Five Surprising Things My Plants Taught Me (Even When They Die)

When I used to work as a school counselor, I had what I thought was a great idea. I would give each of my students a baby plant to represent who they are now and taking care of the plant would represent how they are nurturing their emotional growth. I imagined that as they cared for their plant and it began to grow that they too would feel like they were growing and becoming more capable.

When I shared my idea with my supervisor, she pointed out that if the plant died the student might feel like a failure and it would be counterproductive to therapy. Needless to say I put the kibosh on my idea but after years of being a plant parent, I’ve come to realize that there are powerful lessons to be learned from both having your plants thrive and having them die. 

  • Patience is Not a Virtue, It’s a Muscle

Today’s world is a fast paced world where people want to know more, do more, and be more in a short amount of time. We are losing our capacity for patience and our ability to experience delayed gratification. Plants invite us to slow down, because their growth is rarely immediate. They operate on their own time frame, not ours. They invite us to be present by forcing us to be aware of what they need. Unlike dogs, plants typically can’t communicate their needs in a way we can understand until it’s too late. You might feel like you are putting in a lot of effort without seeing results, but eventually you will be rewarded with a new bloom, a new leaf, or new fruit. 

  • Things Don’t Always Work Out the Way You Want Them To

You watered. You waited. You remained hopeful. The plant died anyway. This happens in life a lot too. Whether it’s a relationship, a child, a job, etc. sometimes we put in a lot of time and energy only to be disappointed by the outcome. Sometimes it’s not our fault, things weren’t going to work out no matter what we did. Other times there might be something to learn from the experience. In the case of plants, maybe you watered too much, maybe your plant needed fertilizer, or just didn’t like its placement. While you can easily get a new plant and try again, it’s not always so simple with life situations. You might not be able to easily get a new relationship, job, child (fill in the blank), but when you do encounter a similar situation you will be better prepared for it. 

  • Always Ask For Help

Everybody’s got to start somewhere. If you’ve never taken care of plants before, there are a lot of things you just won’t know. The first time I killed a plant (I’ve killed many) it wasn’t even mine. It was my boss’s. At the end of every workday I would pour the leftover water from my cup into the pothos plant next to my desk. I thought I was doing something good by not wasting water, but instead I murdered the plant. It turns out I  over-watered it which caused the roots to rot. I wouldn’t have learned that had my boss not pointed it out, and the look of disappointment on her face would ensure that I never forget it. That was the incident that opened my awareness to the joy of having plants. My boss had a wealth of knowledge when it came to plants, and she was happy to share if it meant I didn’t kill any more of her plants. Even though you can find the answer to just about anything on the internet, you should always reach out to the people you know for help. Most people are more than happy to share their advice and opinions. And who doesn’t want to be the smart one in the room? It’s also a great way to connect with others. By the way, the best plant tip I could ever give you is that underwatering is better than overwatering. 

  • Community Matters

It never occurred to me that plants are social. I bought a beautiful Marantha (Prayer Plant) and it was doing well. It even had some rare flower blooms. I repotted it in the hopes that it would grow larger, but instead it started slowly dying. By the time it had one stem left I was convinced it would die. So I bought another one as a backup. I had to put them all in the same spot due to lack of sunlight in my home. Within a couple of months, the dying plant started growing new leaves! I was surprised when I saw how much they were thriving as a community. But why? Researchers have found that plants do communicate with one another through their roots and fungal networks. They emit chemical signals to warn other plants of danger, ward off predators, and attract pollinating insects. In some cases when certain plants are placed together they can form their own little biome. 

  • Trust the Process

As I mentioned before I’ve killed a lot of plants. As a seasoned plant parent I now make it a point not to trash a plant until it’s completely dry or rotted. I don’t have the heart to dispose of it until I know it’s really dead. I’ve also had several plants that appeared to be on their last leg when suddenly they sprouted a new leaf. Turns out, there were good things happening under the soil that I just couldn’t see. Much like everything else in life, you don’t always know what’s happening underneath the surface. If you stay the course and make informed choices, eventually you will get back what you put in. The great thing about a plant almost dying and then rebounding is that your plant has now become more resilient.

On the other hand it’s also important to know when to let go. Once rot sets in, for example, there’s really nothing you can do. It’s hard to accept that you’ve killed a plant but it happens to the best of us. Oftentimes it’s not even the owner’s fault. Sometimes the plant just doesn’t adjust well to the conditions of the new home after being brought home from a store. 

There’s no such thing as a “green thumb.” Anybody can be a plant parent.  It’s an experience of trial and error. You will absolutely kill a few plants no matter what expertise level you are at, but you will also have plants that will give you baby plants. You will learn the subtle form of communication plants have and your home will always be filled with beauty. 

Prayer Plant

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