Seriously, how many of us like the idea of having actual plants in our home yet don’t know how to tend to one?
You know exactly which part of the house you’d like to put in a giant pot of monstera or aloe vera. You’re sure a snake plant would be nice in this or that corner. You imagine having some healthy herbs by your windowsill, cutting tops from time to time for your favorite pasta dish.
You’ve been following a number of “plant parents” on Instagram and you feel like you’re ready to be one. Plus, you can’t discount the benefits of having houseplants, right? It gives your place a fresh and inviting feel and look; a natural air-purifier; improves your mood; reduces fatigue; and lowers stress and anxiety. The list goes on.
But the truth is, you’ve never even taken care of a cactus before, or the first and only time you attempted to, the poor thing died on your office table. You don’t even have an idea if you over-watered it or it badly needed some sunlight and it didn’t get any in its short life.
The first time I brought home some succulents from Baguio, most of them died within a few months. I was disheartened, to say the least. I had about 20 different varieties of indoor and outdoor plants that all seemed perky and healthy when I got them. I had almost zero experience in caring for a plant so I asked the person I got them from how to properly care for them. I told her I was wary because the plants seemed to be used to the upland weather and that the hot and humid Manila might not be a conducive place for them. She brushed it off and said that “if you give it the TLC it needs, it can adapt in its new environs.” Alas, I didn’t know the tender loving care they required and so they perished. This was last year.
I’ve since learned and much of it can be attributed to a system of trial-and-error. Not really something I’d recommend for one to try, but that’s what happened before I could finally and proudly say to myself that “Yes, I can tend to a plant and grow one from seedling.” I mean, I’m not yet a true-blue “plantita,” unlike my sister who once plucked two leaves from an old ZZ plant I inherited from the previous tenant of my apartment, then planted each on a pot. Months later they’ve grown big and healthy I couldn’t help but be amazed at her having a green thumb. Somehow, even if botanists have a very simple explanation to this, it seemed a little bit magical to me— just plucking a leaf and sticking it on soil and then weeks later it becomes a full-blown plant. However, if you can relate to my story, there’s hope for you and some tips from me:
Know your plants. You don’t have to be an expert. I’m very far from one. In fact, I’m a novice but I know what a basil plant looks like and I can definitely tell when it’s healthy or not, which leads to…
Know when your plants need water. My certified “plantito” and “plantita” friends say that I should be more concerned with over-watering than under-watering them plants, but it’s always best if you can tell right away if they need some watering or not. The easiest way is to stick your finger a few inches into the soil. If it’s dry, then go get your sprinkler or sprayer.
Choose the right pots. You can’t use a tiny pot for your giant ZZ plants and definitely, your succulents don’t have to live in a pot big enough to house a rubber tree. What I mean to say is, consider the size of the plant, the material of the pot, and its drainage capability.
Be aware if your plant is more of a sun or shade lover. Honestly, this is a tricky part for me. I guess the reason why my first few attempts at “mothering” plants didn’t work was that I had no idea which of my plants needed more sunlight or shade. I’m still learning about [the right ] temperature, humidity, and ventilation for different types of plants. I’d say better learn from your plant-lover friends who have been successfully tending to a garden full of healthy plants. And do some research and reading (though I can only count in one hand the times I did this).
Use the right soil. This one is probably the easiest to do especially for those who have no prior experience or knowledge about taking care of houseplants. Why? Because you only need to buy a sack of soil from your local garden store or simply order online. Tell the seller the kind of plant you plan to grow and ask what soil is good for it. Basically, you want the potting soil to have the right balance of nutrition, aeration, and water absorption.
Use fertilizer. And use it properly so that it can supply enough nutrients for your plants to achieve healthy growth. More importantly, know when to decrease the use or pause the regimen. Some plants require fertilizers, some don’t need as much. Or if you’re like some of my friends, they make their own compost and mix it with their garden soil. I’m not yet at that level. Maybe someday.
I’m sure there is more to learn in this area. But you know what they say about “experience being the best teacher.” So, go ahead. Try it. If you fail, begin again, until you can say that “ finally, it’s a job well done.”