil (by pushing your finger in it) or look at the
leaves and know if water is needed."
To prevent overwatering, he says, small containers or watering
cans should be used to moderate the amount used at any one time.
Beside water, Comery says adequate light - whether artificial or
natural - is essential. Without light, the plants will wither and die.
"The type of plant will dictate the amount of light necessary.
What one can do is rotate the plant. This way, no one side gets overexposure, as
this can do some damage. Let me add, too, that if the plant is outdoor, it can
be kept under a large tree to give it some shade."
Now, the plan is to give the plant adequate light, not shock
treatment. So, take care when switching the plant's lighting environment,
Harrisingh advises, especially if the plant is kept indoor for the majority of
"Plants can, and do, experience shock. So, after being inside for
a period of time, introduction to full sunlight can be made by placing the plant
at a window where some sunlight comes in, or placing it outside at a particular
time of day for a few hours," he tells Saturday Life.
So, you have gone out and asked, bought the right plant, watered
and provided it with enough light, but somehow, it still looks a little weak. It
may be that your friend is lacking some nutrients. Comery suggests two types of
fertilisers: Osmocote and Peters 20-20-20.
"Osmocote, which is a slow-release fertiliser, is a very good
choice and can be used for up to four or six months," she says.
The Osmocote prills facilitate water absorption into the water in
the soil, which causes them to swell and slowly release plant food over a period
Harrisingh adds, "Osmocote is good for potted plants, but the
Peters 20-20-20 (blue), which is water-soluble, is a great way to give plants
the nutrients and vitamins needed. It is ideal for indoor and outdoor plants."
Comery explains that one tablespoon of Peters 20-20-20 can be
mixed with a gallon of water, which can serve for several days.
getting the right fit
Yes! You feel somewhat grounded because you're now informed and on
the right track. But remember containers. These add to the aesthetics of your
home, but your plant might not appreciate the one it's in after a while.
Harrisingh suggests time for repotting!
"If your plant is potted, sometimes the roots may outgrow the
container. This suggests it's time to give the plant a new container or a new
home on the outside. Ensure the container or the spot outside has enough space
for the roots, so the plant can continue to thrive."
Remember, too, that cleaning can be done once in a while,
especially when dust or residue from watering leaves build-up on the leaves.
Home-made cleansers, such as vinegar and water, a little soap and water or just
water (all used with a soft cloth) can bring back the shine to plants' leaves.
Leaf-shine products are also available on the market if you choose to purchase a
cleaner. But cleaning agents can clog pores and inhibit transpiration. Also, if
you have your plants in the kitchen, be mindful of grease that may accumulate
and cause pests to seek, occupy or destroy your plants.
So, ladies and gents, treat your plants kindly. If you want your
flowering lovelies to stay alive, treat them well.