A Minimalist Moment: Houseplant Hoarding

This year I’m offering minimalist spotlights every month on Suburban Satsangs, little steps toward a simple life. After many years of reading organization books, watching cleaning shows and performing countless pre-move purges, I’ve discovered tips that work for me — and that may work for you.

I love plants and gardening, grew up in a family nursery and have a self-taught horticultural background. I have also dragged many pots full of hapless greenery around the country with me in my numerous moves before I learned to let go. I’ve been given countless clippings and sick plants because I have a “green thumb” before I had the courage to just say no. Geez, this sounds like I’m a recovering plant addict.

Maybe I am.

So when I walk into a house full of half-dead tropicals, leggy annuals or spindly vines (philodendron, I’m talking about YOU), I can physically feel their pain and almost hear their little pleas for release at the compost heap. I know you mean well, folks, but take pity on those poor pot-bound organisms and end their misery.

Here’s the check list so that you don’t become known as the crazy plant person:

  1. How long have you had it? If the specimen in question was THIS YEAR’S holiday gift (other than a poinsettia*) chances are it’s still in good shape. If it looks close to the same as the day you got it, then fine. Some plants, the jades and other succulents for example, can get better with age. If the plant is full and majestic in all its ancient glory, then it’s likely very happy where it lives. If, on the other hand, it’s nothing but stalk with a few brown leaves at the very top, it needs the old heave-ho.
  2. Can you take a cutting and start over? I’ve done this many a time with african violets, begonias, geraniums and snake plants who have seen better days. The spider plants practically give you little starters, and there are many plants which can be divided when they become overgrown. Fresh soil and a new pot can do wonders for a plant’s self-esteem.
  3. Is it getting enough light? If you have an inhabitant reaching for the sky, or traveling across the living room to get to a window, then my guess is it needs more sun. There are grow lights and window shelves you can purchase, but let’s face it, there’s probably still not enough light or room for everybody.
  4. Examine the soil surface: is it green, moldy or growing questionable fungi? My mother-in-law battled allergies for years before discovering that the treasured ficus tree given to her by the family was harboring mold that irritated her throat every evening. You can buy a new container and repot the plant with fresh soil, but often the mold will return.

I know you mean well, all you plant lovers out there who can’t say goodbye to your anemic, molting wards. I’ve been there. And I’ve witnessed it: I once helped move a dear friend who was so attached to her mummified brood, that she insisted we stuff dead plants (still embedded in fossilized dirt and cracked clay pots) into her already-packed-to-the-roof U-Haul trailer.

And I’m not a feng shui expert, but it can’t be good “chi” to harbor a broken-down Aspidistra in your money corner. The time has come to bury the past (preferably in a compost pile) and turn over a new leaf (sorry, I couldn’t help it).

*Note: This is one of my biggest plant peeves. I know that you want to keep those poinsettia plants and bring them back to their original holiday splendor again next year. It’s a noble idea, really. I’ve tried it myself. But they will never, I repeat, NEVER look like they did when you bought them. Plant them outside for the summer, enjoy the foliage, let them die an honorable death when the frost comes. The time and effort you spend hiding them in the closet is not worth it. Come next Christmas–BUY A NEW ONE. KEEP THE NURSERIES IN BUSINESS.

Want more? Check out my other Minimalist Moments:

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