It's Spring! (But Winter killed all your plants.)

Spring is creeping into New York very slowly this year. Sunny days are followed by stretches of rain and cold, followed by a bit of sun, then back to cold rain... Last weekend, I finally had enough of waiting for warm weather. I picked a day and announced to no one in particular that it was not going to be cold anymore. (I do this every single year.) Then I got to work on changing the season in my life. I've mentioned before that I view the shift in seasons as a great chance to hit refresh on everything that's grown stale in my apartment and day-to-day. Over the next few weeks, as we dive into April, I'm going to share with you how I go about sprucing up my home for the warmer months.

First on the list: Plants.

Here's a confession: I do not have a green thumb.

I love plants. I buy plants. I kill plants.

Same cycle every time.  This is especially true during the winter when light is sparse and radiator heat make the apartment feel like a dry tropical igloo.

Before you say, "Are you following the instructions on the plant insert? Are your plants getting enough light? Are you pruning the philodendron? Are you propagating the jade?? Are you misting your succulent and singing to it?!". YES. YES. YES. I do all the things a person is supposed to do to keep plants alive. But let's keep a few things in mind:

  1. I live in a small apartment where sunlight shining through windows is the highest commodity. (In the cold months it's almost non-existent.) Finding space for all planters on the windowsills is not a thing.
  2. I have two dogs which means plants need to be non-toxic to animals. All plants which are toxic need to be on a high enough surface. (Most plants that I want are toxic to dogs because... life.)
  3. Space. Small apartments look cluttered quickly. Anything brought in must be strategic and well thought out so that G-d forbid, if you die, the NYT doesn't write a "local woman found dead in hoarder apartment surrounded by normally hard to kill plants" piece.

In light of the above, it is all but certain that when winter rolls around any plant which was happy as a clam through November is going to start looking miserable come February. This year, after much experimentation, I finally found a system that works in keeping my plants alive and even better, reviving them from near death. My very novice, not at all scientific, super trial by fire methodology is outlined below. If you are a pro-level plant whisperer, I suggest you look away now. If you're like me and just want to make your browning plant green again, read on and please share any tips and tricks you have!

First let me start by showing you the state my plants were in just a few weeks ago. These were taken the last week of February.

Safe to say they were near the end. I mean, look at this guy- totally bald! Not even a single leaf left. Sad and pathetic! I won't even show you the jade in my bathroom. The leaves looked like the back of an elephant's hide.

I almost considered scrapping everything and going to Home Depot to start fresh but then remembered I write a blog about sustainable practices so... here we are. (I only bought one thing to help me along: fresh, organic potting soil.) I lined all the counter tops in the kitchen with plastic bags and got to work on my mass revival.

Reviving Plants for the Amateur, Urban Horticulturist

  1. Carefully, gently pull and remove all the dead pieces off of each plant. Go as far as taking off anything that looks dead or dying from the top layer of the soil.
  2. Remove the plant, with the roots, and place on the plastic bag. Evaluate if the roots have rotted or are very dry. Most of my roots were very, very dry.
  3.  Replant with fresh potting soil. Make sure that your roots are about one-third of the way from the bottom of the pot and are snuggling with the new dirt.
  4. Water. Water. Water. I drowned my plants under the faucet in the sink for 15-30 seconds each.
  5. Place in the areas of the apartment where you have the most sunlight. They don't have to stay there forever but a few days will do a world of good.

After a few days with fresh soil, water, and sunlight the down trodden shrubs will start to perk up. In order to make sure that they keep getting the nutrients they need, take a fork and poke holes in the soil. Now water, water, water. Not just directly into the soil but make sure you're getting the leaves and the buds wet too. This is especially the case with succulents. Water on the actual plant does more good sometimes than in the soil. My jade came back to life after one day of giving the leaves a drink of water.

Most important rule: be gentle.

Pick three day of the week when you have time (I like mornings before work) and start a plant rotation. Water and rotate between the sunniest spots in your apartment. I try not to over water any plants that don't need it, you want to prevent root rot. (Only two of my plants get seats on the sunniest windowsill and consistent watering- basil and an herb box with mint, rosemary, and sage. Without daily sun and water, they start to shrivel up almost immediately.) My rotation takes my philodendron from the bookshelf in the bedroom on Monday to the bookshelf with a bit more sunlight in the living room on Wednesday, to full sun on Saturday by the living room window, then back to it's perch in the bedroom on Monday.

I promise you will see new life in your little garden in just a little while. Once your plants look healthy again you can drop down the rotation to just once every two weeks, but keep an eye on them!

Honestly though, absolute worst case scenario is your plants do not feel the Holy Spirit and they die. Don't beat yourself up. They're plants! Go to Home Depot, pick up a few new babies, and keep them happy for the season! Spring is for starting afresh, after all.