Sunday, August 7, 2011

Overcoming a Black Thumb

"Watering Can" by Kellie Schneider

I kill plants. I don't mean to, I just do. I can keep myself, two dogs, a cat, and a boyfriend alive without any fuss, but the moment a poor, unsuspecting plant comes into my care, it always dies or somehow manages to live, but always on the brink of death. I have yet to pot a plant that absolutely thrives. God forbid a plant actually get bigger under my neglectful watchful eye.

The problem is, though, I can't seem to stop buying or adopting them. ::gasp:: I'm a plant hoarder! And not the cute-old-man-with-thousands-of healthy-rats-but-things-just-got-out-of-hand kind of hoarder—the fat-old-woman-in-denial-with-the-dying-cats-in-her-garage kind of hoarder! Do I have a problem? Should I seek help?

OK, it isn't that bad. I don't have that many plants, and the ones I do have are in little itty bitty tiny pots and stuff. I tend to get plants that are typically "easy, beginner's plants" so that I can do the minimum amount of work. However, when I look up each one on the internet—after the part about how easy they are—there are lists of dos and don'ts that definitely aren't low-maintenance instructions: "No direct sunlight, but keep in bright light, except sometimes if it's this temperature or that humidity"; "make sure it stays wet, but not too wet"; "let soil dry fully before watering"; "fertilize this time of year!"; "re-pot that time of year!" ... I can't keep up. It's as though all my plants have year-round PMS.

In an effort to remedy my tendency for black-thumbing it through my plant care, I've decided that maybe the best way to help my plants is to treat them more like pets. Pets with quirks. And names! Maybe that's the key to keeping things alive; if Ennis or Peekay or Jon died slowly of starvation or heat stroke, people would get suspicious. They would ask questions. I would be held accountable! But an undocumented plant? Not so much.

So, without further ado, I introduce to you... my plants!

Given name: Orville
Street name: Bird's Nest Fern
Science-y name: Asplenium nidus
Acquired from: IKEA (Renton, WA)
Personality: Likes bright but filtered light. Never likes being fully dry, so keep soil damp at all times; prefers high humidity—great for keeping in the bathroom.

Given name: Farnsworth
Street name: Southern Maidenhair Fern / Venus' Hair Fern
Science-y name: Adiantum capillus-veneris
Acquired from: City People's (Seattle, WA)
Personality: Similar to Orville—needs to be kept in the shade with damp (but not soaking wet) soil at all times. Thrives in cool to average temperatures with high humidity.

Given name: Charlotte
Street name: Spider Plant
Science-y name: Chlorophytum comosum
Acquired from: IKEA (Renton, WA)
Personality: Ideal for beginners, she will likely overcome any neglect. No light or temperature requirements so long as she isn't left outside in freezing temperatures, but prefers bright locations with minimal direct sunlight. Should be fertilized every 3-4 months. Do not over-water.

Given name: Diana
Street name: Kalanchoe
Science-y name: Kalanchoe blossfeldiana
Acquired from: Gift
Personality: Part of the succulent family, but relatively high maintenance, she typically blooms when temperatures and conditions mirror winter months—this means direct sunlight but for only a few hours at a time; keep in average temperatures. While blooms exist, fertilize with a water soluble fertilizer; trim blooms as they start to wither to allow for more growth. Water only when soil is dry. When there are no blooms, give her less light and less water; when blooms appear, return to sunlight.

Given name: Oliver
Street name: Red Echeveria
Science-y name: Echeveria pulvinata X harmsii
Acquired from: Farmer's market (Arcata, CA)
Personality: Another succulent with similar needs to Diana—prefers direct sunlight for only part of the day; ensure that water drains thoroughly and check soil regularly to make sure it isn't too dry or too wet.

Given name: Columba
Street name: Rosary Vines / String of Hearts
Science-y name: Ceropegia woodii
Acquired from: Gift
Personality: Extremely tolerant to neglect; can withstand long periods without watering, and even after withering will bounce back quickly once watered. Let the soil dry out completely before watering again, and do not let stand in water. Prefers direct sunlight and temperatures of 70º-75ºF during spring and summer months. Easily propagated by planting clippings in a new pot with fresh succulent-friendly soil.

And that's them—my little plant babies! What do you think? I took Farnsworth and Oliver to City People's to be planted last week, so they are all fresh-faced and ready for life. My apartment gets virtually no sunlight these days, so I have to move my succulents around more often than I'd like. And because Fry loves chewing on any plants within his reach, our options for where to keep these are quite minimal. Farnsworth, Orville and Charlotte are all in the hallway to keep them away from kitty-plant war zone.

A tip I read about: for plants that need high humidity, if you don't live somewhere with high humidity naturally (or you can't keep them in the bathroom), keeping a shallow bowl of water next to the plants will facilitate this environment fairly well as the water evaporates. So that's what I'm trying!

I'll keep people updated on their lives, more so to keep myself accountable to their care than anything else. Does anything know anything about these particular plants? Are you blessed with a green thumb, or do you struggle to overcome the curse of the black thumb like me?

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