Yes, growing pains indeed, though of the green variety. For years I've been something of a serial plant killer. My (mis)adventures in plant rearing have become something of a running joke with monsieur who never misses an opportunity to point out that maybe I should stick with artificial plants. Nevertheless, every now and again I would buy new ones to add to the few that had managed to survive. Little ones, big ones, "indestructible" ones, all bought in the faint hope of seeing them grow and blossom (the ones that are supposed to blossom, anyway), but lots of them didn't stand a chance against my black thumb. But I'm slowly getting better and so are my plants. The other week, I decided to do some repotting. I could see that some of the plants had outgrown the pots they were in (which means that they had survived for some time!) and could probably do with a little more space and nutrients. Plants need nutrients, right? So, off I went to buy some larger pots and soil and I got to work. And whilst doing this - which, by the way, is very relaxing - I started to think about all the things that I had learned (or arguably hadn't) about plants for people like me. People with black thumbs. If you fall into that category, maybe my tips will help you too.
- Buy cheap. As it's a bit hit-and-miss whether I can get to grips with a plant or not, there's no point in shelling out big money only to watch it die after a while. I'm not usually one to advocate buying cheaply, but this is where I make an exception. Flower markets and DIY shops are a good place for bargains.
- Don't believe everything you hear. I've been told about succulents that "they thrive on neglect" only to find that actually, that particular one didn't like sunshine, the other one needed more water than expected and the next one didn't like much water at all.
- Repot - as I've just found out. I've had some plants that looked limp and pale and I couldn't figure out why because they seemed to be alive. Then I figured that maybe they needed more space. After only a couple of weeks, the same plants are doing really well and look luscious again.
- Sometimes advice that seems a little whacky is great! I used to struggle with how much water my orchids needed and either over or under watering them. Until a no-nonsense chap at the flower market told me to put one ice cube into the pot once a week. The cube melts and therefore slowly releases just enough water into the pot. Worked a treat!
- Whilst any watering advice seems to have been hit-and-miss with my plants, when it comes to light, I've mostly stuck with the advice given and it seems to work.
- Use plant pots with holes in the bottom, any excess water can drain off and you will avoid the soil getting waterlogged which most plants don't like.
- On the subject of pots: I'm not sure whether this is in any way a scientific observation, but my plants seem to do better in terracotta pots. My theory is that water gets absorbed by the pot and slowly released back to the plant when needed. As I said, I might be totally wrong with that one, but it seems to make a difference to my plants when switching from glazed, or worse, plastic ones.
- Experiment, experiment, experiment! I have found that there simply is no way around that one for me as you can see by the points above. Plants that thrive in other people's houses do poorly in mine and I have some plants which I had been warned about but which are doing ok.
- Despite advising to experiment, here are a few that I've managed to keep alive for more than a year: Golden Pothos, Spider Plant, Aloe, Philodendron, Dracaena Marginata (Dragon Tree) and English Ivy. I think these should be fairly fail-safe. I've also just bought a tiny Oxalis which so far seems to be doing alright. Fingers crossed.
- Should all else truly fail, then think about plants/stems which really don't need any care as they are either already dry or can be dried for display. These include cotton stems, pepper corn, hydrangea stems and lavender.
So, none of these tips are necessarily completely fail-safe, but I hope they'll help at least a little.