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How to Keep Plants Alive

I Keep Accidentally Killing My Plants, So I Asked 3 Experts For Help

I am the queen of going into a plant shop and randomly picking the biggest, brightest plant there is. OK, maybe not the biggest — those are hard to carry on public transportation and can get pretty expensive — but the point is I often do zero homework before purchasing a plant. A small detail could have a huge impact in determining its fate.

Because of this, I have killed more plants than I would like to admit to (I still feel guilty about a succulent I totally forgot about in 2015) and have grown increasingly intimidated by the idea of adopting any new ones into my home. However, after a recent apartment move that gave me more light, more space, and more opportunities to decorate, I found myself thrown back into the world of plants — a world I forgot how much I loved. And apparently I am not the only millennial enamored by everything botanical. Based on a 2016 National Gardening Survey conducted by Harris Poll, in 2016, roughly 6 million new Americans got into gardening — 5 million of them millennials!

Not wanting to make those same plant mistakes twice and determined to take care of my plants as well as Summer Rayne Oakes, I decided to ask some experts about how I can exercise my green thumb to avoid another dreaded plant casualty.

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POPSUGAR spoke to the New York Botanical Garden's conservatory manager, Christian Pimeau; Christopher Satch, head of plant science and education at The Sill; and Erin Marino, brand marketing manager at The Sill, a NYC-based garden center with locations in New York's Chinatown, the Upper West Side, and online.

Adopt a Plant That Will Fit Your Lifestyle and Your Home

When choosing a plant, don't just pick a plant that will fit into your lifestyle; make sure it will also fit into your home. This especially means taking into consideration a few things: Do you have north-facing windows? Do you have high ceilings? Do you live in a basement apartment? Do your windows face a brick wall? (Frustratingly enough, this is typical of many city apartments.)

"Do your research. Identifying your house plants and knowing where and how they grow is key to making them flourish. Mimic what they're used to . . . or try to get close," Christian Pimeau explains. "You don't have to live in a rainforest to grow tropical plants — often you can control humidity levels by misting regularly, placing plants on trays of moist gravel, or displaying plants in aquariums, Wardian cases, terrariums, or other enclosed containers."

Another huge factor is lighting. "Plants see light as it is, while human eyes adjust to the lighting. Whereas we may see a brightly lit room, a plant may see [it] as complete darkness," Christopher Satch adds. "Indoors are essentially caves to the plants, so it is important to put them as close to the mouth of the cave as possible, such as near windows."

So what plants may work well for your living situation? Erin Marino gave us some great advice: if you are in a home that gets great light, sun-loving succulents, such as cacti, may be the ones for you, whereas if you live in a basement apartment more low-level, resilient plants, including the snake plant and the ZZ plant, may work out better. Have tall ceilings and bright light? Try a ficus, such as the fiddle leaf fig. And don't worry — if you have pets, you can still have plants. Just make sure you find ones that are pet-friendly.

"Most varieties of peperomias and ferns are considered completely nontoxic by the ASPCA," notes Marino.

Make Sure Your Plant Pot Grows Along With Your Plant

Out of busyness (and probably laziness — let's be real), I have on more than one occasion left my newly acquired plant in the plastic pot it came in. For forever. If I am feeling a bit more adventurous, I'll sometimes even pop that plastic pot into a ceramic one without ever repotting it, even if it looks like the pot may be becoming too small (I know . . . also bad).

There have also been times when I have gotten pretty overzealous and put a little six-inch aloe in a giant planter, in my mind thinking that if the pot is bigger, it will make it grow faster (hello, wishful thinking). But not paying attention to a plant's pot size or type does more harm than good.

"Don't overpot," advises Pimeau. "A baby won't grow any faster wearing adult pants. Increase pot size gradually over time as the plant grows larger and proves it is happy and healthy where it is and under the care you're providing."

Also, don't be afraid to part with the plastic pots. "They are not supposed to live in those plastic pots," Pimeau warns. "Plants should be removed from those plastic pots and replanted."

Give Your Plants Room to Breathe

If you are like me and find yourself obsessively watering and caring for your plants (as of late, I have become the self-proclaimed helicopter plant parent), then heed this advice: give your plants some room to breathe and a bit of alone time. Contrary to what I used to think, they don't need to be tended to or fussed over 24/7.

"Overcaring is one of the easiest ways to kill a plant," Marino explains. "Plants prefer moderation. Overwatering, excessive pruning, or too much fertilizer can be detrimental to your plant's health. Feel free to check in with it on a daily basis — just keep in mind that every check-in doesn't require an action. Simply saying hello and admiring from afar is totally fine."

And, Most Importantly, Don't Get Discouraged If Something Goes Awry

Killing your plant can be super discouraging, but don't worry if it happens. "Don't overthink it — it is OK to kill plants; it is no big deal!" Satch promises.

Just dust yourself off and try again; there will always be another ficus, fern, or fiddle leaf fig tree in your future.

Image Source: Burst / Sarah Pflug
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