How to Turn Your Brown Thumb Green

Pardon the pun, but “green thumb versus brown thumb” is something we’d like to nip in the bud. Anyone can master the art of growing a great-looking houseplant or two. Perhaps it’s as simple as thinking about your houseplants less like “plants” and more like pets. 

After all, both plants and pets are living things, both thrive on getting some TLC and attention, and both can create a sense of well-being and a  lot of happiness. Don’t just assume that when you get a plant, it’s just a matter of time before it turns brown and starts dropping leaves. With just a little extra time and attention, you could turn that brown thumb green and make your new home more inviting at the same time. 

Here are a few tips and tricks for greening up your plant-raising skills. 

Start Off Simple 

Just as you shouldn’t choose an exotic or high-maintenance animal for your first pet, you should look for houseplants that are relatively easy to care for and maintain.  Many plants come with basic care instructions on a little plastic tab that’s stuck into the soil. In general, skip the orchids and African violets and choose easy-to-grow varieties such as spider plants, succulents, and cacti. This list from Better Homes and Gardens is a good place to start. 

Check the room conditions. Is the temperature, humidity, and access to sunlight fairly consistent? Ideally, your plants should be near a south-facing window to benefit from the afternoon sunlight. Also, make sure that there’s nothing in or outside the room to stop light from getting in. 

Give Them Space  

Much like a dog needs space to run around and exercise, to stay in top shape, your plants probably need to be re-potted from time to allow their root systems to grow. Choose a pot two- to-four inches larger in diameter than the original. Loosen the plant roots thoroughly and set the plant into the new pot so that its base is at least one inch below the rim. Add more soil all around it and you’re done!  

Give Them Water Regularly 

Avoid the temptation to water all your houseplants on the same set schedule. Different varieties have different needs. If you go that route, chances are you’ll wind up over- or under-watering them. Allow the soil to become slightly dry between waterings — but not to the point where your plants wilt. To test the soil, put your finger into it to up the first knuckle. If it feels wet, wait a day or two. 

Make Sure They’re Properly Nourished 

Just as pets have specific nutritional needs (and foods they should avoid), your houseplants won’t thrive on water alone. Keep in mind that the nutrients available to your houseplants depend upon the amount of soil in the pot and anything else you add in as a supplement.  

Most houseplants will thrive with an all-purpose fertilizer; however, you might also want to check out fertilizers specifically formulated for cacti, ferns, and other plants, as well as organic fertilizers that are more eco-friendly. Liquid fertilizers work especially well since you can feed and water at the same time. If you’re mixing liquid fertilizer from a powder, be sure to follow instructions carefully.  

Grooming is a Good Idea, Too  

Long-haired pets benefit from a trip to the groomer, regular baths, and nail clipping. It’s very much the same for houseplants. Pinching off the occasional dead or dying leaf helps the plant not only look better but also use its nutrients more effectively. Also, plants like philodendrons and English Ivy can start losing their lower leaves and should be pruned back to keep them looking healthy and less scraggly.  

Plants get their oxygen through their leaves, so it’s important to dust them in order to promote photosynthesis. To really get them nice and clean, try putting your houseplants in the shower and gently running cold water over them. Just make sure you’re not also washing away the potting soil. 

Provide for Them When You’re Away 

Like pets, plants still need to be cared for when you go out of town. Most houseplants can go a week or so without water; however, if you plan to be away longer, try asking a friend or neighbor if they will “plant sit.” To avoid confusion about watering, leave instructions. 

Another option is to buy self-watering pots or watering globes, which automatically keeps the soil hydrated. Try a “test run” before your trip to make sure you’re not under- or over-watering your plants. 

Looking for more helpful tips and tricks on everything from planning your move to decorating once you’re there? Be sure to check out our blog

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