Do you love potted plants but feel like every time you try to bring some indoors, they die? Worse still do you then think you have a “black thumb” and just can’t grow plants? The idea that some people have a natural green thumb and others, a black one, is a long held one. I myself do use this term, and lots of people tell me I have a natural “green thumb”. While I do think there are natural talents we all have, I am not sure this is one of them. Just like cooking or painting, I believe we can all grow a plant. The issue with having indoor plants, is well, the fact that NO plant is actually an indoor plant.
All plants evolved as outdoor creatures. They are supposed to function in a complex ecosystem, and thrive in the regions where they are naturally found. This is why it is often recommended to look at what grows locally in your area before choosing plants for your garden. And why we have zones for growing our fruit, vegetables and other plants. However, many plants CAN and do thrive indoors, in the right conditions, and the growing tribe of people sharing their beautiful plants across social media, (me included!), proves it – or does it? The reality is that ALL of us lose some plants, there is always the ones that get away, or the ones you kill with love, or neglect, or just because.
I have always loved plants and back in the 80’s and 90’s had plants in my home. Over time, with kids and cats, I just stopped having plants indoors, and then sort of forgot about the idea. In the last 5 years or so, I started to consider how important plants are to your wellbeing and air quality, as well as the way they make you feel and look having them in the house with you. And so I started to bring plants back indoors, a few at first, and gradually, more and more! My watering and care regime is pretty good and the plants were thriving.
A few months ago I decided to repot a few plants. I used some new potting mix, and some that was already open and had been lying in the potting shed. This meant one of the plants was now in a pot big enough to sit on the floor, so I bought a gorgeous ceramic plant plate to go underneath to protect the rug. I got on with my life. After a while I noticed some little flying insects which I later identified as fungus gnats. They are reasonably harmless, although they can cause issues with some plants in enough numbers. They are often the result of using old potting mix (yep) or over-watering and leaving plants sitting in water. At first there were just a few, but when we went away for our little break after Christmas, I watered the plants and they were left with some water under their trays. When I returned, due to the heat, I gave them another big water. I noticed that the gnats were growing in numbers, and when I examined the situation, that they had taken over about 4 plants, with a couple having small numbers….I also noticed that there was way too much water in the saucers under my 2 big plants, especially the one on the floor.
I took them all outside and then realised that the plant on the floor had been leaking the excess water onto my beautiful rug, leaving a nasty smell of wet musty potting mix….and so began the isolation ward of our plant area, and the eventual sacrifice of my Monstera and Philodendron. These were the 2 plants that had some of the old potting mix in them, and there were so many gnats I decided to just start again. There are a range of natural ways to get rid of them, and I did try this, including removing the top layers of soil where the larvae are laid, letting the topsoil dry out, and leaving a saucer of apple cider vinegar and dish washing liquid as a trap, but there were just too many. And I have too many other plants to take the risk of them getting the gnats! I must say I got a little paranoid! If you have them, there are some great tips here on how to get rid of fungus gnats.
I managed to save the other plants with some time outside drying out in the isolation ward, followed by a repotting. They were allowed back onto the deck when I did not notice any flying gnats. However they have not made it back in the house, or onto the main plant area of the deck yet! I also managed to save that area of the rug – which I was really worried I would not be able to do. I first sprayed some natural disinfectant on the area and scrubbed. I then threw a HEAP of bicarb soda on the patch and rubbed it into the area. Then I vacummed this up, sprinkled a pile more, and left this overnight. The next day I vacummed it up again, and then left a fan running across the patch for the entire day, to let it dry. Luckily it has not damaged the floor underneath and the rug is fine.
Keys to not having a black thumb include:
- not over watering plants and not leaving them sitting in water – taking them out where you can let them freely drain is best
- not under watering plants either – find out what your plant likes and stick to that
- not using old or opened potting mix
- not exposing plants to too much artificial heating or cooling
- not leaving them in the dark
- not leaving them too close to a window in the biting heat of high summer here in Australia
- giving them a break outside from time to time – however don’t take a plant that has been sheltered indoors, out into the full sun. Find a nice more shaded area to let them soak up the outdoors without shock
- consider repotting when plants are outgrowing their pots, but check if they like to be cramped or not – some do prefer this, others will grow best when they have space
- feed them on the recommended cycles, with the right strength of food – you can burn or kill a potted plant with too much fertiliser
For me, this experience has changed the way I am doing indoor plants now. I am no longer placing plants on any rugs. I have less plants indoors than before. I am now taking all indoor plants onto the deck on watering day, and watering them together with the deck plants – and then taking back inside when they have fully drained. It is more work, but worth it. I will also never again use old potting mix! Or leave plants sitting with wet feet.
So do you have a black thumb? I think it is more that plants indoors are not all glam and Instagram pictures. They die, they spoil your floors, they can get wilted and brown, they are hard work to look after when you move them all the time to water, and they can be costly. However, the joy of having them in your home, and your life, far outweighs any of these things. So what do you think? Do you have a black thumb? Have you had the dreaded fungus gnat? Or could a few changes in the way you approach plants, make all the difference?