1. There are other ways to understand.
My plants can’t speak to me, but they have a language all their own and I’ve had to learn to understand it. I’ve had to study soil composition and learn the meaning and purpose of air roots, nodes, and petiole. I’ve closely observed the cycles of new growth and dying back, of yellowing, spotting, and curling leaves. I’ve had to interpret these signs from a perspective foreign to human reasoning.
What at first appears to be a sign of distress could instead be a sign of thriving, a sign of the next cycle, or simply a lesson in letting go. I’ve learned to listen outside of my experience and assumptions and to simply take in what a thing is trying to say.
2. Make time to check in.
A lot can change from day today. Temperatures, amount of sunlight, humidity, growth, and pests can come on and shift within days or even hours. Make time every morning to poke the soil, move some leaves around, inspect stalks and roots, prune, move, or adjust as needed. Make time in the evening too, if you can. You’ll keep from spiraling, from losing motivation, progress, or focus, you’ll keep life from getting too hard to manage and situations from getting too far gone to recover from.
3. Adapt to the needs of each day.
When I first started collecting different types of plants, I set out to set up a calendar and corresponding spreadsheet to track which plant needed water, when. What happened was a lot of swinging from too dry to too damp. A lot of drooping leaves and rotted roots. The problem was, I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t taking into account the changes in temperature, humidity, and light. I wasn’t considering circumstance and change. For some things, planning and preparation are impossible. Some days have to be reacted to.
4. Giving too much can be as detrimental as giving too little.
I’ve often given too much to my plants. Watering before they were ready, placing them in direct sunlight in an attempt to force growth. Soil that’s too rich followed by fertilization far too often, all because I thought more was better. I thought I was doing what was right, but I was only doing what made me feel good and that isn’t the same as love or care. In our relationships, we have to love as others need us to, not as we want to.
5. Appreciate seasons, surprises, and even setbacks.
Viewed within the confines of a home and from day to day today, the life of a house plant hardly seems to change at all, but if you begin to be mindful of the sun, the temperatures, the soil, of each new leaf and each flower, you can see there are seasons even for the sheltered and the carefully cared for.
There are seasons for dormancy, for slowing, for fertilizing, for repotting, seasons to cut back, to water more, and to water less. There are seasons for everything, and no season can be made into another. Take each as it is and for its purpose, you will see so much more progress this way.
6. Take on only what your environment can support.
There are so many beautiful and exotic plants I would love to own, but the hard truth is I live in the wrong climate zone for most. The air is too dry, and the sun sits too low. Temperatures are too cold for too many months out of the year and inside, I have the wrong size windows and none of the faces in any of the right directions.
The kinds of plants I can properly care for aren’t the kinds of plants you see in those Instagram-worthy photos, but they are what works for me, my lifestyle, and my environment. Accepting this has resulted in less stress for me and less stress on my plants.
7. Propagate, give away, share, spread the love.
For a long time, I hoarded my plants. I refused to separate, to cut, to share them with anyone. I had done the research. I had done the work. These pups and propagations were rightfully mine and mine alone, but soon many of them outgrew their pots, my windowsills, and the limits of time I had to give.
I now consider it a testament to how hard I have worked and how much I have learned that I have so much new growth to give away. Now I enjoy potting my baby plants and finding new homes for them. It feels good to brighten the room and moods of loved ones and perfect strangers alike. It feels good to impart these lessons to as many people as I can reach. And if I choose, and there will still always be more left over to keep for myself.
2 thoughts on “Seven Lessons on Life from My Houseplants”
My rule on indoor plants? Make them outdoor plants.