Intent on bringing the outside world into your home during the pandemic’s darkest days, you purchased a plant. At first, it was a perky bright spot in your kitchen. Soon, though, droopiness set in. You tried everything as its leaves yellowed and shriveled, but eventually you apologized to your desiccated sprout, dropped it in the compost bin, and labeled yourself the Plant Killer. Well, we want you to try again—once you’ve eradicated three common newbie behaviors that likely cut your plant’s life short.
Too Much Water
Many novices, terrified of neglecting their new additions, overcorrect and become helicopter horticulturists, showering them with affection in the form of daily H2O. “We’re taught that plants need water,” says Maurice Ka of Rosehouse Botanicals on Broadway. “It becomes our love language.” But plants crave oxygen, too, and overly dampened, dense soil prevents the molecules from reaching the roots, leading to decay. Nursery staffers usually tell you how often to sprinkle each variety. Or just stick your finger into the soil: If the first inch or so of dirt is dry, your flora is likely ready for a hearty drink.
The Wrong Resources
Plant parenthood is like actual parenthood in one crucial way—seeking advice online can be risky unless you can sort good ideas from terrible ones. “You almost never know if the person who wrote that ‘helpful’ internet article is dealing with the same conditions,” says Victor Sosa-Meza, owner of the Plant Room in Jefferson Park. Instead, hit up experts in the region. “We can ask questions to figure out your exact situation,” Sosa-Meza says. Most local nursery owners are happy to help, even if they didn’t sell you the flora themselves.
In Direct Sunlight
Photosynthesis lessons in elementary school were clear: Plants need as much sunshine as possible to create vital nutrients. Unfortunately, the takeaways from those classes might be a bit too simplistic for plant guardianship. “Having direct light is pretty detrimental,” says Neicy Geis, owner of Tigerlily Goods in the West Highland neighborhood. “The rays are too much and can burn the leaves.” Most verdure prefers bright, indirect light—see “Here Comes The Sun”—and for those of you dwelling in shaded garden-level apartments, there are plenty of varieties that can handle medium light.
Talk Like A Horticulturist:
Use our vegetal vocab cheat sheet to brush up on houseplant lingo.
Air Plants: Magically low- maintenance plants that don’t need soil to grow.
Cacti: Spiky plants well-adapted to drought and house cats.
Edibles: Houseplants that can be eaten, including fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Leaf Node: A small swelling on the stem where new growth emerges, a signal that your plant is happy.
Neem Oil: A naturally occurring pesticide harvested from neem tree seeds.
Perlite: Expanded volcanic rock you can mix into potting soil to encourage drainage.
Root-Bound: When a plant’s root system has become too big for its container.
Root Rot: When roots decay, usually due to pests, fungi, or overwatering.
Stem Cutting: A healthy stem, cut from a plant, that’s used to begin growing a new plant.
Succulents: Plants with thick tissue adapted to store water—so they need much less H₂O than you’d think.
Tropicals: Plants native to tropical areas that are dramatic in look and, at times, care requirements.