Why Do I Kill Plants?

I promise it’s not you; you don’t have a black thumb! There are several reasons why it’s not your fault that plants die under your care, but it is your fault for not doing something about it! Here are a few pointers that can help you and the blackest of thumbs feel better about yourself.

Don’t put a plant because you think it’s pretty in low light unless it’s truly a low light plant. I know, your thinking, what is low light? The answer is simple. If it’s not in a window or skylight, it’s probably in low light. Homes are mostly designed with fewer windows to keep the heat of the summer and cold of the winter outdoors. Let’s take a bedroom for example. A bedroom typically provides privacy with not a lot of exposure to light unless it has a sliding glass door to the pool or backyard patio. If it does, it probably also has drapes, shutters or sheers to pull for more privacy. The interior of a home is less likely designed with the idea of providing plants a place to grow unless they’re in a window. With all things being perfect, no overhangs, trees, tinting, etc., a north exposure window may have 400 foot-candles of light throughout the day. An east window may measure over 1,000 foot-candles of a morning but only 200 after the sun moves further above head or south. A south window in the middle of the day will most likely measure over 1,000 foot-candles during its peak of the day and only 200-300 foot-candles once the sun is in the western part of the sky. Lastly, it’s not typically until late afternoon that a west exposure window measures over 1,000 foot-candles of light. That’s in the summertime. What about the winter when the sun is lower in the sky or dreariness, rain or clouds. Then I say, “Pray for the rain or snow to go away.”

I’ve talked about a foot-candle, so what is it? It’s a standard measurement of light intensity used by professionals to determine the viability of a plants survival in a particular setting. If you were to go in a room of total darkness to measure, a foot-candle intensity would be measured by the distance of 1ft from a surface area or wall with the light of a single candle reflecting light, that’s one foot-candle. If you were to have 100 candles lit and placed one foot away from the surface area, you would have 100 foot-candles of light. That being said, anything under 50 foot-candles is considered to be low light. Actually, by my experience alone, anything under 75 foot-candles would be considered low light. In most all homes being built for efficiency, the only place you could measure more than 50 foot-candles of light would be in a window. And I said IN a window! That doesn’t mean beside it or a couple of feet away from it or even in a corner. The further you move from the window, the light is reduced by one half every one foot away from its source. And you say to me, “but I see lots of light.” Visually, our eyes pick up on a bright room or bright light being reflected in a room. That doesn’t mean the plant can feel or absorb the available light at its particular position. You see it, but the plant can’t feel it to produce photosynthesis.

When you’re considering placing a plant in a window, north exposure is the lowest light available, east is adequate for most medium and some high light plants and south and west being the brightest window area for most all houseplants. Now to muddle things up a bit. Depending upon trees that block the light of a window, overhangs, homes built closely next door, curtains, shades, shutters, window tinting films and anything that can block light like clouds, all of these things will reduce natural lighting.

Indoor plants don’t need water weekly unless they’re in a window that receives more than 400 foot-candles of light. Oh…unless you didn’t water it enough the last time you watered it. Just don’t over water. The plant roots will need to breathe not suffocate or drown in wet soil. If you don’t have a means to check the moisture, reach down into the soil with your finger as far as you can go and bring a soil sample up from the depths. Put the soil in-between your finger and thumb and give it a good squeeze.  If you see water or moisture, DON’T water! My best advice, pick a water day. If it’s Saturday, take a soil sample, squeeze it, if it won’t hold together in a ball or see visible signs of moisture, water it. Eventually, after checking every Saturday for a sign of moisture in the soil, you’ll become very comfortable with the amount of water you are using based on the condition of the plant.

Yes, there’s nothing like going to your favorite home store or garden area of a large retailer to purchase your plant at a good price. Not that their plants have bugs, but often we see a large mix of plants that are all grouped together on their tables or displays. This is the perfect setting for one infected plant to infect all the other plants. Unless the store has a regular spray plan, which most of them don’t spray chemicals ever; you’re bound to bring an infected plant home. A true interiorscaper and some garden centers are licensed to spray particular chemicals to kill spider mites, mealy bug, scale, gnats, aphids or thrips in their warehouse or greenhouse. As a licensed interiorscaper, we also apply predator bugs that feed on the larvae or adult of any particular plant pest to eradicate the individuals or colony. This is especially helpful when the plant is in an office or home which helps us avoid any overspray or chemical application not wanted by the client.

So don’t think you have a black thumb. It’s often the consultation on the plant that’s needed by an expert or the location you place in your home. Unfortunately, a retailer can’t follow you home to make sure you set it in the right location for lighting. But, if you start with a problem infested or diseased plant, you’re probably going to place blame on yourself for not having the expertise to keep the plant alive.

Call or come by and look through our inventory to choose the plant that’s right for you. Any homeowner purchase of $100 or more will include a free visit and consultation to make sure you’re pleased with the plant you choose. Our design team will help you create a simple but elegant display for your home, office, or lobby.