Cure Your Black Thumb

“Oh you can’t possibly kill this plant!” they say with glee. You smile and take the gift. Deep down, you feel as though they have completely over-estimated you. This plant is now on death row. You have the Black Thumb.

The black thumb strikes againPerhaps that is a bit dramatic. The fact remains: You kill plants. Now, the real issue comes down to: Why?

The dreaded Black Thumb is commonly known as the condition where you kill any plants entrusted in your care. I researched this extensively and have found 2 common causes:

  • Trusting your friends when they say “Oh, you can’t possibly kill this plant”
  • You provide the wrong kind of care

Let’s dig in and learn how to turn that black thumb into something… slightly greener?

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“You can’t kill this plant” or “Here’s some terrible advice on how to care for this plant”

Your tiny cactus, succulent, or spider plant weeps at these words.

All plants, when removed from nature require care to continue not being a dead plant on your shelf. These care instructions are often given as “Water them every 2 weeks”. While these are not terrible instructions on the surface, they lack three very important bits of information:

  • Every 2 weeks = Every 2 months
  • Soil eventually runs out of nutrients
  • You can’t tell plant health is declining until they are damn near dead

So, even if you did faithfully follow these instructions, you would still eventually wind up as a crispy bit of pre-compost just due running out of nutrients in the soil and them not showing you any signs.

“Oh, the leaves are drooping. This plant looks thirsty”

Droopy leaves in damp soil almost always indicate that you are over-watering your plant. You see, the roots need air and water doesn’t really have that much. Prolonged contact with water will eventually drown your plants.

Similarly, your leaves start turning odd colors and the plant is unhappy so you add more fertilizer. Is that the best course of action?

Curing the black thumb

OK, so let’s teach you to take care of plants. The best way I’ve found is to grow a plant. Not one of those “almost no effort” ones, but something that responds and is visibly affected by the surroundings. Something you can use to make good food. We’re going to use Basil.

Basil is an easy herb to grow, but needs lots of watering, and can grow very quickly. Once you get a few growth spurts out of it, it needs nutrients. Also, you can procure it at most super markets in the vegetable section, which makes this low-effort to acquire year-round.

Acquire your starter plants and supplies

Grocery Store Basil Plant ImageFirst, you’re going to go to the store and get a starter plant. Grocery stores have basil, and most garden stores do if it’s during the grow season. Gardening centers almost always have better stock due to the plants getting water and light. The grocery store ones are…. neglected…

… but that’s OK. You’re going to bring it back to health. You know, as long as the leaves are still somewhat green.

Next, you need a few other things:

You can grab those on-line or at your local hardware store.

Potting mix, Pot, Drip tray, water, and plantMove it to enough soil so it won’t die

Note the instructions it’s likely to have:

Care instructions: Romve plant from plastic sleeve. Place in sunny location. Water as needed. Do not refrigerate.

These instructions are optimistic at best. The several plants that are housed within that tiny bit of soil will use all the nutrients very quickly and the plant begins its death spiral.

To combat this, we will transplant it to a larger pot with fresh potting mix. Simply:

  • Put the pot in the drain tray
  • Fill the new pot about half way with potting mix and lightly moisten with water
  • Remove the plant from its tiny confines and massage the root ball to loosen the dirt. Do this over the new pot so you don’t spill soil all over the place
  • Place the plant in the pot
  • Fill the pot with potting mix, hopefully to near or over the level of the plant’s included soil
  • water until a little comes out the bottom
  • Put the plant in some light. Window, sun room, doesn’t matter, as long as it has some light. You can also rig a plant light on it if you’re going to keep it away from a window
  • Put a container next to the plant with water so you don’t have an excuse to not do it

Care for your new plant

From here on in, you have 3 jobs: water it, feed it, and harvest it.

Water it

Water about every 4-7 days or more often if the top is very dry. Only water until a little comes out the bottom. If you pour in just a tiny bit and you immediately get water out the bottom, back off for more days between waterings next time.

Feed it

Inexpensive grow nutrients and easy to use!

After a few months, your plant will start to turn yellow. This is because it has used all the nutrients in the potting mix. This is not a big deal. We’re going to use some fertilizer to combat this. While, Miracle Grow is the one you’ll find the most at your gardening center, or some organic blends, both of these are not ideal for our purposes of getting you used to plant care.

Miracle grow is made for house plants that you won’t eat, and just isn’t a complete nutrient. Organic nutrients require months to break down and become usable to the plant. On your next plant, you’ll know a bit more about when you need to fertilize and can plan ahead, but for now let’s stick with non-organic fertilizers.

The best option is a diluted, hydroponic nutrient. One-part solutions with low acidity are the easiest to use and also fairly inexpensive. We recommend CNS-17 from Botanicare since it’s cheap, easy to use (as in it doesn’t require major pH adjustments or accurate measuring), and will grow most plants. Simply shake really well and add 2-2.5 tsp per gallon. Water with that once a week, and use plain water for any additional waterings.

Harvest and enjoy

Finally, as your plant grows, you need to continually harvest leaves. If you don’t, your plant will make beautiful flowers… and the leaves will taste like bitterness. To avoid this natural inclination for your plant to reproduce, keep trimming it.

Don’t pick leaves. This doesn’t reset the clock on the plant going to flower. You should cut the main stems between nodes and pick the leaves off that part. Not only does this prevent flowering, but it also causes the plant to branch and make 2 new sets of leaves. If you have no use for these leaves at the time, you can hang them to dry and use later, or poach in light olive oil to make a flavored oil that you can use on pizza and many other things.

In conclusion

Hopefully, this is enough to get you started on how to green-up that black thumb. Once you master this skill, it’s time to move on to more plants. Cilantro would be my next suggestion. It’s delicious and you can only buy metric butt-loads at the store which will turn to black goo if left out, but remain healthy and delicious if you harvest fresh. Our Herb Garden article goes into some detail on doing this.

I hope this helped you and if you have any comments, suggestions, or want to ask any questions, please comment below, or contact us. Thanks for visiting!

6 years ago