How to Keep Plants Alive, Dammit

Updated: Mar 12, 2019


I am a serial plant killer. There I said it. I have dozens of victims and I often keep their remains in my house for months after they’ve died with the twisted idea that maybe they will come back from the dead. After, oh I don’t know, maybe my 15th victim fell to my ineptitude, I decided to get some help.

Like most strong, independent, self assured women, I ran straight to my mother and begged her for advice. She explained to me that not all plants are created equal. Some indoor plants have reputations for being relatively easy to maintain, while others are just waiting for the slightest abnormality to shrivel up and die. I had been setting myself up for failure and I didn’t even know it. She rattled off that names of a few plants that she knew were reliable go-tos for an incompetent plant owner such as myself.

First, she recommended Diffenbachia, a tropical plant known for its tolerance of shade. According to Wikipedia, this plant prefers indoor temperatures between 62° and 82°. The next plant she suggested was variegated ivy. This plant needs to be in indirect sunlight, doing best on a windowsill behind a sheer curtain. The most valuable advice she gave me was to set consistent day each week to water all of your plants. She said Sunday worked best for her, since she was usually around the house anyway. And because I am a total copy cat, I chose Sunday for my watering day as well.

I also reached out to the resident plant expert in my family, Chrissy Heaney. I asked for her suggestions on what plants are best suited for indoor growth and if she had any words of wisdom for keeping them alive. She schooled me over Facebook Messenger: “It is easier than ever to grow plants indoors, because the new florescent bulbs, that can go in almost any lamp, are fine for growing lower light plants inside.” She also reiterated my mom’s wisdom, “Don’t over water! Soak the plant well when you get it home and get used to how heavy it feels when it is wet. When it starts to feel much lighter, it may be time to water it again. Most plants indoors, with temperatures around 75 F don’t need water more than once a week, IF you water it well.” Thanks Chrissy!

My new plant experiment started with a Diffenbachia, variegated ivy, 3 succulents, and 2 orchids. I did as my mother said, making sure to place the Diffenbachia and the orchids in sunny sections of my house, and allowing the variegated ivy to sit farther within the room. When I started to notice my succulents drooping, I moved them to be in sunny sections as well. I watered every Sunday, making sure to give the Diffenbachia and the variegated ivy healthy doses while being more sparring with my orchids and succulents.

Unfortunately, I had an early casualty. One of my succulents just couldn’t take the beating it got from being on my cat’s favorite windowsill. Did I throw it out? Hell no. It’s still in my room for the off chance that it might spontaneously sprout again. I’M AN OPTIMIST, OKAY?

As for the other plants, we have a mutual understanding. I water them religiously once a week and keep an eye on how they are looking. If my ivy is looking a little saggy and fatigued, I give it a little splash of water mid week. If my orchid begins to wilt, I rotate those petals closer to the sun. And when one of my two orchids decided to be a real bitch and die out of nowhere, I tried not to take it personally (those things are really high maintenance). And did I fry a mum within 24 hours of owning it? You bet your green thumb I did.

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