By Laura Quinn
If my plants were actual humans, they would be last-at-the-school-gate, yoghurt-on-jumper children. I am an incredibly lacklustre plant mother. By some miracle of fate, however, none of them have succumbed to my neglect, which is why I feel that my tale may inspire aspiring horticulturalists, whose fears of accidental plant slaughter have prevented them from developing their green thumbs. I own eight plants in total, the oldest of which (a venerable cactus) will be celebrating its sixth birthday next August. Keeping a plant alive is dependent on three things – light, water and room temperature; but some are more sensitive than others. For a beginner, it is best, to begin with, plants that require very little care before branching out.
Cacti are one of the more popular as house plants. They are low maintenance and drought-resistant. In layman’s terms – you can forget to water them for weeks and they will still be alive. Originating in the desert, cacti love sunlight; so, it is important to keep them somewhere warm and bright. The general rule of thumb is to water cacti once a week but ensure that the soil is completely dry before doing so. Overwatering cacti can cause waterlog, rot and less commonly spinal shedding (those little prickly things are the spines).
Succulents also make excellent starter plants and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours. While the term succulent just means ‘water-storing plant’ (which technically makes cacti succulent), plants commercially branded as such are usually characterized by their thick, tough, and waxy leaves. They require the same levels of care as cacti and the two types complement each other really well when used as décor. Aloe Vera is a great succulent to have around the house due to its medicinal properties, as its leaves contain a gel that can be used to soothe burns and reduce the appearance of acne. If that isn’t enough to sell you on Aloe Vera; Cleopatra used the gel on her face and body in her everyday beauty regime, so if it’s good enough for royalty…
While cacti and succulents are the easiest plants to care for, they don’t quite fulfil the bohemian décor fantasy that plagues everyone’s Pinterest feeds. Frondy plants (palms, ferns, etc.) tend to require more specific care but are the next step in your botanical journey. Whether you are buying your plants in a florist or a hardware shop, it is essential to get the scientific name of the plant so that you can research it. There is a wealth of horticultural knowledge available online, but make sure you trust the site before using its tips and tricks on your new plant. My personal favourites are Woodies.ie and Planterina on Youtube (although it is seldom I remember to implement their advice).
One very useful piece of information that I picked up online is that over-watering your plants has nothing to do with how much water you give the plant but refers to how often you water it. In fact, when watering, leave them under a running tap until the soil is saturated, and then let the excess water drain off before returning them to their positions. Lastly, fertilizing your plants isn’t essential, but it does keep your plants happy and healthy. You can use natural ingredients such as eggshells, coffee grounds and banana peels to do this, but the liquid indoor plant food that they sell in most garden centres is also great for your plant babies.
Sin é! Hopefully, I have imparted some plant care knowledge, or at the very least assuaged the fears of a few future plant parents. The main things to remember are water, light, love – and picking them up on time from school.