The Most Basic Plant Tips for the Complete Beginner

herb garden

John (my husband) and I volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity build a few years ago and had been put on curb appeal duty. The people in charge gave us a few shrubs to plant along the sidewalk and a shovel- about as basic landscaping as you can get (so I thought). Eager to help, John quickly dug a tiny hole, and before I noticed started burying the shrub- still in the plastic container (Luckily we dug up his buried pot before the house reveal-  nothing like some nice dead plants to say welcome home!). It's moments like this that made me realize that it was time for a lesson about why some thumbs are green and John's wasn't. If you have had successful plants or a garden before, this post may not be for you, but keep reading if you consider yourself clueless in this area!

If you have ever had "easy-to-grow" succulents whose leaves randomly started falling off until all that was left was the stem or plants that had plenty of water and sun, but still withered, I can relate. It wasn’t until this year when I really started to research and to learn from my plant and soil science/horticulture majoring parents that my plants started thriving. Below are some tips for growing succulents and herbs (my two most recommended, easy-to-grow plants) when you don’t have enough room for a real garden, or need to grow your plants inside.

To start, here are some general rules I learned growing up (skip this if you already have a basic foundation in plant growing):

Sage

1. Read: Before you even take home a plant, make sure you read the label in the soil to make sure your growing conditions will fit. These labels always give an overview of the amount of sun and water needed, and the amount of growth to expect.  If you are really worried about being a forgetful plant owner, go for anything branded as “great for dorm rooms.” That usually means it can survive almost anything and will be very hard to kill (aka perfect for a college student...).

2. Re-pot- always buy a pot BIGGER than the one the plant has. Then, unless the label says otherwise, buy moisture control soil (this helps prevent under- and over-watering which can easily happen in pots) and put a little in the bottom of the pot. Then break up the roots a little, put the plant in, cover with soil and give it its first big water (bonus- you can use fertilizer to give it a little boost).

3. Maintain- Plants usually don’t require much, but if you are forgetful like me, just put them somewhere you are bound to see them, so you can make sure they are doing ok. If the plant starts looking too big for its pot, chances are its roots are getting too tight and you may want to upgrade it to a bigger pot size.

Below are my personal favorite easy indoor/ patio plants to grow:

Succulents:

succulent

Succulents are the easiest and most common type of plant to care for. They are basically cacti, but without the spikes, and require very little maintenance.  My personal favorite is aloe (you can actually break off the ends when you need them for natural sunburn relief!), but some other names you may have seen around are Sedum, Crassula, Echeveria, etc. These make for awesome indoor plants because they don’t need too much sun. If you need to switch them to living outdoors in a lot of sun, slowly increase their exposure time every day (think about building up a tan).  To keep your succulent living:

1.Make sure they are going into a bigger pot than the one you bought it in (if its roots are extremely tightly wound and almost feel like a dense chunk at the bottom of the pot, chances are, it’s outgrown its space).

succulent

 

2. Follow this watering cycle-

  • Drench the soil completely with water (I put them all in my sink so I can make sure there is water running out the bottom)
  • Let all the water dry up
  • Wait a week after the soil has dried
  • Re-water

3. When in doubt, water LESS.

If leaves start falling off, and if your succulent is not shriveled, chances are you are over-watering, causing your succulent to drown.

 

Herbs:

Oregano is one of my favorite herbs to cook with.

Oregano is one of my favorite herbs to cook with.

Most herbs need a lot of direct sunlight. If you don’t have this, I wouldn’t suggest buying herbs at all. I always choose herbs I like to cook with, and I think they like that I pick them a lot because it seems to make them grow faster. Here are my tips for growing a potted herb garden:

1. Keep the soil from ever completely drying out.

Basil close up

You will actually start to notice that if you aren’t watering enough, your plant will start wilting. If this happens give it a ton of water and it will perk up in about an hour.

2. Fertilize about once a month.

I had always thought this was just recommended, buy after buying a miracle grow solution, my herbs started looking absolutely perfect!

3. Make sure they have big enough pots to allow growth.

If your herb doesn’t have enough room to grow, its leaves will turn a yellow/green (depending on the type of herb). When re-potting your herb, break up the roots when you re-plant.

I hope this helps a little! Let me know if you have any questions at all!