Photo illustration by Sebastian Longhitano
Mar 4, 2021
Meet the millennial with plants for parents
Having houseplant problems? Submit your questions to us as part of a new series on caring for your domestic vegetation
I’ve heard it said that millennials collect plants because they can’t afford to have children. I call bull.
I have almost 50 varieties in my too-small-for-50-viarieties Fort Greene apartment. My plants are definitely just my plants. If anything, my plants are my parents. And not in some new-agey, woo-woo, “My plants teach and guide me” kind of way. But in a way that I am willing to go to great lengths to get some positive feedback from them. It’s the same approval-seeking aspect that drew me to working in the theater. The audience is my parents. My plants are my parents. My therapist calls it “pathological accommodation;” others might call it “people-pleasing.”
“Plant-pleasing” in a Brooklyn pied-à-terre during the winter is a challenge. Lack of light and a surplus of radiators make positive feedback hard to come by these days. The validation I get when I see a struggling plant take a turn for the better, or see some new growth, is the reason why I love plants so much. In many ways my obsession has grown over the past 10 months because, frankly, most days it feels like the only validation I can get.
If you have questions about the care and feeding of your own houseplants drop us a line here. We’ll publish a few of answers at some point in the future.
My monstera plant sprouted some new leaves the other day and I was so thrilled I was telling strangers on the street about it. The new growth came after I did some research into my monstera’s aerial roots: The plant had started to have roots that grew around the pot above the soil level. Was this normal? Turns out that in its natural habitat, the monstera is a climbing plant meaning that it will use its aerial roots in the wild to cling to trees and sometimes travel in an effort to get more access to light and water. I was curious if my plant would be damaged if I trimmed the roots. It wouldn’t! I trimmed the roots and the plant suddenly had more energy to produce some new leaves! SUCCESS!
I’ve also begun listening to the BBC podcast, “Gardener’s Question Time.” It’s a weekly podcast with a rotating panel of experts fielding questions about gardening and plants.This podcast is like a warm bath. Even if you don’t have a garden or if the latin names of plants sound to you like the muffled trumpeting of Charlie Brown’s teacher, this podcast is filled with helpful information that can get you on the right track with your houseplants.
For instance, I learned the other day that the holes (fenestration—great word!) in the leaves of the monstera deliciosa mimic the dappled light from the forest floor where they grow. The holes in the leaves also function in getting light and water to the base of the plant. I remembered that the word “fenestration” meant window because, in college, “defenestration” or throwing something out of a window was a big no-no. I have long loved the word “fenestration.”
Help me help you
I’ve had many friends reach out during this time for help with their ailing plants. I’ve had pictures sent to me of plants on the brink and have even done some FaceTime consultations for extreme cases. I have a friend in South Slope who needed to pack her plant tighter in the pot. This is a common problem, I find: plants sitting loosely in a pot. You want to pack the soil around the plant tighter than you think is necessary. You want the tension in the soil to be the same as the tension you feel in the ground if you were to see this plant in nature. Pack ‘em tight! And I had a friend in Scotland who needed to move her tropical plant away from a drafty fireplace and get it on a weekly shower regimen to recreate the conditions it would enjoy in the wild.
Being a successful plant offspring can be broken down into three categories: light, soil and drainage. The Serbian guy I buy plants from says that we have to keep all plants in the window at all times and away from radiators in the winter. Someone coming over? (As if anyone is having people over these days?) Place the plant wherever you want in the apartment so people can admire it. The second they leave, back to the window! He also warns against having friends who are coming over only to admire your plants. “Get better friends!” he scolds. In short, all plants should live on the windowsill. Even if you love the look of them on your bookshelf in the dark corner of your apartment, move them to the windowsill.
Soil and drainage are somewhat one in the same. Want more success with your cactus? Make sure you place it in proper cactus soil so that the plant can dry out entirely between waterings. In the winter, I barely water my cacti at all! All plants also need to drain to prevent over-watering. I have a touch of OCD so all of my plants are in terra cotta pots. If you have a pot that you love that doesn’t have a drainage hole, there are ways around it like lining the bottom of the pot with charcoal and gravel to prevent root rot and over-watering. I like pots with drainage because it just makes my job easier and that positive plant feedback easier to come by.
Click here for a few of my favorite plant shops in the borough and check back soon for more chronicles of The Fort Greene Thumb
Meanwhile, let me be your Plant Dear Abby! If you’ve got questions about your plant friends or are having difficulty getting the validation you crave from your plant parents, drop me a line here and I’ll periodically answer a few of your more compelling queries. Just leaf me a note and I’ll do my best to get to the root of your problem: firstname.lastname@example.org
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