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When I was eighteen my succulent committed suicide.

I had spent the day at the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens visiting my favourite plant collections (the arid garden and the tropical glasshouse) and when I returned home my pet succulent had leaped from the window ledge and was scattered across the floor. Some folks had a sneaking suspicion my housemates cat had knocked it down as a revenge attack for the fact that I would not allow it to eat my goldfish (no matter how hard it tried) but I believe my succulent knew I had been off admiring other arid’s and had leap to it’s death to soothe its broken heart. Either way I was a plant killer…. a black thumb… the grim reaper of the photosynthetic world.  This plant killing trend went on for many years. Having a vague passion for plants but no real intentions of researching how to look after them properly meant that every green thing that entered my share houses left looking brown and shrivelled up. Sending everything from cacti, to lettuce, to tulips to a premature grave. Thankfully (I should I say luckily or I would be unemployed) now that I have found myself working as a plant scientist there are a few things I have learnt about plant that keeps them alive. As today is my birthday and my dear friend made me the fab plant hanger above I thought it might be fun to talk greenery for the soul.

 

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Plants make people happier!

Have you ever had a cranky day in your sterile office only to spend your lunch break in a park and return to work feeling a whole lot better about life? The impact of greenery on our health and wellbeing has been well documented in scientific papers. Indoor greenery has been shown to improve psychophysiological stress, task performance, and symptoms of ill health in both quasi-experimental and lab experiments conducted on office workplace environments. While sustainability-wise the push is to grow plants for food purposes, ornamental plants can do your body a service by soothing your soul and increasing your happiness levels. A study on office workplaces has shown that employees with ornamental plants and views to the outside world were significantly happier their employment. In fact, one study on office workers and their potted plants suggested that health and wellbeing can improve in offices with greenery with a decrease in coughing and fatigue, and a decrease in dry throats and facial itching. There have even been studies that have identified and listed plants based on their air cleaning capacity, something that is definitely worth checking out if you want to detox your home or office space! Whether you believe potted plants will make you cough less or think this is all a load of scientific quackery, there is no denying the fact that most spaces look better with a little bit of greenery.

 

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You don’t have to be a green thumb to keep a plant alive.

There is an episode of Sex and the City where Aiden brings a potted plant into Carries apartment and she proclaims to the gals ‘I don’t do plants…I kill everything’! Some of us know that feeling all too well. It can be easy to be turned off greenery because keeping something alive can seem like a daunting experience (that we have all failed at some stage in life) but truthfully anyone can keep a potted plant. They just need to find the right one for them!

 

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Sun Worshiper or Shady Lady?

Before investing in greenery you need to work out where you would like to keep it. It’s easy to fall victim to plant trends, run out and buy a cactus and have it mysteriously die in your dimly lit bedroom a few months later. Plants all have preferences about where they would like to live. Some like it cold, some like it hot. If you have a dimly lit room you can opt for something that likes dimly lit areas, like an areca palm or differnbachia. If you have a bright sunny spot and very little time for plant watering a cactus or succulent might be your thing! Herbs made for great indoor potted pets and things like thyme, rosemary, and basil are all pretty easy to keep alive no matter your level of plant rearing skills.

These following resources should help you find the right kind of plant for your space:

 

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Be a plant whisperer.

If you have a pet potted plant be sure to look at it most days (if you don’t think you will remember to look daily buy a plant specifically for your kitchen and look every time you have a glass of water). Despite the fact plants can’t actually talk to us they will communicate how they are feeling if you pay enough attention. Leaves wilted? It probably needs a drink. Yellowing on leaves? It might need some fertiliser (ask at your local if you don’t know which one to buy for your plant). Whatever plant you decide to invest in remember it’s name. Solving plant growth problems is a Google away! If something looks off with your plant baby tap the details into google and you will likely find a solution to your problems. It really is that easy!

My biggest (lived and learned) tips?

  • Don’t move your plants around unless they look really unhappy. Plants get used to being in one set of conditions, they don’t uproot themselves to go outside in the sun or ‘get some fresh air’. The shock may kill them. If you are worried that they are unhappy keep reading before you are tempted to move your plant to a new location.
  • Feel your cacti and succulents. Cacti and succulents that are adequately watered feel firm and plump. If your cacti of succulent feels a little deflated you need to give it a water.
  • Pot your plants up. As tempting as it is to just leave your plants in the same pot for years on end they can end up cramped and root bound! Plants need space to grow. If your plant looks massive in its current pot, and is showing signs of being nutrient deficient (like yellow leaves) be kind and move it up a size. Think of it as a plant makeover because you get to choose a new pot for it to live in.
  • Check for soil requirements. Think like a plant! If you are a fern you usually live in moist understory environments surrounded by leaf litter. This means you would like to be potted in a more dense moist soil in your pot. Cacti and succulents usually live in dry, sandy, well drained areas so pot your plants accordingly. Confused? Ask someone at the plant nursery to help you choose the right soil requirements for your plant of choice.
  • Take care not to over water your plants. This is a hard one to look out for. Plants that are starting to get a bit damp and rotten in the roots generally look a little sad. Google the identifiers of overwatering for your specific plant if you think you might be guilty of this act of over-loving! The problem can usually be rectified by letting your plant dry out and/or changing the soil with some advice from Google or your local plant nursery staff members.
  • Research, research, research! You would google ‘how to bake a cake’ before baking a cake… why not google ‘how to keep a spider plant’ alive before giving up on gardening for good. There will be at least one plant out there that’s right for you and your level of commitment. Make sure you choose the right one for you and know the basics on how to look after it (which is pretty easy for spider plants).

 

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The ‘Cacti Garden of Contemplation’.

It wasn’t until the last two years that I have really begun to appreciate the joy of caring for a pet plant. In fact my joy has turned into a bit of an obsession and my once potted succulents and cacti have become and entire garden bed’s worth of love and attention. Ged calls it my ‘Cacti Garden of Contemplation’ because most of my down time is spent staring at it, cup of tea in hand. My big plans are to get a rain water tank and expand my edible garden (which currently consists of herbs and lettuces) to a broad range of delicious yummy things. This is a big step for me as a grim reaper of vegetables but many of my black thumb issues in the past have been trying to conserve water. Using vast amounts of town water reserves trying to keep my pathetic crop alive when I could walk down the road and buy locally grown vegetables that are more water efficient than my attempts left me feeling a little at odds with the veggie growing process. However, with a personal water tank the idea of GYO (grow your own) appeals greatly to my inner gardening addict! If you want to get technical about your gardening Lettuce Evolve have a reinvented the urban garden turning your patio into a aquaponics set up for a few hundred dollars. This is the Ferrari of home gardening systems.

Are you a green thumb or the grim reaper?

Let u know your tip, tricks, or misadventures in the world of flora in the comments section below. Thanks to all those folks out there who’s beautiful comments saying that ‘I have inspired them to adopt some houseplants’ encouraged me to write this post!