So you’ve gone and done it. You have responsibly decided to take the plunge and see if you can care for another living thing BEFORE you bring home your first pet, post-living with your parents who would take care of it if you didn’t. I know this is a big step and a lot is at stake — not just your self-respect, but the life of another living being! I can help!
You must remember that a plant is alive and deserving of nourishment. I know a lot of you out there have a hard time remembering this about active non-human things, like golden retrievers and goldfish. You see them as toys or decoration and I condemn you for it. But the house plant, too, should be thought of as a little house mate who can’t get up to get its own drink. Talk to it, keep it company. Read to it. Play music for it. As with anything you pay a lot of attention to, soon, you will KNOW that it is your friend, and that it loves you unconditionally. How rewarding.
I have a proud history of living with house plants. Some have even survived for many years! Others, I have no idea what happened to them. Did I give them away? Did they die and I have blocked their funerals from my memory? Did I raise them so well that they sprouted legs and returned to the wild of their own volition? That’s probably it and that is why I am an expert.
Luckily, most plants more or less need the same things: sunlight, water, and a little pot to call home. After you all stop saying aloud, “gurl, me too,” please continue reading. And be SERIOUS for once!
Standard House Plants
These are the ones you will find most easily. It is a green, leafy kind of creature. Sometimes they have little tree trunks! Aww. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of these guys, so pick one and get to nurturing!
Sunlight Needs: Each of these plants requires energy from the earth’s sun, so put it near a window. If it begins to go all yellow and weird, it means that it is not getting enough sunlight, so find a brighter window. COMPASS ALERT: find a south facing window and put ‘er there, pal! You’ve done good.
If the plant is a worsening yellow with brown tips, it is one of the ones that doesn’t like strong sunlight and wants you to bring it further into the room. You could also put it in a north facing window, maybe, but be aware that most plants chill easily and will react dramatically, dropping leaves and traumatizing everyone.
Water Needs: A good rule of green-thumb is that if the soil resembles the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, you should add a little water. You don’t want the nutrients to blow away in the indoor winds because otherwise nothing will grow and there will be a panic and a depression. When you water a thirsty plant, you will hear little sounds of the water siphoning through the dust. This is plant language for, “praise be! I was mighty thirsty!” It will reward you by growing a little.
WORDS OF CAUTION: You will be tempted to water the plant often, maybe even regularly. Do not. This is worse than being too dry. Too much moisture could cause “root rot” and malaise. Gnats will begin roosting and proliferating, eating the roots of your plant and bringing a very slow and painful death.
Pests: From time to time, you will find gnats as mentioned, aphids, little flies, some kind of spidery things, fungi, scales, house cats — all kinds of things that feast upon the tender parts of your plant friend. Some of these are natural, but in the case of your cats, they could become poisoned and die, so I guess do some research since you can’t explain this simple concept to your feline freeloaders.
You will most likely find pests because your plant is not responding to frequent changes in location or watering. Isolate the plant immediately so that the critters don’t spread to the plant’s siblings, then get to work. You will begin by pruning, and eventually you will find yourself treating each individual leaf with a solution of rubbing alcohol and holy water by way of a cotton swab. Light candles and pray. Make promises to the plant; make threats to the intruders. In no time at all, your plant will have happily survived and you will personally earn some life points. If you need pest treatment or want to avoid this scenario, you can learn more here.
There are other plants that require a different set of things! You can tell a cactus by its lack of leaves and its abundance of spines — no not the kind in our backs! These are more like the ones on a porcupine’s back. They hurt. Cactuses seem like an unfriendly plant, but they are just scared of people. They are ultimately very rewarding, and very importantly: pretty low maintenance.
Sunlight Needs: Cacti always want sunlight, no exceptions. Find that south facing window and broaden its windowsill. Get a cactus party going. A cactus won’t scorch, and if you choose instead to put it on your desk in a windowless room, the only thing it will do is go to sleep and not grow! Perfect.
Water Needs: The cactus is a plant, so yes it needs water — but not much! You can get by with watering it two or three times a year, any more than that and they become too robust, eventually exploding in a shower of cactus water and needles. Beware.
Pests: Nothing bothers the cactus except for dehydrating gold prospectors in the desert. If you see one in your neighborhood, hide your cactus from them. Whether or not you offer them a canteen of water is up to you.
Succulents, Orchids, African Violets, etc
These plants are for the next level of plant carer and I do not recommend them to you. If you reach for these stars too soon, you will only experience hurt as you watch them wither and die at your touch. They will die in more ways than you can count and that’s not fun. In fact, that is a real blow to the ego and you will believe that your thumb is BROWN. It’s not true. You just went too fast, too soon. Pick yourself up and get an immortal Snake Plant and never think about these other plants again.